Saturday, June 02, 2007

Men Will Be Boys

By Maureen Dowd
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
June 3, 2007

When Alvy Singer and Annie Hall split up, he tells her a relationship is like a shark: “It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

A relationship that turns into a dead shark is common. A live shark that reproduces without a relationship, however, is uncommon. Yet there was a recent report of a virgin birth in an aquarium — a female shark having a baby without mating. A trick of nature called parthenogenesis.

“I love this word parthenogenesis,” David Page, an expert on sex evolution at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., told me. “It suggests knowledge, but what it stands for in this case is ignorance. Nobody has a clue how parthenogenesis works.”

When a hammerhead shark had a baby at an Omaha zoo, scientists at first thought she had mated with another species or stored sperm from years before. But then they decided there was no “male contribution,” as one put it.

Dr. Page may be biased in favor of male contribution, but he doubts females are ready to dispense with males. “It’s reproducing without sex, and reproducing with sex is something that’s been around on our planet for maybe a billion or a billion and a half years,” he said. “Even yeast cells, the cells that make your bread and beer and wine, reproduce sexually.”

A shark may know how to knock herself up, but in “Knocked Up,” the new Judd Apatow comedy being hailed as “an era-defining classic” and a “zeitgeist-tapping generational marker,” Katherine Heigl still has to fool with the birds and the bees.

She plays a reporter for the E! network who becomes pregnant the old-fashioned way: she gets so drunk with a stranger at a bar that she can’t tell he’s not using a condom.

He’s not the perfect man. Played by Seth Rogen, he’s a pothead with no income, no cellphone and no muscle tone. He lives in a group house plastered with girlie magazines and littered with ninja weapons. When he and his friends aren’t paintballing or trading movie lines or fighting with fiery boxing gloves or obsessing on women’s breasts, they plot to start a cinema nudity Web site called Flesh of the Stars. The morning after their tryst, he advises the appalled Ms. Heigl at breakfast: “Once you’re hung over, you’ve just gotta puke.”

On the other hand, he’s sweet and honest and sticks by her through her pregnancy, despite ups and downs with her affections, her hormones and her high-maintenance sister. Maybe he is perfect.

Ms. Heigl’s single working girl decides to keep the baby, just as Natalie Wood’s single working girl did in the 1963 “Love With the Proper Stranger,” when she becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with a raffish stranger played by Steve McQueen.

Even now, after so many decades, it’s hard to imagine a romantic-comedy heroine opting for, as one of the slacker dudes puts it, “a word that rhymes with shmashmortion.”

I’m not sure I’d deem “Knocked Up” “a ‘Tootsie’ or ‘The Graduate’ for the 21st century,” as Slate called it. But Mr. Apatow, who specializes in lovable geeks falling in love, is funny.

The ’30s and ’40s had screwball comedies, with the snappy patter of zany dames and the guys they drove crazy. In the ’70s, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton made magic.

This period will be remembered for classic comedies where the true sparks fly between men — coming-of-age tales about guys who should already be of age — perpetual boys with Maxim mind-sets, hilariously knocking on each other (usually by dismissing each other with crude or anatomical terms for women). In his Bilbongsromans, Mr. Apatow cleverly tempers his adolescent raunch with old-fashioned innocence.

From Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s “Zoolander” to Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s “Wedding Crashers” to Will Ferrell’s “Old School” and “Anchorman,” to Mr. Apatow’s “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” the creative energy is with the boys.

Mr. Apatow’s message is that his lost boys must put their toys away and find the deeper fun in adult responsibility. Suddenly, while having lap dances and taking shrooms in Vegas with his new buddy, Paul Rudd, Mr. Rogen decides to go home, shelve his bong and be a daddy.

Mr. Apatow’s women are smart and confident, but you always know you are on a journey with the men. Ultimately, the men seem happiest without any female contribution — when they’re engrossed in the gross-out world of guydom. It’s like a male version of parthenogenesis.

Our Green Bubble

By Thomas Friedman
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
June 3, 2007

Surely the most glaring contrast in American political life today is the amount of words, speeches and magazine covers devoted to the necessity of “going green,” “combating climate change” and gaining “energy security,” and the actual solutions being offered by our leaders to do any of these things. You could very comfortably drive a Hummer through the gap between our words and deeds.

We are playing pretend — which, when you think about it, is really troubling. Here are the facts: Our worst enemies, like Iran, have been emboldened by all their petrodollars. The vast majority of scientists tell us that global warming caused by our burning of fossil fuels is a real danger. And with three billion new consumers from India, Russia and China joining the world economy, it is inevitable that manufacturing clean, green power systems, appliances, homes and cars will be the next great global industry. It has to be, or we will not survive as a species.

And yet ... and yet our president and our Congress still won’t give us an energy bill that would create the legal and economic framework to address these issues at the speed and scale required.

If you were President Bush, wouldn’t you want to leave behind something big, bold and important on energy, just in case — you know, just in case — Iraq doesn’t turn out so well?

I sure would. But the president still has not challenged Congress or the country to undertake a radical departure on energy. So we still have only “energy politics,” not “energy policy.” Like previous energy bills, the packages working through the House and Senate today represent more “the sum of all lobbies,” as the energy expert Gal Luft, co-chairman of the Set America Free Coalition, puts it, not the sum of our best ideas.

Some lawmakers are pushing corn ethanol from Iowa, either because they hail from that area and are looking to give more welfare to farmers by wasting money on an alternative fuel that will never reach the scale of what is needed, or because they plan to run in the Iowa caucuses. Others are pushing huge subsidies to turn coal into gasoline, because they come from coal states. Those who don’t come from Michigan want higher mileage standards imposed on Detroit, while those who come from Michigan prefer to continue their assisted suicide of the U.S. auto industry by blocking tougher mileage requirements.

“The only green that they are serious about in Congress right now is the one with Ben Franklin’s picture on it,” Mr. Luft said.

Yes, it is helpful that Mr. Bush expressed a desire last week to work with other nations to limit greenhouse gases. His bully pulpit matters. But no one will — or should — take him seriously unless his government first leads by example. What would that look like? It has to start with a clear, long-term price signal. That is, a carbon tax or gasoline tax — or a cap and trade system with a binding national ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions — which would set a price for dumping carbon into the atmosphere or driving a gas-guzzling car.

Get Washington to signal that gasoline is never going to retreat from a level of $3.50 or $4 a gallon — and that wind and solar subsidies will be there for a decade, not stop and start as they always have before; get Washington to commit to buying a fixed volume of solar and wind power for government buildings and Army bases for 10 years, with only U.S.-based manufacturers able to compete for contracts; get Washington to set a new fleet average of 35 miles per gallon for Detroit within 10 years — with no loopholes; establish government loan guarantees for any company that wants to build a nuclear power plant; and, finally, build a national transmission grid — a green power superhighway — so that solar energy from Arizona or wind from Wyoming can power homes in Chicago. Do all that and our private sector will take America from green laggard to green leader.

Unfortunately, Congress is brewing instead a hodgepodge of incrementalism. This is particularly disappointing when America’s corporate icons — G.M., G.E., A.I.G., DuPont, PepsiCo — “have all come out in favor of a national mandatory limit on carbon emissions,” notes Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense. “But Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have not risen to their challenge.”

We have a multigenerational problem that requires a systemic, multigenerational response, and that can happen only if we get our energy prices right. Only that will guarantee green innovation and commercialization at scale. Anything less is wasted breath and wasted money — and any candidate who says otherwise is only contributing to global warming by adding hot air.

Failed Presidents Ain’t What They Used to Be

By Frank Rich
The New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist
June 3, 2007

A few weeks ago I did something I never expected to do in my life. I shed a tear for Richard Milhous Nixon.

That’s in no small measure a tribute to Frank Langella, who should win a Tony Award for his star Broadway turn in “Frost/Nixon” next Sunday while everyone else is paying final respects to Tony Soprano. “Frost/Nixon,” a fictionalized treatment of the disgraced former president’s 1977 television interviews with David Frost, does not whitewash Nixon’s record. But Mr. Langella unearths humanity and pathos in the old scoundrel eking out his exile in San Clemente. For anyone who ever hated Nixon, this achievement is so shocking that it’s hard to resist a thought experiment the moment you’ve left the theater: will it someday be possible to feel a pang of sympathy for George W. Bush?

Perhaps not. It’s hard to pity someone who, to me anyway, is too slight to hate. Unlike Nixon, President Bush is less an overreaching Machiavelli than an epic blunderer surrounded by Machiavellis. He lacks the crucial element of acute self-awareness that gave Nixon his tragic depth. Nixon came from nothing, loathed himself and was all too keenly aware when he was up to dirty tricks. Mr. Bush has a charmed biography, is full of himself and is far too blinded by self-righteousness to even fleetingly recognize the havoc he’s inflicted at home and abroad. Though historians may judge him a worse president than Nixon — some already have — at the personal level his is not a grand Shakespearean failure. It would be a waste of Frank Langella’s talent to play George W. Bush (though not, necessarily, of Matthew McConaughey’s).

This is in part why persistent cries for impeachment have gone nowhere in the Democratic Party hierarchy. Arguably the most accurate gut check on what the country feels about Mr. Bush was a January Newsweek poll finding that a sizable American majority just wished that his “presidency was over.” This flat-lining administration inspires contempt and dismay more than the deep-seated, long-term revulsion whipped up by Nixon; voters just can’t wait for Mr. Bush to leave Washington so that someone, anyone, can turn the page and start rectifying the damage. Yet if he lacks Nixon’s larger-than-life villainy, he will nonetheless leave Americans feeling much the way they did after Nixon fled: in a state of anger about the state of the nation.

The rage is already omnipresent, and it’s bipartisan. The last New York Times/CBS News poll found that a whopping 72 percent of Americans felt their country was “seriously off on the wrong track,” the highest figure since that question was first asked, in 1983. Equally revealing (and bipartisan) is the hypertension of the parties’ two angry bases. Democrats and Republicans alike are engaged in internecine battles that seem to be escalating in vitriol by the hour.

On the Democratic side, the left is furious at the new Congress’s failure to instantly fulfill its November mandate to end the war in Iraq. After it sent Mr. Bush a war-spending bill stripped of troop-withdrawal deadlines 10 days ago, the cries of betrayal were shrill, and not just from bloggers. John Edwards, once one of the more bellicose Democratic cheerleaders for the war (“I believe that the risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action,” he thundered on the Senate floor in September 2002), is now equally bellicose toward his former colleagues. He chastises them for not sending the president the same withdrawal bill he vetoed “again and again” so that Mr. Bush would be forced to realize “he has no choice” but to end the war. It’s not exactly clear how a legislative Groundhog Day could accomplish this feat when the president’s obstinacy knows no bounds and the Democrats’ lack of a veto-proof Congressional majority poses no threat to his truculence.

Among Republicans the right’s revolt against the Bush-endorsed immigration bill is also in temper-tantrum territory, moving from rational debate about complex policy questions to plain old nativism, reminiscent of the 19th-century Know-Nothings. Even the G.O.P. base’s traditional gripes — knee-jerk wailing about the “tragedy” of Mary Cheney’s baby — can’t be heard above the din.

“White America is in flight” is how Pat Buchanan sounds the immigration alarm. “All they have to do is go to Bank of Amigo and pay the fine with a credit card” is how Rush Limbaugh mocks the bill’s punitive measures for illegal immigrants. Bill O’Reilly, while “reluctantly” supporting Mr. Bush’s plan, illustrates how immigration is “drastically” altering the country by pointing out that America is “now one-third minority.” (Do Jews make the cut?) The rupture is so deep that National Review, a fierce opponent of the bill, is challenging its usual conservative ally, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, to a debate that sounds more like “Fight Club.”

What the angriest proselytizers on the left and right have in common is a conviction that their political parties will commit hara-kiri if they don’t adhere to their bases’ strict ideological orders. “If Democrats do not stick to their guns on Iraq,” a blogger at warns, there will be “serious political consequences in 2008.” In an echo of his ideological opposite, Mr. Limbaugh labels the immigration bill the “Comprehensive Destroy the Republican Party Act.”

But there’s a strange paradox here. The decibel level of the fin-de-Bush rage is a bit of a red herring. In truth, there is some consensus among Americans about the issues that are dividing both parties. The same May poll that found the country so wildly off-track showed agreement on much else. Sixty-one percent believe that we should have stayed out of Iraq, and 63 percent believe we should withdraw by 2008. Majorities above 60 percent also buy broad provisions of the immigration bill — including the 66 percent of Republicans (versus 72 percent of Democrats) who support its creation of a guest-worker program.

What these figures suggest is that change is on its way, no matter how gridlocked Washington may look now. However much the G.O.P. base hollers, America is not going to round up and deport 12 million illegal immigrants, or build a multibillion-dollar fence on the Mexican border — despite Lou Dobbs’s hoax blaming immigrants for a nonexistent rise in leprosy. A new president unburdened by a disastrous war may well fashion the immigration compromise that is likely to elude Mr. Bush.

Withdrawal from Iraq is also on its way. Contrary to Mr. Edwards, only Republicans in Congress can overcome presidential vetoes and in so doing force Mr. Bush’s hand on the war. As the bottom drops out of Iraq and the polls, those G.O.P. votes are starting to line up. The latest example came last Sunday, when the most hawkish of former Rumsfeld worshipers, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, joined his party’s Congressional leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, in talking about drawing down troops if something “extraordinary” doesn’t happen in Iraq by the time Gen. David Petraeus gives his September report on the “surge.” No doubt Mr. Sessions, who is up for re-election in 2008, saw a May 12 survey in The Birmingham News showing that even in his reddest of states, nearly half the voters want America out of Iraq within a year and favor candidates who agree.

This relatively unified America can’t be compared with that of the second Nixon term, when the violent cultural and political upheavals of the late 1960s were still fresh. But in at least one way there may be a precise political parallel in the aftermaths of two failed presidencies rent by catastrophic wars: Americans are exhausted by anger itself and are praying for the mood pendulum to swing.

Gerald Ford implicitly captured that sentiment when he described himself as a healer; his elected successor, Jimmy Carter, was (to a fault, as it turned out) a seeming paragon of serenity. We can see this equation at work now in Mitt Romney’s unflappable game-show-host persona, in John McCain’s unconvincing efforts to emulate a Reagan grin and in the unlikely spectacle of Rudy Giuliani trading in his congenital scowl for a sunny disposition. Hillary Clinton’s camp is doing everything it can to deflect new books reminding voters of the vicious Washington warfare during her husband’s presidency. Then again, even Michael Moore is rolling out a kinder, gentler persona in his media blitz for his first film since “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Edgy is out; easy listening is in; style, not content, can be king. In this climate, it’s hardly happenstance that many Republicans are looking in desperation to Fred Thompson. Robert Novak pointedly welcomed his candidacy last week because, in his view, Mr. Thompson is “less harsh” in tone than his often ideologically indistinguishable rivals and “a real-life version of the avuncular fictional D.A. he plays on TV.” The Democratic boomlet for Barack Obama is the flip side of the same coin: his views don’t differ radically from those of most of his rivals, but his conciliatory personality is the essence of calm, the antithesis of anger.

If it was a relief to the nation to see a president as grandly villainous as Richard Nixon supplanted by a Ford, not a Lincoln, maybe even a used Hoover would do this time.

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 Misinterpreted

L.A.’s august Pulitzer honoree says it was never about censorship

L.A. Weekly
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

When the Pulitzer Prizes were handed out in May during a luncheon at Columbia University, two special citations were given. One went to John Coltrane (who died in 1967), the fourth time a jazz musician has been honored. The other went to Ray Bradbury, the first time a writer of science fiction and fantasy has been honored.

Bradbury, a longtime Los Angeles resident who leads an active civic life and even drops the Los Angeles Times letters to the editor on his views of what ails his town, did not attend, telling the Pulitzer board his doctor did not want him to travel.

But the real reason, he told the L.A. Weekly, had less to do with the infirmities of age (he turns 87 in August) than with the fact that recipients only shake hands with Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia University’s president, and smile for a photograph.

He wanted to give a speech, but no remarks are allowed. “Not even a paragraph,” he says with disdain.

In his pastel-yellow house in upscale Cheviot Hills, where he has lived for more than 50 years, Bradbury greeted me in his sitting room. He wore his now-standard outfit of a blue dress shirt with a white collar and a jack-o’-lantern tie (Halloween is his favorite day) and white socks. This ensemble is in keeping with Bradbury’s arrested development. George Clayton Johnson, who gave us Logan’s Run, says, “Ray has always been 14 going on 15.”

Bradbury still has a lot to say, especially about how people do not understand his most literary work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. It is widely taught in junior high and high schools and is for many students the first time they learn the names Aristotle, Dickens and Tolstoy.

Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.

This, despite the fact that reviews, critiques and essays over the decades say that is precisely what it is all about. Even Bradbury’s authorized biographer, Sam Weller, in The Bradbury Chronicles, refers to Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship.

Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

“Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was,” Bradbury says, summarizing TV’s content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: “factoids.” He says this while sitting in a room dominated by a gigantic flat-panel television broadcasting the Fox News Channel, muted, factoids crawling across the bottom of the screen.

His fear in 1953 that television would kill books has, he says, been partially confirmed by television’s effect on substance in the news. The front page of that day’s L.A. Times reported on the weekend box-office receipts for the third in the Spider-Man series of movies, seeming to prove his point.

“Useless,” Bradbury says. “They stuff you with so much useless information, you feel full.” He bristles when others tell him what his stories mean, and once walked out of a class at UCLA where students insisted his book was about government censorship. He’s now bucking the widespread conventional wisdom with a video clip on his Web site (, titled “Bradbury on censorship/television.”

As early as 1951, Bradbury presaged his fears about TV, in a letter about the dangers of radio, written to fantasy and science-fiction writer Richard Matheson. Bradbury wrote that “Radio has contributed to our ‘growing lack of attention.’... This sort of hopscotching existence makes it almost impossible for people, myself included, to sit down and get into a novel again. We have become a short story reading people, or, worse than that, a QUICK reading people.”

He says the culprit in Fahrenheit 451 is not the state — it is the people. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, in which the government uses television screens to indoctrinate citizens, Bradbury envisioned television as an opiate. In the book, Bradbury refers to televisions as “walls” and its actors as “family,” a truth evident to anyone who has heard a recap of network shows in which a fan refers to the characters by first name, as if they were relatives or friends.

The book’s story centers on Guy Montag, a California fireman who begins to question why he burns books for a living. Montag eventually rejects his authoritarian culture to join a community of individuals who memorize entire books so they will endure until society once again is willing to read.

Bradbury imagined a democratic society whose diverse population turns against books: Whites reject Uncle Tom’s Cabin and blacks disapprove of Little Black Sambo. He imagined not just political correctness, but a society so diverse that all groups were “minorities.” He wrote that at first they condensed the books, stripping out more and more offending passages until ultimately all that remained were footnotes, which hardly anyone read. Only after people stopped reading did the state employ firemen to burn books.

Most Americans did not have televisions when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, and those who did watched 7-inch screens in black and white. Interestingly, his book imagined a future of giant color sets — flat panels that hung on walls like moving paintings. And television was used to broadcast meaningless drivel to divert attention, and thought, away from an impending war.

Bradbury’s latest revelations might not sit well in L.A.’s television industry, where Scott Kaufer, a longtime television writer and producer, argues, “Television is good for books and has gotten more people to read them simply by promoting them,” via shows like This Week and Nightline.

Kaufer says he hopes Bradbury “will be good enough in hindsight to see that instead of killing off literature, [TV] has given it an entire boost.” He points to the success of fantasy author Stephen King in television and film, noting that when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, another unfounded fear was also taking hold — that television would destroy the film industry.

And in fact, Bradbury became famous because his stories were translated for television, beginning in 1951 for the show Out There. Eventually he had his own program, The Ray Bradbury Theater, on HBO.

Bradbury spends most of his time now in a small space on the second floor of his home that contains books and mementos. There is his Emmy from The Halloween Tree, an Oscar that belonged to a friend who died, a sculpture of a dinosaur and various Halloween decorations. Bradbury, before a stroke left him in a wheelchair, typed in the basement, which is filled with stuffed animals, toys, fireman hats and bottles of dandelion wine. He referred to these props as “metaphors,” totems he drew on to spark his imagination and drive away the demons of the blank page.

Beginning in Arizona when his parents bought him a toy typewriter, Bradbury has written a short story a week since the 1930s. Now he dictates his tales over the phone, each weekday between 9 a.m. and noon, to his daughter Alexandria.

Bradbury has always been a fan, and advocate, of popular culture despite his criticisms of it. Yet he harbors a distrust of “intellectuals.” Without defining the term, he says another reason why he rarely leaves L.A. to travel to New York is “their intellectuals.”

Dana Gioia, a poet who is chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and who wrote a letter in support of granting Bradbury a Pulitzer honor, compared him to J.D. Salinger, Jack London and Edgar Allan Poe. Another supporter wrote that Bradbury’s works “have become the sort of classics that kids read for fun and adults reread for their wisdom and artistry.”

In June, Gauntlet Press will release Match to Flame, a collection of 20 short stories by Bradbury that led up to Fahrenheit 451. Pointing to his unpublished proofreading version of the upcoming collection, Bradbury says that rereading his stories made him cry. “It’s hard to believe I wrote such stories when I was younger,” he says.

His book still stands as a classic. But one of L.A.’s best-known residents wants it understood that when he wrote it he was far more concerned with the dulling effects of TV on people than he was on the silencing effect of a heavy-handed government. While television has in fact superseded reading for some, at least we can be grateful that firemen still put out fires instead of start them.

Gitmo: A fetid and cancerous symbol

The offshore prison breeds terror; it must be closed now.

By Joseph Margulies
Los Angeles Times
June 2, 2007

OCCASIONALLY, apparently unrelated episodes will align to reveal an important truth. So it is with three events reported in the last few weeks. The first happened sometime Wednesday, when another prisoner killed himself at Guantanamo Bay — the fourth suicide since the base opened. As is its wont, the military was tight-lipped, refusing to describe how the prisoner, who was Saudi Arabian, finally escaped from Cuba.

But we know how these things have happened in the past. Last year, three prisoners at the base hanged themselves with strips of knotted cloth ripped from clothing and bed sheets. Each had a ball of cloth stuffed in his mouth, apparently to muffle any reflexive choking sounds as he died.

They left suicide notes that have never been made public. One of the three prisoners, Yassar Talal al Zahrani, from Saudi Arabia, was 21 at the time of his death but 17 when he arrived at the base. Another, Mani Shaman Turki al Habardi al Utaybi, also from Saudi Arabia, had been designated for release. The Pentagon has refused to say whether he knew of his pending transfer when he killed himself.

After the first raft of suicides, the Pentagon vowed there would be no more and instituted a crackdown, which summons to mind the sardonic warning "the floggings will continue until morale improves." Security was tightened dramatically. Today, most prisoners — even those cleared for release — are held in a new, super-maximum security prison. They pass endless hours locked in concrete cages, removed from the sight, sound and touch of other human beings.

The administration has concluded that about half of the prisoners at Guantanamo pose no threat to the U.S. or its allies. Most of the rest are held based on admissions they made in countless interrogations over five years. And that brings us to the second recent event. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported on a major study by the Intelligence Science Board, a group of experts commissioned to advise the U.S. intelligence community on interrogation practices.

For people who have been following these issues, the findings were predictable: The aggressive interrogation techniques adopted by the administration after 9/11 are "outmoded, amateurish and unreliable," as the Times put it. They are a relic of a properly discarded past, abandoned not out of any moral compunction but because of "a more practical critique": There's no evidence they work. Dr. Randy Borum, a Defense Department consultant, noted: "There's an assumption that often passes for common sense that the more pain imposed on someone, the more likely they are to comply." But there is precious little evidence to back it up.

Of course, most people simply do not care about these matters. They are as distant as Darfur, as remote as ancient history.

But in fact they may not be as far removed as they seem, which brings us to the third event. On May 15, Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, the British intelligence agency, gave an important speech in London. Dearlove ran the agency in 1999-2004 and was an early supporter of the administration's response to 9/11.

But more recently, Dearlove has concluded that it is time for "a strategic rethink." Our methods have become counterproductive. Al Qaeda and its viral offspring are thriving, and the position of Britain and the U.S. has become "strategically weak." The problem, according to Dearlove, is that our methods create more terror than they prevent, and it has become "easy for Al Qaeda to recruit its foot soldiers."

Dearlove understands what the president does not. Our policies have given terrorists precious tools to use against us. We have made potential recruits out of countless Arabs and Muslims. As our policies persist, their anger grows, intensifying into a defiant, and increasingly understandable, rage.

This explains why Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates have called for the most enduring symbol of these policies — the prison at Guantanamo Bay — to be shuttered. They too understand what the president does not: The prison breeds terror. It stands as a fetid and cancerous symbol of hubris and hegemony, a threat not just to the U.S. but to our closest allies around the world.

From three stories, a single truth — it is past time for Guantanamo to close.


JOSEPH MARGULIES, a law professor at Northwestern University School of Law, is the author of "Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power" and served as lead counsel in Rasul vs. Bush before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It Could Happen Here

by Gregory Meyerson and Michael Joseph Roberto
Monthly Review
October 2006

A deepening crisis pervades Pax Americana and with it a rising interest in fascism and the fear that it may be coming or is already here. While some observers are alarmed at the prospects of fascism, others dismiss the topic as conspiracy theory or just plain rubbish. In the most absurd recent use of the term, George W. Bush has declared America at war “with Islamic fascists seeking to destroy freedom loving societies.” It is hard here not to invoke Huey Long’s famous idea that fascism would come to America clothed as anti-fascism.

The fact that more is being said about fascism in America indicates that a thorough and ongoing debate is now in order. Yet discussions of this sort will inevitably take us into a virtual minefield, especially given the commonplace perception of fascism as a form of totalitarianism that occurred in the past and can never happen again.

We propose that the current talk about fascism has arisen from conditions that can be best summed up as a general crisis of Pax Americana. By general crisis we mean a convergence of developments, long-term and short, pervading the social order that have rendered much of it dysfunctional and dystopian. Stated in another way, the concept of a general crisis describes Pax Americana in economic, political, social and cultural decline. Its long-term causes are rooted in the mid-1970s, where we see the beginnings—brought on in part by the oil shocks to the American economy attributed to the rise of OPEC, and the military defeat in Vietnam—of the dissolution of U.S. economic hegemony over the global capitalist system. These proved costly to U.S. credibility around the world and suggested that the idea of American invincibility was indeed a myth. Despite the so-called triumph over communism trumpeted as a victory by the Reagan administration, the heralding of a New World Order by George H. W. Bush, or the hollow economic boom brokered by Bill Clinton’s neoliberalism, the crisis of Pax Americana deepened throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Then, the terrorist attacks in September 2001, made the crisis acute, setting into motion a chain of events that have brought the Middle East to the brink of wholesale regional war and exacerbated the economic, political, and ideological contradictions within the totality of the American Empire. From the current vantage point, past troubles pale in significance when compared to:

* the geopolitical nightmare in Iraq;
* the barbarous Israeli invasion of Lebanon undertaken with U.S. support;
* the growing belligerence of the Bush administration toward Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela and the threat of conflict with any or all of these countries;
* mounting public and private debt in the United States;
* global currency wars that threaten the stability of the dollar;
* the steady and seemingly irreversible deterioration of U.S. living standards causing an unprecedented polarization between wealth and poverty;
* the growing power of the disciplinary state and the parallel weakening of the welfare state;
* the near total loss of international credibility;
* the whole package of threats to civil liberties with the passage of the Patriot Acts and the creation of Homeland Security;
* the supreme court’s decision eroding protection for whistle blowers;
* the increasingly routine references to “clash of civilizations” and World War III.

In short, the general crisis of Pax Americana becomes acute with 9/11 and the U.S ruling class response to it. We suggest that this acute stage of the crisis may become the basis for what we call a fascist trajectory in the United States.

Amid the complexities characterizing the general crisis, current discussions about the threat of fascism today are largely reduced to the dangers of Christian fundamentalism and neoconservative extremism in the Bush administration, along with their synergies. Furthermore, such discussions have generally focused on political, ideological and cultural factors split off from the dynamic context of class rule within the changing particulars of capitalist crisis, in this case the general crisis of Pax Americana. While they do not ignore political economy, most analyses distort its crucial role by reducing it to a concern with plutocracy. Representatives of this genre include the recent writings of Chris Hedges, Mark Crispin Miller, Davidson Loehr, Lawrence Britt, Lewis Lapham and socialists such as Carl Davidson and Jerry Harris.(1) Some of these writers offer astute observations on the “fascist” character of religious fundamentalism. Others see the possibility of fascism coming in the form of a neoconservative coup or rogue ruling class at the top which, aided by a mass base, destroys the electoral process through multifaceted mechanisms of corruption.

Our interpretation contests such assumptions. We oppose the idea that fascism or an intensification of fascist processes could emerge through a fundamentalist movement, a rogue ruling class, or both.(2) While recognizing that current conditions are fueling the idea of fascism via a neoconservative hijacking of American democracy, we argue that the intensification of fascist processes will come—if it does come—from the ruling class as a whole.

In this article, we defend a class analysis of fascism in general and regard it as a methodological introduction to a larger work, where we chart the origins and development of the general crisis with special attention to its acute post 9/11 phase. On the basis of this more extensive treatment, we will propose with some trepidation that fascism is a plausible response by the U.S. bourgeoisie to the general crisis of Pax Americana. Put another way, if the various components of the acute phase of the general crisis converge in any number of ways, then fascist processes will certainly intensify. In the larger work, we will respond to prominent interpretations of fascism coming from what we describe as the left liberal camp. We then defend our position against one version or another of the view that the general crisis can be solved by recourse to a “new New Deal.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To begin, we view fascism as a functional (structural, intrinsic, causal) property of monopoly capitalism in crisis. As we will see, everything turns on understanding the particular, i.e. historical, character of the crisis. Our view is close to the classical or orthodox definition proposed by R. Palme Dutt in his 1934 work Fascism and Social Revolution. While we are somewhat sympathetic to Dutt’s position, we differ as well in important ways. For example, although Dutt correctly recognized fascism as a particular crisis-ridden form of capitalist class rule, he insufficiently characterized the particulars of capitalist crisis in the 1930s. This led him to define the New Deal as fascist. In retrospect the presumed inability of class analysis to distinguish between Nazi Germany and the New Deal has occasioned much mirth among so-called nonvulgar Marxists. Nevertheless, we think that a more fine-grained analysis of crisis can account for such differences quite well.

Some theoretical comments are in order. To view fascism as a structural tendency of a predominantly capitalist form of class rule in crisis, we must avoid taking past definitions as constituting the meaning of fascism in general. It is interesting to note that Marxian functionalism is relatively uncontroversial among Marxists as an analysis of the changing forms of dominant ideology, the changing forms of racism and racial inequality, and changing forms of imperialism. Let us consider imperialism. Marxists argue that capitalist imperialism is a property of capital, a consequence of the laws of capital accumulation. Imperialism has taken many forms, from outright territorial conquest to current forms of neoliberalism, which until recently did not involve territorial conquest but other processes – outsourcing, financial domination through debt, restructuring, etc. Now we have a new form, what John Bellamy Foster calls “Naked Imperialism.” (3)

Were we to define imperialism based on nonfunctional, i.e. merely descriptive criteria as many liberals and conservatives are wont to do, we are led to the position that imperialism may have existed in the past—British imperialism, U.S. imperialism in the Philippines, the Belgian Congo, other examples of territorial conquest and their affiliated ideological justifications (white man’s burden, the superiority of western civilization, etc.)—but no longer exists or would only exist if it repeated these past forms. No Marxist accepts such a definition, in part because it rules out the possibility that forms of imperialism change in response to changing configurations of class rule in the context of the class struggle and interimperialist rivalry. As with imperialism so with fascism. If we define fascism in terms of its past forms or its nonfunctional or non-causal properties, we come up with a plethora of fascism’s more descriptive components: corporatism, extreme racism, anti-Semitism, militant and organic nationalism, the transcendence of class conflict, a form of rule with relevance only to the particular context of the war against Bolshevism, Christian fundamentalism in the present case, the requirement of an explicitly fascist party, charismatic leaders, paramilitary formations, etc.

When descriptive definitions or causal definitions based on past fascisms take the place of a functional definition, what happens is that one form of fascism then stands in for all forms, and fascism’s changing historical character and role in capitalist development become obscured.

For example, consider the approach by Jurgen Kocka. In his analysis of the emergence of National Socialism in Germany, Kocka stresses the role of traditional elites, including:

the great power of the Junkers in industrial Germany and the feudalizing tendencies in the big bourgeoisie; the extraordinary power of the bureaucracy and the army in a state that had never experienced a successful bourgeois revolution and which was unified from above; the social and political alliance of the rising bourgeoisie and the ever resilient agrarian nobility against the sharply demarcated proletariat; the closely related antiparliamentarian, anti democratic and anti liberal alignment of large parts of the German ruling strata.(4)

For Kocka, this is not one form of fascism but fascism per se. In other words, this convergence of traditional elites is prescribed as a general formula for fascism, at least implicitly. Alan Dawley was quick to recognize that definitions such as Kocka’s “automatically rule out fascism in liberal democratic regimes such as the United States.”(5) From Dawley, we see the shortcoming of Kocka’s approach: without traditional elites in crisis, one cannot have fascism.

Even Paul Sweezy committed a version of this error when in The Theory of Capitalist Development, he stated that the rise of fascism was “the product of the impact of imperialist wars of redivision on the economic and social structure of advanced capitalist nations.”(6) Sweezy’s analysis here was constrained by the specific, historic examples of Italy and Germany. As we will see later on, however, Sweezy’s comments and insights on fascism went well beyond what he says here about historical fascism. Interestingly, Sweezy’s long time partner Paul Baran, writing in 1952 under the pseudonym of “Historicus” noted, in discussing the disturbing tendency of the left to deprecate “the threat of fascism in America,” that such views are “based on the following rather simple reasoning.” Baran continues:

For a political system to qualify as fascist, it has to display the German or Italian characteristics of fascism. It must be based on a fascist mass movement anchored primarily in para-military formations of brown shirts or black shirts. It must be a one party regime, with the party headed by a Fuhrer or a Duce symbolizing the principle of authoritarian leadership. It must be violently nationalist, racist, anti-Semitic. It must be frankly illiberal, intolerant of opposition, hostile to civil liberties and human rights.(7)

Arguments like the one Baran here criticizes, along with those of Kocka and even Sweezy lead us to “concentrate on the forms of political events and pay insufficient attention to their social content and historical significance.”(8) They confuse the form of fascism with its ongoing functionality under capitalism. Fascism and fascist processes take many different forms in different periods, waxing and waning with changes in configurations of class rule. And they spread during moments of capitalist crisis, but not just any capitalist crisis.

The point here is that it would be wrong to define fascism as requiring, let us say, a state racism in which racism is the official state policy. On the contrary, we hold that a contemporary U.S. fascism could in fact come in multicultural garb, accompanying or even serving as the alibi for a deepening racism. In the same vein, it would be wrong to equate fascism with corporatism or corporatist ideology. Conversely, we would argue that not all corporatisms are fascist. We would distinguish between corporate liberalism and fascism. The focus on corporatism blurs such distinctions and can lead to the utopian view of fascism advocated by Lawrence Dennis in the 1930s, where corporatism presumably transcends class conflict. Or, despite the very different perspective, it can lead to Bertram Gross’s “friendly fascism,” which viewed fascism in America as the logical outcome and perfection of U.S. corporatist rule, a form of total integration, the triumph of one-dimensional society. More recently, a similar view has been put forward by Lewis Lapham.

Our view is consistent with the trenchant observation made by George Jackson when he says that “[w]e will never have a complete definition of fascism, because it is in constant motion, showing a new face to fit any particular set of problems that arise to threaten the predominance of the traditionalist, capitalist ruling class.”(9)

We would make two further points of clarification. One, while our functional definition allows us to see fascism’s changing forms under capitalism, what does not change is, of course, this very function itself! Two, we must recognize that there are different kinds of functionalism and our class-analytic-functional definition needs to be distinguished, to take an important contemporary example, from Robert Paxton’s version in his recent book, The Anatomy of Fascism.

Paxton treats classical fascism correctly as a crisis of class rule. Accordingly, he concludes that the ruling classes in both countries, regardless of their differences, ultimately united in order to prevent social revolution from below; in both, he says, conservatives and liberals were the “two principal coalition partners.”(10) Paxton criticizes what he understands as the orthodox Marxist definitions of fascism – “the instrument” of the big bourgeoisie against the proletariat when the legal means of the State proved insufficient” or “the open, terrorist dictatorship of finance capital.”(11) But his analysis reflects a basic Marxist tenet that fascist movements in Italy and Germany by themselves did not bring about fascism. At any rate, Paxton’s “functional equivalent” of fascism becomes disconnected from class analysis when he speculates about possible contemporary fascisms, including the United States.

Paxton maintains that the language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would have little to do with the original European models; rather they would be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the original symbols and language were to Italians and Germans. For Paxton, American fascism will mean:

No swastikas, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. … Around such reassuring language and symbols and in the event of some redoubtable shock to national prestige, Americans might support an enterprise of forcible national regeneration, unification, and purification. Its targets would be the First Amendment, separation of church and state (crèches on the lawn, prayers in school), efforts to place control on gun ownership, desecrations of the flag, unassimilated minorities, artistic license, dissident and unusual behavior of all sorts that could be labeled antinational or decadent.(12)

Paxton offers valuable insight into the possible forms of American-style fascism, but his “functional equivalency” operates purely on an ideological and cultural level. Protestant fundamentalism becomes “the functional equivalent of fascism to regenerate and unite a humiliated and vengeful people.”(13) Here, fascism is principally about fundamentalism as expressive of some deep anthropological impulse, not crises of capitalist rule.

It is important to emphasize that we are not offering the definition of fascism. For example, our thesis about fascism and the ruling class would not hold for many instances of what is commonly called third world fascism, in part because these fascisms often contain weak ruling classes whose divisions can be sown and/or used by ruling classes and governments in the imperialist core. This is regularly the case in the examples drawn from Chomsky and Herman’s The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism and would describe the processes of class formation and fascist rule in a country like Pakistan. In such countries, fascism emerged through one section of the ruling class disciplining or smashing the other. That sort of process, we argue, cannot happen here.(14)

One of the central criticisms of a class analysis of fascism is that it is reductionist, one consequence of this reductionism being that Marxists cannot explain theoretically the differences between the New Deal and Nazi Germany. The general argument goes something like this. If fascism is the expression of monopoly capitalism in crisis, then given that both Germany and the United States went through economic depressions of similar magnitude, why did we get the New Deal in one place and fascism in the other? As Alan Dawley put it, “fascism and New Deal liberalism represented alternative solutions to the same problem of restoring political legitimacy undermined by the Great Depression.”(15) Dawley suggests that the difference in the two solutions is explained neither by the personalities of Hitler and Roosevelt—though he says there is something to this argument—nor by “impersonal economic trends.” “Economic contours alone,” he asserts, “could not have caused such different political outcome. … Similarity can never explain difference.”(16) Marxists who cut their teeth arguing with postmarxists about reductionism know where this is heading even if Dawley, himself a Marxist, won’t quite go there. The Great Depression is “monopoly capitalism in crisis” which, however, produced vastly different outcomes. Class analysis, equated with the “economic” or the explanatory power of “impersonal economic trends,” is perhaps necessary but clearly insufficient. So if class is part of the analysis, other causal categories are needed.

However, if we reduce class analysis in this way—splitting the economic from the political and equating class with the former—we will have to import other causal categories to explain the differences. From the Marxist standpoint of totality, however, the crisis, as Dawley and critics of class reductionism see it, is too narrowly defined. While Germany and the United States went through similar economic crises, they were met by quite different alignments of class forces. Economic crisis alone does not necessarily lead to fascism.

The Great Depression in America emerged from the Hoover years of plutocracy. This plutocracy followed a period of intense class struggles in which the ruling class brought to bear the full force of a “racist antiradicalism” to thwart class struggle, antiracist struggle or their union. It was predicated on the smashing of labor and so racist was the period that Dawley deems it “the biological republic.”(17) As Pem Buck notes, a more appropriate parallel – though by no means exact – to the situation producing the Nazi seizure of power would be the early twenties in the United States, with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan paralleling the rise of the Nazis.(18)

The first Roosevelt administration, with its famous hundred days, faced an economic crisis but not a crisis of class rule, as was clearly the case in late Weimar. As David Abraham argues in his superb book The Collapse of the Weimar Republic, the fierce stalemate that undermined the coalition between capital and labor (sozialpolitik) resulted from “an economic crisis that was in good measure a profit crisis engendered by a militant reformist labor movement.” Put another way, the crisis was a “structural problem” that “went well beyond the pressure of reparations and high interest rates.”(19) Furthermore, Abraham argued that this crisis of class rule resulted from the Social Democrats’ assumption that democracy could overcome capitalism on its own terrain, a terrain guided by the logic of capital accumulation. But the assumption produced the paradox whereby “the best that can be accomplished is the worst that can be done: paralyzing capitalism without transforming it.”(20)

While we cannot do justice to Abraham’s complete analysis, it is crucial to note these summary comments: “Just as industrialists—without much enthusiasm—collectively compromised with the socialists in 1918 in order to maintain what was theirs and improve their future prospects, so they did the same with the less threatening national socialists.”(21) As Abraham shows, individual members of the ruling class had diverse feelings about the Nazis, ranging from enthusiastic support to grave distrust. These feelings bore some relation to the tensions between ruling class fractions, i.e. export oriented versus heavy industry that characterized the Weimar period. But by late 1932, according to Abraham, “there were no longer any real alternatives to a leading Nazi role in the new government.”(22) Another crucial point is that the same members of the ruling class who supported the coalition with labor, however vulnerable, as a form of social control, often later supported the Nazis for the same reason. The class fractions that were divided at one stage of Weimar united in helping to bring about its collapse. A parallel process took place in the United States with one notable exception: the order was reversed as the class fractions, despite much complaining and considerable opposition, united behind the New Deal.

This point is important for two reasons. First, it shows quite clearly that class analysis does not involve the domination of big business defined as a collection of malign, conspiratorial individuals (this was the view of George Seldes, an often astute observer of fascist tendencies in the United States in the late 1930s). Second, it helps us to understand how ruling class fractions during the New Deal era overcame their divisions on behalf of Roosevelt’s drive toward a war economy, which provided jobs for labor and a strengthening of ruling class power. Both points are central to combating a rival liberal interpretation of a fascist trajectory in the present.

In the case of Nazi Germany, understanding class analysis in this way, with fascist processes waxing and waning in response to different alignments of class forces, shows what is wrong with well known critiques of Marxist analyses of fascism like those issuing from the pen of Henry Turner, in his German Big Business and the Rise of Fascism. To savage Marxist analysis, Turner makes full use of the ideological apparatus of positivism, with its distrust of structures of power, to equate class analysis with conspiracy theory on the one hand—evil bosses planning fascism from 1918 to 1933—while on the other hand rescuing the ruling class by trusting everything they say. If Marxist analysis turned on the requirement that Big Business was united for Hitler, secretly funding him from the start, an analysis perhaps in fact suggested by taking too seriously John Heartfield’s famous montage of Hitlers’s small hand in the form of a fascist salute taking money from the large hand of Big Business, then Marxist analysis would indeed be in trouble. Ironically, liberals and left liberals in fact tend to treat business in this manner. For example, George Seldes sees big business and one of its policy-making arms, the National Association of Manufacturers, as essentially fascist.(23) For Seldes, this was true even during the war, when he then referred to them as fifth columnists.

As we will show, this view leads in the present to the rogue ruling class hypothesis, with a possible fascist trajectory solved by voting democratic or, in Michael Mann’s view, throwing the militarists out. Various historians have shown in the New Deal years that a significant split in the ruling class developed between the New Dealers who thought corporate liberalism might stabilize capitalism and those represented by the Liberty League and subsequently the America First Committee. These organizations temporarily called for isolationism and even an alliance with Germany against the Soviet Union as part of constructing a “Fortress America.” This contradiction was largely solved by the war, with Roosevelt’s attempt to prosecute certain isolationists for treason coming to naught. For example, Sears Roebuck’s Leonard Wood was one of the architects of the America First Committee, yet it was Sears’ Donald Nelson who played a crucial role in consolidating the direction of the war production board. As late as 1936, Roosevelt himself was open to proposals emanating from Hitler that might keep the peace. According to Kees van der Pijl in his book, The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class, this reflected the continuing strength of the sphere of interest policy in international relations, with its connection to Germany. But such a stance came to an end with Roosevelt’s 1937 speech that called for a quarantine of the aggressors. Van der Pijl notes that during the brief social redistribution phase of the New Deal, which culminated in the Flint sit-down strike (sit-downs were soon made illegal), well-known liberals like Will Clayton and James Warburg joined the Liberty Leagues, which called for the smashing of labor—similar to what took place in Nazi Germany. But with the primacy of industrial capital established and coupled to an internationalist, expansionist thrust, (the corporate liberal synthesis), “men like Warburg and Clayton rejoined the Roosevelt regime and became missionaries of the corporate liberal ideal.”(24)

This economist reduction of class analysis mentioned above has also been central to the work of Michael Mann, who has written Fascists, a major work on fascism between the wars, and an important book on the current crisis, Incoherent Empire. Mann’s books are well respected on the left so it is all the more important to point out his mischaracterizations of class analysis, mischaracterizations that are typical and that lead him and others who follow this trajectory to misunderstand both past fascism and present fascist possibilities.

Mann largely rejects class analysis by equating it with economic reductionism. For Mann, class analysis is reduced to a scenario whereby fascism results from “economic deprivation, unemployment or declining wage levels.”(25) But as he puts it, that’s part of it, but not all of it. So, he says, economic crisis is necessary but not sufficient for explaining fascism. He also argues there must be ideological crisis, political crisis, cultural crisis, and military crisis, no one category reducible to the others. These separate crises follow from his analysis of social power. Mann’s causal pluralism separates out as autonomous centers of social power what Marxists understand as functioning in the service of the dominant class. At least at the level of the system as a whole, for a Marxist it would be very odd to divide categories up in this way since, however complex the system can be, it is hard under relatively normal conditions of class rule to see how the ideological would be autonomous of class or the military, etc. Though Mann offers his pluralist model in response to Marxism’s supposed economic reductionism, Mann’s artificial splitting of political from military from economic distorts the character and function of class rule. For example, in the case of Germany in the 1930s, the ruling class cannot be equated with economic powers alone. As Franz Neumann noted of Germany’s ruling class:

the ruling class is composed of those who command the means of violence (physical and moral) and the means of production, and those who possess the administrative skill. There are thus four groups: the Nazi leadership, which controls the police and propaganda; the army leadership; the industrial hierarchy; and the high civil service.(26)

Mann’s multi causal model lets capitalism off the hook. The autonomy of the political for Mann is cashed out in two complementary theses as relates to fascism. One, that the main rival to fascism is not labor, socialism, communism, etc., but the old regime. According to this interpretation, fascism succeeds or fails, is able to get beyond the movement stage or not, in inverse proportion to the old regime’s strength. Fascism succeeds in Nazi Germany because the old regime is weak—oddly enough for Kocka, it is strong—whereas fascism does not succeed in Hungary because the old regime retains power.

Two, the presence of the old regime, whether strong or weak, is connected to the absence of a well developed parliamentary regime, which for Mann blocks fascism. In turn, this developed parliamentary regime is associated with the domination of enlightenment values—science and instrumental reason. For Mann, this ideological character of mature parliamentary regimes discourages fanaticisms, which he sees as based on adherence “to substantive values,” to be distinguished from instrumental reason’s commitment to procedural values. If the presence or absence of the old regime is an example of the autonomy of politics, here we have the supposed autonomy of ideology.

Mann’s analysis relating the emergence of fascism to the breakdown of the old regime raises significant questions. Why not analyze the Hungary/Germany difference in terms of the presence or absence of a powerful but vulnerable capitalist class in crisis, one vulnerable to a working class movement? One reason Mann does not go in this direction is due to the fact that in Hungary and Romania, home-grown fascists (leftists had been previously smashed) represented the proletarian interest against the old regime dominated status quo, so presumably that example undercuts a Marxist thesis. But the Marxist view does not focus primarily on fascist mass movements because they are not primary engines of fascism. Marxism analyzes fascism as a form of class rule dominated by a monopoly capitalist fraction that turns to fascism when its normal options are no longer available.

With respect to the distinction between instrumental values and substantive values, Mann asserts without argument that “[s]ocial and political ideologies do not require and cannot obtain scientific validation.”(27) This point is, to say the least, highly contentious and in fact almost surely false, based on a fact/value dichotomy that has been undergoing deconstruction for some time now. Values like racial equality, or so moral realists argue, are rooted in facts about human capacity and, to take another basic example, recent discoveries that “race” is an illusion carry moral implications. As Hilary Putnam notes, there are moral facts, and facts and values are often entangled.

Mann’s adherence to this outmoded distinction allows him to assert that the dominance of instrumental reason facilitates the moderate give and take of parliamentary regimes. The distinction simultaneously allows him to rule out radical and progressive alternatives committed to substantive values of equality, in part by tacitly equating these values with fundamentalisms. Ironically, though, if substantive values cannot obtain validation, neither can instrumental values and so his preferences for instrumental values cannot be justified. Mann’s contradiction follows strictly from his own fact/value split. His claims about old regimes’ causal connections to fascism rule out the possibility of a fascist America, while allowing it for fanatical (rooted in substantive values) third world regimes.(28) But as we suggest briefly above, while there is certainly such a thing as third world fascism, it cannot be separated from imperialism in the core, a separation, it seems, encouraged by Mann’s analysis.

When Mann turns his model of social power on current conditions, it leads to his thesis of the United States as an incoherent empire driven by a rogue Bush regime—senseless, fanatical, the result of a “neoconservative chicken hawk coup.”(29) Mann clearly demarcates the neoliberalism of Clinton from Bush’s neoconservatism, viewing them as distinct primarily on an ideological plane. It is clear that he sees the Bush administration as an irrational throwback, a version of the old regime we might say, an anachronism, a move away from the “mild and democratic nation states” they are supposed to be. Mann does not talk about anything like a fascist trajectory in the United States simply because he views the political system as an example of well entrenched parliamentarism. For Mann, fascism in the United States could only come from outside this system, meaning a coup.

Mann of course sees this parliamentarism as a pure and simple democratic advance and not as an advanced form of class rule. So Mann sees the collapse of the Weimar republic resulting in part from a democracy deficit. But, according to Abraham, the weak parliamentary setup or tradition in Germany enabled a political pluralism that could not be sustained precisely because it was too much democracy—for example, the SPD’s insistence on increasing sozialpolitik at a time when capital needed to smash labor to restore profitability.

The differences between Mann’s pluralism and our position are abundantly clear.

We would also note that if Mann’s ideas about the relative maturity of parliamentary regimes underestimate the democratic potential in Germany, it overestimates that potential in the United States during the same period. In the larger work to follow, we make several references to observers in the 1930s who believed that the United States might go fascist. That prediction turned out wrong. But on Mann’s account, such predictions were foolish because they failed to recognize the maturity of U.S. democratic institutions, meaning that it couldn’t happen then. Our view, of course, is that didn’t did not mean couldn’t. Had war spending and mobilization not opened up opportunities for capital, had the depression been worse than it was, had the alignment of class forces been slightly different, we doubt that Mann’s so-called mature institutions would have saved the United States.

Oddly enough, fiction is more tenable than Mann’s social theory. Consider Sinclair Lewis’s novel, written in 1935, with its fictional timeline beginning in 1936 and ending in 1939. Lewis portrays America in 1936 as in a depression considerably worse than it was in fact, with the number of unemployed in the novel about double. Our view is that without rearmament and a second imperialist war, the nosedive of 1937-1938, where unemployment rates jumped from 14 to 19 percent, could have made Lewis’s fiction a reality. In fact, this is more or less the scenario Lawrence Dennis foresaw in 1936 in his book, The Coming American Fascism. Dennis saw fascism as the only alternative short of anarchy to the utter collapse of liberal capitalist democracy.(30)

Returning to the present, we might agree that Pax Americana is an incoherent empire. But the incoherence is not the result, as Mann sees it, of the four autonomous social powers out of phase with one another—primarily due to the Bush gang fouling up a system which should operate rationally and in sync. Rather, the incoherence results from the contradictions of Pax Americana in decline. To return to the claim that Mann’s categories, while including class in his scheme in a variety of error prone ways, let capitalism off the hook, here is the gist: fascism waxes or wanes in inverse proportion to the presence or absence of the old regime, and is blocked in societies with well entrenched parliaments. However multicausal Mann’s models claim to be, this example makes it clear that, for Mann, culture does most of the explanatory work. Further, Mann’s discussion of the Bush administration as a kind of anti-modernist throwback opens the door to conceptually similar analyses coming ironically from the Bush administration itself, with its view of Islamic fascism, rooted in fanaticism and anti-modernism understood as largely autonomous processes.

Finally, we have this to say about Mann. In his discussion of the weaknesses of Marxist claims that fascism serves the interests of the ruling class, Mann notes how often ruling classes “go for the gun too quickly” and admits that he hasn’t yet “solved the problem of hysterical overreaction.”(31) He suggests that it might have something to do with “basic human sentiments of fear, hatred and violence” and perhaps “other basic human sentiments not to forgive but to kick our enemy when he or she is down, especially after he or she has scared us. But it may also be because of the role that ideology plays in defining ‘interests’ more broadly than rational choice theory suggests.”(32) Here, Mann makes clear how the inadequacy of the concept of class interest requires the turn to “basic human sentiments,” but also to autonomous ideological, political and military crises. But just as Mann facilitates his pluralism by equating Marxism with economism, he now repeats the maneuver by equating Marxist notions of class interest with rational choice theory. Admittedly, this is a difficult problem and the concept of class interest is often taken for granted and undertheorized, but a few comments are in order. When Mann suggests that the ruling elites have this tendency to pick up the gun too quickly, one meaning of “too quickly” might be that Germany between the wars was not in a revolutionary situation, or perhaps that the United States did not need to invade Iraq for oil-related reasons but could have cut a deal. But if ideology is meant to legitimate the illegitimate, then exaggerating the threat to class rule by normalizing the rulers and demonizing enemies is paradoxically a necessity. Further, given that we are human beings with our basic human sentiments and not purely rational beings—class society would not be rational according to such beings—it would not be unusual for members of the ruling class to believe their own ideology. Still, Mann would be hard put to argue that crises of rule were primarily ideological instead of being rooted in properties intrinsic to class rule, like the contradictions of capitalism or the permanent desire of the masses to resist its ruling classes—a desire that expresses the substantive values he sees as at odds with modern democratic states.

If the general crisis of Pax Americana in its acute phase contains a fascist trajectory, it will result from a crisis of capitalist rule, as history reveals. Equally important, it will look quite different from past fascist trajectories. In the case of Pax Americana in crisis, the intensification of fascist processes would unfold in a bipartisan political context, liberals and conservatives acting in concert – the whole ruling class. Looking back to the 1930s, this was the view of Carmen Haider, an astute observer and analyst of fascist processes and possibilities at the time.(33)

On a cautionary note, however important class fractions are to understanding the world, they must not be split off into autonomous groupings: unilateralists versus multilateralists; national capitalists with desires for empire versus internationalists; reactionary capitalists versus liberal capitalists. Of course, such people and the forces they represent do exist. But for purposes of understanding fascism, capitalism and crisis, it is better to understand these forces as moments of capital, moments of a paradoxical unity that cannot be transcended and cannot be fetishized. In this sense, we see unilateralist and multilateralists as bearers of contradictory social relations, and not as people with fully independent wills.

While seeming initially to equate fascism with the conditions producing it in Europe between the wars, Paul Sweezy noted that the seeds of fascism are always present in capitalism and he saw it also possibly taking other forms in response to different crisis situations. Sweezy wrote: “So far as history allows us to judge—and in questions of this sort there is no other guide—a prolonged and ‘unsuccessful’ war is the only social phenomenon sufficiently catastrophic in its effects to set in train this particular chain of events.”(34) Such a war might lead to conditions ripe for fascism, especially if they occurred at a time when capitalist structures were, as he put it, “severely injured and not yet overthrown.”(35)

Let us for a moment follow Sweezy’s thinking because it helps us to put the current situation as we see it in its proper historical perspective. For Sweezy, it was not inconceivable that a prolonged economic crisis alone could produce “substantially the same results,” meaning fascism, though only if “the structure of capitalist rule [had] already been seriously undermined.”(36) But Sweezy seemed uncomfortable with leaving it at that, since he was clear that capitalism always carried the potential for fascism. It seemed unlikely to him that World War II, a war fought against fascism, would usher in fascism in the United States. In 1942, it was clear to Sweezy that the structure of capitalist rule in the United States was indeed far from undermined. But Sweezy was aware that things could change, writing that: “To be sure, if we had to anticipate an endless succession of wars in the future, matters would almost certainly turn out differently.”(37)

We propose that the general crisis of Pax Americana in its acute phase represents the historic convergence of Sweezy’s two main criteria (in 1942) for fascism in the future: a “profound and long-drawn-out” economic crisis—one that Sweezy and Harry Magdoff later deemed “irreversible”—accompanied by an “endless succession of wars.”(38) Further, Sweezy contended that a possible fascism was “not a question of a single nation but rather of the world economy as a whole.”(39) In other words, fascism would likely reappear in forms differing from their historical predecessors given the changing structures of world capitalism. If fascism between the wars reconsolidated the nation states of Germany and Italy, readying it for imperialist expansionism, a U.S. fascism emerging from multiple crises would flow from an empire in decline—in some way corresponding to what István Mészáros has called capital’s structural crisis.(40)

We recognize how uncertain and volatile matters now stand with Pax Americana. But evidence is mounting for what we are calling a fascist trajectory. We will discuss the details of the general crisis, especially focusing on the events and developments that have brought it to its current acute phase, in our follow-up to this essay. For now, however, we wish to close with comments on a recent article by Nafeez Mossadegh Ahmed. Ahmed, author of Behind the War on Terror and The War on Freedom: How and Why America Was Attacked, notes the seeming irrationality of Bush administration plans to use the Israeli invasion of Lebanon as prelude to a long envisioned invasion of Iran. The catastrophic consequences of the Iran scenario, Ahmed notes, are well understood by elite planners: “irreversible ramifications for the global political economy,” “energy security in tatters” precipitating contingency plans for further resource wars in the Mideast, actions triggering “responses from other major powers with fundamental interests in maintaining their own access to regional energy supplies” – Russia and China. Ahmed adds that the dollar economy would be seriously undermined.

The question he poses to all of us is this: Why would the U.S. ruling class pursue its interests in this manner?

Because the “post-9/11 military geostrategy of the ‘War on Terror’ does not spring from a position of power but rather from entirely the opposite.” Ahmed claims that the “global system has been crumbling under the weight of its own unsustainability… and we are fast approaching the convergence of multiple crises that are already interacting fatally….” These crises include peak oil and climate tipping points, and a dollar denominated economy on the verge, according to no less an authority than Paul Volcker, of a currency crisis (the contradictory character of U.S. plans are indicated by the currency problem, both cause and consequence of a desperate strategy). Ahmed asserts that senior level planners in the policy making establishment have appeared to calculate “that the system is dying” but the last “viable means of sustaining it remains [sic] a fundamentally military solution” designed to “rehabilitate the system … to meet the requirements of the interlocking circuits of military-corporate power and profit.”

Ahmed ends his very recent article (July 24) with Daniel Ellsberg’s warning that another 9-11 event “or a major war in the Middle East involving a U.S. attack on Iran …will be an equivalent of a Reichstag fire decree,” involving massive detention of both Middle Easterners and critics of the policy, the latter deemed terrorist sympathizers. Ahmed is well aware of how contingencies can postpone such plans. Nevertheless, we must all be aware of these plans and the crises which might bring them into being.

We can begin, at least now, 50 years after Baran’s words, by turning around “one of the most disturbing features of the present political situation in the United States” – the “widely observable complacency concerning the danger of fascism in this country.”(41)



1. Chris Hedges, “Feeling the hate with the National Religious Broadcasters,” in Harpers (May 2005), 55-61; Mark Crispin Miller, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too (New York: Basic Books, 2005); Davidson Loehr, America, Fascism + God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher (White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2005); Lawrence Britt, Fascism Anyone? in free inquiry (Spring 2003); Lewis Lapham, “Notebook,” in Harper’s (October 2005), 7-9; Carl Davidson and Jerry Harris, “Globalization, Theocracy and the New Fascism: the U.S. Right’s Rise to Power,” Race & Class 47, no. 3 (2006), 47-67.
2. We borrow the term “fascist processes” from Pem Buck, Worked to the Bone: Race, Class, Power & Privilege (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001). Buck’s emphasis on fascism as a process avoids freezing the term into its past forms and emphasizes, as we do, fascist processes as a property of capital that waxes and wanes with major organizational changes in class rule. She notes rightly that only the ruling class can institute fascist processes.
3. John Bellamy Foster, "Naked Imperialism,” Monthly Review 57 , no. 4" (September 2005), 1-11.
4. Geoff Eley, From Unification to Nazism: Reinterpreting the German Past (Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1986), 257.
5. Alan Dawley, Struggles for Justice (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991), 525.
6. Paul M. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970), 329.
7. “Historicus,” “Fascism in America,” Monthly Review (October 1952), 181.
8. Historicus, “Fascism in America,” 182.
9. George L. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (Baltimore, Black Classic Press, 1990), 118.
10. Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 22.
11. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 8.
12. Paxton, 202. Paxton adds that “an authentically popular American fascism would be pious, anti-black, and since September 11, 2001, anti-Islamic as well.”
13. Paxton, 203.
14. On Pakistan, see Aijaz Ahmad, Lineages of the Present: Ideology and Politics in Contemporary South Asia (London: Verso , 2000).
15. Dawley, Struggles for Justice, 396.
16. Dawley, 397.
17. Barbara Foley, Spectres of 1919: Class & Nation in the Making of the New Negro (Champagne, Ill: Illinois University Press, 2003), 122-158.
18. Buck, Worked to the Bone,155-164.
19. David Abraham, The Collapse of the Weimar Republic: Political Economy in Crisis (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986), xviii.
20. Abraham, The Collapse of the Weimar Republic, xxi.
21. Abraham, xvi.
22. Abraham, xxxvii
23. George Seldes, Facts and Fascism (New York: In Fact, 1943), 80-102.
24. Kees van der Pijl, The Making of An Atlantic Ruling Class (London: Verso, 1984), 105-106.
25. Michael Mann, Fascists (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 19.
26. Franz Neumann, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism 1933-1944 (New York: Harper & Row, 1944), 396.
27. Mann, Fascists, 79.
28. There is a voluminous literature that dismantles the fact/value dichotomy from a realist perspective. For one example of this work, see Hilary Putnam, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2002).
29. Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire (London: Verso, 2003), 252.
30. Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (New York: Signet, 1993); Lawrence Dennis, The Coming American Fascism: The Crisis of Capitalism (Newport Beach, Calif., Noontide Press, 1993).
31. Mann, Fascists, 63.
32. Mann, 63.
33. Carmen Haider, Do We Want Fascism? (New York: John Day, 1934), 242-247. Haider, who earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University and worked for a time at the Brookings Institution, went to Italy to study labor conditions under fascist rule. After publishing a book about her findings there, Capital and Labor Under Fascism, she returned to the United States, where her studies and extensive tours of the country prepared her to write Do We Want Fascism?.
34. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development, 346.
35. Sweezy, 346.
36. Sweezy, 346.
37. Sweezy, 347.
38. Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, The Irreversible Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988).
39. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development, 347.
40. István Mészáros, “ “The Structural Crisis of Politics,” Monthly Review (September, 2006) , 34-53.
41. Historicus, “Fascism in America,” 181.


Gregory Meyerson is Assistant Professor of English (critical theory) at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, NC.

Michael Joseph Roberto is Assistant Professor of History at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, NC.


Brazilian cane cutter died from working 70 days without break

By V. Hugo in São Paulo
2 June 2007

After analyzing the working conditions of sugar-cane cutter Juraci Barbosa, 39, who died on June 29, 2006, the Brazilian government’s Public Ministry of Labor concluded that before dropping dead, Juraci had worked 70 days without a break, between April 15 and June 26 of that year.

Moreover, in the days preceding his death, he had cut a volume of cane that substantially surpassed the daily average of 10 tons. João Amâncio Batista, the doctor who evaluated all of the documents presented by Juraci’s employer, the San Jose sugar mill, told the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo that one fact caught his attention. “On the 28th of June, one day before his death, he cut 17.4 tons of cane,” the doctor said. But this was by no means the only day that Juraci was exposed to a tremendously intense level of labor. The doctor noted that “on April 21, he managed to cut 24.6 tons!”

The conclusions of the ministry and the occupational health doctor confirm the observations made by a researcher at the State University of São Paulo (UNESP) that “there is a direct relation between the deaths and the increase in productivity.” The Institute of Agricultural Economy (IEA), linked to the Secretary of State for Agriculture, revealed that the daily productivity of workers in the cane fields of the state of São Paulo has risen 7.89 percent in the last three years. During this period, exhaustion caused by excessive levels of work has led to the deaths of 15 rural workers in the state’s interior.

Sergio Torquato, an IEA researcher, states that the hiring practices of the sugar producers put enormous pressure on the workers. With the advance of mechanization, those jobs that remain are being filled by the bóias-frias (rural workers) judged to be the strongest. “The companies,” he concluded, “are increasingly picking younger people.” As a result, the worker has no choice: it is either pick up the pace of a crushing work tempo, or you lose your job and go hungry.

Workers protest

On May 4, close to 1,000 bóias-frias demonstrated in front of the Agrishow, the largest agricultural trade fair organized in the country. There were tense moments as Military Police were brought in to block part of the demonstration and prevent the workers from going into the event.

The protest, organized by Feraesp (Federation of Rural Employees of the State of São Paulo), with the support of the MST (Landless Workers Movement) and of the local rural unions in the cane-growing region of São Paulo, marked the initiation of a campaign for wage increases for these workers. Among their demands are a 30-hour week—at present it is 44 hours—raising the monthly base salary from the current 450 reais (approximately US$225) to 1,620 reais (about US$810), an end to the demand that workers meet daily production quotas, better health protection, control of production by the workers themselves, an end to the use of labor contractors, free transport and food (“sufficient to guarantee the nutritional needs of the workers”).

Two worlds

The demonstration revealed the confrontation between two worlds: on the one side, the world of high technology, computerized agricultural machines, monitored via satellite exhibited at the show, and, on the other, the world of the podão (the machete-like tool used to cut cane by hand), the world of wage slavery in which the precarious conditions of labor have reduced the working life of the average cane cutter to below that of the slaves of the nineteenth century. This leads even to their deaths through overwork, as was the case with Juraci and others unable to survive the levels of exploitation demanded by agribusiness.

The insatiable hunger for profit of this first world, spurred on by the development of high technology, is responsible for the simultaneous destruction of both the human workforce and of nature.

Driven by the prospects of an ethanol profit boom, the capitalists and their political allies are determined to plant more cane and invest more in machinery, no matter what the impact on the environment or conditions of life for the working class.

Brazil’s ex-minister of agriculture and co-president of the Inter-American Commission on Ethanol, Roberto Rodrigues, delivered a recent speech in Ribeirão Preto, in the interior of the state of São Paulo, in which he argued that the work of the cane cutters should be eliminated and that they should be replaced by machines.

Admitting that “the work of the cane cutter is grueling,” he said that eliminating the workers’ jobs would resolve the problem of cane cutters falling dead from overwork. But in the Ribeirão Preto region alone, Brazil’s largest cane-producing area, there are close to 170,000 cane cutters. Where are these workers to go? Rodrigues proposes that the state create a program in which those areas of land that are least suited to mechanized production be shifted to the production of fruit, wood or even rubber.

To realize this plan, which he calls the “humanization of the cane sector,” he suggests that “the government of the state of São Paulo create a proposal for financing. That way we kill three birds with one stone: eliminating manual cutting, creating activities that provide income for the workers and the agricultural owners and reducing the concentration of monoculture.”

Nevertheless, there is one thing that the ex-minister fails to explain: how are 170,000 workers going to find employment in an area that consists of barely 10 percent of the land on which they are now working? In the end, the production of fruit, wood or rubber is not more labor-intensive than the cutting of sugar cane. It is obvious, therefore, that in this minuscule area there will not be room for everyone. In reality, the “humanization” proposed by Rodrigues has a less pretty name: mass unemployment.

See Also:

Brazil: Bush-Lula biofuel plans based on conditions worse than slavery [14 May 2007]

As May death toll of US soldiers hits 124

Bush administration calls for permanent US military presence in Iraq

By Jerry White
2 June 2007

Bush administration officials said this week that US military presence in Iraq could last decades, drawing an analogy with South Korea, where US troops have been stationed for more than half a century. Comments by the White House, the defense secretary and the chief US military commander in Iraq were made as the death toll of US soldiers reached 124 in May—the third highest monthly total since the war began in March 2003.

Speaking at press briefing Wednesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said President Bush believed the situation in Iraq and the “larger war on terror” were going to “take a long time” and that a long-term US presence in the Middle Eastern country would be required. Even after the Iraqis took over the major security functions, he said, the president believed the US would have to maintain an “over-the-horizon support role” to “react quickly to major challenges or crises.”

Snow said this would be comparable to the US presence in South Korea, “where for many years there have been American forces stationed there as a way of maintaining stability and assurance on the part of the South Korean people against a North Korean neighbor that is a menace.” Saying he wasn’t comparing North Korea to “Iraq’s neighbors”—a clear reference to Iran—Snow said the chief role of US troops would be to provide internal, not external, security in Iraq.

Pretending that the American-occupied country exercised national sovereignty, Snow said US troops would remain “as long as seems reasonable to the Iraqi people who are, after all, your hosts and the ones making the invitations.” Asked if US troops would remain in the Middle Eastern country for 50 years, as they have in South Korea, the White House spokesman said it was impossible to say. “I don’t know,” he said. “It is an unanswerable question. But I’m not making that suggestion ... The war on terror is a long war.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed these remarks Thursday, saying some level of American troops would remain in Iraq for a “protracted period of time.” Gates said such a long-term presence would assure allies in the Middle East and others that the US would not withdraw from Iraq as it did from Vietnam, “lock, stock and barrel.” The “idea is more a model of a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have an enduring presence, but one that is by consent of both parties, and under certain conditions,” he said.

Gates and Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of the US Pacific Command, spoke to reporters at Camp Smith in Hawaii ahead of a trip to Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, a three-day regional security conference. Gates said one of the central messages for the upcoming conference was that “while we are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a global war on terror, we have no intention of neglecting Asia.” The latter remark, chilling for the Asian people, was a reference in particular to China, whose military buildup, the defense secretary said, was of great concern to the US.

The reestablishment of permanent US military bases in the Middle East—particularly after popular opposition led to the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia four years ago—has been one of the major goals of the US, which sees Iraq as a launching pad for interventions throughout the oil-rich region. The analogy to South Korea is also significant for what it says about the US “bringing democracy” to Iraq. US military forces intervened in the Korean Peninsula in 1950 to crush the anti-colonial struggle and the presence of US troops helped prop up a military dictatorship that ruled South Korea for decades.

Lt. General Raymond Odierno, who oversees daily military operations in Iraq, said he backed a South Korean-style arrangement to maintain US forces in Iraq for years. “That would be nothing but helping the Iraqi security forces and the government to stabilize itself, and to continue to set itself up for success for years to come, if we were able to do that,” Odierno told Pentagon reporters in a videoconference from Baghdad.

The general took the opportunity to say that September would be too soon to judge the success of the military surge ordered by President Bush last January because the full buildup of US troops would not be completed until mid-June, when 8,000 more soldiers arrived in Baghdad and Anbar province. The US Congress had mandated military commanders to report on the progress of the surge by late summer and Odierno said he would deliver his evaluation by that time. Odierno’s comments only demonstrate the farce of the Democratic majority’s claims to be holding the Bush administration “accountable.”

Defense Secretary Gates—whose nomination was confirmed with the support of the Democrats—responded by saying he did not mind Odierno’s request for more time and did not think the general was seeking to change the timeline. “I don’t think that the goalposts have changed really at all,” Gates said. “I think he basically was saying that the report can go a number of different ways, one of which is: ‘I need a little more time.’ In my opinion,” Gates added, “our military commanders should not have to worry about the Washington clock.”

Meanwhile, in order to show the supposed progress of the surge, Odierno broke with protocol and released body count figures reminiscent of the Vietnam War period. He said US forces had killed 3,184 enemy combatants, including 837 in Baghdad, and wounded another 1,016, since the February 13 start of the troop increase. Another 18,000 people had been detained, according to military data, while security barriers had been built in a dozen locations.

In coming weeks, Odierno said the US military forces would confront insurgents in the outskirts of Baghdad, especially in the south and east in Diyala province. This week US forces, backed by helicopter gunships, waged a two-day battle in the Amariyah district in western Baghdad, according to a councilman and other residents of the Sunni district.

US commanders continue to warn of increased American casualties as troops leave well-fortified areas and engage in street-by-street fighting and man local security stations. The death toll in May of 124 US soldiers in Iraq was reported by Iraq Coalition Casualties, a web site that monitors official death confirmations from the US Department of Defense. The only higher months were in 2004, during the April and November sieges of Fallujah, when 135 and 137 US troops were killed respectively.

Military officials say anti-occupation forces are becoming more sophisticated. “Everyone has to remember we are fighting a very savvy adversary that’s constantly adapting their tactics, techniques and procedures,” said, Col. Mike Galloucis. “They are making very lethal roadside bombs.” Earlier in the spring, US officials say, improvised bombs accounted for about 60 percent of American deaths. They now account for 80 percent. Over the Memorial Day weekend, insurgents shot down a US helicopter in Diyala and booby-trapped the site and the road leading there, blowing up six US soldiers in a rapid-response team.

Among the last US soldiers to be killed this week was a 20-year-old southern Kentucky soldier, Joshua Moore, whose Humvee was hit by an IED in Baghdad. Moore, from Logan County, enlisted in the Army shortly after graduating high school. Moore had returned home recently on a 15-day furlough, his father said, seeing his family for the first time in a year.

Whatever their tactical differences, both the Democrats and Republicans are committed to defending the geopolitical interests of US imperialism in the oil-rich region and preventing a Vietnam-like outcome for the US. With the growing military debacle in Iraq, a consensus is beginning to emerge on a “post-surge” strategy, which would redeploy US troops away from urban areas and make greater use of special forces and air power to “fight terrorism” and defend US “national interests.” The aim of such a strategy would be to limit US casualties and create better political conditions in the US for a long-term occupation of Iraq and control of its vast energy resources.

In pursuit of this goal the deaths of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are small potatoes. This contempt was summed up by long-time ABC News journalist Ted Koppel in a May 31 commentary titled, “Seeking perspective on the US death toll in Iraq.” Expressing concern that the rising US death toll was evoking “the sense of national urgency to get out,” Koppel argues that the US population could be persuaded to accept even higher numbers of fatalities if the Bush administration made the case that control of Middle Eastern oil was crucial to the American people.

“Where the Bush administration has failed, tragically and repeatedly, is in explaining to the American public why US forces were sent into Iraq in the first place, and why they must remain there now,” Koppel writes. Scoffing off as ridiculous official explanations such as America’s “moral obligation to deal with chaos and anarchy” in other countries, Koppel says the real reason “has to do with American interests: stability in the Persian Gulf, the world’s single largest producer and exporter of oil and natural gas ...

“That is not an easy political argument to make: Blood for oil has never been a popular slogan in America,” Koppel acknowledges. Nevertheless, he said, politicians had to tell the Americans if they wanted to keep driving their cars they had to support the war. “If you try to keep those vehicles running without Persian Gulf oil, you’ll know that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is nowhere in our immediate future.”

See Also:

The Bush administration’s new “model” in Iraq’s Anbar province [1 June 2007]

May death toll spikes as 10 US soldiers die on Memorial Day [30 May 2007]

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr makes bid for greater role in US-occupied Iraq [29 May 2007]

Bush administration failing to achieve its "benchmarks" in Iraq [28 May 2007]

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