Posts Tagged ‘Isolationism’

Ex-CIA Head Michael Scheuer States America Should Not Support Israel

November 27, 2018

I found this short clip of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA, speaking at a debate held at Georgetown University. He was answering questions about his view that America should not support Israel.

The panel are incredulous at this, and raise the old canard about Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East.

He makes it clear that he believes that America should be indifferent to whether Israel survives, and that democracy is a silly foreign policy goal. This has been proved in Afghanistan. Against the response that democracies are less likely to wage war on democracies, he replies that he spent four years when two of the world’s greatest democracies managed to kill 640,000 of their own people. He states that democracies will fight like other people, but it is not the business of the US to install democracy anywhere. ‘We don’t do it very well. We do it ridiculously badly as a matter of fact.’ He goes on to say that it is a canard that countries have a right to exist. No, they have a right to defend themselves.

He then denies the charge that Israel and its representatives corrupt US politics. No, it’s Israel-supporting Americans who do that. As for his evidence for this, he points to what they did to Ambassador Freeman. The panel states that that was not corruption, it was a lobby doing what a lobby does. The panel then compares the Israel lobby to the tobacco lobby and the gun lobby. And Scheuer replies by saying that none of these lobbies rebound to America’s harm, while the Israel lobby does exactly that. They then ask him about the harm the Israel lobby has done. Scheuer responds by saying that they have convinced Americans that Israeli interests are identical with US national security interests. When the chairman of the panel says that a lot of people would agree with that, Scheuer says bluntly that a lot of people are foolish, and leading America into defeat.

I think Scheuer’s an old school American Conservative of the type who believes that America has no business telling other countries how to run their affairs. It’s classic isolationism. He isn’t alone. One of the American servicewomen voicing this objection was a senior Pentagon officer, who despise the Neocons for dragging America into a series of pointless wars in the Middle East.

And no, America is not good at installing democracies. It has always instead installed Fascist dictatorships. The democracies it has installed, in Iraq and Afghanistan, are artificial and very dependent on continued US military support.

As for Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East, that’s rubbish. Lebanon is also a democracy, though very carefully limited in a system of consociality, so that the different religions occupy particular posts in a very careful balancing of sectarian power. Iran’s a theocracy, but it’s people also vote in elections, so it has a democratic component. The democracy the Neocons wanted to bring to Iraq was similarly limited, in that they wanted the only parties to gain power to be those standing for complete free trade, low taxes, and so on. The constitution the Americans imposed on Iraq has written into it that the Iraqis’ own oil industry cannot be nationalized. It has remain in private hands. Which means those of the western multinationals. And Israel itself is very dubious as a democracy. The Palestinians are very much second-class citizens and the Israeli state only acts on behalf of the European and American Jewish colonists.

And it should be absolutely axiomatic – a clear, fundamental true political principle – that one major reason why so much of the Arab and Muslim world hates America has absolutely nothing to do with hatred of democracy or western civilization per se, but because America backs Israel, the persecution of that nation’s indigenous Arab and Muslim population, and invades and plunders other Arab and Islamic states.

Scheuer’s a brave man for pointing all this out, and I’m surprise the Israel lobby hasn’t smeared him as an anti-Semite. Perhaps they have. But he’s right. As are all the other decent critics of Israel, that the country and its foreign lobbies have smeared.

Major General Smedley Butler’s ‘War Is A Racket’

January 3, 2016

I’ve posted several pieces on the immense profiteering by governments and corporations promoting war. One of the most savage critics of such profiteering was the American officer, Major General Smedley Butler. Michelle Thomasson sent me this comment and links to his speech, ‘War Is A Racket’ to my post on the meme on capitalism and war, as well as the amount so far made by the defence contractors and other participating corporations in the war in Afghanistan.

In 2014 when I was researching for Campaign Against Arms Trade I posted Smedley Butler’s 1935 speech (it was also printed as a book). If any readers of your blog have time his ‘War is a Racket’ speech or ‘turning blood into gold’ is worth listening to. A recording of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EI3lckqaSk0 or here: http://ia600507.us.archive.org/3/items/nonfiction018_librivox/snf018_warisaracket_butler_jh.mp3

and printed versions: https://archive.org/details/WarIsARacket or here: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4377.htm

On recent spending on war racketeering by the USA (including the sojourn into Afghanistan) this is sobering reading, in 13 years they paid out $1.6 trillion to military contractors (shown on the second page of the Congressional Research file, December 8th 2014) Ref: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

Smedley Butler’s ‘War Is A Racket’ is one of the most famous and celebrated polemics against war. Butler was writing in 1936, and concerned by the growing preparations and clamour for war amongst the European nations. Like very many other soldiers, he was horrified by the mass death and suffering experienced by the squaddies, and disgusted by the vast profits made by the arms and equipment manufacturers. He denounced the way a minuscule few had made money out of the sufferings of millions. In the speech he gives examples of the many firms and industries that made vast profits manufacturing and selling to the American government equipment, munitions and clothing for the conflict. This included surplus and seriously defective items that could never be used, such as shoes, ships that kept sinking, and wrenches that were suitable only for loosening the bolts on the pumping stations at Niagara.

He also describes the way the bankers manipulating the financial system to profit from war bonds. The public was persuaded to purchase them, there was then a crisis so the same public sold them back to the banks at a loss, and then there was flip in the stock exchange, which meant that their value soared again.

Butler also describes the immense suffering of the soldiers themselves. It’s interesting that decades before Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder became a household word, linked to the continued mental suffering of Vietnam vets, he described the shattered mental state of discharged veterans. These were men so traumatised that they were kept under heavy guard in prison-like conditions at the mental hospital. Butler contrasts the way the forces of society, propaganda and psychology were used to persuade them to enlist with the way they were summarily discharged after the war with no thought to training or remoulding their psychologies so that they could fit back into civilian life after being trained to kill.

He also describes the way the American soldier was deprived the profits of war. During the Civil War, Americans were given a bonus if they joined up. And up until the war with Spain, American squaddies also received prize money for ships captured. That was all scrapped, as it made war too expensive. Instead, they were given medal to encourage them to fight. As for the wages they received, these were half the monthly pay of the average factory steel worker. Then there were deductions, to support the families their families so they wouldn’t be a burden on the community while their sons and husbands were away fighting. Other deductions were for the squaddies’ own equipment. The result of all these was that on payday, some soldiers received absolutely nothing at all.

Butler was also not impressed with the various disarmament talks. He considered that their purpose was for countries to get the maximum number of permitted weapons for themselves, and the least number for their opponents. The American government had also declared that it was looking into ways to avoid war. Smedley Butler described how this was undermined by a commission by the corporations and generals, which was set up deliberately to counteract it.

In conclusion, Smedley Butler argued that war would only be ended through a series of reforms intended to take the profits out of it, limit the capability of the American armed forces so that they could not fight an offensive war, and put the decision whether America should go to war or not in the hands of the very people, who would have to fight it. He therefore argued that one month before mobilisation, the capitalists, generals, politicians and workers in the manufacturing and other industries that would profit from the war should also be conscripted, and their pay limited to the $30 a month given to the squaddies. The US armed forces should be limited by law to protecting US territory. The army should be legally prevented from serving abroad, and the range of the American navy and air force limited to a few hundred miles off the American Pacific coast. He also states that before the decision to go to war is taken, their should be a limited plebiscite of men of recruitment age only. Only they should have the power to decide whether to wage war, as they would be the people who have to fight it. Not politicians or businessmen, who were too old to serve, or unfit, and who would profit from it.

Smedley Butler was an isolationist, who states firmly at the end of the speech that he doesn’t care what system other countries live under – democracy, monarchy, Fascism, whatever. He only cares about protecting democracy in America. He believed that America would not have entered the war, if it had not been approached for aid by Britain and France. The declaration that Americans were fighting for democracy was a lie. They were fighting only for corporate profits. As the brief biography for the audiobook version of his speech states, Butler served as a Republican politician. Nevertheless, his isolationism still persists amongst some Conservative American critics of the Neo-Cons, who similarly saw Bush’s desire to extend the American Empire as against the basic principles of American Conservatism. These critics included serving senior army officers, who were spectacularly unimpressed by the fact that the Neo-Cons had not actually fought in any war, and had no understanding of the political situation in the Middle East.

As the vast profits being made by the arms manufacturers in this latest phase of militarism show, war is a racket, and Smedley Butler’s speech still has immense political relevance and moral force.

Financial Times Review of Book on Origins of American Financial Imperialism

October 27, 2015

Also looking through the pile of past newspaper clippings I’ve collected, I found this review by David Honigmann of Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy 1900-1930, by Emily S. Rosenberg, published by Harvard, in the FT’s weekend supplement for 11th/12th March 2000.

The Real Costs of an Empire on Loan

At the end of the 19th century, the US was acquiring an empire by default, picking up colonial possessions and exerting a sphere of influence it did not quite know how to handle. When the 1896 selection turned on the question of currency reform and the gold-standard advocates won, the next step to export the gold standard to the scattered territories under US control. It spread from Puerto Rico to the Philippines, then Panama, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico. Eventually, US financial advisers would by plying their trade as far afield as China, Germany and Persia.

Dollar diplomacy was the term coined for an arrangement under which struggling economies would receive loans from US banks in return for accepting “supervision” from American economic advisers. The story of the public-private partnership that tried to bring this about is the subject of Emily Rosenberg’s meticulously researched book.

She traces the three parties involved in pushing dollar diplomacy. Investment banks, anxious for new markets, provided the loans. Academics made, in some cases, small fortunes from providing the advice: Edwin Kemmerer, who became the high priest of dollar diplomacy, made many times his already generous Princeton salary from grateful client governments. (Rosenberg cites personal correspondence to show that Kemmerer was obsessed with the inadequacy of his salary and what this meant for his manliness.

The third party underpinning all this was the US State Department, which played an ambiguous role in approving the loans. Each loan went to the State Department for approval, and when approval was granted there was at least a tacit expectation by lenders that the US government was backing it, protection which could take any form from ambassadorial murmurings to the dispatch of the Marines.

Banking was a contested area at the time. The gold standard, with its tendency to deflation, was inimical to small farmers and small businessmen. Marxists condemned it as materialism in action, and opposition to it also drew on a strain of populist anti-Semitism. (In the 1896 election, the Democrats warned against “crucifying mankind upon a Cross of Gold”.)

Attitudes to dollar diplomacy did not split evenly along political lines, however. When President (Theodore) Roosevelt, in 1905, halted the Dominican Republic’s slide towards bankruptcy by turning it into a US fiscal protectorate, and then built it into a model of dollar diplomacy, there was little anti-imperialist protest. The plan was seen essentially as extending “assistance without annexation”.

It was only as client countries began to rebel against the conditions and policies imposed to accompany loans (the Sandino rebellion in Nicaragua in the late 1920s being the most visible) that progressive domestic opposition and the Comintern rallied to denounce it.

Rosenberg dives deepest into the professional advisers and their search for respectability. this was the foundation of the whole system: the professionalism of the advisers reduced the perceived risk of the loans, lowering their price and making them affordable for the client countries. The advisers presented themselves as impartial third parties, aloof from both US governmental interests and the banks, responsible only to client governments. In fact, they received considerable support behind the scenes from the State Department, and Kemmerer was also kept on a secret annual retainer by Dillon Read, one of the investment banks: not so much Chinese walls as Hall of Mirrors.

Despite the technocratic claims of the advisers, dollar diplomacy was not a clean, value-free exercise. Rosenberg locates its roots in the cultural debates of the early 20th century. The Tarzan books and films were only one example of the ways in which other nations and peoples were framed as “primitive” and in need of western assistance.

Dollar diplomacy even became the subject of poplar entertainment, as in Edison’s 1917 film Billy and the Big Stick, whose hero was an American customs officer in Haiti, denied his salary by the Haitian president until he threatens the dispatch of gunboats. All very explicit, it might seem; in fact, as Rosenberg notes, it was the US financial adviser in Haiti who sopped the wages of Haitian officials until they agreed to his proposals.

The crux of Rosenberg’s argument is that dollar diplomacy cloaked geo-politics in the guise of market contracts, but with the iron first ill-concealed in the velvet glove. She draws a parallel with Victorian marriage contracts: “the dominant (male) party promised monetary support (loans) and supervision in return for obedience and acceptance of regulation. Yet, also like marriage, the status inequalities were embedded in the controlled loan contracts of dollar diplomacy, even as the contracts tended to be culturally presented as freely negotiated and based on mutual attraction.”

Financial Missionaries to the World is not easy reading. It is full enough of fiscal minutiae that even fairly central concepts, such as financing currency conversion through seniorage, go unexplained. There is no argument that is not a discourse, no assumption that is not a paradigm, no subordination that is not a “feminization”.

But it works well in explaining how this policy of arm’s length financial administration arose, how it was sustained by cultural pressures in the teeth of growing opposition from both isolationist Right and anti-colonialist Left, and how it eventually collapsed in the gale of the 1929 Crash and a series of armed rebellions.

Rosenberg does briefly trace the evolution of dollar diplomacy through Bretton Woods and the rise of the IMF, although a less scholarly book might have drawn even more explicit parallels with the financial regimens imposed by today’s multinational institutions. But perhaps the warnings are all too clear.

That last paragraph is important. The IMF and the World Bank certainly do act as instruments of American economic imperialism. When countries go for them for loan, these are given with a set prescribed conditions to rectify those nations’ ailing economies: they are to private the state industries and cut down on state expenditure generally, including removing or cutting back on any welfare support they may provide their citizens. The privatised industries are to be sold to American companies.

And the Americans haven’t just tried this with Developing Nations. They’ve done it to us as well. The British Empire was dismembered partly due to pressure from the Americans for their help during the Second World War, as they wanted to open up the closed imperial trading bloc to American companies. And they’ve continued interfering in our economic affairs afterwards. According to Lobster, one of the chiefs and head executives at the Bank of England under Bliar was Deanne Julius, a high ranking official within the American banking system. She believed that Britain should abandon its role as a manufacturer and concentrate instead on servicing American global financial interests.