Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 20, 2006

When U.S. Presidents act like madmen

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 4:23 pm

This morning my eyes popped out as I was reading Paul Kane's call for reinstating the draft on the op-ed page of the NY Times. Kane is identified as a Marine who served in Iraq and now is a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, a prime training ground for CIA agents, State Department flunkies and other dark forces.

Kane states that if Bush starts drafting young men and women, then Iran will get the message that we are gearing up for a major war and will step down. Back in high school, we used to call this playing chicken. It was dramatized in "Rebel Without a Cause" when James Dean bested a rival in a drag race toward a cliff. Whoever stopped first was the chicken. When his rival's jacket got caught on the car handle, Dean won by default. This kind of behavior has characterized US foreign policy since WWII. Another example was JFK's confrontation over Russian missiles in Cuba, which in his mind must have had the aspects of a touch football game played for very high stakes.

Kane takes up the sports analogy and tops it with images drawn from the world of abnormal pyschology. For him, the point of reinstituting the draft–a wildly unpopular measure–is not just to show the Iranians that we mean business, but to show them that the US President is basically nuts.

"President Bush has the perfect credentials overseas to execute this move, and little political capital at home to lose at this stage. Polls confirm that a wide majority of people in many countries view him and the United States as the major threat to global peace. Why let them down on this count? Go with the flow.

"President Ronald Reagan was the past master of using this strategy during the cold war. Reagan capitalized on his image as the madman at the helm to keep the Russians off balance, using the signs of war to dissuade our foes and avert actual war. President Bush should take a page from Reagan's playbook."

Actually, President Nixon tried out the "madman" theory long before Reagan:

National Security Archive, 23 December 2002 Nixon "Madman Theory" Alert Revealed in Declassified Documents

In late December, 2003 declassified documents published by the National Security Archives disclosed a worldwide secret nuclear alert Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, stage-managed from 13 Oct. to 25 Oct., 1969. The alert consisted of a series of actions to ratchet up the readiness level of nuclear forces hoping to jar Soviet officials into pressing North Vietnam to meet U.S. terms in peace negotiations. The move caused no change in Soviet policy towards North Vietnam.

The nuclear alert was based on a diplomacy-supporting stratagem Nixon called the Madman Theory, or "the principle of the threat of excessive force." Nixon was convinced that his power would be enhanced if his opponents thought he might use excessive force, even nuclear force. That, coupled with his reputation for ruthlessness, he believed, would suggest that he was dangerously unpredictable.

Although Nixon favored this theory more than most, threatening excessive force was nothing new. In the 1950s President Dwight D. Eisenhower, his Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and then-Vice President Nixon, had overtly practiced a version of the Madman Theory by means of the "uncertainty principle" and coercive nuclear "brinkmanship."

Such is the state of the world when Harvard University fellows urge the President of the United States to act nuts. In the name of preserving peace, George W. Bush is supposed to reintroduce the draft and god knows what else. This kind of behavior was summed up in Orwell's "1984" as double-think of course: "War is Peace". You can also add a new slogan, I suppose: "Insanity is sanity".

With all proportions guarded, when I read Paul Kane's bloodcurdling prose, I am reminded of what Leon Trotsky wrote in the 1933 article "What is National Socialism."

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth of the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man's genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the psychology of National Socialism.

2 Comments »

  1. […] When U.S. Presidents act like madmen Louis Proyect […]

    Pingback by My Buffalo River Home — April 20, 2006 @ 10:59 pm

  2. What about the argument that a draft would create a more egalitarian army and would increase resistance to the war among middle-class young people who were crucial to bringing down vietnam but don’t care so much this time around? I’m not saying I agree with this, but it’s something I’ve heard. I know that objective conditions and cultural factors are much bigger reasons for youth apathy, but still, I haven’t heard a totally convincing refutation of this argument. What’s the best socialist literature about the draft?

    Comment by Poulod — April 21, 2006 @ 1:19 am


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