Woodchip Select is a selection of reprints from our chipstack and abbreviated articles or features, the full versions of which can be accessed by clicking on the link at the end of the article or by returning to the Gazette's home page.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A More Perfect Nostrum - The Potemkin Presidency



Eight years ago in August, John Edwards stood before the Democratic Party Convention and repeatedly intoned, "Hope is on the way!"  The crowd roared its uncritical approval, but our immediate reaction was that people needed help not hope.

A day or so later, a fresh-faced black man took to the podium. It was rather obvious that somebody -- the elusive "Party Bosses" perhaps -- was parading a show horse of some sort.  Barack Obama fit to a "T" the cover for a Time magazine story on America's Future Black Youth. Predictably, the press gushed its approval at this up and coming young find. But although it was well contrived and precisely pitched to America's tin ear, Obama's speech was simply a re-buffed string of tarnished clichés,


“My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation.

“They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential.

“I stand here knowing... that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

“Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of [our power and wealth but because]  "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...

    (APPLAUSE)

“... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

“That is the true genius of America, a faith...

    (APPLAUSE)

“... a faith in simple dream .... that we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm; that we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door ....  [etc]

“People don't expect -- people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But ...  with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. ...

“I believe that we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity.

“I believe we can provide jobs for the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair.

After reciting the multiple heroic virtues of John Kerry, Obama continued,

“If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer,

“If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

“It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work."
Obama then reached his crescendo with an appeal to the Unity of The Nation.   He denied that America was divided into black, white, red and blue... rather,
“We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

“In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?

“Hope in the face of difficulty, hope in the face of uncertainty, the audacity of hope: In the end, that is God's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead.


“We have a righteous wind at our backs  ,,,, we can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us.  ... And out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.”
We were bored from about the third paragraph on but we stayed awake and in the wake of tedium recalled, Alexis de Tocqueville,

“I have frequently noticed that the Americans, who generally treat of business in clear, plain language, devoid of all ornament and so extremely simple as to be coarse, are apt to become inflated as soon as they attempt a more poetical diction. They then vent their pomposity from one end of a harangue to the other; and to hear them lavish imagery on every occasion, one might fancy that they never spoke of anything with simplicity. (Democracy in America, Bk II, ch. 18.)

“The Americans, ... appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise.  The most exalted eulogy seldom contents them. ... If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, "Ay," he replies, "there is not its equal in the world.”  ... At length I leave him to the contemplation of himself ... It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it.”  (Op.Cit., Bk II, ch. 16)
In de Tocqueville’s opinion this esprit de bouffée was explicable by the fact that

“[i]n democratic communities, each citizen is habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object: namely, himself. If he ever raises his looks higher, he perceives only the immense form of society at large or the still more imposing aspect of mankind. His ideas are all either extremely minute and clear or extremely general and vague; what lies between is a void. When he has been drawn out of his own sphere, therefore, he always expects that some amazing object will be offered to his attention; and it is on these terms alone that he consents to tear himself for a moment from the petty, complicated cares that form the charm and the excitement of his life.” (Op.Cit., Bk II, ch. 18.)

But in our view, the crowd lapped it up, because America is indelibly a religious country, and what Obama offered was political religion.

Three years later  -- perhaps even cribbing from Obama --  Pope Benedict began his second encyclical thus,


“SPE SALVI facti sumus”—in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us ....  Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal  ....  The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life...."  (Spe Salvi, §1)
The sameness of the words articulates the difference of context.  Religion is concerned with private performative conduct.  Politics, on the other hand, concerns public performative policy.  At the time St. Paul was writing to the Romans, Christianity was not an official religion.  Then, as today, the Christian Community described a circle within the larger social and political sphere.

"Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus,  ... [but rather] a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.  ... By virtue of their Baptism [Christians] had been reborn, they had been given to drink of the same Spirit and they received the Body of the Lord together, alongside one another. Even if external structures remained unaltered, this changed society from within." (Op. Cit.)
In Pope Benedict’s view, this change of personal habit could have radical social consequences, and he cites as an example the fellowship between masters and slaves which, while not calling for a revolution, was in habit subversive to the Roman socio-political order.

It is indisputable that the interior attitude of an individual will affect his immediate circle of associates and that the habits of communities will, in the aggregate, determine the nature of a country as a whole.  There can be no objection to transforming the world from within and if interior faith were sufficient to transform the world there would be no need for politics.

But spiritual transformation in not sufficient.  We live in the flesh and it is equally the case that external structures nurture and make possible individual capacities and interior attitudes.  It is not possible to wish away hunger.  By physical compulsion, a starving person becomes obsessed with mere survival and by the same token is not able to compose symphonies and undertake heroic enterprises.  Without material correlatives, spiritual “transformation” becomes simply “inner emigration.”

Americans have always confused the two sides of the coin.  They think "gubmint is the problem" and that individual, faith-enthused action is sufficient.  The result of the confusion is a curious and pathological neglect of material well-being on a social level supplanted by a grasping pursuit of individual acquisition couplied with religious enthusiasm making up the balance.  Once again, de Tocqueville.

“Although the desire of acquiring the good things of this world is the prevailing passion of the American people, certain momentary outbreaks occur when their souls seem suddenly to burst the bonds of matter by which they are restrained and to soar impetuously towards heaven. ... As soon as they have passed these bounds, their minds do not know where to fix themselves and they often rush unrestrained beyond the range of common sense.”

Certainly since Reagan and less ostentatiously since the World War, American politicians have kneaded the two impulses into political religiosity.  Public policy gets reduced to a Calvinist morality limited to helping the deserving poor -- people “who through no fault of their own”...etc etc.  The rest be damned.  The deficits in the policy -- the absence of egalitarian entitlements for all as a social right-- is made up for with “faith in America” -- the nation as de facto stand-in for God.


Obama's speech fit the paradigm perfectly. He offered faith but the faith he offered was vainglorious jingoism. From a theological perspective, it verged on idolatry.  An earlier pope, chastising another country, wrote,

“Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, ... or any other fundamental value of the human community -- howsoever necessary and honorable their function in worldly things -- above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds. (Mit Brennende Sorge (1937) §8.)
Pius XI’s warning to Germany serves as a warning to us because a people given to pomposity, self-love and  religiosity stands in ever-imminent danger of succumbing to self-righteous self-adulation.

Given the Calvinist foundations of the country, it is doubtlessly difficult for an American politician to avoid dragging God into the soup.  But there is a difference between using Calvinism as a drapery for social democratic policies and using it as a substitute for socially guaranteed material well-being.

When it came to the material side, Obama offered little more than the vagaries and puff talk of car salesmen.  What he held out was "a slight change in priorities” to “make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.”

Opportunity!  The great panacea of National Capitalism.  There is no such thing as "equal opportunity" without equal capacitation. The doors of Harvard may be open to both the suburban boy and ghetto slum dweller, but the aperture is meaningless if the ghetto boy is not inculcated with the habits  enriched with a culture of reading.


 “Let the reader try to picture the following:  There is a lodging in a cellar and this lodging consists of two damp rooms. In these rooms a workman and his family live -- seven people in all. Let us assume that one of the children is a boy of three years. That is the age at which children first become conscious of the impressions which they receive. ... Thus quarrels and fits of mutual anger arise. These people can hardly be said to live with one another, but rather down on top of one another.     ....  In such conditions they are constantly quarreling with one another, ... One must have practical experience of such a milieu so as to be able to picture the state of affairs that arises from these mutual recriminations when the father physically assaults the mother and maltreats her in a fit of drunken rage. At the age of six the child can no longer ignore those sordid details which even an adult would find revolting. Infected with moral poison, bodily undernourished, and the poor little head filled with vermin, the young "citizen" goes to the primary school. With difficulty he barely learns to read and write. There is no possibility of learning any  lessons at home. Quite the contrary.  The father and mother themselves talk before the children in the most disparaging way about the teacher and the school and they are much more inclined to insult the teachers than to put their offspring across the knee and knock sound reason into him. What the little fellow hears at home does not tend to increase respect for his human surroundings. ... When the young lad leaves school, at the age of fourteen, it would be difficult to say what are the most striking features of his character, incredible ignorance in so far as real knowledge is concerned or cynical impudence combined with an attitude towards morality which is really startling at so young an age.  ... Everything being excluded that might stimulate his thought towards higher things. And now this young specimen of humanity enters the school of life. He leads the same kind of life which was exemplified for him by his father during his childhood. He loiters about and comes home at all hours. He now even black-guards that broken hearted being who gave him birth. He curses God and the world and finally ends up in a House of Correction for young people.  There he gets the final polish. (Mein Kampf. (1925), Ch. 2.)
Such sociological observations were hardly novel, but if Adolf Hitler got the picture in 1925, one might think American politicians would grasp the realities of socio economic inequality in 2000.  The task does not require a "slight change of priorities" but an overhaul of social contract.

The critical choice is not between overhauling or not  but in the driving dynamic of the overhaul.

In the United States the driving dynamic was put forth in Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life (1909) which argued that capitalism had to be structurally modified so as to impose limits and responsibilities on private wealth in order to insure social security, economic parity and equality of civic participation. 

Croly’s so-called ‘progressive” ideas calling for a “New Nationalism” were an American development of Otto von Bismarck’s so-called “socialist” reforms of the 1880’s which established Germany’s system of social entitlements to health care, unemployment insurance, pensions and decent working conditions.  The difference in Croly’s view was that whereas the German reforms had been established paternalistically “from above,” the American progressive movement would be impelled and shaped “from below.”  In 1910, speaking in Osawatamie, Kansas,  Theodore Roosevelt took up the cause,


 “The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man's making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.   . . .

 “The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.   . . .

“The American people are right in demanding that New Nationalism, without which we cannot hope to deal with new problems. The New Nationalism puts the national need before sectional or personal advantage.”
Roosevelt lost the election of 1912 and it was left to his nephew, Franklin, to take up the cause with the New Deal. FDR adopted a more incremental and less ideologically grounded approach.  But the direction was the same and culminated in his 1945 call for the passage of an “Economic Bill of Rights” which would guarantee to every American an education, a decent well-paying job, access to medical care, a home  and secure pensions.

Obama's speech was carefully calibrated to suggest that he might have Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in mind without actually saying so.  Although his speech had faint echoes of Franklin Roosevelt's  Economic Bill of Rights, it in fact said less that Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Platform  speech in 1910.

Although the phrase "equal opportunity" has served as a buzz-word for "capacitation" through remedial socio economic policies, Obama carefully skirted the word "equal" choosing instead to speak of "relief," "reclama tion" and a "road to opportunity” -- which was one step away from opportunity itself.

Although convention run-up speeches are typically fat with hortatory and lean on details, the rhetorical nuances were not insignificant. As significant as what the rhetoric "possibly" pointed to, was what it actually omitted saying.

Cutting away the sentimental lard about tucking kiddies in snug at night and freedom from the midnight knock on the door, what Obama actually offered was little more than his Harvard-imbued free-market, neo-liberal ideology the core idea of which is  that  a rising tide would lift all boats and wealth would trickle down to all.

We were not impressed.  The essential problems facing the United States is a crisis of imbalance: imbalance in personal income, government expenditures and political power. As of 2004, shrinking real wages and socio economic-political disparity were hardly a secret. In fact three years before the so-called housing bubble burst, Obama's speech recognized that the middle class was in need of "relief" and that seniors were in need of affordable drugs. In other words, well before the financial and economic crisis hit, Americans suffered under chronic socio-economic distress.  And despite that recognized fact, Obama could only speak in 19th Century Calvinist terms of providing "relief" to the deserving poor.  Instead of beef, Obama’s economic platform  was nothing more than cotton candy.

Obama’s political exhortations were equally ambiguous and insubstantial. His reference to a “long night of darkness” implied a lot; but what it implied depended on what one wanted to hear.  To “liberals” and even to conservative constitutionalists, the phrase hearkened to the darkness of renditions, torture, preemptive war, police surveillance and the abridgement of constitutional rights.  But the phrase was equally susceptible of being understood as calling for “closure” over 9/11 by seeing the Iraq war to a successful conclusion -- in other words, staying the course until we had taught them bastards a lesson.

From time immemorial, American political speechifying has relied on carefully chosen buzz-words and code-phrases.  To figure out what they signify one has to be a combination sociologist-contract lawyer with an ear for poetical and vulgar nuance.  Lincoln’s First Inaugural, which to us appears as the pinnacle of principled rhetoric to listeners at the time sounded more like a roll of cheap and/or hypocritical platitudes.

We have taken the time to parse Obama’s first national speech because it shows how consistently he has fallen short of being an actual progressive working for substantive change.

Four years later, Obama was off and running.  There was little substantive difference between him and Hillary Clinton, except that Obama did promise to push for a "public option" on health care, whereas Clinton said she had been there, done that and was not about to get burned again.

The significance of the candidates’ difference over health care was what it bespoke about their underlying concepts of political-economy.  The significance of a “public option” was not just that it addressed an important social and economic issue but that, by calling for a governmental role in directly providing health insurance, it was a  departure (albeit a small one) from the philosophy of letting "private market forces" do their best.

Similarly, in addition to ending long nights of darkness, Obama specifically promised to close the prison camp at Guantanamo and to withdraw from Iraq.

Neither of these specifics were the stuff of crusades. Obama’s public option was something of a social-democratic subterfuge and his military-diplomatic initiatives were in the nature of correctives which had all but been forced upon us by dismal denouements.  Nothing Obama said actually promised to advance the nation to a new place.  His nostrums were remedial and piecemeal.  They warranted a vote, perhaps, but not the euphoria that attended Obama's election, at which time we wrote,


 “I’m sorry to rain on the party, but Obama is not going to introduce any fundamental change to the neo-liberal regime which has gotten us to where we are. Nor is he going to reverse the irreversible course of history, which is that all empires have to rise and fall.

 “A neo-con is simply a neo liberal gone punk. Domestically and diplomatically Obama will provide some emollients and better manners, but I doubt little else. He may take a few paltry steps towards realizing Bismarckian social benefits and he may go back to an Eisenhower-esque diplomacy of working "through" allies and international institutions. Otherwise the Flush Democrats are already "warning" us not to expect a new New Deal.”

However, we withheld comment for six months after his inauguration and before pronouncing him Fauxbama.

The  excuses offered up by his devotées were commensurate with the extent of their previous euphoria. It was said that Obama didn't have a working majority in Congress, that Senawhore Lieberman scuttled the public option, that given the "mood" in the country Obama had to compromise his way toward a consensus.

None of the excuses worked. Even taking the them at face value, the fact is Obama did not even try to push through his supposedly progressive agenda. Instead he assumed the posture of a fait neant roi and said, grandly, that he hoped both sides of the aisle in Congress could reach agreement.  It was a jaw-dropping abdication of modern presidential practice.

What Ninth Grade student does not know that any president has one hundred days within which to bring to bear the "momentum" of his inauguration to bear on Congress and on the political "tone" of the country?  Could Obama have gone to Columbia University and not have understood that pragmatic political fact?  More precisely, could Obama have gone to Harvard and become a constitutional law "scholar" without studying the legislative and judicial history of FDR's New Deal?

What is known in the United States as "the first 100 days" is what the Romans used to call "auctoritas" -- the persuasive charisma of personality and position.  Authority is particularly important in the United States where political power is systemically constrained. No president is guaranteed a "parliamentary majority" and, as a result, every presdient must ballyhoo, cajole, and squeeze out his programme from that heap of inertia known as Congress.

Lyndon Johnson made the Civil Rights Act and Medicare the centre pieces of his legacy and, given that Dixiecrats were "Democrats" only in name, fell about 30 votes short of anything in the Senate. But Johnson knew how to squeeze.  Are we to believe that Obama was stopped in his tracks by that squeaking mouse called Lieberman?

The fact is that, to all appearances, Obama did not do the work of the presidency.  Instead he took to giving "intellectual" press conferences and speaking at dinners where he repeatedly reminded everyone that the Marvel of America was that someone like him could be -- actually be -- where he was!   The arrivisme was too embarrassing to behold.

In short, Obama brought the same laissez faire attitude to politics as he embraced with respect to the economy.  Just as "free market forces" would ultimately solve all social problems; so too "free falling politics" would resolve all economic ones.  Only someone who has had the misfortune of going to Harvard could believe such neo-liberal bullshit.

The fact is that there is no such thing as a "free market". The economy as a whole, and private business in the discrete, have always had recourse to an array of government-provided incentives, benefits, protections and outright hand-outs.  Just as the railroads could not have been built by "private investors" without immense grants of lands -- free land to be used and sold as seen fit -- so too, the major networks could not broadcast at all without free grants of band-width.  These are just two, simple and paradigmatic examples of what is in fact a system of public subsidies to so-called private enterprise.  The notion of a "free market" is an unabashed canard designed to absolve those with means from all social responsibility.

The whole rest of the world understands this; but at least half of the American electorate is too damn stupid to figure it out.  This half, however, does not include Obama.

Once one looks behind Obama's fait neant facade, it can be seen that he was in actual, if hidden, fact very active presidentially -- quietly behind the scene gutting his own publicly proclaimed programmes and objectives.

The record is by now too long to review here; anyone who wishes to inform himself can read the dissenting media, although it is a painful read.  On virtually every issue, be it health care, mortgage relief, student loan relief, immigration fairness, environmental protection, Obama has quietly worked to provide as thin a tissue of trivial reform as possible while giving the petro-financial military-industrial complex everything it wanted.  Obama has been not only faux manqué, but a fraud, a put-up job, a Potemkin Presidency.

Stepping back from the particulars, Obama's record can be broken down into two coins and four sides: the environment and the economy, in one hand; war and constitutionalism, in the other. 

Environment & Economy

In our view, the single most critical issue confronting the world is the environment which is the material determinant of any economy and, through the economy, of social and cultural realities as well.  That much has been understood at least since the days of Montesquieu.  To put it simply, John Bunyan, carving out his sustenance from the abundant forest of nature, axe in hand, does not exist in an ice age or in a desert.  Different environmental conditions predetermine different economic models.

The economic historian, Ferdinand Braudel, began his monumental work (The Wheels of Commerce) by asking why China should have remained so stable and static while Europe's political-economy was so chaotically progressive.  In his view, cultural attitudes and  social structures flowed from economic necessities which are in turn dictated by choice of base staple crop which is predetermined by the lay and quality of the land.  In a phrase, China is what is because of rice; and we are what we are because of wheat. One could update Marx and say that behind "dialectical materialism" lies "environmental materialism."

But the causality works the other way, as well, which was the point urged by modern-day environmentalists: the economic model we practice will determine what the earth will be.  Environment and Economy are two sides of one coin, as is reflected in the Greek words, oeko-nomos  and oeko-logos.

The world faces a crisis of sustainability.  The planet cannot support ten billion humans pillaging everything for pleasure and profit. Consumptive capitalism is an obscenity which will reduce the planet to a silica ball. Our air is filthy, our waters polluted, our fisheries depleted and, as a species, we continue to propagate like a plague of locusts.  The demographic-ecological crisis requires radical reforms such as even the most radical among can barely contemplate. 

Not only has Obama done nothing -- nothing -- on the environment he has lied and cheated on the most basic environmental issues, suppressing the true extent of the ecological devastation caused by the BP Gulf oil spill and putting an electoral season moratorium on the Keystone pipeline, all the while winking at his homologue Harper. 

Obama’s failure to do anything on the environment is simply a reflection of his economic ideology. Like Harper, Obama is a Global Neo Liberal Capitalist who, like some sort of incarnated Moloch, thinks only in terms of serving up resources and humans to the demands of a system.

This best that can be said is that Obama simply happens to believe that the free market engine is best suited to generate benefits for all and that he will make those small adjustments and tweaks to make sure that it does.

But this platitude is an obvious canard.  If an engine is best at doing what it does, it does not need to be “tweaked”.  All things tend toward the final purpose toward which they are designed.  A system geared to exploit opportunities, people and resources in order to generate private profit is simply not designed or suited by its nature to provide a sustainable parity of living standards for all.  Such a system may appear to do so for a time or if looked at only in part; but as a general proposition it simply cannot serve two diametrically opposite ends.   One either subordinates private gain to public welfare or public welfare to private gain.

When, therefore, Obama stated that he did not begrudge Lloyd Blankfein his multi-million dollar compensations, he necessarily meant that he did not question the system that allowed Goldman Sachs to generate such personal profits. 

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matt. 6:24)

While it is true that politicians are not tasked with being Jesus; nothing Obama has said or done is indicative of anything more than the most rudimentary and primitive “limitations” on private capital.  He has laboured mightly to produce mere tissues over grotesque plundering of both the economy and the environment.

But even if the environment were not the most critical issue facing the country and the world, Obama's record on the on war and constitutionalism is just as deplorable as his failure on economic-environmentalism.

War and Constitutionalism


At bottom, war and constitutionalism are  an outgrowth of the economy we pursue. If our economy has us ravaging the world for "resources" we will come into conflict with others over the resources.   But the kind and duration of conflict we engage in, determines or constitutional and legal practices. 

From its outset the American colonies, and subsequently the states, set out to acquire resources, most particularly arable land, timber and mining.  At first, this acquisition took the form of a "fight" against -- or as it was said, a "taming" of  -- nature and nature’s ‘savages’.  It then passed over into aggression against our immediate neighbours and, by the end of the 19th century, into indirect colonial domination of Hispanic America.

The correlative to the acquisition of land resources was the marshalling of human labour to work these capital assets, indendured and involuntary servitude at first, open immigration and "free labor" later and ultimately "guest worker" and lax immigration policies.  In so far as America's de facto colonies in Hispanic America were concerned, the "marshalling" of labor took the form of repressing indigenous "insurrections" through the use of quisling satraps aided from time to time, as needed, by U.S. Marines.

Until the Great War, U.S. imperial designs were (with the exception of the Philipines) hemispherically confined.  But America's entanglement in European conflicts -- which was mostly financial -- ended her hemispheric isolation and turned the United States into the world's creditor nation interested as much in what did not happen in Europe as in what did.  And what the core entanglement of Anglo America financial interests did not want was the rise of a competitive Central European power. By 1945, America stood astride a shattered world facing only the "Red Menace"

As is well known, the United States met the Communist threat with George Kennan's policy of "containment" sometimes referred to as the Truman Doctrine.  But not as well known was the correlative policy of establishing zones of democratic freedom.  The overall strategy was to establish a cordon sanitaire against the Soviet Union while at the same time establishing political-economic "forts" or outposts in the rest of the world. 

The Zonal Doctrine hypothesized an "Asiatic Dragon" at the gates and presupposed a special Anglo-American relationship at the centre of an outer core of closely allied nations -- basically the British Commonwealth plus Western Europe. 


The most important freedom zones were the links in the chain of containment: West Germany, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Taiwan and Japan.  Each of these zones provided a critical military component in the containment of the Sino-Soviet enemy.   Germany and Japan were paradigmatic examples of the zonal doctrine in that, in addition to their military value, they were tied to us by so-called "shared political and free market values."  In other words, they mimicked our political forms, our economic practices and our life styles. 

To be sure there were traditional customs and usages which were preserved mainly for their value to the tourist trade, but overall a pall of consumer-capitalist sameness fell over the "Free Western World".  It was all so very Roman.

It perhaps goes without saying that the Sino-Soviet enemy adopted much the same equal but opposite model, leaving the whole rest of the world -- South America, South Asia, Africa and the Middle East as terra disputata  in which the rivals each competed in setting up their zonal outposts. 

The end of the cold war, brought the so-called peace dividend. The whole world was now a zone of democratic freedom.  We won!  But we didn't want to have won.  We had too much invested in containing our enemies. What became known as neocons, set about “re-strategzing” the containment so as to militarize the zonal doctrine.

Under Kennedy, something like the Alliance for Progress aimed to bring the benefits of liquadoras and the joys of Walt Disney to our hispanic brothers south of the border. Behind those shared values, stood preferential trade agreements; and, under those, lurked a silent, effectively repressive policing force.  It was all the velvet of empire.

But under the neocons, neo-liberalism’s glove became plainly and brutally the mailed fist. 

The militarization of “zones of democratic freedom” was first articulated in  in Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s 1992 proposed Defense Planning Guide.  While much of the guide is still classified, enough of it has been made public so that its essential thesis is known.  Cheney’s  draft was then polished up in a white paper entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses written by many of the same hands and published by the defense-industry funded Project for a New American Century (PNAC). This paper in turn got massaged into the official National Security Strategy of the United States of America, promulgated in September 2002.  Thus, although it is not an official government document, the PNAC paper serves as a fundamental text which accurately reflects official policy.


Rebuilding America’s Denfenses is written in think-tank double-talk and government bureau-babble.  It affects a clipped, perfunctory style which says "we are too serious for nuance." At the same time it is rife with   equivocations and redundancies aimed to confuse and disguise.

The premise of the PNAC paper  is that “potentially powerful states” might challenge America’s geo-political preeminence or “expand their own influence.” (Rebuilding etc., p. i &  ch. 1, p. 2.)  In so positing a world of “potential” threats, the neo-con doctrine is based on a meaningless pleonasm the sole purpose of which is to scare.

The neocon solution to the contrived scare is “power projection” --not  defense or defense preparedness against forseeable or even against merely possible attacks but rather a strategy of ongoing power projecting.  -- i.e. bullying and punching on a global scale or in neocon newspeak “developing the full range of missions needed to exercise U.S. global leadership.”

The  PNAC paper frankly states that a cordon sanitaire must be maintained against the former Soviet Union. (The United States needs to “remove [sic] its security perimeter eastward.”)   That is what "Bosnia" was all about and that is why the U.S. “removed” an immense and near secret staging area known as Camp Bond in the former Yugoslavia

But rolling back the old Iron Curtain with a new iron ring of our own is merely the conventional part of the strategic spectrum.  Much more ominously, the PNAC paper posited pre-emptive and long-term containment against alleged terrorist states (or states which “harboured” designated terrorists). “Today [the military’s] task is to secure and expand zones of democratic peace.”

As implemented, the full range of zonal missions includes, “deployment o[f] forward operating bases” as a “force multiplier” in “power projection operations.” (Rebuilding, p. 20.)  These power projection operations include “constabulary” duties for "shaping the security environment in critical regions.” ( Ibid, pp. iv and 6.)  The 'shaping' takes the form of degrading civil society and making the zone itself less viable and less secure on the theory that a weakened zone presents less of a so called ‘potential threat’.

Gone from the PNAC lexicon is any talk of establishing institutions and structures to promote democratic values and free market. To the extent that the PNAC indulges in such sentimentalities, it does so only by way of the thinnest possible rhetorical tissue.

The real goal is to degrade civil society and turn the zone into a de facto civil prison, maintained by "full spectrum" forces.  The spectrum includes “intelligence services”  -- not in the military in the sense of  spying on the military capacities and manoeuvres of an opponent  -- but in the sense of police spying, entrapment and cooptation.

All this is presented in an almost off-hand, matter-of fact manner, as if it really were a “no-brainer” to task the military with “security-intelligence-ops.”  But there is a world of difference between infiltrating and subverting a specifically known and defined criminal group and penetrating civil society as a whole

By "penetrating from the inside" double agents and spies destroy internal trust and destabilize the integrity of the targetted subject which can never know whether it is acting out of true autonomy or being induced to act by a subversive operative.  Such techniques when applied to society as a whole are simply a form of induced civil cancer.

The PNAC mavens were brazenly candid about this, going so far as to state that "constabulary missions" were "likely" to "generate" violence. (Rebuilding, p. 11) In other words, the securitizing consists in provoking violence and  then reacting to the provocation engineered.  And while  it does all this securitizing from within, the same forces are engaged in extending the zone into adjacent areas by more convential military actions.

The neocon full spectrum doctrine is erases 1500 years of distinction between "military" and "civilian." It militarizes the police, "constabularizes" the military and reduces "civil" society to a mere zone of operations.

Other than providing a stream of treasury dollars to the defense industry, the only conceivable purpose of such a policy is to pillage resources and at the same time to secure the homeland against those "terorrists" who might object to being pillaged. 

The goal is not to promote anything resembling a local autonomous nation state, because such a nation state might actually get it into its head to control its own resources.  The aim is to fragment and render impotent.  The twin images of the full sprectrum zonal doctrine are Iraq and Gaza -- fragmented sub-nations or “autonomous” zonal ghettos. 

This is why Syria which was of such momentous concern but a month ago has fallen from the news.  Syria has been reduced to a state of ongoing conflict and such ongoing self-destructive combat suits the United States as much as the installation of a friendly "democratic spring" government. 

Of necessity, this satanic policy has negative constitutional implications. 

THE PNAC doctrine presuppused a “core” security homeland, defended by a “removed” security perimeter and buttressed by zonal operations arund the world.   But it is an absurity to think we can have a “secure” closed perimeter and an open and free core society. 

At bottom, civil society is based on trust -- simple elemental trust in such things as: you are who you say you are.  It is from this trust that liberty flows. Any conflict puts constraints on liberty for the simple reason that enemies can exploit openness and trust.

The constraint on liberty begins with secrecy and security checks: knowing the password, having identification.  And these in return require bureaucratic systems to verify and issue the identification.

When wars are fought conventionally, these restrains are temporary and relatively bearable. But when the enemy is amorphous then the "security environment" becomes correlatively extensive. As we said on the morrow of 9/11,

 What the Government will have to presume is that everyone is at least a potential terrorist.  In the most fundamental sense that is a presumption which is entirely antithetical to the concept of civil friendship, i.e., societas."  (Woodchip GazetteDevils Bill)
Just as zonal operations will extend outward, they must perforce extend inwards.  Everything we do in Iraq or Afghanistan or Columbia will inevitably be done in the United States.  We cannot have our security wars without loosing our contitutional freedom.

In 2008 then CIA chief, Mike McConnell, told Congress that “the enemy” had developed the capacity to “blend in” -- in other words, that anyone one of us could be one of them. Bush’s  vow to detect and defend against terrorism ipso facto placed all ‘blendables’ under suspicion.


Obama simply cannot restore constitutional freedom without putting an absolute end to the disastrous PNAC policy. But this he has failed to do; and in fact never promised to do.  It is well to go back to the shell game being played by the neo liberal establishment. 

Back in 2008 the New York Times endorsed Obama.  Among other reasons given was that he had promised to withdraw from Iraq and fight the war that "needed" to be fought in Afgthanistan.

 “... Mr. Bush has neglected the necessary war in Afghanistan, which now threatens to spiral into defeat.Mr. Obama was an early and thoughtful opponent of the war in Iraq, and he has presented a military and diplomatic plan for withdrawing American forces. Mr. Obama also has correctly warned that until the Pentagon starts pulling troops out of Iraq, there will not be enough troops to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

One can be forgiven schadenfreud to read the New York Times editorial of 4 October 2012 in which it says:


 American military commanders long ago concluded that the Afghan war could only end in a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, ... President Obama’s failure to make headway in talks with the Taliban  is a serious setback.  Of course, persuading militants to negotiate a peace deal was always a daunting challenge. But the Obama administration has not been persistent enough in figuring out how to initiate talks with a resilient, brutal insurgency that continues to carry out deadly attacks against American and NATO forces.

Ridi Pagliacci! But the joke will remain on us until we realize that the New York Times knows what it is up to.  It is simply playing a shell game in which Obama is portrayed as the peace alternative -- withdrawing from one war after another as he creates one war after another.

Yes, the United States is “drawing down” in Afghanistan; but it - and its allies - go on to greate “security vacuums” in Libya, Yemen and Syria.  And of course, not to neglect the Americas, there is always Columbia and Mexico.

None of these “security wars” need to be fought at all. Not only has Obama given no indication of ending this diabolical strategy, he seems to revel in it boasting that he is the one to have killed Osama bin Laden.

It is quite an accomplishment indeed to kill a feeble man, hooked up to a dialysis machine.  No one in the country appears to have noticed that bin Laden was never judicially determined to have been guilty of anything.  No matter! He was an “enemy comabatant.” Ipse Dixit. To say as much accepts the entire PNAC construct. Bin Laden was not an enemy combatant.  If he in fact aided and abetted the 9/11 bombings then he was a criminal -- a terrorist criminal but a criminal nonetheless.

Why have all states hitherto treated political terrroristsas criminals “entitled” to a trial?  Because even Tsarist Russia understood that if they were not treated as isolated criminals then all of civil society would be turned into a zone of enemy combatant operations in which legitimate government turns into a government of occupation suspicious of everyone as a “potential terrorist.”  At that point, the bond between governed and their government will have broken.

Back in 2008, the New York Times excoriated Bush’s “relentless” attack on the Constitution in which the Administration “outsourced torture,” “arrogated the power to imprison men without charges” and claimed “an unfettered authority to spy on Americans.”  It hailed Obama’s promise “to identify and correct” these abuses.

Although one might be excused from wondering what there was left to “identify,” the real purpose of the composite phrase was to allow Obama wiggle room to busy himself with “investigations” and “studies” before doing any actual correcting.

More fundamentally, the sheer and stupendous idiocy of the New York Times is that it treats the “necessary war” and “attacks on the democratic system” as disconnected issues. They are not.  Every wall has two sides.

In the end, as we have said, Obama is simply a neo-con without the bluster and without the strutting in a cod piece. By failing to reverse the neocon course he necessarily perpetuates it and perpetuating it has reduced the present election to a farce which preserves the purely mechanical forms of republican government while leaving the constitutional core reduced to equal rubble with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. 


However, to be fair, all historical actors are constrained by the historical stage they are on.   As we have said,


“Obama is not going to introduce any fundamental change to the neo-liberal regime which has gotten us to where we are. ... Domestically and diplomatically Obama will provide some emollients and better manners, but I doubt little else. ...Americans' disastrous propensity for exceptionalism has blinded them both to understanding the true nature of the country and to thinking that historical laws do not apply to us. Like all leaders, Obama is constrained by his context and the material he has to work with.”( Delirium Tremens (2008).)
Obama could not change the Empire even if he wanted to.  The entire establishment from the presidency to the press is oscified into the frieze of Bas Empire

Of all people in the world, Americans have the least notion of who they really are.  They believe a fatuous heap of tripe about inventing freedom, about being a republic, about being the last best hope of Mankind and all that rot. America is an Empire because that is what it set out to be from the very start.

This was understood back in 1788 when the Count of Aranda wrote his famous Memorandum to King Carlos III of Spain,


“The American colonies have achieved independence; this is my sorrow and misgiving. This Federated Republic is born, shall we say, a pygmy ...  But tomorrow, as it consolidates its constitution, it will be a giant; and after that it will become an irresistible colossus ... The Anglo American power will cast its first sights on the full acquisition of the Floridas from whence it will seek to extend its dominion into the heart of Mexico.  Not only will it interdict at will our commerce with Mexico but it will aspire to conquer those vast imperial regions, which we will not be able to defend ....”
The “pygmy” began its growth by feasting on Indian Lands.

A little further down from the shimmering and tinselled rhetoric about “inalienable rights,” the Declaration of Independence cavilled against the Crown’s “raising conditions [to] new Appropriations of Lands,” its refusal to allow “the  accommodation of large districts of people,” and its incitement of the “merciless Indian Savages” against the innocent and victimized Colonists.

Behind the resented accusations lay the Alleghenies and the Quebec Act which had reserved all lands to the west thereof to the Indian Nations.  As one historian put it, the “Revolution was a contest for Indian land as well as for liberty.”  In fact, the Liberty claimed was simply a License for Empire.  Obama’s tear-jerking “faith” in the “true genius of America” was simply adulation of “Manifest Destiny”


There were junctures in the time line when we could have changed the tenor and tone of our empire and made it more beneficent.  Indeed the zonal docrtine itself could be interpreted and applied as an alliance for propserity.   But we do well to remember that the very charismatic Kennedy who sought to add a beneficient hue to empire was also the president who began the first "full spectrum" ops, known as the Green Berets. 

In the end we are forced to admit that Marx was right.  It is the necessary nature of capitalism to exploit ever more extensively and deeply in order to "balance" and "rectify" its own internal and structural imabalance.  A transfer of equal value, in real terms, leaves both parties without loss or gain so that the only way to acquire a profit is to garner an unequal value if not from the other party, then from some third or fourth party down the line. All the rest is a shell game.

And Quesney was probably right too.  The only "profit" that is truly "free" is the growth of a stalk of wheat; it is that miracle alone which provides a something out of nothing previously there.  Any other form of profit must be stolen from someone somewhere along the line.  All the rest is rhetorical accounting.

We do not admire Obama.  He is a son of Harvard --  someone who has learned the lingo and dance of the elite.  He believes it. He accepts it and all the rhetorical tissues that come with it.   Harvard is not a "liberal" institution.  The only thing that has changed since Harvard gave the cold shoulder to FDR in 1936 is the addition of a multi-cultural facade.  Harvard -- just as much as the New York Times -- is the neo-liberal establishment.  If they can get a black man to do the canting, so much the better for suckering sentimentalist "liberals" who truly believe that "progress" comes with skin tone.

The choice between Romney and Obama is a question of zeal.  Romney owuld like to go full bore at the ultimate civil apocalypse.  He would heighting the PNAC strategy of preemptive desolation (which is why he is backed by the same think-tank ilk  that was behind PNAC I) and he would impose simply no limits on corporate and banking misfeasance, malfeasance and arbitrariness, allowing everything from people to plants to be plundered for profit.

Obama proposes some minimal -- and we stress minimal -- restraints on these excesses. But these soft restraints will not deflect the denouement, which is that all Empires end up consuming their own and, in this case, all Creation as well.

In the end we did not vote because in terms of the country's historical direction and destiny it does not fundamentally matter.