View Full Version : How To Start Worrying About The Bomb

04-30-2008, 09:22 PM

05-01-2008, 12:43 AM
Great diavlog!

I didn't like the beginning so much. I'm not sure what is accomplished by playing the blame game of neocons versus liberal hawks. Why not just put these people in the same group, for purposes of foreign policy? I grant they came from different origins, but they ended up in about the same place, and certainly advocated the same actions. Following from JPS's later thinking in the context of negotiating and arms control, care less about the motivations, and care more about the activities.

The rest was quite good, though. It was nice to hear these ideas debated without one side having to be a Manichean.

Question for anyone who knows more than me on this (i.e., anyone): What does it mean to say someone is a Trotskyite, especially in the context of that person pushing a point of view in US foreign policy?

05-01-2008, 03:56 AM
Leon Trotsky opposed Stalin's re-nationalization of Marxism, and proclaimed permanent revolution in an international context.

I also found this 1995 John Judis Foreign Affairs article:

The other important influence on neoconservatives was the legacy of Trotksyism--a point that other historians and journalists have made about neoconservatism but that eludes Ehrman. Many of the founders of neoconservatism, including The Public Interest founder Irving Kristol and coeditor Nathan Glazer, Sidney Hook, and Albert Wohlstetter, were either members of or close to the Trotskyist left in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Younger neoconservatives, including Penn Kemble, Joshua Muravchik, and Carl Gershman, came through the Socialist Party at a time when former Trotskyist Max Schachtman was still a commanding figure.

What both the older and younger neoconservatives absorbed from their socialist past was an idealistic concept of internationalism. Trotskyists believed that Stalin, in trying to build socialism in one country rather than through world revolution, had created a degenerate workers' state instead of a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat. In the framework of international communism, the Trotskyists were rabid internationalists rather than realists and nationalists. In 1939, as a result of the Nazi-Soviet pact, the Trotskyist movement split, with one faction under James Burnham and Max Schachtman declaring itself opposed equally to German Nazism and Soviet communism. Under the influence of an Italian Trotskyist, Bruno Rizzi, Burnham and Schachtman envisaged the Nazi and Soviet bureaucrats and American managers as part of a new class. While Burnham broke with the left and became an editor at National Review, Schachtman remained.

The neoconservatives who went through the Trotskyist and socialist movements came to see foreign policy as a crusade, the goal of which was first global socialism, then social democracy, and finally democratic capitalism. They never saw foreign policy in terms of national interest or balance of power. Neoconservatism was a kind of inverted Trotskyism, which sought to "export democracy," in Muravchik's words, in the same way that Trotsky originally envisaged exporting socialism. It saw its adversaries on the left as members or representatives of a public sector--based new class.

The neoconservatives also got their conception of intellectual and political work from their socialist past. They did not draw the kind of rigid distinction between theory and practice that many academics and politicians do. Instead they saw theory as a form of political combat and politics as an endeavor that should be informed by theory. They saw themselves as a cadre in a cause rather than as strictly independent intellectuals. And they were willing to use theory as a partisan weapon.

Together, the legacy of nsc-68 and Trotskyism contributed to a kind of apocalyptic thinking. The constant reiteration and exaggeration of the Soviet threat was meant to dramatize and win converts, but it also reflected the doomsday revolutionary mentality that characterized the old left. Even the sober historian Walter Laqueur predicted in 1974 the imminence of a "major international upheaval such as the world has not experienced since World War II." In 1979 Eugene Rostow (who was named after socialist Eugene Debs) predicted that if salt ii were ratified, "We will be taking not a step toward peace but a leap toward the day when a president of the United States will have to choose between the surrender of vital interests and nuclear holocaust."

It's ironic that the US, which only with Great Britain, opposed so demonstrably the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, anti-war dissension, and labor organizing, should meld Trotskyism and Wilsonianism into a moral crusade that undermines the US nearly as much as internationalism undermined the USSR. In the midst of this is the post-WW2 realist, by Morgenthau, and liberal IR academic competition, where both agree, that states dominate the international arena, but disagree on means and ends. The Us might have won the war but it lost the peace by forgetting its Thucydides.

05-01-2008, 04:31 AM
Max Boot also wrote a Foreign Policy article about the neocons (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=2426):

"Neocons Are Liberals Who Have Been Mugged by Reality"

No longer true. Original neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol, who memorably defined neocons as liberals who'd been "mugged by reality," were (and still are) in favor of welfare benefits, racial equality, and many other liberal tenets. But they were driven rightward by the excesses of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when crime was increasing in the United States, the Soviet Union was gaining ground in the Cold War, and the dominant wing of the Democratic Party was unwilling to get tough on either problem.

A few neocons, like philosopher Sidney Hook or Kristol himself, had once been Marxists or Trotskyites. Most, like former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, simply had been hawkish Democrats who became disenchanted with their party as it drifted further left in the 1970s. Many neocons, such as Richard Perle, originally rallied around Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a Democratic senator who led the opposition to the Nixon-Ford policy of détente with the Soviet Union. Following the 1980 election, U.S. President Ronald Reagan became the new standard bearer of the neoconservative cause.

A few neocons, like Perle, still identify themselves as Democrats, and a number of "neoliberals" in the Democratic Party (such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke) hold fairly neoconservative views on foreign policy. But most neocons have switched to the Republican Party. On many issues, they are virtually indistinguishable from other conservatives; their main differences are with libertarians, who demonize "big government" and preach an anything-goes morality.

Most younger members of the neoconservative movement, including some descendants of the first generation, such as William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have never gone through a leftist phase, which makes the "neo" prefix no longer technically accurate. Like “liberal,” "conservative," and other ideological labels, "neocon" has morphed away from its original definition. It has now become an all-purpose term of abuse for anyone deemed to be hawkish, which is why many of those so described shun the label. Wolfowitz prefers to call himself a "Scoop Jackson Republican."

Francis Fukuyama also has useful comments about neocon geneology (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/magazine/neo.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print):

It is not an accident that many in the C.C.N.Y. group started out as Trotskyites. Leon Trotsky was, of course, himself a Communist, but his supporters came to understand better than most people the utter cynicism and brutality of the Stalinist regime. The anti-Communist left, in contrast to the traditional American right, sympathized with the social and economic aims of Communism, but in the course of the 1930's and 1940's came to realize that ''real existing socialism'' had become a monstrosity of unintended consequences that completely undermined the idealistic goals it espoused. While not all of the C.C.N.Y. thinkers became neoconservatives, the danger of good intentions carried to extremes was a theme that would underlie the life work of many members of this group.

05-01-2008, 05:25 AM
Thanks for both, Joseph.

BTW, did you read the Kagan article (http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/Spring-2008/full-neocon.html) (also linked to on video page)?

The "shorter" version: We are all necons.

But, snark aside, it was pretty interesting, I thought.

05-01-2008, 07:29 AM
Israel's attack on Iraq in 1981 was by no means an effective non-proliferation action. That attack was a principle motivation for Iraq's nuclear weapons program, which was never based upon use of a production reactor to create plutonium by the way. Israel's attack was, at the time, a terrific blow to the IAEA's tangible non-proliferation activities that required years to overcome. Israel has created similar damage again in Syria, promoting their own perceived short-term interests over the long term interest for nuclear non-proliferation in general.

Last Sunday I heard both Obama's advisor Dr. Rice and Clinton's advisor Rubin say that Israel acted correctly in taking action against Syria because of its imminent threat. I was very sorry to hear that kind of bullshit coming from both camps. To me it means that no matter who wins the next election we are doomed to continue the flawed destructive policies that junior Bush has applied to nuclear non-proliferation during his ruinous years.

What's needed is a resurgence of US support for the IAEA's efforts. I had hoped that either Obama or Clinton would be able to rise to the occasion rather than letting Israel lead them around by the nose.

05-01-2008, 09:25 AM
No, I haven't read that before now. Kagan's artistry is manifest. That was one of the most artful misdirections not tried by my wife against me! Now, I'm sure I'm not a neocon.

My first disagreement is with the galloping sweep of American history, that omits key events, like the Civil War, and other Americans, like Brazilians, for instance, African-Americans, and Native Indians. I'm not a neocon because I don't reduce history to a single narrative.

Also, the Monroe Doctrine (actually promulgated by J.Q. Adams) was conservative and defensive. Sean Wilentz, in The Rise of American Democracy, characterizes it as a quid pro quo: America stays out of Europe's problems; Europe stays clear of the Americas. Adams designed it the policy to decrease tensions and reduce American commitments, not permit expansion. When South Americans claimed independence and Europe threatened war, Adams and Clay tried to calm down their acolytes, and offered commercial treaties and recognition if the new states refrained from exporting revolution to Cuba and other colonies. Southerners were scared about Latin abolition of slavery, and wanted to invade-to secure pro-slavery territory, and save their advantages. Kagan conflates all the corollaries to the Monroe Doctrine that followed its original wording. The Roosevelt Corollary added that the US should intervene to correct misbehaving American states, lest foreign powers beat us to the punch (Jim Powell, Bully Boy, p.29 ebook). And, Powell is a libertarian criticizing TR's progressive policies.

Speaking of TR and Wilson, these guys could use the "I" word: imperialism. Roosevelt and his circle of brahmins used the word in a positive sense. They also disagreed over pragmatic execution. All wanted Cuba, but they disagreed over Hawaii and the Philippines. TR went full-bore for Panama, but that was it. Kagan and neocons can't even stomach the I-word.

Kagan flies over the post-WW2 triumph of academic realism with Morgenthau and also the penchant for geopolitics, with Spykman and later Kissinger. Truman and Acheson advocated containment, not democratization. Only those states with geopolitical value in the containment game earned a second look. What made the Cold War global, post Eisenhower, was the overlap of the Soviet Union's international revolutionary perspective and its leading position on the Eurasian landmass. The US contained the landmass with Spykman's rimland strategy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_J._Spykman). And, one should recall, that Morgenthau opposed the Vietnam War as exceeding American interests.

Kagan can make one narrative out of different precedents only if he concentrates on the post 9/11 world and cherry-picks those aspects of all these strands and more to achieve coherence. It's all very forgetful of the twists and turns in American history, like, again the Civil War and the post-Civil War generation that condemned TR for loving war without knowing about its consequences firsthand (San Juan Hill included). There's also the anti-imperialists and the WW1 opponents. Mark Twain certainly thought he was a true American, as did Eugene O'Neill. And, there's also the isolationist and Anti-Semitic America First conservatives. It's notable Kagan would use Alexander Hamilton, but not Jefferson. After all, Jefferson would have aided France, if Washington and Adams had not wisely stayed neutral. Jefferson was right, too, that such an alliance would have changed history, and made Kagan's argument easier.

05-01-2008, 04:46 PM
Good, civil diavlog. I wish that Jacob had pushed back more against Peter's idea that negotiations with regimes such as Iran or North Korea are worth anything without a volte face in the leadership. His comment that NK had plutonium for 1 or 2 bombs at the end of the *Clinton Administration* is devastating evidence against his own argument. Negotiations allowed NK the time to go nuclear and now no threat of force can be credible.

We are doing the same with Iran.

I am not sure what the answer is. Invasion doesn't seem to work too well. I don't know what can cause a complete reversal of the opinion of leadership within a country a la Libya or USSR. Sanctions and isolation might be necessary but I don't know if they are sufficient but it seems that it is the only option we have. If China tightened the screws against NK, that might cause a change in the mindset of its leadership. Similarly if the world boycotted Iranian oil.

05-01-2008, 08:53 PM

I agree with your overall criticism of Kagan's article. I did think that his view was useful, though, in pointing out that what we call neocon thinking is not exactly new compared to the way a lot of Americans have thought in the past. At least to me. One can argue with his examples and interpretations, to be sure, but I don't think he's completely off-base in his larger point.

05-01-2008, 09:08 PM

You're right about that video -- complete crazy talk, at least from my perspective. But I also agree that there is something to the notion that Hamas members are rational actors, albeit probably starting from some precepts that I would call crazy.

It makes me wonder if there are distortions we foist upon ourselves here in the West that none of us think are anything but the truth. I'd like not to think so, of course, and I think a very strong case can be made that our more open society acts as a check on such utter fabrications. At the same time, I'm sure we have at least some views that the rest of the world sees as completely wrong. I wonder if we only differ from that example video in degree, or if the difference is more than that.

05-01-2008, 10:18 PM
...not sure what you mean by your last sentence but to pick up what I think is at least part of you point...

Unfortunately, my experience is, that most people outside this country have a highly misguided view of America and what American's think. Mostly skewed by the international news media, somewhat skewed by the not-invented, occurrance of running into "ugly Americans", and lately skewed by our own press and a fairly newfound propensity by the left in this country to ignore what once was an unwritten rule of keeping our politics between the shores ( oh yeah and Jimmy Carter).

One theme in this diavlog was seemingly OUR misguided view of seeing things as a good vs. evil or good guy vs. bad guy which of course I do not see as misguided at all. I actually like to think when Americans jump into a fight they are asking the question of "who is the good guy" and not "who best serves our purposes".

05-01-2008, 10:48 PM

Generally speaking, I do think of the US, and Western Civilization, as the good guys. I also agree with you that much of the portrayal of the US by others is skewed. I think this comes about in part from the truly twisted views of others, which stem from a variety of motivations; e.g., totalitarian regimes who worry about being overthrown if the real benefits of our way of life are shown to those under their control, the ongoing need of such regimes to have an "enemy" against whom they can rally loyalty to themselves, religious views that I consider primitive, and so on. But I do think some of it stems from behavior for which we truly deserve blame.

I also think that we often kid ourselves sometimes about our purity and the degree to which we are superior to others. I think, as well, that we often let our ideals take second place to expediency, which can manifest at times as our jumping into a fight for less than admirable reasons. I'm not saying that we always have a ideal choice in these matters -- sometimes, if not usually, all of the choices available will involve some compromise of our ideals.

Anyway, when we do such things, it is usually the case that we justify the action or inaction with somewhat of a distorted view, whether presented by the government or just in the way we like to think of ourselves. I don't think there can be any argument about that; the argument lies in how much or how often we do engage in such distortions.

I also think that many Americans, including American leaders, have a distorted view of others, just as they do of us. Sometimes it's simple misunderstanding or ignorance, sometimes it can stretch to outright demonization.

So, if you buy that thinking, then by my last sentence, I was wondering whether our sometimes distorted view of us versus others differs from the distorted view presented in that video in a way that is not much different, or if our worst distortions don't even begin to approach such levels of distortion. I mean, there are people in our country who have views of other countries that are probably as crazy as the views expressed in that video, and so my questions is, how much more representative is that video of their mainstream thought than our crazies are of ours?