Monday, September 23, 2013


If the OpEd topics I choose to write about were a direct reflection of what I think about most, there would be a lot more about the tragedy being played out in Congress: the cruel attack on the poor, the sabotage of health care, the fierce effort to blackmail the country into submission to the GOP-Tea Party agenda. But I can’t add much to Krugman, Reich, Steiglitz and many others.

I would say that the Koch-Limbaugh-Cruz-Cantor crowd doesn’t represent simply a different set of opinions in the national debate. These are mean people, as close to an American version of fascists as we’ve ever had, no different than Joe McCarthy. They appeal to a political constituency that includes many honest and decent Americans, but those adjectives don’t apply to the chiefs of the wrecking crew.

Nor should one view the present madness as an aberration that will automatically be overcome by healthy demographic and generational trends. Evil and fanatic political minorities, fueled by the most reactionary tycoons among the super wealthy, have sometimes been able to alter disastrously the course of nations.

The majority of the country is against them, angry at the havoc they are creating, hoping that paralysis of the government will end.  But it’s hard to see any hope for breaking the destructive impasse without changing the present balance in Congress. That won’t be easy, but it must be possible.

The necessary prelude is a great public outcry against the current scheme to strangle the nation into acceptance of the GOP’s austerity budget and its hatred of affordable health care.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


So the impossible seems possible after all.

We were told that the only alternative to a US military strike was to turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. Why? Because Russia would block any meaningful response and the UN was powerless and irrelevant. ‘Only the USA cares and defends the moral high ground; only we have the military power to enforce international law while violating it; the consequences of failing to deliver military punishment would be far more dangerous than what might come of bombing Syria.’

Syria remains in awful straits and the world is surely still in bad shape, but suddenly things look somewhat more hopeful. If Russia and the United States can act so quickly in an emergency to fashion an agreement on getting rid of Syria’s chemical weapons, how may the realm of the possible now be expanded? First, can the plan be carried to successful completion by further US-Russian cooperation within the UN? Can the proposed Geneva conference on Syria go ahead? And what about Iran? Can serious negotiations now take place with the new Iranian government?

The hawks are very unhappy, from John McCain to Netanyahu. They fear that the unprecedentedly fierce opposition to another US military thrust, especially within the United States itself, may be a global game changer. They fear that the turn to diplomacy and the United Nations may represent a developing adjustment to a new world reality in which no super power, no matter how superior in weapons of war, can determine how the world turns.

Some who justify military intervention for humanitarian purposes may have mixed feelings. For example, Nicolas Kristof, who is an admirable voice of conscience against abuses of human rights, argues that only the threat of US force created the shift toward Russian-US cooperation. More reasonably, it was precisely the worldwide rejection of another US military incursion in the Middle East that kept us from stumbling over the brink. That’s what made a different and far better answer possible.

Obama, as usual, is getting a lot of flack, for being indecisive on the one hand, and for his warlike posturing on the other. As with any US president, watch out when the call comes for military action and the appeal is made to national pride and American exceptionalism. I think Obama is clearly a reluctant warrior, far from a John McCain. However, while often ambivalent and conflicted, he remains tied to the increasingly untenable outlook of expansive US military and economic domination. Maybe the reality of overwhelming anti-war sentiment can tilt him further toward committing to international cooperation to solve problems rather than to the “red lines” that exacerbate them.    

Thursday, September 12, 2013

PUTIN'S OpEd — not big news?

Before I went to bed last night, I read Putin's OpEd piece on the front page of the Internet version of the New York Times. I thought it was important, should be taken seriously and read with a clearly critical eye. So I quickly wrote a brief blog, "Putin's OpEd". I wondered how the media would handle it. By this morning, it wasn't big news, not even mentioned in the local paper, The Oakland Tribune. As for the NY Times, it's not referenced on the front page, and is offered in ridiculous, virtually unreadable form on the OpEd page. Smack in the middle, as if in rebuttal or rebuke, is a huge bloody hand, presumably Putin's. It seems Putin has as much chance speaking directly to the American people as Obama has of being heard unfiltered in Russia or Syria.

So, as a public service, I'll make it possible for my small host of blog followers to see it in readable form. Just click on Putin's OpEd at the beginning of last night's blog. Needless to say (sic), this is in no way an endorsement of Putin or his authoritarian regime (a necessary disclaimer, I guess, though not as crude as today's Times). I do agree with the main thrust of Putin's argument for focusing on collective efforts and the UN. You can read and judge. That's more than most of our countrymen will be permitted.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Putin’s OpEd in the NY Times, a plea to the US for “caution”, should be taken seriously. It should be read critically, but with an open mind. It won’t transform his image at home or abroad and make him likable to most of us. But with obvious exceptions (eg, no admission of Russia’s negative role, supplying arms to its “clients” as we do to ours), the thrust of his message is very sound, certainly logical and timely.

The media thrives on demonizing foreign villains, so it remains to be seen whether most Americans get a fair chance to read and judge the content for themselves. It’s not a good sign that The Times found it necessary to print a bloody hand, presumably Putin’s, next to the OpEd piece.

Putin says something in the last paragraph that I wish all Americans would take to heart. It’s ritual for every President, Obama included, to tout America and Americans as “exceptional”, different and superior to all others — and then to sign off with “God Bless the United States of America.” Commenting on Obama’s speech Tuesday night, Putin says:

         I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


In my last blog, I began with my reaction to those in Congress and the media who were so quick to rally around the call for a military strike on Syria. Of course, there was a much bigger story, namely that the bandwagon attracted so few Americans. I don’t recall a more widespread popular anti-war sentiment at the outset of any previous presidential war initiative.

There is at last a deep-seated feeling that, despite our vast military power, US acts of military intervention and war are futile and inevitably add to havoc at home as well as abroad.

Of course that big story led to another big story. The avenue to international cooperation that was supposedly hopelessly blocked has opened up. The road ahead is difficult and uncertain, but mindless assumptions that sought to justify a unilateral US strike are shattered. The UN is not irrelevant. Nor does the fact that most of the world, including Russia and China, opposes a military strike mean that it's impossible collectively to uphold international law and enforce the prohibition of chemical weapons. On the contrary, worldwide and domestic opposition to the strike is exactly what makes another path possible. (President Obama, interviewed by Gwen Ifill on the PBS News Hour, pointed out something as if it might be a surprise: Iran and Hezbollah are also opposed to chemical warfare!)

There are some who fear that if we don’t bomb Syria after declaring a “red line”, we may not uphold a “red line” by going to war against Iran. That clearly is why Netanyahu and AIPAC are lobbying Congress for the military strike. Maybe the Syria experience will lead to a new direction concerning Iran. Instead of sitting on another “red line” with cocked weapons of war, it’s time to act with conviction that meaningful international cooperation is necessary and possible.

A lot divides nations and people within nations, but avoiding mass destruction is a universal human interest. Yesterday’s initiative by Russia, and the positive though “cautious” response by Obama, opens the door that pundits told us was locked and bolted. It’s up to us, people everywhere, to keep it open as the only gateway to a less violent world in which bitter conflicts may be resolved or contained.

Meanwhile, everything possible should be done to relieve the suffering of millions of Syrians. Oxfam America has been exemplary in gathering aid for the victims while absolutely opposing a US military strike.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Depressingly Familiar

It’s incredible, but depressingly predictable, how quickly many Democrats and almost all the pundits fall in line: “anti-war” when things go badly, but reflexively pro-war when the always righteous call to arms first sounds. It’s always “this is different” and, for them, the lessons of Iraq (Afghanistan and Vietnam) don’t apply.

Russia and the UN

One of the most widely accepted excuses is that there’s no point going to the UN because of Russia and China.  The implication is that if the UN won’t go for an American-powered military strike, nothing else matters or is possible. Further, the implication is that Russia and China (unlike us) have no concern about the use of weapons of mass destruction. History tells us otherwise, or how in the world have we survived the foreign policy crises of the last sixty-plus years?

We don’t like Putin and it’s mutual, for rather obvious reasons. But is the rallying of votes for military action in the US Congress more likely to yield hope than bringing the Syrian crisis to full and open consideration at the UN? No government — not Russia, not China, not the US — is immune to consideration of political realities and can afford for long to simply ignore the pressures of an aroused world.

Crime and Punishment

Who is there to punish us when the US violates international law— when we used the atom bomb in Nagasaki even after Hiroshima demonstrated that it was a monstrous crime against humanity? When the US military made massive use of “Agent Orange” in Vietnam? When US presidents enabled assassinations and military coups against democratically elected governments? And who has a veto over the CIA’s right to drop missiles from drones anywhere on Executive order?

It seems that our moral compass too often points to “might makes right.”

Certainly the slaughter in Syria and the unforgivable use of chemical weapons horrifies humanity and must shock the world into action — not to pour fuel on the flames, but to demand cooperative efforts to bring an end to the violence and for all possible humanitarian assistance to its millions of victims. War criminals (some, but hardly all) have been brought to justice before, and will be again if the UN is empowered to do so.

Monday, September 2, 2013


The button the Administration will likely push the hardest to get Congress to endorse a military strike is that the “credibility” of the US and (for loyal Democrats) of Obama is at stake; so is commitment to Israel and the “red line” against Iran.

The credibility of the United States is indeed at issue. Will we uphold or abandon commitment to international cooperation, to the conviction that seeking a level of consensus and collective action is the only way to move forward on the thorniest and most critical problems? Is there any hope for solutions or progress by going it essentially alone and showing the world once again the awesome power and ultimate futility of our military “option”? Not only regarding Syria, can progress be made on any big international problem by “red lining” the point at which we will give up on the process of collective political efforts and negotiation?

Another act of war can only deepen the trap we have dug ourselves into. There is terrible uncertainty about the immediate consequences of a military strike on Syria. But what about the longer term?  Without the rest of the world, including China and Russia, can violence and human suffering be reduced? Can nuclear proliferation be halted and reversed? Can international law be sustained? Can we hope to cope with existential crises like climate change?

War hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham have already signed on, citing assurances that the Administration is prepared to go even further militarily than publicly indicated. It seems these days that bipartisanship can only happen when it’s bad for the country. It’s up to all of us to insist of Democrats and others who have touted their opposition to the Iraq folly (albeit mostly in retrospect): DON’T LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN!