From American Dream to American Illusion

Rising government acceptance of corporate corruption, intensifying corporate control over politics, rising preference in Washingtonfor a foreign policy based on force rather than diplomacy, and accentuation of class divisions with rising inequality in the U.S.constitute a shift in direction away from the post-WWII growth of the middle class and democracy. The decline in the prospects of the average American have been so slow that most seem unconscious of the change, but in the space of one generation, the American Dream has been transformed into the American Illusion. 

Four core trends have combined fundamentally to alter the course of U.S.society over the last generation. Under the cover of a flood of elitist propaganda equating corporate growth with social good and circus-like elections with democracy, in one brief generation, the social, political, and economic prospects of U.S.society have tragically dimmed. Individuals have reacted with resignation by opting out of politics (precisely what the rich wanted) or self-defeating anger by blaming Moslems or liberals for their own failures (again playing into the hands of the rich), becoming increasingly focused on the present when careful consideration of the long-term impact of our behavior and government policies are the key to reversing the decline.
Corruption. Corruption is rapidly eroding the quality of governance in the U.S., with a complacent Federal Government attitude toward war profiteering,  environmental, and financialcrime leading the way. Most striking is the shift government behavior from the 1980s, when the FBI ran a vigorous and successful campaign following the S&L crisis resulting in the imprisonment of hundreds of financial criminals, to the Bush Administration’s war against regulation and the Obama Administration’s refusal to bring to justice the financial criminals at the heart of the 2008 Financial Crisis.
Corporate Rule. The continuing popularity of the Corporate Party and its strengthening chokehold on government in the aftermath of the blatant misbehavior of Big Finance in 2008, even with the supposedly pro-people party in power, attest to the growing shadow of corporate power over U.S.democratic institutions. With even the Supreme Court upholding the shockingly anti-democratic principle of “one dollar, one vote,” it is clear that democracy is not just under attack but being soundly defeated.
War Is the Answer. The increasingly blatant use of violence, open calls for aggression under the thin veneer of “preventive” war, and the rising tendency of officials to brag about economic warfare, terrorist attacks against foreign scientists, and drone bombings of individuals whose identities may not even be known with the justification that the victims “may” have been fighting against some pro-U.S. foreign regime all point to the institutionalization of a policy of violence by choice as the preferred method of solving all problems. The War Party remains nearly as powerful as it was following 9/11 despite a decade of disasters that were incredibly costly to all but the rich, and the U.S.currently pursues a belligerent policy toward not just Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistanbut also desperately poor Latin America and Africa. Gore Vidal’s characterization of the system as one party with two conservative wings seems more accurate every day.

Return from the Dead of a Class Society. The post-WWII rise of the American middle class to the point where Americans broadly felt that they lived in a middle-class (i.e., a class-free) society has now clearly been reversed and is well documented by the Congressional Budget Office. With home-ownership under attack by corrupt banks, jobs increasingly part-time, contracts being broken by both corporations and governments, unions weakened almost to the point of irrelevance, wages declining, pensions a dream of the past, and a massive new class of unemployed people simply written off as superfluous even as a new super-class of billionaire financial manipulators arises, there can no longer be any doubt that the U.S. is evolving backwards into a new class society that Marx would have no trouble recognizing.

Although Americans have of course always faced problems, U.S.society has been distinguished by “the American Dream,” the belief that progress toward equality, liberty, and peace would occur. These four trends–government acceptance of corporate corruption, corporate rule undermining democracy, the international use of force rather than persuasion, and the return from the dead of a class society predict the end of the American Dream. The probability of that sad prediction coming true is only strengthened by the evident decline ineducation; the alienation of Americans from participation in public affairs (reminiscent of the stereotypic “long-suffering Russian serf”) that hands victory on a silver platter to the exploitative international corporate elite (prime recipient of Iraq War largesse Halliburton, for example, is no longer a U.S. corporation); and a general refusal in American society to think about long-term consequences.
Given the wealth of the country (if not of the population) and the historically demonstrated ability of U.S. society to rise to meet major challenges, this last point—the unwillingness of Americans to think about the long-term consequences of their behavior—may be the most serious weakness of all.
All of the four trends identified above are–from the perspective of a society that thinks only about the present, sneers at history, and forgets almost everything more than a few years old—very much long-term processes. Other fundamental threats to American security, most obviously global warming, are considerably longer-term processes. If one cannot even remember the S&L crisis, how can one see the shift by Washingtontoward acceptance of financial crime? In a few years, will Americans have forgotten that diplomacy used to be the method of choice for exercising influence in the world? Will Americans be watching drone warfare in our own skies as the whole world copies the U.S.innovation of illegally bombing with drones wherever it wants? Will corporations be openly handing voters envelopes filled with cash to make “democracy” function “properly?”
Before Americans can figure out how to correct this decline in their fortunes, they will have to recognize the nature of the decline that has occurred over the last generation so they can see the impact of current behavior on future prospects.

Do Drones Harm the U.S.?

Is state violence an effective counter to insurgent violence? A choice exists.
Taliban abuses make it easy for shallow thinkers to condone anti-extremist abuses – respond to an attack on aid workers or schoolgirls with a drone attack on a funeral, an eye for an eye, law of the jungle. But how do such tactical responses offer society a choice? Abuse from insurgents is countered by abuse from authorities, with the extremism of one justifying and stimulating extremism of the other. Ambitious leaders on both sides win, while society loses.
The important point for Americans struggling to figure out how to respond is that when our reactions promote the extremism we are fighting against, then it is not just Pakistani society that loses but American society as well. The whole world political and moral climate is degraded, promoting conditions that poison civil society, undermine democracy, and facilitate the rise of cowboys, fundamentalists, and general intolerance. Every abusive act further alienates and radicalizes innocent bystanders and thus further empowers the lovers of violence.
Even when it is determined that killing someone is required, it must be kept clearly in mind that the killing is not a goal but a means and should not be done if that means does not lead to the goal. The goal is a smoothly functioning civil society, and our common enemy is those who oppose the creation of such civil societies. A smoothly functioning civil society may not flow automatically from democracy, but democracy, physical and economic security for all citizens, and education together are pretty much the best foundation pillars to hold up a smoothly functioning civil society that mankind has yet been able to construct.
From this perspective, the common interest of American and Pakistani society [not, to be sure, of decision-makers who focus on strategic issues to the exclusion of all else and, for example, aid the Haqqani Network to gain influence in Afghanistan at India’s expense] is clear and the question flowing from that common interest is not a military one but a political one: “How do we create a functioning society?” Once that simple question is asked, it instantly becomes obvious how ridiculous it is to answer: “by remotely bombing groups of unidentified adult males or anyone who attends a funeral for anyone who was bombed.” Since the Taliban is not attacking the U.S., it is not clear that the U.S. should be doing anything at all, but if, upon contemplation, Americans decide that it is appropriate to make some effort to influence events in Pakistan, then the goal should be the positive one of helping Pakistani society to function better, precisely the outcome most beneficial to the long-term interests of the American public.
Now we have the basis for a useful conversation with Pakistani officials about day-to-day tactics. When the Taliban threatens to murder a social worker who “operates hundreds of ambulances and shelters for women, children and the destitute,”it is clear that Americans who want a vibrant, secure, and free civil society in the U.S. have common cause with Pakistanis struggling for the same goal in Pakistan. It should also be clear that drone attacks are at best an extremely poor and most likely a highly counterproductive route to that common goal.
Some Pakistanis understand this:

The Taliban are pursuing an ‘anti-state struggle’ and Pakistan must take this threat seriously before it causes an irreparable damage to the country, NWFP government’s Peace Envoy Afrasiab Khattak said on Tuesday. “They (Taliban) want to defeat the state and their success starts where the state fails.” [New Age Islam 9/20/2008.]

The problem is that those Pakistanis and Americans who understand their common interest have great difficulty holding a dialogue about how to pursue that common interest. The remark of the NWFP peace envoy, above, points to a way forward: focusing on U.S.-Pakistani cooperative actions to build an effect state. Effective police action followed by open trials under an honest court system will be an important long-term component of such an effort. Killing alleged enemies, much less killing unidentified people, will become more counter-productive the longer it occurs. The argument that the threat is immediate so we cannot wait for long-term solutions is clearly invalidated by the now obvious failure of violence to eliminate an insurgent threat that has been spreading for a decade in violence-ridden Pakistan.
This leaves concerned citizens and policy-makers in both the US and Pakistan with the following question:

Who are the potential Pakistani allies of Americans struggling to defeat violent extremists and what set of tactics might be accepted by each national group as in its own best interests?

A Supplementary Approach from the Afghan Theater
In the context of a primary focus on building civil society and extending the writ of effective, supportive governance in Pakistan, offering inclusion to Taliban personnel willing to renounce violence offers a supplementary approach:

Pursuing high-level reconciliation with the Taliban senior leadership as a unified, singular organization will fail to achieve the grand bargain that the U.S. and Afghans seek; that is, an agreement to renounce al-Qaeda, respect the Afghan constitution and cease insurgent operations targeting Afghan government officials and security forces. Recognizing that the Taliban is a diverse movement where significant internal divisions and mistrust abound, reconciliation efforts should instead be pursued as a means to divide and weaken the cohesion of the movement’s senior leadership cadre. However, before such efforts can achieve their desired intent, U.S. and Afghan forces must develop a sophisticated understanding of the differences among the factions and their leaders, and identify, encourage and protect those who want to reconcile. The purpose of these efforts is not only to support the primary aim of reconciliation, but also to fracture the Taliban operationally and thereby limit Pakistan’s leverage over the Afghan state.[Understand War 6/13/2012.]

The Logic of Politically Motivated Violence

Political violence is expensive, with the bills coming in for a long time after the guilty parties (politicians and voters) have vanished from the scene. Political violence is not an act but a process, a vicious cycle, with unforeseen but logical linkages. Israeli policy toward Palestine and Israeli policy toward Iran are a single case in point.

Award-winning journalist, author, daughter of two Holocaust survivors, and herself victim of Israeli government persecution Amira Hass has charged the Israeli government with repressing Palestinians, following the model of the U.S. campaign of near-extermination of Native Americans in the 19th century, for the purpose of “Jewish hegemony and superiority.”

This must be said: For the sake of hegemony, Israel is mortgaging the well-being of its children and the lives of its grandchildren, together with the well-being and lives of children and grandchildren throughout the region. [Haaretz 4/11/12.]

Nobel laureate Gunter Grass has just laid out the other half of the logical circle of politically motivated violence, warning:

The nuclear power Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace….
I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the West’s hypocrisy
[Translation by The Washington Post.]

Political violence cannot exist in a vacuum, simply occurring and then ending. It necessarily exists as a process that flows both forward, affecting its target, and backward, affecting its perpetrator. American crimes of the 19th century are used to justify Israeli crimes of the 21st, and America’s guilt inhibits Americans from protesting. Israel’s policy of force against Palestinians leads logically to Israel’s policy of force against Iran, sucking in and threatening morally weakened America. Violence engenders violence, in a vicious cycle of widening scope.

Yemen: More Resistance

Given how well it worked in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, why not Yemen?

According to a U.N. official, “Despite all counterterrorism efforts, al-Qaeda in Yemen has not retreated.”

Let me translate that:

Despite Washington’s sabotaging of the democracy protests and queering of the “election” process to ensure retention of the dictatorship (albeit without the dictator), so that drones strikes on anti-government militants that the government swears are “al Qua’ida” can continue, organized military opposition to the government continues.

The only surprise is that anyone is surprised.

And now, according to USA Today, “The Pentagon is planning to restart programs that would fund military training and equipment in Yemen, nearly a year after they were shut down because of escalating chaos in the embattled country.” Presumably, the programs are being restarted because of escalating chaos in the embattled country.

Is there an Alternative?
We are clearly seeing in Yemen a repeat of what has, since 9/11, become the automatic application of brute American force to resolve fundamental socio-political issues in Muslim societies. Clearly, this approach does not work.

the American military presence post-withdrawal is a very tenuous and uncertain proposition. By every reckoning, it is just a wild-goose chase for America….American military presence, come as it will predictably as a foisted tool, is sure to further destabilise this unfortunate land. [Frontier Post 3/11/12.]

With simultaneous displays of violence in Palestine, Yemen, and Afghanistan by the Washington-Tel Aviv axis, this description of how Washington’s policy of conflict resolution by violence cuts to the chase:

The United States continually pours funding into the Afghan National Police force, into these Afghan National Security Forces, into forces that will secure the TAPI pipeline, for instance, and the Afghan Local Police, the Arbakai. And it’s as though the only kind of security is that which comes from one group having heavier arms and more weapons and ammunition and so-called training than another. But what about health security and food security? And what about the fact that it’s claimed by numerous human rights groups that children in Afghanistan are starving to death at the rate of 250 per day, according to some?

The United States has, I think, done its best to secure the potential for a roadway, the pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, 450 bases that might be maintained, huge prisons. They’re still spending $100 million on construction of a new prison near the Bagram Air Force Base. And meanwhile, the conditions in Afghanistan are deplorable. People have endured a very harsh winter, as Democracy Now! has covered several times. And the rage that people understandably feel when $2 billion is being spent per week on maintaining an occupation, while people within Afghanistan are desperate just to try to find food to feed their families, it’s something that all of the surveillance and the analysis that the United States studies simply won’t understand. [Democracy Now 3/12/12.]

Washington’s policy of violence is failing in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Palestine, and now Yemen. [See the Guardian’s marvelous graphical summary of Arab protests for an overview of the last year’s events.] Shedding light on what may be the actual political dynamics in Yemen, one local newspaper observed:

Yemeni politicians and analysts accused the ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh of using Al-Qaeda to intimidate some Western countries with the aim of keeping his relatives in their military positions. [Yemen Post 3/11/12.]

The military killing of enemy combattants without addressing the underlying socio-political grievances that give them their popularity is the sweeping away of protest waves on the ocean of popular anger. When the killing of combattants is performed in the context of repeated murder of innocent civilians, it is not just futile but extraordinarily counter-productive. 


Yemeni rights organizations condemned the alleged U.S. airstrikes, calling them illegal. HOOD, a prominent Sanaa-based rights organization, said that no one has the right to kill another person without first bringing that person to trial. 

“This is illegal and dozens were killed without given a chance to prove their case. We are against any U.S. attack in Yemen,” said Mohammed Nagi Allow, HOOD’s president. [CNN 3/12/12.]


So, is there an alternative?

Theory is always easier than practice, but to start somewhere, in theory, the alternative is a vigorous program of socio-political reform to empower the population at the expense of the elite. The best defense against violent revolution is vigorous reform. Now, John Adams and Franklin Roosevelt may have understood that, but today this point is hardly accepted even in the U.S. by the ruling elite, so expecting that same elite to apply such an approach to Yemen is wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the fact remains that practical application of this theory in the U.S. created the conditions for a half century of dramatic economic growth and a fairly steady, moderate rise in equality and justice.

This does not prove that freedom and justice would work in Yemen, and it certainly does not mean U.S. taxpayers must foot the bill, but over the past year, thousands of Yemeni citizens have risked their lives in a volunteer effort to create a democracy that, in its willingness to make personal sacrifices, is simply unimaginable to comfortable, short-sighted Americans.* At a minimum, all Washington needs to do is follow the doctor’s mantra: DO NO HARM! Simply stand aside and permit moderate, popular, democratic reform. Who knows? Perhaps the Yemeni 99%, like the Egyptian 99%, are more capable than we think. 

It’s not just irrational regimes that need changing but elitist, abusive regimes, and this is the way to do it.

Giving a Fix to an Addict

Reports of giving offensive weapons of mass destruction to the Netanyahu gang sound like buying off the neighborhood junkie with a free fix. The next U.S. president better come into office with a plan of pure magic.

The best TV news program available in the U.S. today, Democracy Now, says that Obama has “reportedly” offered Israel offensive weapons of mass destruction to delay a war of aggression against Iran, i.e., a new and more powerful fix for a buddy who is already a junkie and on the verge of “going rogue.” Given that Obama wants to help Israel, defensive arms and/or an even more solid security wall around Israel than the U.S. already provides might have been in order, but to offer to increase the ability of a potential aggressor to commit aggression in return for a promise that the potential aggressor will delay ever so slightly his commission of the sin would constitute a betrayal of presidential responsibility for protecting U.S. national security, not to mention being a very nasty thing to do to one’s addict-buddy. A friend would offer Israel an option other than the madness of launching an uncontrollable war against a vastly larger adversary rather than further whetting the appetites of a regime already committed to solving its foreign policy and domestic policy problems through violence.

Even the infamous hardline former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, keeps warning against the Netanyahu regime’s promotion of war as the answer, most recently calling the idea “stupid.” One wonders how well he will sleep if the regime he recently left and now distrusts becomes convinced that it finally has the ability to deal the Iranians a “final solution.”

Democracy Now indicated the news might not be true. One can only hope, but this is exactly the self-defeating policy Washington has been pursuing for a generation, and the U.S. “Israel problem” just keeps getting worse and worse. If the report is true, Obama may get reelected, since no presidential-quality opposition is yet visible on the horizon, but if he does, then how will he control Israel the next time?

Provoking an Oil War Is a Bad Bet for the U.S.

Perhaps Washington has a secret plan for defeating Tehran in a contest over oil, but Tehran has enormous tactical advantages, while the relevance of Washington’s vast military superiority appears questionable. Has anyone in Washington actually thought this out?

Departing Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin cautioned that:

Iran is our close neighbor, just south of the Caucasus. Should anything happen to Iran, should Iran get drawn into any political or military hardships, this will be a direct threat to our national security.

These are words Washington should weigh carefully. Rogozin did not retire; he was promoted…to deputy prime minister. It seems reasonable to read his words as a clear warning from Moscow that anything remotely like an invasion of Iraq-style adventure by Washington against Iran would be seen as endangering Russian national security. Instead of wondering if Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz, we should be wondering if Russia could do so.

Russia obviously has a wide range of reasons for avoiding a conflict with the U.S., so the question reduces to:

What is the minimum amount of Russian assistance to Iran that would enable Iran to reduce oil shipments through Hormuz sufficiently to cause a severe impact on U.S. policy?

To lay out some scenarios takes little more than common sense and imagination. It is hard to think of anything easier to hit than a monstrous oil tanker, though the difficulty of actually sinking one is debatable. The Exxon Valdez disaster implies that they sink all too easily, but they do have certain passive strengths. Nevertheless, any contest between an oil tanker and a modern military is obviously heavily weighted in favor of the attacking military. That said, reality is even worse for those dazzled by the idea of a quick, easy victory over Iran.

The reason is not all that complicated: the real issue may well be more a combination of finance and psychology than technical or military considerations. How many oil tankers would have to sink or even catch fire before shippers would refuse to continue be sitting targets? Iran has a huge tactical advantage in this game. Someone should list all the anti-ship missiles and mines on the world market today capable of stopping an oil tanker. How long would it take for the U.S. to clear a burning oil tanker from the strait? How much interference to oil shipping (reportedly 14 tankers per day through the strait) would one burning oil tanker cause?

Iran has had more than a decade to prepare for this situation since the last time the U.S. fought a naval war against it to aid Saddam and protect oil tankers. This time Moscow may be less cooperative with Washington. Beyond that lies Beijing’s strong interest in keeping Iranian oil flowing. Then there’s the little issue of domestic support.

If direct conflict erupts between Washington and Tehran, Tehran hardliners will gain an immediate boost in popularity as defenders of the country. Meanwhile, interruptions in the oil flow will be placing one more economic burden on the shoulders of Westerners. As war brings Iranians together, it will be ripping Western societies apart. What are the chances that pampered Westerners will prove willing to accept economic sacrifice as long as Iranians who are fighting for their independence–with the “full encouragement” of a harsh, semi-autocratic regime?

And all the above concerns just direct military conflict.


One more possible Iranian tactic that all those American weapons could not deal with: 

introduce so much hysteria into the oil market that price spikes will allow it to earn the same revenue from a reduced volume of exports [Mark Heller, New York Times, thanks to Friday Lunch Club ]


The assumption that a war over the international oil supply will be military is in many ways a comforting one for Americans, since military superiority is Washington’s one strong card. But why would Tehran choose to play the game this way? The easiest way for Iran to fight back is simply to stop exporting hydrocarbons. If the resulting rise in Western gas and heating fuel prices does not hand victory to Iran, the next most obvious target would perhaps be the roughly 2 million barrels per day exported by Iraq, where many oil workers might be expected to feel some sympathy for a fellow Shi’i society under attack by the U.S. Exactly how does Washington imagine it might respond to the combination of Iran halting exports combined with a quiet sabotage campaign by its friends in Iraq?

Force Is the Answer

The Washington-Tel Aviv Axis determined by the start of the new century that violence was the answer, regardless of the question. That determination constituted the foundation of U.S. post-9/11 foreign policy. Having “worked” in the sense that it maintained the elites in power and magnificently enriched them, it is only predictable that those same elites would apply their foreign policy answer to domestic policy questions as well. This dynamic I discussed theoretically in September, by which time it was obvious that Washington had no intention of punishing financial crime by the uber-rich but remained very unclear whether or not any Americans had sufficient spine to protest. And now in the last couple days, we have seen the clearest substantive implementation of “force is the answer” to domestic political questions, with a brutal nationwide crackdown characterized by the egregious, virtually celebratory use of force to send a clear message to the rest of the population that government is for the 1% and that democracy will not be tolerated. We elected and reelected politicians who advocated and implemented the policy of force toward foreigners, and now we are getting exactly what we deserve: the pointed end of the spear right in the face. How does it feel, America?

Thinking About an Israeli War on Iran

“All options” in U.S.-Iranian relations have in fact never really been on the table. Compromise has not been an option. That would entail the end of the regional nuclear double standard as well as the recognition of Iran as a coming regional power. So Iranian-Israeli war continues to threaten. Does the Tel Aviv war party have a logical case? What, from that perspective, is the “best” that could happen?

Almost anything could happen were Israel to start an unprovoked war against Iran. Let us assume, for the purposes of argument, that it all goes just as the Israeli war party dreams. [Israel’s high-tech war of choice.]With Defense Minister Barak, let us assume that almost no Israelis will die. Let us assume that Israeli planes and missiles hit their targets and that those targets are perfectly selected from among the possible 300 or more Iranian nuclear sites. Let us assume that the bombing sets the Iranian nuclear research program back by an optimistic five years, more than former Mossad chief Meir Dagan  and U.S. intelligence circles seem to think likely. OK, Netanyahu becomes the West’s Cowboy #1 and remains in office. The Palestinians realize they have no hope of justice in our time. Now what?

All Iranians, indeed all Muslims, will have all the justification in the world for using violence anywhere, anytime, in any way they may choose against Israel, and some will. After all, if Israel can start a war and slaughter civilians in the thousands just because it prefers that its adversaries not develop weapons that it has itself possessed for decades in abundance, then exactly what moral constraints can be said to exist on the anti-Israeli actions of others?

More to the point, what political constraints can then be said to exist? What Muslim leader could justify cooperating with or trusting Israel after an Israeli attack on an Iran that has conducted rhetorical war but, in comparison with Israeli attacks on Palestinians and Lebanese, behaved cautiously? Will Ankara submissively shelve its effort to occupy a moderate middle position in regional affairs or start looking for military allies to protect itself from the now unrestrained regional superpower? Would such an attack tip Egypt into an actively anti-Israeli position for the first time in decades? Is Israel prepared to deal with the implications of the termination of Egyptian support for the continued imprisonment of Gazans in their ghetto?

What would be the implications for the U.S. of a collapse of Iraqi government cooperation? Renewed anti-American violence in Iraq, attacks on the Green Zone, Baghdad breaking diplomatic relations on the eve of the U.S. presidential campaign: has Israel considered the degree to which Americans might begin to take seriously the question of whether or not the U.S. can continue to pay the national security price of an alliance with such a violence-prone state?

Will the Iranian quest for national security become such an obsession that all domestic factions unite in the search for a solution, transforming Iran into a far more determined, effective adversary? Israeli politicians seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the Osirak precedent; perhaps they should stop. When Israel bombed Iraq in 1981, no Islamic bomb existed. How many Pakistanis, in today’s vastly different atmosphere, will have sympathy for an Iran under attack for something it does not even yet possess? What bargaining chips might the concentrated thought of Iranian national security thinkers manage to identify for cutting a nuclear deal with Pakistan? Has Tel Aviv thought through the various bilateral Iranian-Pakistani issues (refugees, terrorism, Baluchi independence movement, joint resentment at American treatment, oil pipeline, strategic security advantages of cooperation) that Tehran, its attention focused by the horror and humiliation of an Israeli attack, might use to entice Pakistani cooperation?

In return for all those uncertainties, Israel will have managed to put the Iranian nuclear program back where it was in…2007?!? In 2007, it was believed by some that an Iranian nuclear bomb “could be possible” as soon as 2009. The war scare was so extreme in Israel that Israeli media sources were calling an Israeli attack “inevitable” and predicting that it would occur “in 2007.” Or maybe the Israeli attack will be so successful that, against expectations, it knocks the Iranian program all the way back to 2004, a time of such tension that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was threatening Iran with “all options,” codeword for a nuclear strike. Or maybe the Israelis would be so lucky as to knock the Iranian program a full 15 years back – to 1997, when Netanyahu was accusing Russia of “endangering the very future of Israel” by providing Iran with missile technology. Setting back the Iranian program by a few years may be crucial to a politician’s career but is of little significance for the long-term security of a state.

Now recall that all these potential pitfalls flowing from an attack offering such modest achievements are premised on the assumption that Netanyahu’s dreams of a quick, easy, 100% successful military strike are realized and, somehow, realized without Israeli recourse to nuclear arms–which would truly establish it as an international criminal enterprise of the first order–and that massive global fallout from exploded Iranian nuclear infrastructure does not result and that Iran does not in response sink a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, etc., etc.. The set of post-attack dangers enumerated in the preceding paragraphs is the situation after the best possible outcome for the Israeli war party.

Too Big to Exist

When corporate or government institutions become too big and too socially destructive to exist, we need a graceful method of putting them on a diet and reforming their lifestyle.

The American genius for creating magnificently productive mega-institutions has a potentially fatal downside: we have, as a society, no idea how to downsize them when they “go rogue,” i.e., become socially destructive. On balance, today, several of America’s major mega-institutions–the Imperial Presidency, Big Oil, Big Pharma, and Big Finance–either are or are fast becoming socially destructive. They are “too big to exist;” we need to figure out how to downsize them gracefully, reorienting them toward socially useful behavior.

Perhaps the first step toward this new way of thinking that needs to replace the tarnished old “bigger is better” mantra is to understand the evidence supporting the contention that these mega-institutions are so bloated that American and, indeed, global society can no longer afford them. (I call these social units “institutions” because each is truly a unified organization composed of, perhaps, separate governmental or private units, but operating according to a clear if unstated and frequently illegal set of monopolistic rules designed to maximize profit and power at public expense and, in the case of the Imperial Presidency, at the expense of the rest of the Government as well.) Consider the following examples of mega-institution misbehavior:

  1. The Imperial Presidency, i.e., the rising ability of the White House and all its military-industrial support mechanism to overshadow Congress and Constitution on foreign policy, now employs something in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million mercenaries overseas, constituting an armed force capable of making independent war on most countries–completely outside of Congressional control and often beyond the reach of U.S. judicial authorities [see Jean MacKenzie, Jeremy Scahill, Glen Ford]. Since Augustus overthrew the Roman Republic with his palace guards and established the Roman Empire, we have known the profound threat to democracy posed by a mercenary army under the command of the chief executive.
  2. Big Pharma, constituting the whole U.S. health care industry, has degenerated so far that, to boost profits, it now essentially writes off as a “business loss” all of the nationa’s elderly with the almost universal cognitive problems associated with aging. At their most vulnerable, they are thrown into the arms of untrained relatives utterly unprepared for 24/7 nursing.
  3. Big Oil, alb eit receiv ing billions annually in welfare payments from U.S. taxpayers, can destroy ever-growing chunks of the earth through careless cost-cutting measures and escape responsibility. For the rest of our lives, we will be watching BP’s poison creep with Gulf Stream currents up the North American east coast and over toward England, while everyone complains about $4 a gallon gas, a price only a fraction of the real cost.
  4. As for Big Finance, the cost of its irresponsibility is now glaringly obvious to everyone. At the very least, Wall St. should keep accurate books, and regulators should scrutinize them.

The traditional way of toppling rogue mega-institutions is of course well known: the “barbarians” did it to Imperial Rome, Lincoln did it to the Southern slave system, Gorbachev did it to the Soviet state. But as these mega-institutions take on global scale, the cost of violent overthrow rises sharply. We should be able to do better.

Key to the smooth downsizing of rogue mega-institutions is twofold: 1) the breakthrough understanding of the bottom line insight that a cherished social structure has outlived its usefulness as currently designed combined with 2) the identification of specific traits requiring elimination. Specific reforms (Step 2) without acceptance of the goal of institutional downsizing, and redirection into a socially beneficial mode misses the point. That was the mistake of the Wall Street bailout, which successfully saved the bad old exploitative system rather than taking the opportunity to dismantle it by, for example, rebuilding the wall between the stock market and personal savings accounts. Similarly, eliminating mercenary forces while leaving the political supremacy over Congress of the Imperial Presidency untouched will only have a temporary impact. Surgical removal of a specific cancerous tumor must be done in the context of lifestyle changes related to nutrition, avoiding pesticides, and exercise.

Rogue mega-institutions must be recognized as enemies of society and redesigned to return to their proper purpose of servinhg society. The Presidency’s power should be balanced with that of Congress; stock market investments should b e used to stimulate growth, not gamble with people’s mortgages and savings accounts; the health care system should exist to provide a universal right, not to make a profit; the cost of gas should b e set by government to reflect its true value, incluyding the cost of pollution clean-up and the cost of wars fought to get the oil. And no industry that takes welfare from the taxpayer should turn its leaders into billionaires immune from prosecution.


To its credit, Washington is at least thinking about this issue. See comments by FDIC’s Sheila Bair.

Abetting Israeli Violence Harms U.S. and Israeli National Security

By excusing, if not encouraging, Israeli shooting of protesters in other countries and in international waters, Washington is undermining the rule of international law and thus harming US national security. It is also violating its solemn duty to protect the lives of US citizens. And by equating support for the most irresponsible and criminal policies of violence-prone Israeli politicians, Washington is making the US-Israeli alliance harmful to US national security.

From the perspective of US national security, Washington’s support for extreme right-wing Israeli politicians who want to use violence against peace activists, even in international waters, is dangerously self-defeating. The US needs the international rule of law but, regarding Israel, is promoting piracy – there is no other word for military attacks on vessels in international waters.

U.N. Condemns Israeli Blockade of Gaza

Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, said the flotilla “is necessitated by the blockade that Israel has imposed since Hamas took over the area in 2007,” calling Israel’s blockade “immoral” and “illegal.” [Xinhua, 6/24/11.]

US official reaction to Israel’s murder of Syrian protesters along the Golan border was another troubling example of Washington irresponsibly making exceptions for Israel, allowing it to get away with criminal behavior. Shooting unarmed demonstrators across international borders, like attacking ships in international waters, is criminal behavior that sets precedents that are sure one day to harm US interests.

Israel Attacks Freedom of the Press

Israel on Sunday threatened to ban international journalists for up to a decade if they join a flotilla planning to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents hundreds of journalists working for international news organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, condemned the Israeli decision and urged the government to cancel the order. [Forbes, 6/26/11.]

Washington’s attitude toward the current flotilla, essentially encouraging Israel to attack and even murder US citizens, is despicable beyond belief, but it is also self-defeating. In a Mideast already plagued with violence that results in repeated harm to Israelis, why would Washington or a patriotic Israeli politician want to encourage further breakdown in the rule of international law? With Israel shooting demonstrators across international boundaries, violating international borders with its fighter/bomber jets, and attacking peaceful ships in international waters, Israel has lost all right to complain about violence used against it by its adversaries.

Author Alice Walker to Join Flotilla

If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman. This should go down hilariously in the annals of history. But if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us, as they did some of the activists in the last flotilla, Freedom Flotilla I, what is to be done? [Alice Walker to CNN, as quoted by Haaretz, 6/24/11.]

If we say piracy by Israel is OK, then piracy will become standard behavior for all others who see an advantage in it. If we say that Israel can kill demonstrators who are in another country, then some adversary of the US will sooner or later follow that precedent.

International law starts with the willingness of the most powerful to follow rules even when those rules happen to be inconvenient.

Six U.S. Congressmen to Secretary of State Clinton

the measures used by Israel to protect its security “as in the case of any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law[Congress of the United States, 6/24/11.]

When Washington bows down to violence-prone right-wing elements in Israel, it makes the world a less civilized place, thus harming American security. This brings us back to the debate provoked last year by General Petraeus’ questioning of the impact on US national security of its alliance with Israel. Support for the security of the Israeli people may well be consonant with US national interests; support for violence-prone Israeli politicians is not. When Washington equates support for the most outrageously violent policies of the Israeli right wing with showing American friendship for Israel, then Washington makes the US-Israeli alliance harmful to US national security.