Sunday, August 5, 2007

Dr. Strangelove II: The Attack on Senator Obama's Refusal to Love the Bomb

I thought I would respond at length to Tom Riggins' fine piece on the really outrageous comments that a few Democratic presidential hopefuls have made about Senator Obama's statements rejecting the use of nuclear weapons in the Middle East against the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Tom was really being too kind. These candidates seem to have more interest in throwing stones at Obama than remembering Albert Einstein's famous comment (concerning the inevitable use of nuclear weapons in WWIII) that WWIV would be fought with sticks and stones,or Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's statement that nuclear war was the only kind of war where the survivors would even the dead. One might remind Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd (a liberal Democratic Senator who is the son of Senator Thomas Dodd, the former FBI man who in the 1950s headed the Senate equivalent of HUAC) that even those politicians who have no compunctions against both building, stockpiling, and at least threatening to use nuclear weapons saw those weapons as either deterrents to or a vital part of major wars, which have always been their purpose, not a weapon against suicide bombers and saboteurs

These Democratic candidates might also remember if history has any interest to them that right-wingers from the inception of the nuclear era muttered about using nuclear weapons as part of a preventive war against the Soviet Union, and "selectively" in the Korean war against North Korean and Chinese forces. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles used nuclear blackmail which he called "brinkmanship" to threaten Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese (but not the Soviet Union, which even he understood had nuclear weapons of their own by then) in the 1950s, and boasted about "going to the brink," which horrified most liberals and progressives, even those who had accepted the cold war and was implicitly challenged by the the two time Democratic presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson. Barry Goldwater picked up on a theme that many right-wing military fans used to talk about when he advocated giving field commanders the power to use "tactical nuclear weapons" (that
concept itself has a Dr Strange love quality to it) but the Democrats brilliant answer in 1964 was a commercial (pulled because of protests after it was shown but it had its effects) or a little girl in a field as the nuclear countdown began. When Democrats hide from or try to pretend that they are no different on foreign policy than the Republicans they usually lose, as they did in presidential elections through the majority of the cold war era. When they focus on domestic progressive issues and de-emphasize militarism and war, in short, when
they represent policies that their voters support, they usually win.

On this issue at least, I think it is time to ask these Democrats the question that Casey Stengel famously asked to a very bad New York Mets team in the early 1960s--does anyone here know how to play this game? Are these Democrats more interested in emulating Bush's fear tactics and advancing their chances for the nomination by attacking Obama than they are in beating Bush? Do they agree with Bush and right-wing Republicans that the Democratic party is "soft" on terrorism as right-wing Republicans proclaimed that they were "soft" on Communism and revolution to the point that they have to say that they will never "tie the hands
of the military" even if those hands are on nuclear buttons.

Or are they simply "crackpots"? Not crackpot realists, the term C. Wright Mills used in the 1950s to describe Dulles, Herman Kahn, and all those cold war enablers and implementers who saw military escalation
both conventional (as an alternative to nuclear) and nuclear (as cheaper than conventional) as "tough-minded" responses to the "real world." Al Qaeda isn't a country like the U.S. or the USSR or a military alliance system like NAT0 or the Warsaw Treaty. Don't they realize that "terrorism" is a tactic used by groups who cannot or will not fight conventional wars or guerrilla wars. That point has been made by most serious strategic thinkers for more than a century now, and is still central to the thinking of British and European planners against terrorist groups, but it is rarely made here, since the "war against terrorism" has become both an enormous political pork barrel and a fixed idea against serious thought on a wide variety of questions.

Frankly, I doubt that John Foster Dulles or even Herman Kahn would see any utility in threatening or using nuclear weapons against a relatively small internationally organized groups, particularly a group like Al Qaeda that trains people to be suicide bombers and revels in a sociopathic death wish, which it dresses up in ecclesiastical garb. That is "crackpot" even more than "crackpot realist."

Such a policy would be giving Al Qaeda what it wants, besides letting the genie of nuclear warfare out of the bottle where it has stayed since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. Of course, one should remember that
the most likely place to use such weapons would be where Al Qaeda is really headquartered, that is, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas where it began in 1988 as part of the Reagan war to "free Afghanistan" from its revolutionary Communist government and its Soviet supporters. Pakistan does have nuclear weapons, a point that should be taken into account

Although most of the Democratic candidates refrained from this participating in this nonsense, those did, or, like Hillary Clinton, saw these issues as "hypothetical" are hurting the people who regularly vote for their party and helping the Republicans. By turning on each other on such absurd grounds they can only give the discredited right-wing Republican administration and party time to regroup and make better use of their traditional large financial edge for the 2008 elections.

As a final point, I showed the Battle of Algiers, to a Summer Class that I am teaching (not the one in U.S. history, but one in the History of Imperialism) very recently. I mentioned to the class that the army had U.S. troops in Iraq watch the film to get a greater understanding about how to fight terrorism immediately after the beginning of the occupation (ironic, since the film is clearly against the French colonialists and for the Algerians).

Also, and this may be a comment on the military itself and its lack of understanding, the film does have the French elite paratroop commander directing the counter-insurgency make the point over and over again that
the military factor is very secondary in fighting the insurgents and their terrorist tactics. This is a police problem and police tactics are necessary to defeat the enemy. Although all of the Democratic candidates were far better students than GW Bush, (and they could afford the tuition for my Summer courses, although I would like to see them revive the idea of free tuition public higher education) those who attacked Obama might see the Battle of Algiers and see if they can learn something

The French knew what they were doing in Algeria and they lost because they could not deal with the underlying social-economic questions or the allied question of national liberation. The French were actually successful by using both brutal (widespread torture) and sophisticated police methods in suppressing the urban insurrection and they still lost because of their failure to deal with the exploitation and dehumanizing social oppression that colonialism had meant for many generations in Algeria.

The Bush administration hasn't known much of anything about what it has been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorism, national or international, is still a police matter, not significantly, much less primarily a military matter.

The "war on terrorism" is for domestic political consumption and the politicians who go along with it to the tune of the 460 billion "military budget" and verbal arms races to prove that they are "stronger" on terrorism than their opponents get further and further away from both doing the cooperative international police work necessary to really eliminate such groups and developing a foreign policy and an international economic that will support democratic and progressive forces in countries like Pakistan who are their enemies and will undertake reforms that will undercut the support that groups like Al Qaeda have not supporting regimes and ruling groups.

These are the issues, along with addressing the needs of the working people of our country which the Democratic candidates should be addressing rather than attacking one of their number not talking like a
crackpot and/or a member of the Bush administration.

--Norman Markowitz


Matt said...

I thought the issue here was that Obama said he would unilaterally bomb Pakistan if the intelligance reported that al-queda was inside. Who cares if he said he wouldn't use nukes. That's just a sidenote. The real issue is: Obama is a warmongerer.

Anonymous said...

By no means, Matt, do I have any sympathy with anyone who advocates with bombing or an invasion of Pakistan, which would escalate a disaster, but I don't think that "nukes" are a side issue.
Loose talk about the use of nuclear weapons, which are the most dangerous weapons in human history in that they have the capacity to destroy human life and poison the planetary ecology, is never a side issue.
When politicians see the use of such weapons as a legitimate military tactic and criticize a candidate for saying that he would not use such weapons and that becomes the big story, it is a serious issue.
If Obama was criticized for contending that unilateral U.S. military action on the soil of Pakistan is a legitimate policy, I would agree with the critic byt I doubt it would have made headlines.

U.S. support of Pakistan, though, since the 1950s, has helped to provoke both violent conflicts in Kashmir, Afghanistan and other places and has helped turn South Asia into an armed nuclear region.

A progressive president and administration would hopefully end that policy and work with India, seculiar and progressive oriented forces in Pakistan, and others supporting peace and justice in the region to both undermine the religious rightists and the military regime in Pakistan. Aprogressive U.S. administration and government should do that in the whole region, along with using its power over the Israeli government to have Israel end its state of siege in the Palestinian terrritories and establish a viable Palestinian state that would be able to co-exist with Israel.
Norman Markowitz