Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

December 15, 2007

Conflation of Interests

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 11:15 am

I finished up “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” by Stephen Kinzer. One of the things that Kinzer convinced me of is that American policy is directed by people that are motivated by the desire to do well, while doing good. At the core, many examples of American misadventures came down to a variation of a central thesis of “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” This quote is attributed to Charlie Wilson, former president of G.M. and Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense.  Apparently, he actually said “for years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” (source) Although, it doesn’t change the central point.  If “Overthrow” proves anything it is the fact the general sentiment was shared with other administration officials including John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, and by Eisenhower himself.

In some ways, it would have been better to have outright scoundrels ruling the country, at least they would have understood what they were doing was wrong. Instead, we are set on these courses of action by deluded do-gooders with a completely warped base of values. Incompetents who think they are helping but are unable to tell the difference between success and failure.

The central values that these pro-business-is-pro-country leaders lack are baldly apparent in our Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The foundation of legitimacy of any government is the consent of the governed.  What these leaders lack is the ability to really put themselves in the shoes of the people they are trying to impose governance.

Let’s take Iraq as an example.  If I were an Iraqi, what would I want?  I would want a job.  I would want basic services.  I would want security and personal safety.  I would like natural resources of the country to be used to benefit to pay for increases in standards of living of everyone in the country.  I would want foreign troops out of the country.  I would like all these things to happen as soon as possible.  If a country offers to help reconstruct our country, I’d rather they would just give us some money and let us spend it to get the resources we would need and to pay workers rather than trying to do it for us.

The inability of these pro-American business leaders to place themselves in the shoes of an ordinary Iraqi citizen is profound, but not unexpected.  They usually come a very isolated culture that is instilled with the virtues of unwaivering belief and messianic mission.  The problem with the Iraqi government is the U.S.  The U.S. actively disallows Iraqi government to do the things that one of our founding documents states it must do in order to be legitimate government: obtain the consent of the governed.  Democracy is not some magic panacea to government.  It is a belief that public opinion matters; thus gaining consent of govern and therefore legitimate.  A situation that is not happening in Iraq.  What will happen eventually is that the citizens will eventually install a government in which their consent is obtained.  If Iran is any guide, it will be a fundamentalist theocracy.

If this outcome is to be avoided, a change of policy needs to take place.  The Iraqi government needs to be more responsive to its people.  What is clear is that the Bush Administration will never get it right.  For them, what is good for Halliburton is good for the world.  To them, democracy is just a word that we use that resulted in the artifact that they are in charge.  Capitalism is just a word that we use to describe the legitimacy of their wealth.  The contradiction between these goals are never realized because the distinctions between the concepts are never defined.  The conflation of interests allows these self-interested do-well-ers to continue to believe they are doing good.  The only cure is the truly indifferent and brutal arbitrator known as reality.  Something these incompetents will never realize until it is too late, or ever.

December 3, 2007

Aftermath of Spanish-American War Applied to Iraq

Filed under: history, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 7:38 am

I started reading “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” by Stephen Kinzer. I finished up the chapter named “Bound for Goo-Goo Land.” It summarizes the Spanish-American War which Secretary of State John Hay called “a splendid little war.”

The American involvement in the Spanish-American War started when the USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor due to an explosion. There is some disagreement to whether it was a mine, or a boiler explosion. If it were a mine, was it the Spanish or Cuban guerrillas? (I can only imagine if such an event took place today, we’d have a virulent 2/15 truth movement or claims of Maine sinking being an inside job.) Officially, the Maine was on a “friendly visit.” Regardless, the Spanish were blamed. Práxedes Sagasta tried unsuccessfully to resolve the situation peacefully with both the Americans and Cubans.

American sentiment seemed fixed with slogans such as “Remember the Maine! To Hell With Spain!” As for the Cuban guerrillas, they saw little to no reason to negotiate. They had fought the Spanish for years and were on the verge of driving them out.

Anti-imperialists feared that the Spanish-American war might be used for American imperial ambitions. To ensure that the war was merely to end Spanish tyranny, Senator Henry Teller of Colorado proposed an amendment to the U.S. declaration of war. It stated that the United States “hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.” (source)

With the moral rectitude of freeing an oppressed people from an evil tyranny, America went to war. It was a rout. The Spanish, a crumbling empire and already weakened by fighting Cuban guerrillas for years, were no match for the American war machine. 385 Americans were killed in action although approximately two thousand more would die later of diseases and wounds they received.

After victory, the Americans decided the Cubans were unfit for self-rule.

“Self-government!” General Shafter snorted when a reporter asked him about it. “Why, these people are no more fit for self-government than gunpowder is for hell.” (pg. 41)

News correspondents reported that instead of embracing American soldiers, the Cubans seemed “sour,” “sullen,” “conceited,” “vain and jealous.” One wrote of his astonishment to find that they were not “filled with gratitude towards us.” (pg. 42)

America established its future role in Cuba with the Platt Amendment.

The Platt Amendment, 1903

Article I. The Government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes, or otherwise, lodgment in or control over any portion of said island.

Article II. The Government of Cuba shall not assume or contract any public debt to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking-fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which, the ordinary revenues of the Island of Cuba, after defraying the current expenses of the Government, shall be inadequate.

Article III. The Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the Treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the Government of Cuba. . . .

Article V. The Government of Cuba will execute, and, as far as necessary, extend the plans already devised, or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the Southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein….

Article VII. To enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the Government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations, at certain specified points, to be agreed upon with the President of the United States. (source)

Basically, exclusive rights to negotiate treaties, the right to intervene in internal affairs of the island, and the right to establish military bases.   In short, Cuba was not a sovereign country.

The first Cuban president shows the role America would have to play in the country.  Tomás Estrada Palma was the first president of Cuba and oversaw adoption of the Platt amendment into the Cuban constitution.  He also signed a bill lowering tariffs on American products.  Estrada Palma was reelected in 1906 but the opposition claimed election fraud.  US troops put down the revolt, although Estrada Palma resigned.  Another American government was established under Taft.  (source)

Now, Iraq is finding itself in similar circumstances.  American interests and Iraqi interests are not the same.  So, when John McCain says there are no Thomas Jeffersons in Iraq.  Maybe, what he really means is that there are not enough Tomás Estrada Palmas.

So, when the McCain’s of this world say that maybe I should admit I was wrong about this war, that the surge is working.  Know that I’m holding the Bush administration to its original mission, a secular democracy in Iraq, not that adding troops could reduce violence levels down to what they were in 2005.

If the aftermath of the Spanish-American War in Cuba proves anything, it is that America needs to leave and not try to impose conditions on the newly liberated country for our businesses.  Failure to do so will likely lead to a revolution that the U.S. will not particularly care for.  We shouldn’t be basing our opinion on what pundits tell us what will happen in Iraq.  It should be based on what Iraqis believe their country will look like without a U.S. presence.  For the sole reason that it will and should be the Iraqis who determine the future of their country.

The contradictory Teller and Platt amendments show us that we should all be skeptical of grand claims of selfless liberation.  Nor, should we have been surprised when Iraqis greeted the American liberation guardedly.  Nor, the remarks from politicians and media that if something bad happens, it is all the Iraqis’ fault.  There is a line.  A line that is obscured by grand words and allusions, but is clear by our actions.  America is on the wrong side of that line, and the wrong side of history.  The longer we stay, the farther we go, the clearer it will be, the more delusional we become.

November 27, 2007

The Long-Term U.S. Presence In Iraq

Filed under: history, politics — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 8:21 am

The AP has a story that the “Iraqis may offer US deal to stay longer.”

Iraq’s government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.

As is typical, it is hard to properly parse what is going on in the Western press.

Al Jazerra has their take on the agreement which is a bit more informative.

Basically, Al-Maliki has promised to be client state of the U.S. in exchange for security guarantees. In all honesty, I don’t know what Al-Maliki could really do. Bush has Ahmed Chalabi waiting in the wings. It isn’t like Al-Maliki is in any position to kick the United States out.

The “encouragement” of investment from U.S. companies has been the idea all along. As Naomi Klein put it in her book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Iraq has been subjected to an anti-Marshall plan. No local economy has been built up. Infrastructure is still a mess. Projects that have been lavishly paid for literally have human feces running down the walls. Now, factories and natural resources are going to be sold off to American companies at bargain basement prices. The looting that took place in the aftermath of the war is nothing compared to the professional looting and long-term subjugation that is about to take place. The Iraqi people deserve better. Make no mistake, this has been the plan all along.  How do I know? Because we’ve done it before, and for the same reasons. Amy Goodman and Democracy Now look at the U.S.-backed 1953 coup d’etat in Iran.

Parts 2, 3, and 4.

November 4, 2007

No End in Sight

Filed under: film, politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 7:50 am

“No End in Sight” is a film that explores the Iraq War, in particular the failure of Iraq reconstruction. The film doesn’t offer tremendous new insight for those that have read other works on the Iraq War, however, it does serve as a good summary for those who haven’t been paying attention. The interviews are excellent and it is good to see the faces and variety of perspectives of people who were there. What is also telling are those who refused to interviewed, which the film notifies the viewer at various points throughout.

The previous criticisms of the Bush administration stand: failure to plan, failure to listen, emphasis on managing perceptions over fixing the problems, marginalization of critics and just general brazen hubris and incompetence.

The film doesn’t offer any answers. At this point, the only way to describe the situation is a quagmire. There are a few things we could do to help, namely get the Iraqi people working again. However, it might very well be the case of too little too late. The U.S. seems to have already spent all the initial political capital and goodwill. Not that there was necessarily a tremendous amount of it to begin with, nevertheless, there was definitely some.

My one complaint with the movie is that tends to focus too much on the tactical errors that were made, however the underlying strategic error may have been pre-existing have had nothing to do with the mismanagement of the aftermath of the war. Namely, installing a democracy in Iraq will lead to a government that the U.S. doesn’t like. Much of the friction recently seems to be over that question: what should a sovereign, democratically elected government do versus what does the U.S. want the government to do? Certainly, there have been events that have radicalized the population against the U.S. However, the idea that Iraq would transform into a secular, liberal, Western democracy overnight and will defer to the United States on all issues is lunacy. I don’t want to downplay democracy because I do think the fundamental equality of man is a universal value. However, a democracy and a government that will be subordinate to the United States are two separate issues, and I think it is harder to get the two to coincide. If one political end is going to give, it has to be the latter.

October 31, 2007

The End of Diplomacy as Symbolized by the U.S. Embassy in Iraq

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 7:47 am

I don’t know what one calls the $600 million dollar U.S. embassy that we are building in Iraq. Is it an Imperial Palace, a Mega-Bunker of Baghdad or a transplanted piece of America that has been grafted onto Iraq? Vanity Fair has an article about the facility. This webpage has various pictures of the construction and the extent of the complex.

Despite its on-time and under-budget construction, the complex represents a failure. It represents a failure in purpose and it represents a waste of precious resources. Much like the Roman empire falling to the barbarian hordes, it matters little how high or how deep we build the walls; we have lost the war before the first battle has begun.

American diplomacy and democracy is ideally based on one principle, the ability to form a consensus through mutual agreement. The basis of such agreements were believed to be evidence-based reasoning and a recognition of basic equality between parties. This process leads to compromise and understanding and is the theme behind our justice system and organization of government.

To the extent that we’ve abandoned those principles at home through the lens of blind partisanship, we’ve also abandoned it abroad through nearly unilateral action. Our government imposes its will, but with that elitist bravado comes doubt. A fear, because we know, in our hearts , that such power is illegitimate. The only legitimate power over another man is through their voluntary consent, not their fear.

And so, we build our walled palaces. When, in fact, we should recognize them for what they are: prisons. There will be no understanding that will be developed out of such structures. It is a bubble. It is closed. It is only capable of allowing pre-approved thoughts enter and exit its gates. It literally is not capable or open enough to allow any other possibility.

And so, it will fall. Not because of its design, but because people will see no reason to defend it. They will not see the moral purpose in putting their life on the line for it. It is a symbol. It is a symbol of everything that is wrong about the reconstruction of Iraq and our attempt to impose a democracy that the U.S. would find acceptable in that country: a waste and failure from the outset that will continue until our government recognizes it as such.

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