Sunday, September 28, 2008

Imperial Overreach

As Peter Lavelle of RussiaToday suggests, "the assumption that only the US and it[s] allies have foreign policy interests" is at the heart of its imperial overreach.

Great-nation chauvinism, to be fair, is not unique to the US. Below a certain threshold (in terms of GDP, population, armed forces, etc.) the security interests of a nation begin to fade from the concerns of more powerful nations.

But can any nation, even the US, afford to ignore the security interests of a nuclear power that is not only the eighth largest holder of its public debt but also allied with its soon-to-be-biggest creditor?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What Western Diplomats Said about the Taliban after the Execution of Najibullah in 1996

On 27 September 1996, the Taliban executed Mohammad Najibullah, the last president of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Three days later, John F. Burns reported in the New York Times:
Now, with two-thirds of Afghanistan under their control, the Taliban are closer to ending the fighting than anybody has been since 1979. For Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan would bring a major dividend, including the possibility of re-opening trade routes to Central Asia and curbing the flood of opium, heroin and automatic weapons that have made large parts of Pakistan virtually ungovernable.

Other neighboring countries are deeply wary of the Taliban. For Iran, the Taliban's Islamic militancy is less important than the fact that the Taliban are mostly Sunni Muslims, long at odds with the Shiite Muslims who predominate in Iran.

Iran backed the Government ousted by the Taliban, which was headed by Persian-speaking leaders from Afghanistan's Tajik minority. Russia, wary of the spread of militant Islam to the newly independent Central Asian states, also backed the Government, as did India.

But Western diplomats in Islamabad say that there has been no sign that the Taliban leaders want to spread their beliefs beyond Afghhanistan's frontiers, or that they are inclined to back terrorism. ("New Afghan Rulers Shock Even Their Backers in Pakistan," 30 September 1996)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

After Bush

While George W. Bush may not be the worst president in the history of the United States, he certainly seems to be the most expensive one, costing Americans a couple of trillions of dollars in war and a couple of trillions of dollars in financial crisis at the very least (not counting the human, economic, and environmental costs to the rest of the world).

This ought to be the year when, despite assorted left-wing candidates like Nader and McKinney taking about 15% of the votes, Obama will still prevail, the GOP cast into the dustbin of history, but Americans being who they are (e.g., one in ten Americans is said to be "on the lookout for the Antichrist"), and Obama being who he is (the top recipient of campaign contributions from "Finance/Insurance/Real Estate"), the moral and economic bankruptcy of the nation under W gives the Democratic candidate only a slim advantage:
When asked how the Wall Street crisis might affect their presidential vote, slightly more registered voters say it increases their chances of voting for Barack Obama (29%) than say this about John McCain (23%), with roughly 4 in 10 saying it will have no impact on their decision. (Jeffrey M. Jones, "Wall Street Crisis May Give Obama Slight Political Benefit,"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crisis of Capitalism and the Left

Crisis of Capitalism and the Left
by Emir Sader

A new crisis of capitalism, in the style of 1929.  The theories of casino capitalism are confirmed.  The US government contradicts itself again and heavily intervenes, demonstrating that its confidence in the market isn't as great as its propaganda displayed.  Neoliberal capitalism spills its guts, and the theories of the Left -- Keynesian or anti-capitalist -- critical of neoliberalism are corroborated.

Our theories about the anti-social and perhaps terminal character of capitalism borne out, we leftists smile, rubbing our hands, eager for social and political consequences of crises.

Should we?  Or perhaps should we ask ourselves how prepared we are to confront this new crisis with left-wing alternatives?  Not just with theories, but with the social, political, and ideological force to contest hegemony in crisis.  Are we ready to ask ourselves if the measures taken by governments wouldn't mean more suffering for the poor, more desperation, abandonment, unemployment, and precarious labor, without people being able to see alternatives?

If we are to merely play an intellectual role of being critics of capitalism, the new crisis is a great feast.  We can rejoice and churn out, day after day, week after week, new articles that foresee -- "as we have written already" -- the end of capitalism in short order.

But every catastrophism is self-deceiving.  In the 30s, the Communist International subscribed to the theory of economist Eugen Varga, who revisited Lenin's theory to diagnose that the crisis of 1929 brought capitalism, finally, to its final stage.  As the New Deal rescued capitalism from itself, the category of the "second phase of the final stage of capitalism" was introduced.  By now we must be in the fifth or sixth phase.

Giovanni Arrighi recalls that, in the 70s, the debate was not about the end of capitalism but about when, where, and how capitalism would end -- the subject that was apparently accepted by even theoreticians in favor of capitalism.

Nevertheless, as Lenin himself reminds us, capitalism doesn't collapse, nor will it ever collapse, unless it gets defeated -- as shown by the revolutionary processes that ended up with capitalism, temporarily or definitively.  It doesn't collapse on its own, and it even demonstrates capacity for recovery.  Who knew that the homeland of Lenin, of the first worker-peasant revolution in the history of humanity, would see restoration of capitalism, in a gangster version?

Who knew that the United States, "mortally wounded" by the crisis of 1929, would preside over the longest and deepest cycle of expansion of capitalism in its history -- its "golden era" according to Hobsbawm -- after WW2, pressuring the USSR and defeating it technologically and economically, before facilitating its political implosion?

I'm not saying this to be characterized as a propagandist of apologetic visions of capitalism or to encourage demoralization, but to perform a salutary affirmation of Brecht, who said that "we must attack the strongest flank of the enemy," so as not to deceive ourselves about the real conditions of the battle against it, so as not to underestimate its forces, and, above all, so as not to overestimate our forces.

Every crisis that the Left faces with hand-rubbing glee leaves it even more defeated than before, for such a Left is one content with contemplating the last days of a capitalist Pompeii, which however persists and survives thanks to the lack of alternatives -- theoretical and political -- on the Left, the very Left that appears to believe that finally one day, in the not too distant future, peoples of the world will be persuaded of its apocalyptic theory, without it having made its theory real as an economic, social, political, and ideological force.

For the time being -- as Marx said of the petit bourgeoisie -- it seems that the people are not yet mature enough to understand the theory of a Left that is satisfied with itself, with our marvelous theory that tells us that, whether in the long, medium, or short term, inevitably history will reveal that it's advancing toward socialism.

The turns -- both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary -- of the 20th century have taught us nothing if we are still waiting for the corpse of our enemy to turn up, rather than meticulously preparing to make our dreams and utopias a reality, as recommended by Lenin's revolutionary realism.

The original article "A crise do capitalismo e a esquerda" was published in the Blog do Emir section of the Carta Maior Web site on 18 September 2008.  Click here for a Spanish translation by Insurrectas y Punto.  English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Le Divorce

"French, Russian PMs Bond over Economy" (AFP, 20 September 2008). Maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Little did we know that it would take the most American of all French presidents to initiate Europe's divorce from the Atlantic Alliance.

By the way, it was on 20 September 1792 when the French Revolution made divorce lawful, to the happiness of women, like Europe, trapped in unhappy marriages:
During the radical years of the Revolution a number of pieces of legislation were designed to improve family life, deemed hitherto to have been cruel and immoral, like the Ancient Régime itself. Family courts were instituted to deal with family conflict, penalties for wife beating were introduced which were twice as heavy as for assaulting a man, and the age of majority was reduced from 25 to 21. Of greatest importance was a divorce law voted at the last session of the Legislative Assembly, on 20 September 1792. This gave women remarkably broad grounds for leaving an unhappy or violent marriage. Nationally, perhaps 30,000 divorces were decreed under this legislation, especially in towns; in Paris, there were nearly 6,000 in 1793-5. (Philip G. Dwyer and Peter McPhee, The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook, Routledge, 2002, p. 84)

Iran, Syria, and Israel: War and Peace in the Middle East

With America busy nationalizing its mountains of bad debts, ever more dependent on capital import from East Asia and major oil exporters, will peace finally break out in the Middle East? If yes, what kind of "peace" will it be? If no, then what?

Several possibilities:
  1. Syria makes peace with Israel without extracting concessions from it (in which case the leader of Syria can get assassinated like Sadat), and Iran, now without its closest ally,1 will become the last defender of the heart -- Palestine -- of the Arab cause (to the chagrin of Iranian liberals and anti-Shia Arab sectarians).

  2. Both Iran and Syria make peace with Israel without extracting concessions from it,2 and the Palestinian people will become a homeless orphan in the Middle East (in which case the leaders of Iran and Syria can both get assassinated like Sadat).

  3. Both Iran and Syria make peace with Israel, having extracted concessions (which can get the leader of Israel assassinated -- Rabin was for only seeming to make a concession) from it that would allow the Palestinian people to establish a state (which will be to Israel at best what Mexico -- the provider of cheap labor and natural resources -- is to the United States3).

  4. Iran, Syria, and Israel settle for "cold peace": no normalization, but mutual self-restraint (i.e., both Israel and Hezbollah focus more on their respective domestic politics than on each other).

  5. Israel, having acquired 1,000 Boeing GBU-39 smart bombs (so-called bunker busters4) from the USA, attacks Hezbollah again.

  6. Israel, having successfully bombed Syria and having acquired 1,000 Boeing GBU-39 smart bombs from the USA, bombs Iran, too, and all hell breaks loose.
2, 3, 5, and 6 are much less likely than 1 and 4.

1 Sarkozy's Mediterranean Union is a far more successful first step in this direction than Bush's Annapolis.

2 That would be the final realization of a new Middle East as envisioned by the United States government:
A central component of this vision is the normalization and integration of Israel into the Middle East. The US envisions a Middle East resting upon Israeli capital in the West and Gulf capital in the East, underpinning a low-wage, neoliberal zone that spans the region. What this means is that Israel's historic destruction of Palestinian national rights must be accepted and blessed by all states in the region. (Adam Hanieh, "Palestine in the Middle East: Opposing Neoliberalism and US Power: Part 1," MRZine, 19 July 2008)
3 The Israeli vision of a Palestinian state looks like this:
Dov Lautman, the former president of the Association of Israeli Industrialists and one of the owners of "Delta-Galil Industries," stated in a meeting with Palestinian manufacturers in 1993: "The important issue is not whether a Palestinian state, an autonomy, or a Palestinian-Jordanian state is established, the important thing is that the economic borders between Israel and the territories remain open." For Lautman, and many others, economic relations between the states of Israel and Palestine should be modeled after "the free trade agreement that exists between Mexico and the U.S." For him (and others), there was no doubt as to who would play the role of the United States and who, the role of Mexico. (endnotes omitted, Efraim Davidi, "The Sewing Factory in Gaza, the Administration in Tel-Aviv, and the Owners in New York: Israeli Industrialists' Strategy in the Global Supply Chain," MRZine, 18 May 2006)
4 I say "so-called," for GBU39s are said to have an ability to penetrate only six feet of concrete. Therefore,
the GBU-39 would have limited utility against deeply-buried, hardened targets like those at Iran's nuclear research facilities. Covered by layers of concrete and earth, some of the research labs at Natanz (and other locations) are at least 30 feet underground, and perhaps as deep as 60 feet. ("The Consolation Acquisition," In from the Cold, 15 September 2008)
They represent a powerful threat against Hezbollah, but they are of uncertain utility against Iran.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Luis Bilbao: For the United States, the Key Is Bolivia

Luis Bilbao: For the United States, the Key Is Bolivia

If the United States manages to unleash a civil war in Bolivia, the plan is to extend it throughout the region and to resort to massive and extensive use of violence to regain ground, said Luis Bilbao, director of Revista América XXI, in an interview with Ernesto Villegas (via satellite) for the VTV program "Mediodías en Confianza."

"What is at stake in Bolivia is peace and democracy for the entire Latin America," the Argentine journalist and economist added in the conversation, analyzing the results of the recent summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), regarding the unrest in Bolivia, as well as the economic crisis.

Venezolana de Televisión

The original text in Spanish appeared on on 18 September 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nader on Ballot for 85.2% of Voters, McKinney for 70.5%

Both Ralph Nader (85.2%) and Cynthia McKinney (70.5%) are on the ballot for far more voters this year than Nader was in 2004, though the desire for a left-wing candidate has yet to reach the level it did before 2000 (90.5%). That, as well as the relative scarcity of preventive left-wing denunciations of left-wing "spoilers" this year, may say something about Obama, leftists, and/or voters in the USA. On the same day I discovered this noteworthy trend, I learned that Peter Camejo, Nader's running mate in 2004 and principled advocate for a third party on the Left, died.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Strategy of Chaos in Bolivia

Strategy of Chaos in Bolivia
by Maurice Lemoine

On the tenth of September, one day before the 35th anniversary of the death of Chilean President Salvador Allende, Evo Morales, the Bolivian head of state, declared US Ambassador Philip Goldberg "persona non grata."  This is not a contrived symbolic decision.  It came after the sabotage of a gas pipeline in the Department of Tarija by opposition extremists in Bolivia with whom the diplomat maintained close contacts.

La derecha boliviana intensifica la violencia

La Jornada Tv

Defeated on the national level in the recall referendum on the tenth of August, which Mr. Morales won with 67% of the votes, the prefects and "civic committees" of the so-called "autonomist" regions -- Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Chuquisaca, and Tarija --- are now clearly seeking to destabilize the country.  Seizing and looting public institutions, such as tax and customs offices, the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), and the National Telecommunications Company (Entel); assaults against the police chief (Santa Cruz) and forces of law and order; attacks on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community radio stations; use of shock troops, especially the Cruceñista Youth Union (UJC) -- the Far Right has gone on rampage in recent days.

In Cobija (in the Department of Pando), on the eleventh of September, eight people were killed and over thirty injured during a confrontation -- the first instance where firearms were used -- between government supporters and "autonomist" groups.

Bolivia no está sola: Chávez expulsa al embajador estadounidense en Venezuela

Having received the firm support of the governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, Mr. Morales denounced an attempted "civil coup d'état."

Read "Périlleux bras de fer en Bolivie" (Dangerous Arm Wrestling in Bolivia) in the September 2008 issue of Le Monde diplomatique.

The original article in French was published in the "valise diplomatique" section of Le Monde diplomatique on 12 September 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

NATO Weapons for Georgia

NATO Weapons for Georgia
by Knut Mellenthin

According to a report by the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Thursday, a group of NATO experts arrived in Georgia.  The group will estimate the military needs of the country after its attack on South Ossetia and war against Russia.  The activities of this working group will be kept secret.  However, its presence and basic task have been confirmed by a spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Tbilisi, writes Kommersant.  The paper quoted the ministry spokesman as saying: "That visit and the negotiations are not for the press."

The newspaper establishes a connection between the visit of the NATO experts and that of a high-level NATO Council delegation to Tbilisi on 15-16 September 2008.  The delegation, as Der Spiegel confirmed, will be led by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.  What should be a routine visit "planned for a long time" according to Der Spiegel, it is also about setting the agenda for the rearmament of Georgia, says Kommersant.  The findings of the expert group should serve as basis for decision-making.

The only official acknowledgment in the Pentagon announcements so far came this week: a US "assessment team" is being sent to the Black Sea country, to "help us begin to consider carefully Georgia's legitimate needs and our response."  "We must support Georgia.  We seek to . . . assist in rebuilding its military," Eric Edelman, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (the third highest ranking position in the Defense Department), said at a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.  "Georgia, like any sovereign country, should have the ability to defend itself and to deter renewed aggression."

Among other things, the rearmament of Georgia concerns restoring destroyed military infrastructure, like the radar system and the bases in Gori and Senaki.  In addition, the Georgian armed forces, given the experiences of the short war in August, will be modernized and strengthened.  Among other things they will receive anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.

Meanwhile, President Mikheil Saakashvili leaves no doubt that he wants to start a war of revenge as soon as possible.  This time, he boasts, with the full backing of the NATO and the "international community."

In response, Russia submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to ban arms supplies to Georgia.  In his explanation, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "the unrestrained militarization of Georgia in recent years, backed by the United States and certain other countries, certainly contributed to the act of aggression committed by [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili against South Ossetia."  The Russian draft prohibits not only weapons deliveries but also "any aid, consultations linked with military activity."

The original article in German was published in junge Welt on 12 September 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Battle of Chile

To commemorate 11 September 1973, watch The Battle of Chile by Patricio Guzmán.

La Insurrección de la Burguesía

El golpe de Estado

Under a Doom

Under a Doom
by Theodor W. Adorno

What the common sense made ill by its very health resists most fastidiously is the supremacy of all things objective over individuals, in their social existence as well as in their consciousness, which may be starkly experienced every day.  This supremacy is dispelled as groundless speculation, so that individuals may preserve their flattering illusion, their standardized ideas made the unconditioned truth in the double sense in the meantime, in the face of a suspicion: that is not so, and our lives are under a doom.

Today is the birthday of Theodor W. Adorno (11 September 1903 - 6 August 1969).  The text above is a translation of the beginning of Part 3, Chapter 2 ("Weltgeist und Naturgeschichte.  Exkurs zu Hegel") of Negative Dialektik.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The State of the Sexual Union in Iran and America

As M. Junaid Levesque-Alam observes, Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, wants the state of the sexual union in the United States to be more conservative than that in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran: Condom Factory & Sex Education

Iran: A New Approach to Drugs

Stephen Jay Gould: This View of Life

Stephen Jay Gould (10 September 1941 -- 20 May 2002) was a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. His view of evolution of nature was historical and dialectical, unlike those of Darwinian fundamentalists, for whom adaptation and natural selection must explain all changes. This NOVA profile of Gould was originally broadcast on 18 December 1984.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Land Question behind the Taliban Resurgence

The Dexter Filkins article below clarifies the main reason for the Taliban resurgence, which looks not unlike an Islamic variant of the Maoist "people's war." Without substantial land reform in the tribal areas, the Taliban will continue to grow in Pakistan. Pressuring the Pakistani government to attack the Taliban militarily in Pakistan so as to deny the Taliban in Afghanistan "strategic depth" (the current main US approach), or worse the US military directly invading the tribal areas in Pakistan (the approach that the US will be increasingly taking), is a recipe for disaster, liable to make the whole of Pakistan, which has not become a coherent nation yet, ungovernable.
Everywhere I traveled during my stay in the tribal areas and in Peshawar, I met impoverished Pakistanis who told me Robin Hood-like stories about how the Taliban had challenged the wealthy and powerful people on behalf of the little guys. Hamidullah, for instance, was an illiterate wheat farmer living in Khyber agency when, in 2002, a wealthy landowner seized his home and six acres of fields. Hamidullah and his family were forced to eke out a living from a nearby shanty. Neither the local malik nor the government agent, Hamidullah told me, would intervene on his behalf. Then came Namdar, the Taliban commander. He hauled the rich man before a Vice and Virtue council and ordered him to give back Hamidullah’s home and farm.

Now Hamidullah is one of Namdar’s loyal militiamen.

“There are so many guys like me,” he said, cradling a Kalashnikov.

The social revolution that has swept the tribal areas does not bode well for the plans, laid out by Governor Ghani, to oust the Taliban by boosting the tribal elders. Nor does it hold out much promise for the Americans, who have expressed hope that they could do in the FATA what they were able to do with the Sunni tribes in Iraq. There, local tribesmen rose up against, and have substantially weakened, Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. (Dexter Filkins, "Right at the Edge," New York Times, 7 September 2008)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Class Struggle Indirectly Determines Geopolitics

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles, said Marx, and the present geopolitical development, too, is probably indirectly shaped by it.

Even before America invaded Iraq, Immanuel Wallerstein prophetically wrote: "the use of such force when the conditions of hegemony have already been undermined is a sign of weakness rather than of strength, and weakens the user" ("Iraq: How Great Powers Bring Themselves Down," 1 April 2002).

Why had "the conditions of [US] hegemony" been undermined by then, though? It would have been nice if it had been due to the strength of the working class, but it was largely due to the weakness of workers, in the United States above all (where workers were so thoroughly defeated that they could sustain their living standards only by working more and more and going deeper and deeper into debt), but also in China (whose economy rapidly developed -- and is still developing -- at the cost of greater inequality) and much of the rest of the world (whose savings -- at the expense of the working class -- went into big accumulations of dollar reserves that helped to keep interest rates low and finance the ever rising US debts).

What comes after the US hegemony remains to be seen.

How Far Will the Russians Go?

This just in from the Sunday Times:
Russia is considering increasing its assistance to Iran's nuclear programme in response to America's calls for Nato expansion eastwards and the presence of US Navy vessels in the Black Sea delivering aid to Georgia.

The Kremlin is discussing sending teams of Russian nuclear experts to Tehran and inviting Iranian nuclear scientists to Moscow for training, according to sources close to the Russian military. (Mark Franchetti, "Vladimir Putin Set to Bait US with Nuclear Aid for Tehran," Sunday Times, 7 September 2008)
This report probably isn't true because Sunday Times coverage of Iran as well as Russia has always been full of psychological warfare based on leaks from anonymous sources. But a question does arise: how far will the Russians go in their conflict with the West? Depending on the answer to this question, new possibilities may open up for the states at odds with the empire.

The threat to sell S-300 to Iran and Syria, for instance, is something the Russians have been willing to use (e.g., "Russia May Push Forward with S-300 Sales to Iran, RIA Novosti, 1 September 2008), but if they actually sold it, they could no longer use it as a bargaining chip with the West, so they will probably hold on to it for the time being. But eventually they may decide to act on the threat, as well as cut the Russian routes to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan, if the West (especially the United States, which just announced a $1 billion aid to Georgia, making it "one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid after Israel and Egypt") doesn't cease and desist from its military advancement toward Russia. After all, Russia will be holding its first joint naval exercise with Venezuela on 10-14 November 2008 ("Russian, Venezuelan Navies to Hold Manouvers in Caribbean," ITAR-TASS, 7 September 2008).