The New New Anti-Communism

Posted January 5, 2010

Categories: Articles

Hillary Clinton is a commie symp.

That’s a familiar line from the rabid right, which hasn’t yet gotten the news that the Cold War is over. Google the secretary of state’s name and “communist,” and you’ll get over a million links, some of them to neo-Nazi websites. Folks say the craziest things on the Internet. I just didn’t expect The Washington Post to make the same argument.

In a recent editorial, the Post lambasted Clinton’s speech on human rights in which she quite sensibly added “oppression of want” to the traditional concerns with the oppression of tyranny and torture. “Ms. Clinton’s lumping of economic and social ‘rights’ with political and personal freedom was a standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked,” the Post opined.

I can just visualize Hillary Clinton and her speechwriters over at State sifting through arcane historical texts for inspiration. They pull a book from the shelf. It’s old and hasn’t been touched in quite a few years. Is it Marx’s Capital? Lenin’s State and Revolution? No, it’s the collected speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his famous “four freedoms” speech from 1941, FDR identified “freedom from want” as “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.” Sounds a lot like “oppression of want” to me.

Or maybe Clinton and her team simply perused United Nations documents for inspiration. The concept of human security, which has been a staple of international politics for the last two decades, draws together threats to the political, economic, and military security of individuals and communities. The UN’s 1994 Human Development Report defined human security as “safety from such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression” as well as “protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life — whether in homes, in jobs or in communities.”

The Human Security Network, meanwhile, brings together a number of countries that never belonged to the Soviet Bloc — Canada, Austria, Mali, Costa Rica — to explore comprehensive approaches to human trafficking, AIDS, climate change, and the like.

Or maybe the Clintonistas read our own Just Security report, which applied the human security approach to U.S. foreign policy. Hmm, FDR plus the UN plus Foreign Policy In Focus: That is a suspicious lineage.

The Post complained that the Obama administration, “working with friendly but unfree countries, [would] choose the easy route of focusing on development, while downplaying democracy.” It cited Clinton’s speech in Morocco on engagement with Islamic countries.

Strange, I don’t remember the Post complaining about the Bush administration — or any of its predecessors — prioritizing economic relations with such undemocratic countries as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Washington has always downplayed democracy in order to secure access to oil and cement military ties with such countries. Now it may (or may not) downplay democracy in order to improve the lives of ordinary people. Obviously that’s a more unpardonable sin.

We’ve seen the hard right dust off the language of red-baiting during the debates over health care, the economic stimulus, and the proposed jobs bill. Those views have leaked into the mainstream. Meanwhile, the terrorist-as-the-new-communist argument has lost its zing. After all, we are fighting overseas contingency operations, not a war on terror any longer. So, brace yourself for the new new anti-communism, which identifies “communist sympathizers” like Hillary Clinton as the real threat to America. Talk about boring old re-runs.

The Cold War is over. Long live the Cold War…

Conflict in Gaza

Meanwhile, the war over Gaza is still being fought. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to rewrite the Geneva Conventions because they hamstring a government’s ability to wage war against an asymmetric force.

“Israel’s problem is not that the rules are inappropriate for asymmetric conflict, but that the government chose to ignore them in Gaza,” writes Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Kenneth Roth in Geneva Conventions Still Hold Up. “As the Goldstone report pointed out, when the Israeli military used such weapons as heavy artillery, flechettes, and white phosphorous (which causes horrible burns) in densely populated areas of Gaza, and when it authorized the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure, it flouted the law. No other Western military doctrine today would permit such indiscriminate attacks or deliberate destruction.”

Over a thousand people gathered in Cairo last week to make a trip of solidarity to Gaza. But the Gaza Freedom Marchers didn’t reach their destination. As FPIF contributor Walden Bello reports from Cairo, the Egyptian government initially refused to grant permission for the marchers to enter Gaza. Then, after considerable pressure, the government approved passage for only 100 representatives. But the march broke down over how to respond to this compromise.

“The GFM, which so many of us wanted to succeed, fell short of its goal,” Bello writes in Lessons of the Gaza Freedom March. “Yet from this outcome may come successful ventures in Palestinian solidarity in the future, provided we absorb the lessons of Cairo. One key lesson is that we must quickly shed political naiveté and learn to balance adherence to principle and pragmatism, something that was sorely missing here. We must get rid of the ‘all or nothing’ mentality that is often mistaken for principled progressive politics but simply leads to political paralysis.”

Elsewhere in the Middle East

Protests escalated in Iran at the end of December as anti-government protestors took to the streets during the Ashura ceremonies. In the United States, meanwhile, hardliners have increased their own voices in support of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Iran is too politically divided at present to respond productively to Obama’s offer to engage,” observes Robert Dreyfus in his blog. He recommends that we sit tight and wait.

“The United States has to think long and hard about taking military action against Iran while increasing its troop deployment in Afghanistan,” writes FPIF contributor Ehsan Ahrari in Can Beijing and Moscow Help with Tehran? “U.S. forces can become easy targets of Iran’s asymmetric-war-related activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly at a time when the political tide in Afghanistan is already heavily favoring the Taliban and internal violence in Iraq appears to be escalating. For a predominantly Shia country, Iran has shown remarkable pragmatism in cooperating with intensely anti-American Sunni Islamist groups to make matters worse for American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, a potentially effective option for the United States is to heavily lobby China and Russia to support UN sanctions on Iran. However, in this regard, both of those countries have major strategic agendas of their own related to Iran, while Iran also holds a card or two of its own.”

In Turkey, meanwhile, it looked as though the “Kurdish opening” was proceeding smoothly. There were new Kurdish language courses at university, a new Kurdish language TV program, and a much-heralded return of Kurdish refugees. But in mid-December, the Turkish Constitutional Court turned around and banned the Democratic Society Party (DTS), the main Kurdish political party. On Christmas, Turkish police detained 31 Kurdish politicians, including MPs.

“The ban on the Kurdish party is the latest display of official intolerance toward ethnic politics in Turkey,” writes FPIF contributor Feryaz Ocakli in The Kurdish Closing. “The decision by pro-Kurdish politicians to reunite under a new party and remain in the parliament is critical for ethnic peace in Turkey. Never before has a political ban meant so much for the future of Turkey as a multiethnic country.”

Finally, in Afghanistan, FPIF contributor Inge Fryklund argues that governance is the root of the problem not the failure to identify negotiation partners. “Why should Afghans (and donors) have to settle for working around a dysfunctional governance structure that fosters corruption and is unable to deliver services?” she asks in Don’t Negotiate with the Taliban. “Let’s address the underlying accountability problem. With responsive local government, support for the Taliban would melt away and there would be no reason to negotiate with the hardcore remnants.”

Art of Extraction

A teacher puts out chocolate-chip cookies for her elementary school students, along with toothpicks and paperclips. The children use play money to buy the cookies and the mining equipment, and then proceed to dig out the chips as if they were chunks of coal. After calculating the time spent in this activity, they are ready to add up the costs of coal mining.

“At first blush, this classroom exercise seems innocent enough,” I write in The Art of Extraction. “The exercise becomes considerably less innocent when you learn that it’s part of a series of lesson plans that the American Coal Foundation, an industry organization, distributes to schools. It becomes even less innocent through juxtaposition in poet Mark Nowak’s powerful new book Coal Mountain Elementary. Nowak places these lesson plans next to two other sources: news accounts of coal mining accidents in China and excerpts from the verbatim testimony of miners, rescue workers, and families connected to the Sago, West Virginia mine disaster of January 2006. These are the true costs of coal mining, measured not in swallowed chocolate chips but in human lives.”

In this latest batch of Fiesta pieces, poet Ravi Shankar offers two poems, including one on the consequences of extracting another resource, oil.

Yes, the Sumerians used asphalt
to inlay mosaics in temple floors,
Mesopotamians lined water canals,
hulls of boats with bitumen,

Egyptians greased their chariots,

embalmed mummies with pitch,
but no Empire has eaten oil
the way America does, rapaciously,

without regard for where it comes

from or what impact its extraction
has on lives, on the environment,
no, it’s about the bottom line here,

about the tankers emblazoned

with corporate logos, smashing
reefs to alter irrevocably migration
patterns of cormorants, of citizens.

Just before the new year, South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus died. We reprinted a lovely poem, Stone Hammered to Gravel, by Martin Espada written to celebrate Brutus’s 80th birthday. “Never tell a poet: Don’t say that,” writes Espada. Brutus the poet said and did so many things that he was told not to. South Africa, and the world, is a better place because of it.

The Pentagon Is Happy

The unemployment rate remains ghastly, the U.S. debt continues to pile up, and the overall economy has about as much stability as a Jell-O shot. But one U.S. institution remains well-fed and happy: the Pentagon.

“The Pentagon budget increased for every year of the first decade of the 21st century, an unprecedented run that didn’t even happen in the World War II era, much less during Korea or Vietnam,” writes FPIF contributor William Hartung in Obama and the Permanent War Budget. “And if the government’s current plans are carried out, there will be yearly increases in military spending for at least another decade. We have a permanent war budget, and most of it isn’t even being used to fight wars — it’s mostly a giveaway to the Pentagon and its favorite contractors.”

As Barbara Ehrenreich argues in her new book, reviewed by FPIF contributor Rubrick Biegon in The Foreign Policy of Optimism, relentless optimism is an endemic problem in the United States that translates into an exceptionalist foreign policy and a blinkered economic policy. “Perhaps the clearest connection between America’s penchant for positivity and the wider world is the ongoing global recession, which began in the United States. Ehrenreich persuasively illustrates how positive thinking blinded both elites and non-elites alike to the gathering economic catastrophe, resulting in what is likely to be the first contraction in global economic output since World War II.”

Finally, on an even more pessimistic note, FPIF contributor Gabriela Campos reviews Mark Danner’s latest collection of essays. “Danner’s compilation of his past work reveals misery, destruction, and violence but also provides critical analysis of American foreign policy in the last quarter century. American foreign policy has been plagued with hypocritical and weak decisions where its consequences mostly affected those in distant places.”

FPIF, January 5, 2010

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