The Myth of American Exceptionalism

Photo by August Kelm | CC BY 2.0

Like too many nations, the United States likes to think of itself as a chosen nation and a chosen people.  Presidential inauguration statements are typically an exercise in proclaiming American exceptionalism, and this mentality has far too much influence in the United States.  It’s particularly regrettable when individuals who should no better indulge the kind of hubris and triumphalism associated with American exceptionalism.

An excellent example of our exceptionalism appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post in the form of an op-ed by Tom Malinowski, the former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in the Obama administration.  In a fatuous display of ignorance, Malinowski lambasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for stating that the United States frequently meddles in the politics and elections of other countries.  Malinowski argued that it is Russia that interferes in democratic elections, such as the U.S. presidential race in 2016, but that the United States consistently “promotes democracy in other countries.”

One of the reasons why the United States has so little credibility in making the case against Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election is the sordid record of the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency in conducting regime change and even political assassination to influence political conditions around the world.  In 1953, the United States and Great Britain conspired to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran; the following year, the Eisenhower administration backed a coup in Guatemala that led to the introduction of Central America’s most brutal regime in history.  Similarly, Eisenhower’s willingness to pursue the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo led to the installation of the worst tyrant in the history of Africa, Sese Seku Mobutu.

The Bay of Pigs is the “poster child” for American operational failure, and the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General put the blame squarely on what it described as “arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence” within the CIA.  Ten years later, however, another American administration and the CIA tried to prevent the election of Salvador Allende, a leftist, as president of Chile.  After Allende’s election, the CIA moved to subvert his government.  CIA director Richard Helms was given a two-year suspended prison sentence for lying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the operation in Chile.  But it was national security adviser Henry Kissinger who ordered the operation and explained that he couldn’t “see why the United States should stand by and let Chile go communist merely due to the stupidity of its own people.”

The revelation of assassination plots in Cuba, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam finally led to a ban on CIA political assassination in the mid-1970s.  Nevertheless, when Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi was killed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted that “we came, we saw, he died.”  In an incredible turn of events, the United States invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, although it was a CIA-sponsored coup against Colonel Abdul Kassem that led to the emergence of Saddam Hussein in the first place.

Vladimir Putin is certainly aware of CIA intervention of behalf of the Solidarity movement in Poland to destabilize the communist government there in the early 1980s; to bolster the regime of former president Eduard Shevardnadze in the Republic of Georgia in the 1990s; and more recently to undermine the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

Putin’s intervention in Syria in 2015 was designed in part to make sure that the U.S. history of regime change didn’t included another chapter in the Middle East.

Before former U.S. officials such as Tom Malinowski decide to lambaste Putin for cynicism and treachery, it would be a good idea to become familiar with U.S. crimes and calumny. Forty years ago, former senator Frank Church said the United States “must never adopt the tactics of the enemy. Each time we do so, each time the means we use are wrong; our inner strength, the strength that makes us free, is lessened.” Malinowski should ponder William Faulkner’s admonition about the land of his birth: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. His latest book is A Whistleblower at the CIA. (City Lights Publishers, 2017).  Goodman is the national security columnist for

Are Democrats turning to an alliance between neocons and neoliberals?

 If so, it’s a terrible strategy

An alliance with Bush-era neocons on the Russia scandal is pushing Democrats hard right on foreign policy. Sad!

Last week, former Republican congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough made headlines when he announced on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that he was leaving the Republican Party. A week later the conservative pundit wrote a column for the Washington Post elaborating on his decision.

“I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left its senses,” explained Scarborough. “President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, U.S. history and the Constitution.”

“Neither Lincoln, William Buckley nor Ronald Reagan would recognize this movement,” the former congressman continued. “It is a dying party that I can no longer defend.”

Scarborough’s criticism of his former party is more than a little ironic, considering he was a frequent apologist for Trump throughout the campaign season, but the host has nevertheless been praised by many Democrats for his “principled” decision to “put his country first.” Though it has already been a year since the Republican Party officially embraced Trump by nominating him as their candidate, it is, as they say, better late than never.

Scarborough is just one of many conservative pundits who have garnered liberal adulation for rejecting the unhinged Republican president. Since Trump was elected president last year a who’s-who of top conservative figures have been embraced by Democrats and the “liberal media” for their opposition to Trump and his reactionary brand of populism.

Indeed, though he has divided the country, President Trump has been a great unifier of neoliberal Democrats and neoconservative Republicans, who have come to see Russian plots against America at every turn. Neocons like Max Boot, David Frum, Bret Stephens and Bill Kristol are among the top Republican hawks who have become liberal darlings in the Trump era. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter and coiner of the infamous phrase “axis of evil,” has become many liberals’ favorite neocon pundit on social media, while Stephens — a prominent climate-change denier — was hired earlier this year as a full-time columnist for the ostensibly liberal New York Times editorial page (not surprisingly, the Times was forced to issue a correction for his debut column defending climate-change skepticism).

At the center of this alliance is not just a mutual antipathy for President Trump but a hostility towards Russia that recalls the paranoid years of the Cold War. Last week this hawkish alliance was made official when a new “bipartisan” group called Alliance for Securing Democracy was formed. This new advocacy group will be led by Laura Rosenberger, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, and Jamie Fly, a former national security adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio. Top Obama-era officials and Bush-era neocons will sit on the board of directors, including Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan, former ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, Bush-era Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff and none other than Bill Kristol, America’s leading chicken-hawk (who is known best for how wrong he has been in nearly all of his predictions).

Glenn Greenwald summed up this new Trump era alliance in a recent article on The Intercept, noting that “on the key foreign policy controversies, there is now little to no daylight between leading Democratic Party foreign policy gurus and the Bush-era neocons who had wallowed in disgrace following the debacle of Iraq and the broader abuses of the war on terror.”

The Democratic establishment’s apparent shift to the right on foreign policy, along with its newly formed alliance with Republican hawks, is part of an overall trend that reveals how out of touch the party elite have become with the base. Indeed, while leading Democrats have adopted a Cold Warrior mentality, the party’s base has actually shifted further to the left. A majority of Democrats today, for example, have a favorable opinion of “socialism” and support  progressive policies like universal health care. This makes it all the more ironic — and maddening — that senior figures in the Democratic Party have started to sound more like heirs of Joseph McCarthy than Franklin D. Roosevelt, as displayed by a recent tweet from former DNC chair Donna Brazile declaring that “the Communists [i.e. Russians] are now dictating the terms of the debate.”

In a Bloomberg poll released last week, it was revealed that Hillary Clinton is even more unpopular today than the historically unpopular President Trump. According to Bloomberg, many Clinton voters said they “wished Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had won the Democratic nomination, or that they never liked Clinton and only voted for her because she was the lesser of two bad choices.” The survey had another interesting find: of the many issues facing America, 35 percent of people consider health care to be the most important, followed by issues like immigration, terrorism, and climate change. Only 6 percent of respondents said that the United States’ “relationship with Russia” is the most important issue facing the country.

These findings indicate two things: First, that most Americans care much less about the Russia scandal than the political establishment does; and second, that Clinton’s brand of neoliberalism is politically toxic. In that light, the Democratic establishment’s current strategy of embracing the center and aligning with neoconservatives to “secure democracy” against Russia is reckless and extremely shortsighted. ​​​​​​​The Republican Party “left its senses” long before Trump came around, and in uniting with Republican chicken-hawks, leading Democrats seem to be leaving their senses too.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

US squanders billions on new aircraft carrier

25 July 2017

In yet another massive squandering of public resources, the United States on Saturday commissioned the USS Gerald Ford, the country’s 11th supercarrier, at the cost of some $13 billion.

The combined price tag of the ship and its air wing of F-35c fighters, at $30 billion, is roughly equivalent to what the United Nations estimate for the annual cost of ending world hunger.

No doubt many defense contractor executives assembled to watch the ship’s christening had their private jets and country club memberships paid for with this monstrosity, which came in some $3 billion above budget. How many politicians got seven-figure jobs in the private sector after having pushed the project along? No one will ever know.

The Gerald Ford is just part of a major expansion of the US Navy, which was underway even before Trump announced his plans to increase US military spending by $54 billion each year and expand the size of the Navy by 75 ships. Over the next decade, the US military plans to field not only a new set of carriers, but a brand new class of ballistic missile submarines, destroyers, fighters, long-range bombers and nuclear missiles.

This expansion of military spending, under both Obama and Trump, has been met, on the part of the media, with either enthusiastic approval or silence.

By the time the carrier is operational in some three to four years, it will already be obsolete. When the United Kingdom commissioned its latest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal United Services Institute noted that the vast ship was largely defenseless against the current generation of anti-ship cruise missiles fielded by Russia, China and other countries.

“Missiles costing (much) less than half a million pounds a unit could at least disable a British aircraft carrier that costs more than £3 billion,” it said.

Commenting on the report, the Russian Defense Ministry joked that the British aircraft carrier was “merely a large convenient naval target.” The same epithet could be applied to the Gerald Ford. This steel bathtub, housing some 4,300 sailors, airmen and officers, could be sunk within minutes if it wandered within 400 miles of the coast of Kaliningrad, Syria or, for that matter, China.

And yet, America has eleven of these dinosaurs, together with eight helicopter carriers that are as big as the aircraft carriers of other countries. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the US fields three quarters of the world’s carrier tonnage.

At Saturday’s commissioning ceremony, US President Donald Trump delivered a blustering, delusional speech, full of wild threats, in which he presented a picture of the United States arming itself to the teeth. He called the ship a “message to the world” that “American might is second to none, and we’re getting bigger, and better, and stronger every day.”

“Our enemies will shake with fear because everyone will know that America is coming,” he declared. Who these enemies are (one assumes they are not Islamists armed with Kalashnikovs) was never specified.

Trump added, “This ship also ensures that if a fight does come, it will always end the same way: we will win, win, win. We will never lose. We will win.”

In a clear breach of the principle of civilian rule over the military, he appealed to the sailors and officers gathered at the event to demand that the government expand military spending.

Summing up, the former real estate speculator said, “When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight. We want just the opposite. We demand victory, and we will have total victory.”

Trump’s speech, showing the influence of his fascist-minded advisors Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, did not invoke the word “democracy,” or even the principle of “self-defense,” within which the operations of US imperialism have traditionally been couched. All that was left was naked military force, threats and coercion.

While there exist significant differences between Trump and elements of the US military/intelligence apparatus, the US president, in his belief in violence as a solution to historical problems, exemplifies the thinking that pervades American policy circles, which seek to maintain US global dominance through the expansion of military power.

The USS Gerald Ford is the physical embodiment of the idea that the long-term historical decline of American capitalism can be offset by more guns, more ships, more wars and more deaths.

The “American Century” has been characterized by the overwhelming superiority of US air power. Despite the fact that the United States has been continuously at war since 1991, not a single US soldier has been attacked by enemy aircraft for over six decades.

And yet, as the US moves into increasingly sharp conflict with Russia, China and even its European allies, it is becoming increasingly clear that its most advanced weapons systems, including aircraft carriers and “stealth” aircraft such as the F-22, F-35 and B-2, would see substantial losses in the event of a shooting war with Russia, China or even some lesser, regional power such as Iran.

In recognition of this reality, Gen. Mark A. Milley noted that the US needs to prepare for conflicts in which “the levels of violence… would be immense and it would be the likes of what the world hasn’t seen since the Second World War.”

Despite the vast scale of US arms spending and the breathtaking scope of its military operations all over the world, it is increasingly undeniable that the period of US military, economic and geopolitical hegemony is coming to an end.

This was the conclusion of a study published by the US Army War College late last month, which asserts that American political hegemony is “not merely fraying,” but “collapsing.”

The report goes on to state that the order that “first emerged from World War II” was “transformed to a unipolar system with the collapse of the Soviet Union.” It continues: “The 17-year period after the Cold War… was a unique time when American power was essentially unchallenged,” but “we have been moving into a new era.”

With the rise of “revisionist” powers like China and Russia, the United States has been so weakened that “it no longer can—as in the past—automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.”

This is in line with an assessment by historian Alfred W. McCoy, who declares in a soon-to-be released book: “All available economic, educational, technological data indicate that when it comes to US global power, negative trends are likely to aggregate rapidly by 2020, and could reach a critical mass no later than 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, may already be tattered and fading by 2025, and, except for the finger pointing, could be over by 2030.”

But the relative decline of the United States is, in some ways, the least of the US military’s worries. The Army War College report notes that, beyond the collapse of the US-dominated world order, “[A]ll states and traditional political authority structures are under increasing pressure.” It adds, “The fracturing of the post-Cold War global system is accompanied by the internal fraying in the political, social and economic fabric of practically all states.”

It cites an earlier report that warned of the “increasing chasm between governments and their governed over the basic right to rule.” It adds, “Today, all states are experiencing a precipitous decline in their authority, influence, reach and common attraction,” as populations are presented with “myriad alternative sources of political alignment or allegiance.”

It concludes that states “now all wrestle with one another over competing interests while standing on quicksand—threatened” not only by national rivals, but “the fragile and restive social order they themselves rest on.” In this case, the quicksand is a metaphor for the growth of popular opposition to war, social inequality and capitalism itself.

Confronting crisis at home and abroad, the US is lashing out everywhere simultaneously: against Russia, China, Iran, and now even its NATO allies. The same weekend that Trump commissioned his aircraft carrier, the House of Representatives reached a deal on a bill that would sanction European companies for economic dealings with Russia, a move that, according to a leaked EU memo, would bring retaliatory measures by the EU “within days.”

All of this presents a warning to the working class: The US ruling elite, faced with economic stagnation, geopolitical decline and a crisis of legitimacy at home, sees war, no matter how bloody and disastrous, as the solution to its problems. Nothing can prevent the eruption of another great world military conflagration, this time instigated by the United States, outside of the building of a new internationalist and socialist movement against war.

Andre Damon

After Trump visit to Poland: PiS government adopts new authoritarian measures

By Clara Weiss
24 July 2017

Less than three weeks after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Poland, the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has dramatically escalated its drive toward dictatorship.

In his speech in Warsaw on July 6, Trump praised the policies of the PiS and appealed to Polish chauvinism and anti-Semitism. After his speech, Trump visited a conference of the “Three Seas Initiative” in Wrocław, thus granting open support to Warsaw’s attempt to revive the far-right military alliance of the so-called Intermarium (Between Seas), which is directed against both Germany and Russia.

Last week, the PiS pushed through legislation that will effectively place the judicial system under its control. First, it railroaded through parliament a restructuring of the judicial system and the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which is responsible for nominating and promoting judges. The law gives the PiS far-reaching control over the appointment of judges.

A second bill provides for the current 83 Supreme Court judges to retire. PiS Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro will be put in a position to appoint new ones. The lower house of parliament approved the bill last Tuesday and the Senate ratified it on Saturday night. It is expected that Polish President Andrzej Duda will sign the bill soon, even though polls show that over 50 percent of Poles want him to veto it.

Given that the Supreme Court is responsible for monitoring and certifying elections, the continuation of nominally free parliamentary elections in Poland is doubtful.

Discussions of the bill in parliament last Tuesday were accompanied by shouting, vulgar insults and scuffles. The head of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, openly threatened dictatorial measures against representatives of the liberal opposition and accused them of treason and murder. When an MP from the liberal opposition party Civic Platform (PO) quoted Kaczyński’s brother, the former president of Poland Lech Kaczyński, who died in a plane crash in 2010, Jarosław Kaczyński exploded, shouting: “Don’t befoul my dead brother’s name by letting it pass through your treasonous mouth. You destroyed him, you murdered him. You are scoundrels!”

For years, the PiS has been blaming the former liberal government for the plane crash, but never has a PiS politician so openly raised the accusation of murder.

Scuffles followed on the floor of the parliament. Kaczyński then summoned Witold Zembaczyński, a delegate from Nowoczesna, and threatened that “all PO politicians will be sitting [in jail].” A PO delegate later retorted on Twitter that it was the members of the PiS who would end up in jail.

The next day, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski defended Kaczyński’s outburst as an “honest and manly response.” On her Facebook page, PiS parliamentary delegate Krystyna Pawłowicz threatened opposition politicians, writing that they would “sit [in jail] for the terror” they were allegedly creating “on the streets.” In a parliamentary session, she admitted that she was “dreaming” of reopening the notorious Bereza Kartusa concentration camp.

The camp was set up in 1934 under the authoritarian Piłsudski-regime to detain people it regarded as posing a “threat to security, peace and social order.” Thousands of people, including militant Ukrainian and Byelorusian nationalists, were imprisoned there and forced to perform forced labor, but the first victims were communists.

The PiS’s latest measures mark a turning point in the breakdown of the limited bourgeois democratic framework that was instituted in Poland with the restoration of capitalism and the dissolution of the USSR. In the past two years that the PiS has been in power, the government has brought under its control the secret services and state-run television and radio. It has purged most of the Polish army leadership and numerous state-funded scientific institutions, passed legislation to step up police surveillance, stripped the parliament of its powers, and curtailed the already limited right to abortion.

At the same time, it has strengthened the far-right and built up paramilitary militias that are subordinate to the PiS’s defense ministry. The threats by Kaczyński and other PiS representatives make clear that the government is now preparing for the violent suppression of any dissent.

In recent days, tens of thousands of people have protested daily against the bills in demonstrations organized by the liberal opposition parties PO and Nowoczesna. Protests took place not only in Warsaw and other traditional strongholds of the liberal opposition, but also in smaller towns and cities that have so far barely been touched by the opposition movement. Reports suggest that a significant layer of youth participated in the protests. Even though the judicial system is unpopular and discredited as corrupt, many view the latest bills as an assault on democratic rights and the preparation for a full-scale dictatorship.

The hostility to the government’s policies is much broader than the support for the liberal opposition. According to a poll by IBRiS, a stunning 82 percent of young people aged 19 to 29 consider themselves opponents of the government. Some 52 percent of all voters see themselves as opponents of the government, significantly more than would vote for both liberal opposition parties combined. Polls taken before the bills passed parliament showed 32 percent of voters in favor of the PiS (a drop of 4 percent), and 33 percent in favor of PO and Nowoczesna combined (23 percent, an increase of 1 percent, for PO, and 10 percent, an increase of 2 percent, for Nowoczesna).

Young people and workers who are opposed to the right-wing policies of PiS must not be fooled by the phony appeals of the liberal opposition to democratic sentiments. At the center of the power struggle between PiS and the liberal opposition are questions of foreign policy, as both factions of the bourgeoisie are preparing for war.

For the past 28 years, the Polish bourgeoisie has tried to balance between a military and foreign policy orientation toward US imperialism and close economic and political collaboration with the EU, and especially Germany. The escalation of the conflict between Germany and the US is pulling the rug from under the feet of the Polish bourgeoisie.

The attack of the PiS on bourgeois democratic institutions and rights and the strengthening of the extreme right are bound up with US war preparatons against Russia. The liberal opposition is not in principle opposed to preparations for war. Rather, the conflict is about with whom and against whom the fight is to be conducted. Both the PiS and the liberal opposition have supported the preparations for war against Russia. The question is whether this should be done with or against Germany.

The PiS is placing its bets on a revival of the Intermarium project, an alliance of far-right regimes in Eastern and Central Europe that is directed against not only Russia, but also Germany. Trump’s appearance at the conference of Three Seas Initiative in Wrocław earlier this month signaled that this policy now has the official blessing of Washington.

By contrast, the liberal opposition favors an orientation toward Germany and uses the assault on democratic rights by the PiS government to strengthen its cooperation with politicians in Berlin and Brussels. One of the liberal opposition’s main media outlets, the weekly Polityka, published a lengthy piece in late June warning against the revival of the Intermarium.

It wrote that the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had proven the unviability of the project. Polityka argued that then as now Poland was essentially “weak” and should not count on the US and the “doubtful authority of Donald Trump.” Moreover, Polityka argued, most states that now form part of the Three Seas Initiative are neither willing nor capable of turning against Germany.

Hostility toward the Intermarium project is also what motivates the EU’s opposition to the PiS’s authoritarian measures. The European Commission has threatened to evoke Article 7 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty against Poland for undermining the “rule of law.” This could involve far-reaching sanctions, including the suspension of voting rights for Warsaw in the EU. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas threatened the Polish government with “political isolation” because of its violation of “the basis of the European Union,” and encouraged triggering Article 7.