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FARC’s deep roots. A brief introduction to FARC’s origins

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“[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]here is more repression of individual freedom here that in any other country we’ve been to, the police patrol the streets carrying rifles and demand your papers every few minutes, which some of them read upside down. The atmosphere is tense and it seems a revolution may be brewing. The countryside is in open revolt and the army is powerless to suppress it.” A young Ernesto Che Guevara was travelling around South America and, in a letter to his mother – dated June 1952 -, used these words to describe Colombian state during La Violencia (1948-1958).

In order to understand the deep roots of FARC’s origin and longevity, their experience should not be detached from the political and social context of Colombian history. FARC’s insurgency cannot be understood discerning from agrarian conflicts during the 1920s-1930s and from the period of La Violencia.

The Post Colonial Colombia was dominated by a bipartite political system in which the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party exercised undisputed political and economic hegemony. Nino argues that “The independency was an horizontal movements, an elite was removed, but, automatically it was replaced by the its immediate lower one, which became aristocracy, upper class, dominant class.” Sachez and Meertens think that the this new class of lord owners exploited peasants to support their local hegemony, “To peasants the armed support to one of the party was a characteristic of massive incorporation to political life of the nation.” The conflicts between the political elite resulted in peasants fighting “for local landowner, in return for moderate reforms that improved their own lot in life.”

Previously to FARC’s foundation, Colombian peasants started to be organized in experienced self-defence movements that tried to break the bipartite system of hegemony. The Partido Socialista Revolutionario, the Partido Agrario Nacional, the Union Nacional de Izquierda Revolucionaria and – after its foundation in 1930 – the Partido Comunista de Colombia (PCC) were the main actors in organizing peasants to (i) protect themselves from official violence and to (ii) promote an agrarian reform. According to Gilhdoes, during the 1920s and the 1930s there were three kind of agrarian conflicts in Colombia. (i) The dispute around the distribution of lands. (ii) The issues related to indigenous communities. (iii) The tensions between landowners and their workers due to the labour conditions. In such environment of social and economic tensions, peasants and natives created unions and self-defence organizations to protect their interests: “these associations emerged in response to the oligopolistic structure of agriculture product markets caused by industry and trade”.

Operation Marquentalia was led to break the consolidation of independent areas in which self−defence groups were exercising local power and, as suggested by Leongòmez, Operation Marquetalia was the turning point in which “the self-defence movement becomes a revolutionary movements”. The tension between self−defence groups and dominate elite culminated in repressions and massacres. Gabriel Marquez Garcia – in his masterpiece One Hundred years of solitude – remembers the Massacre de las bananeras in 1928, when a strike of peasants – working for the United Fruit Company – was bloody repressed. An indefinite number of workers were killed by the Colombian army, “It was as if the machine guns had been loaded with caps, because their panting rattle could be heard and their incandescent spitting could be seen, but not the slightest reaction was perceived, not a cry, not even a sigh among the compact crowd that seemed petrified by an instantaneous invulnerability.“

The local and low-intensive conflicts became a national political crisis in April 1948 when Jorge Gaitàn was killed in Bogotà. Gaitàn was a charismatic populist leader of a minority of the Liberal Party. He offered hope to poorest both urban and rural areas, leading campaigns to promote agrarian reforms and to defend peasants against state violence. He was able to gain the support of discontent middle class and poorer ones. After his murder, the PCC declared legitimate the armed resistance against state terrorism, “the figure of “legitimate defence”, intend to justify it as an inexorable moral exigency aimed to neutralize a violent, unfair, sometimes, unconstitutional aggression”. The relation between the PCC and the armed self-defence peasants movements is well understood, as explained by Leech, “the PCC was instrumental in organizing the peasant self-defence movement.”

What is not clear is the role of PCC in FARC’s foundation. While LeGrand argues that Bloque Sur was composed by members of the Communist Party and Liberal Party, Brittain suggests that the Liberal Party did not actively participate to FARC’s formation. As confirmed by several studies, the FARC were formed by members of self-defence groups with elements of the Communist Party. William Avilés argues that the FARC “emerged under the leadership of the Communist Party and operated with the support of peasants who sought refuge from the repression of la Violencia.” According to Leongòmez, the FARC “born as a reaction against the foundation of the ELN and EPL“ by the PCC. In the XXXI el Partido Comunista proclaimed to support peasants rebellion, “Our party has sustained that violent guerrilla cannot be imposed to people (…) for this reason our party is against revolutionary adventures (…) But the problems due to Marquetalia aggression are different. And for this reason the PCC from the beginning has supported the peasants, victims of an aggression by the military force.” Even though some authors highlight the contradictions of the PCC between supporting a violent insurgency and participating to Colombian democratic life,32 there are several evidence that suggests a tight connection between FARC’s origin and PCC activities in Colombian countryside.

La Violencia is considered to be over in 1953, when the General Rojas Pinilla established his dictatorship with a military golpe. His government launched military offensive to tackle down communist peasants insurgency while many Liberal peasants decided to accept the amnesty granted by Pinilla government. 34 In 1958 Conservative and Liberal elite – concerned about the concentration of power and Pinilla’s desire to strengthen his dictatorship – created a “power-sharing agreement called the National Front. Stokes argues that the National Font served to “alternate power between aligned sections of the Colombian Conservative and Liberal elite while strengthening the Colombian armed forces to suppress popular reforms.” Communist-armed peasants did not cease the fire, improving their organizations and their military strategies. In 1964 – in order to destroy communist self-defence communities – Colombian government planned a massive military attack to the areas where peasants organized forms of local auto-government. “The army symbolically took the Marquetalia region, but in spite of its new anti-guerrilla conceptions, it was military impossible to wipe out the seed of the struggle, which sprouted from these lands. The seed is the origin of the FARC.” Marquetalia operation, then, represents a turning point of Colombian history.

“(We are) the result of a revolutionary movement which born in 1948 (…)”. These words – taken by the original document “Programa agrario de los guerrilleros 1964” – explain why FARC’s historical origin are tracked down in 1964, when a small group of guerrilleros announced the birth of an armed revolutionary front during the First Guerrilla Conference in 1964. The group joined armed peasants from Marquetalia with other guerrilleros from several zones, forming the Bloque Sur (Southern Bloc). According to Leech – even though the name Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) is officially dated in 1966 during the Second Guerrilla Conference, FARC’s historical representation is told to start from the experience of Bloc Sur and the First Guerrilla Conference.3 FARC’s self-representation recognizes their tight bond with Colombian past framework. During the First Guerrilla Conference, the guerrilleros argued that “Against us (peasants) there have been four wars: one started in 1948, antother one from 1954, one from 1962 and this one that we are experiencing since May 18th 1964, when the military force have officially declared that Operation Marquetalia is started.” In conclusion, Bloque Sur proclaimed itself to be (i) a reaction against the repression of Colombian elite and to be (ii) the heredity of the tradition of peasants self-defence movements.

The foundation of the FARC represents a qualitative change of traditional self-defence movements, “with FARC’s foundation there was a crucial turning point of military strategy, then, it was left the protection of lands by armed peasants – included mobile combat force – to replace it with a an agile warfare which uses military tactics.” FARC’s history can be divided in three main stages considering their organizations and their military actions. (i) 1964-1974: the FARC implemented “a marginal, silent and low intense warfare which combines old methods with new forms of recruiting and social relations with peasants.” (ii) 1970-1990: the FARC drastically increased the number of their members, improving the quality of their actions and the zones in which they exercised their direct power. 1991-2008: the peak of the conflict between the FARC and Colombian state. 2008-Today: it has started the slow and hard path for FARC’s demobilization and pacification.

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The third Fox News shock to Trump

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New Fox News polls showed once again that US President Donald Trump is not doing well in state and state polls. Accordingly, the likelihood of Trump’s defeat in next year’s presidential election has increased dramatically. Unless the trend continues, Trump will no longer be at the forefront of US political and executive equations. Trump has twice accused the Fox News network of posting false and untrue polls. However, many US analysts believe that recent Fox News polls are based on current US facts. American citizens’ dissatisfaction with Trump’s foreign policy, as well as some economic discontent in some states, has contributed to Trump’s decline in popularity.

Although Trump has not yet responded to a Fox News poll, he is likely to accuse the US president of announcing false results in the near future! Donald Trump accuses not only Fox News but other media outlets and polls that predict his defeat in next year’s presidential election.

On the other hand, the competition between Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris has intensified. If either of these candidates reach the final stage of next year’s presidential race, they will have a greater chance of defeating Trump. However, there is still much time left for the Democratic primary. The election will be held primarily in the crucial state of Iowa. If any Democrat candidate can win in this small and important state, he can also win other Democratic intra-party election contests. Here’s a look at some news and analysis on the U.S. presidential election:

Fox News poll shows Trump losing to Biden, Warren, Sanders and Harris

A Fox News poll released Thursday showed President Trump losing head-to-head matchups against four of the top Democratic presidential primary contenders. The poll found Trump with 39 percent support among registered voters in head-to-head matchups against Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The poll found Sanders beating Trump with 48 percent, Warren winning over Trump with 45 percent and Harris winning with 46 percent support.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, beat Trump in the theoretical matchup with 50 percent support among those surveyed, compared to Trump’s 38 percent. Among Democratic primary contenders, Warren saw the largest gain in support in the poll — an 8 percent jump from last month’s survey. Warren, according to the poll, took second place behind Biden with the support of 20 percent of Democratic primary voters.

Sanders dropped to third, now at 10 percent in the poll and the only other candidate aside from Warren and Biden scoring double digit support among voters. Biden dropped slightly in the poll from a previous Fox News poll in July, from 33 percent to 31 percent, but remains the clear front-runner in the race according to the survey. The Fox News poll was taken between Aug. 11-13 and contacted 1,013 registered voters on landlines and cellphones. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent for all registered voters, and 4.5 percent for Democratic primary voters.

2 troubling signs for Trump in this new Fox News poll

As Washington Post reported, Trump fails to crack 40 percent in any matchup with a potential 2020 opponent in a new Fox News poll. And that may not be the worst of it for him.

The new Fox poll is arguably Trump’s worst of the early polls testing potential general-election matchups. He trails Joe Biden by 12 percentage points (50 percent to 38 percent), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) by nine points (48 to 39), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) by seven (46 to 39) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) by six (45 to 39). That’s tied for his biggest deficit to date against Warren, according to RealClearPolitics, and it’s close to his biggest deficits against the others, too.

It’s just one poll of course, and even high-quality polls have margins of error. It’s possible Trump’s support percentage is really in the 40s, just like in most other polls. But if you drill down, there are a couple of other problematic pieces of this poll for Trump.

The first is his vote share versus his approval rating. There has been plenty of talk about Trump’s consistently low approval rating and how it sets him up for reelection. But in this poll, he doesn’t even completely lockdown that vote. While he gets 38 to 39 percent in all four matchups, his approval rating is actually 43 percent. That means roughly 4 percent of registered voters say they approve of Trump but they’re not ready to vote for him. And as Josh Jordan noted, this isn’t the first poll to show that. I looked back on three other high-quality national polls and found a drop-off in all three — albeit not as big as in Fox’s poll.

Reelection bids are generally viewed as referendums on the incumbent in which, in a close race, you’d expect the president to at least get the percentage of voters who approve of him. For Trump, it appears there is a small percentage of people who like the job he’s done but for whatever reason — concern about his tendency to fly off the handle, perhaps, or the fact that they also like the Democrats — aren’t yet on board with his reelection. It’s one thing to run for reelection with a low approval rating; it’s another to not even be able to count on that level of support.

An alternative reading, of course, is that these voters are ripe for Trump to bring back into the fold and increase his vote share as the race moves forward. But even then, he’s not in great shape.

The second problematic number comes from Fox News’s write-up of its poll:

Voters who have a negative view of both Biden and Trump back Biden by a 43-10 percent margin in the head-to-head matchup, although many would vote for someone else (27 percent), wouldn’t vote (12 percent) or are undecided (8 percent).

This is an admittedly small subsample, with a very large margin of error. Given Biden is relatively popular (50 percent favorable versus 42 percent unfavorable), the universe of voters who dislike both him and Trump is likely to be a very small share of the roughly 1,000 people surveyed. (I asked Fox about the sample size but haven’t heard back yet.)

But even accounting for that, this is ominous for Trump. That’s because these voters — those who disliked both him and Clinton — made the difference for him in 2016. As Philip Bump wrote last month:

Nationally, Trump had a 17-point edge with those voters, according to exit polls. In the three states that handed him the presidency — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — he won those voters by 21, 25 and 37 points, respectively. In each state, those voters made up about a fifth of the electorate.

It was one-fifth of the electorate because only about 40 percent of voters liked both Trump and Clinton. It’s a smaller universe today, because Trump’s image is slightly better and Biden’s is significantly better than Clinton’s. But it’s also true that this universe of voters probably comes more from the right side of the electorate, given Biden’s superior image rating. And yet Trump barely gets any support here.

For now, let’s set aside the numbers in the head-to-head matchups. The fact is that Trump can win reelection with an approval rating in the low-to-mid 40s, which is where it’s been throughout his presidency. But he can’t do it if he’s not locking down basically everyone who approves of him and is getting beaten among those who dislike both him and his Democratic opponent. If those findings are accurate, then focusing on his low approval rating might actually oversell his reelection chances.

Poll: Warren jumps over Sanders for second place behind Biden

As Politico reported, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has leapfrogged Sen. Bernie Sanders for second place nationally in the Democratic presidential primary, according to a new poll out Thursday.

The new Fox News poll of registered voters who say they plan to participate in the Democratic primary or caucus in their state shows that although Warren still trails former Vice President Joe Biden, pulling in 20 percentage points to his 31, she posted an 8-point gain over the previous survey conducted last month. Sanders dropped 5 points in the poll, good for third place with 10 percent support.

The poll shows remarkable growth for Warren over the last five months — she has gained 16 points since March — while Biden has remained somewhat steady over the same period. Sanders’ second-place lead has diminished steadily over the same period, with Thursday’s survey the first in which he dropped into third place. He has dropped 13 points since May. Sen. Kamala Harris is not far behind him in fourth place, with 8 percent.

Thursday’s poll has no bearing on next month’s debate in Houston since every candidate polling above 2 percent has already reached the polling threshold for the debate stage.

The Fox poll shows that any of the top four Democratic contenders would best President Donald Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup. Biden opens up the widest lead against Trump, beating him 50-38, while Harris would have the closest contest — though still outside the margin of sampling error — beating Trump 45-39.

The poll also shows a nearly even split in what Democratic primary voters are looking for in a presidential candidate. Forty-eight percent of voters said they’d like a Democratic nominee to build upon the legacy of former President Barack Obama, while 47 percent said they’d prefer a new approach.

The survey was conducted Aug. 11-13 among a random national sample of 1,013 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage for all registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for the 483 Democratic primary voters surveyed.

Voters Care About Biden’s Age — Not About His Gaffes

Also, Fivethirtyeight Reported that After a week’s worth of media focuses on a series of gaffes and misstatements by former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic voters are reacting by … apparently not giving much of a damn.

Granted, there hasn’t been a ton of polling this week. But what data we have looked just fine for Biden. His position in Morning Consult’s weekly tracking poll — first place with 33 percent of the vote — is unchanged. In HarrisX’s tracking poll for ScottRasmussen.com, he’s at 28 percent, which is up 3 percentage points from a week ago. He’s down 1 point in YouGov’s weekly poll, and he did get some middling numbers in New Hampshire this week. But Biden also got a good poll in South Carolina.

Not that you should necessarily have expected any differently. Biden has survived more serious problems — a rough first debate, a group of allegations about inappropriately touching women — only to see his numbers rebound from any decline (if they were even affected in the first place). So it probably would have been optimistic for Biden’s rivals to expect a handful of verbal gaffes to move his polls, especially given that Biden already came into the campaign with a reputation for being gaffe-prone. Some influential Democrats are focusing on those gaffes for another reason, though: They see them as a sign of Biden’s advancing age. (Biden is 76 and would be 78 upon assuming the presidency.) Whether those Democrats are genuinely concerned about Biden’s age insofar as it might affect his performance against President Trump, or whether they’re using it as an excuse to promote the candidacies of younger Democrats who they happen to like better anyway, undoubtedly varies from case to case.

A lot of rank-and-file voters do have concerns about Biden’s age. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in February found that 62 percent of voters had reservations about voting for someone aged 75 or older. Other polls have also shown advanced age to be a concern among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.

But there hasn’t been much discussion of age from the other candidates. Eric Swalwell brought it up explicitly in the first presidential debate when he urged voters to “pass the torch to a new generation of Americans.” Rather than echo Swalwell’s argument, however, Kamala Harris tried to defuse the situation by suggesting that discussions of age and generational change were tantamount to schoolyard insults. “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we are going to put food on their table,” she said.

Maybe anti-Biden Democrats — and the other candidates — think they’re being coy by using Biden’s gaffes as a proxy for concerns about his age. No reason to get tarred with allegations of ageism, they figure, or to risk offending older voters who turn out in big numbers in the primaries. (Also, if the candidate they prefer to Biden is Bernie Sanders, they have the further problem that Sanders is a year older than Biden at 77.)1 Show rather than tell, as the maxim goes: Plant a few seeds and let voters build a narrative about Biden’s age on their own, without having to give them the hard sell. This strategy might even work! It’s still fairly early, and Biden’s age is perhaps his biggest risk factor — bigger, in my view than his policy positions, which are often more in line with the views of the average Democrat than those of the more liberal candidates.

But especially in the era of Trump — who, of course, has already begun to question Biden’s mental fitness — there might also be something to be said for saying the quiet part out loud. In a poll conducted shortly after the first debate, some Democratic voters explicitly used Swalwell’s “pass the torch” language when asked an open-ended question about why they didn’t want to vote for Biden. And they were much more likely to explicitly mention Biden’s age than to use vaguer responses, such as that he was “out of touch.”

There’s also a risk to anti-Biden Democrats in drawing voters’ attention to gaffes or other incidents that voters view as relatively minor. Biden remains an extremely well-liked figure among Democratic voters; 75 percent of them have a favorable view of him, according to Morning Consult’s latest polling. So three-quarters of the electorate is going to start with a predilection against sympathizing with critiques of Biden. If those critiques aren’t really bringing the goods and instead seem like petty grievances, those Democrats may conclude that the case against Biden is a lot of hot air.

Meanwhile, if the false alarms continue — as in, Democrats on Twitter or on podcasts predict Biden’s demise and the polls are unmoved — the media may come to view Biden as a Trump-like “Teflon” candidate who isn’t greatly affected by gaffes and scandals. That could reduce their appetite for covering them in the future — even if more serious ones occur than what’s taken place to date.

From our partner Tehran Times

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U.S.-North Korea Nuclear War: Assessing Plausible Risks

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“Military strategy, whether we like it or not, has become the diplomacy of violence.”-Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and  Influence (1966)

US President Donald Trump says he doesn’t know if North Korea is building additional nuclear weapons, but he adds: “We’ll see, I hope not.” This is hardly a logical, thoughtful or prudential stance, especially because time in such military-diplomacy matters is always of urgent importance. While Mr. Trump continues to believe that the North Korean dictator is most apt to be motivated by American promises of enhanced economic assistance, this incentive is a distinctly secondary one.

In Pyongyang, for Kim Jung Un, it pales beside the more viscerally felt  benefits of  compelling personal power.

Accordingly, to best serve US national security interests rather than his own purely personal preferences, Trump must begin to change his North Korea strategy. In particular, this means a strategy that is more expressly analytic and history-based. Still more precisely, he should begin to think more systematically and realistically along the lines of achieving long-term nuclear deterrence with North Korea.[1]

 Such thinking is needed even with an adversary so openly “beloved.” There are, after all, no conceivable circumstances wherein it could make sense for North Korea to surrender any portion of its nuclear weapons or of its corresponding strategic ambitions. These  reassuringly tangible assets remain that Asian country’s most conspicuous foundation of global influence and power.

There is more. During any still-upcoming negotiations, Trump must take scrupulous care not to exaggerate or overstate America’s military risk-taking calculus. Any such recommended diplomatic caution would derive in large measure from the absence of comparable crises. In  essence, because there has never been a nuclear war,[2] there could be no reliable way for this president (or anyone else) to ascertain the mathematical probability of a US-North Korea nuclear conflict.

None at all.

For Donald Trump, who is routinely accustomed to making unwarranted extrapolations from commercial real estate bargaining to high-stakes nuclear diplomacy, this observation could seem overly stark. But it is nonetheless true, and truth is always incontestable and “exculpatory.” Specifically, in any truly scientific assessment, meaningful probabilities must be drawn from one quantifiable calculus only; that is the determinable frequency of pertinent past events.

This does not mean that Trump’s senior strategists and counselors should consciously steer away from clear-eyed assessments regarding nuclear costs and risks, but only that such assessments must inevitably be drawn from constantly shifting and hard to decipher geopolitical trends.

And certain attendant problems are even more complicated. For one, world security processes must be approached as a totality; that is, as a more-or-less coherent system. What is happening now in such far-flung places as India-Kashmir, China, Russia, Iran and perhaps even Hong Kong could have significant “spillover effects” somewhere in the northeast Asian theatre. Rather than ignore such complex effects altogether –  largely because they would appear too intellectually demanding – this American president will have to accord them a more appropriate position of policy-making primacy.

Mr. Trump’s utterly disjointed statements about “love letters” with Kim Jung Un notwithstanding, the military threats from an already- nuclear North Korea remain genuine, substantive and fully “robust.”

There is more. President Trump needs to bear in mind that many or all of northeast Asia’s continuously transforming developments will be impacted by “Cold War II,”[3] an oppositional stance with Russia and (more or less derivatively) China. Similarly important will be this US leader’s willingness to acknowledge and factor-in certain consequential limits of “expert” military advice. These generally unseen limits are based not upon any presumed intellectual inadequacies of America’s generals, but rather on the knowledge that no person has fought in a nuclear war.

This bit of knowledge is indisputable.

By definition – and going forward with all inherently time-urgent considerations of US – North Korea policy formation – relevant US strategic calculations will be fraught with variously daunting uncertainties. Still, it will be necessary that Donald Trump and his counselors remain able to offer best determinable war-related estimations. Among prospectively causal factors – some of them overlapping, interdependent or even “synergistic”[4] – the presumptive risks of a nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang will depend upon whether such a conflict would be intentional, unintentional or accidental.

 In principle, at least, this tripartite distinction could prove vitally important to any hoped for success in US nuclear war prediction and prevention processes.

 In facing future North Korean negotiations, it will be necessary that competent US policy analysts systematically examine and measure all foreseeableconfigurations of pertinent nuclear risk. Expressed in the game-theoretic parlance of formal military planning, these shifting configurations could present themselves singly or one-at-a-time (the expectedly best case for Washington), but they might also arise suddenly, unexpectedly, with apparent “diffusiveness” or in multiple and overlapping “cascades” of strategic complexity.

What is to be done? To properly understand such bewildering cascades will require carefully-honed, well-developed and formidable analytic skills. This will likely not be a suitable task for the presidential political appointee or the otherwise intellectually faint-hearted. On the contrary, it will require sharply refined combinations of historical acquaintance, traditional erudition and a demonstrated capacity for advanced dialectical thinking.

There is more. This challenging task will require American strategic thinkers who are as comfortable with classical prescriptions of Plato and Descartes as with the more narrowly technical elements of modern military theory and military hardware.

It is conceivable that neither Washington nor Pyongyang is currently paying sufficient attention to the specific and residual risks of an unintentional nuclear war. To this point in their prospectively ongoing summitry, each president would seem to assume the other’s complete decisional rationality. If, after all, there were no such mutual assumption, it could make no determinable sense for either side to negotiate any further security accommodations with the other.

None at all.

Viable nuclear deterrence (not denuclearization) must become the overriding US strategic goal with North Korea. But this complex objective is contingent upon certain basic assumptions concerning enemy rationality. Are such assumptions realistically valid in the particular case of a potential war between two already-nuclear powers? If President Donald Trump, despite “falling in love” with Kim Jung-Un, should sometime begin to fear enemy irrationalityin Pyongyang, issuing new threats of US retaliation might make diminishing diplomatic sense.

At that unprecedented stage, American national security could come to depend upon some residually optimal combinations of ballistic missile defense and defensive first strikes. Again by definition, determining such bewildering combinations would necessarily lack any decisional input or counsel from concrete and/or quantifiable historical data.

In the conceivably worst case, the offensive military element could entail a situational or comprehensive preemption – a defensive first strike – but at that manifestly late stage all previous hopes for bilateral reconciliation would already have become moot. There could then obtain no “ordinary” circumstances wherein a preemptive strike against a nuclear adversary such as North Korea would still be rational.

None of these difficult strategic decisions could be reached casually or easily. With the steadily expanding development of “hypersonic” nuclear weapons, figuring out optimal US policy combinations from one crisis to another could very quickly become overwhelming. Also, though counterintuitive amid such complications, the evident fact that one “player” (the US) is recognizably “more powerful” than the other (North Korea) could quickly prove irrelevant.

 In all such foreseeable circumstances, there would be certain overlapping issues of law and strategy. Under international law, which remains an integral part of US law,[5] the option of a selective or comprehensive defensive first-strike might sometime be correctly characterized as “anticipatory self-defense.” But this would be the case only if the American side could argue coherently and persuasively that the “danger posed” by North Korea was “imminent in point of time.”

 Such discernible “imminence” is specifically required by the authoritative standards of international law; that is, by the formal criteria established after an 1837 naval incident famously called “The Caroline.”[6]

Now, moreover, in the nuclear age, offering aptly precise characterizations of “imminence” could prove sorely abstract and densely problematic.

For the moment, it seems reasonable that Kim Jung Un would value his own personal life and that of his nation above literally every other imaginable preference or combination of preferences. In any corresponding scenario, Kim is visibly and technically rational, and must remain subject to US nuclear deterrence.[7] Nonetheless, it could still become important for a negotiating American president to distinguish between authentic instances of enemy irrationality and pretended irrationality.[8]

Is US President Donald Trump – a self-declared “very stable genius” – actually up to such a challenging task?

This is not a silly question.

In the past, Trump has praised pretended irrationality as a potentially useful US national security strategy. Apropos of this revealing praise, his earlier “fire and fury” warnings (issued before he “fell in love” with Kim Jung Un) might have reflected a prospective “rationality of pretended irrationality” posture for the United States. Ultimately, such a posture could be adopted by either one or both sides.

This particular prospect adds yet another layer of complexity to the subject at hand, one that could sometime include certain force-multiplying synergies. These would be interactive outcomes where the “whole” was effectively greater than the mere sum of its apparent “parts.”

Although neither side would likely seek a shooting war, either or both heads of state could still commit assorted errors in the course of their strategic calculations. Such potentially grievous errors would represent an unintended consequence of jointly competitive searches for “escalation dominance.” Arguably, these errors are more apt to occur in those particular circumstances where one or both presidents had first chosen to reignite hyperbolic verbal rhetoric.

Even when the two leaders are reportedly “in love.”

Portentously, even in reassuringly calm periods of polite and congenial diplomatic discourse, major miscalculations, accidents or “cyber-confusions” could rapidly accumulate. 

What then?

In certain expectedly worst case scenarios, negotiations gone wrong could result in a nuclear war.[9]

 There is more. An inadvertent nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang could take place not only as the result of various misunderstandings or miscalculations between rational national leaders, but also as the unintended consequence (singly or synergistically) of mechanical, electrical, computer malfunctions, or of certain “hacking”-type interventions. Going forward, these interventions could include the clandestine intrusions of “cyber-mercenaries.”

In any still-impending crisis between Washington and Pyongyang, each side will strive to maximize two critical goals simultaneously. These goals are (1) to dominate the dynamic and largely unpredictable process of nuclear crisis escalation; and (2) to achieve desired “escalation dominance” without sacrificing any vital national security obligations. In the final analysis, this second objective means preventing one’s own state and society from ever suffering any catastrophic or existential harms.

This brings up a prior point concerning all obligatory assessments of relative military power. When President Trump, in an earlier verbal competition with Kim Jung Un, stated that the North Korean president may have his own nuclear “button,” but that his American “button” was impressively “bigger,” the US leader revealed a major military misunderstanding. It is that today, in the still advancing nuclear age, atomic superiority is potentially per se insignificant and could sometime lead the presumptively stronger nuclear adversary toward lethal expressions of overconfidence.

As Donald Trump should now more fully understand, even an enemy with a smaller “nuclear button” could inflict unimaginably grave harms upon the “stronger” United States and/or its close allies in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere. It follows that to take comfort from the fact that North Korea has been testing “only” shorter-range ballistic missiles is to miss the point. Entirely.

 North Korea’s 2017 nuclear test had a yield 16X larger than the Hiroshima bomb. That 14KT WW II bomb produced almost 100,000 immediate fatalities.

Such vital understanding about nuclear “button size” must obtain as long as Kim Jung Un’s “inferior” nuclear arms are seemingly invulnerable to any American preemptions and also seemingly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses deployed in the United States, Japan or South Korea. Because of the extraordinary harms generated by even low-yield nuclear weapons, a small percentage or tiny fraction of Kim’s “inferior” nuclear arsenal could and should appear unacceptably destructive in Washington, Tokyo or Seoul. Worth noting, too, is that in all of these critical dimensions of strategic judgment, the only reality that would figure in ongoing adversarial calculations would be perceived reality.

The bottom line of all such informed assessments concerning a still-possible US – North Korea nuclear war is that the underlying issues of contention and calculation are enormously complicated. Faced with such staggering measures of complexity, both operational and legal, each side must proceed warily, in a fashion that is both purposeful and risk-averse. Although such prudent counsel may first seem to run counter to assorted inter-linking obligations of achieving “escalation dominance,” any still-upcoming Trump-Kim negotiations would involve very deep and uncharted “waters.”

Looking ahead, aggressive over-confidence by President Trump or President Kim will have to be avoided. Although everything at an upcoming summit could at first appear simple and calculable, history strongly supports Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s oft-cited observations about “friction.” This quality represents “the difference between war on paper, and war as it actually is.”

In certain cases, this crucial difference could amount to total war.

To avoid any such intolerable outcome between the United States and North Korea, a necessary “diplomacy of violence” must be practiced less with clichés and empty witticisms than with intellect and cultivated erudition. Much earlier, the ancient Greeks and Macedonians had already understood that war planning must be a disciplined matter of “mind over mind,” rather than just “mind over matter.”[10] Today, in more specific regard to US-North Korea nuclear negotiations and rivalry, a similar understanding should obtain immediately in Washington.

Far better for the United States to suitably cultivate the “diplomacy of violence” than to stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea.


[1] One should be reminded of a warning speech by Pericles (432 BCE), as noted by Thucydides: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies, is our own mistakes.” See: Thucydides: The Speeches of Pericles, H.G. Edinger, tr., New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1979, p. 17.

[2] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, too, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.

[3] In essence, hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[4] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres,  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by this writer, at West Point:  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[5] See especially art. 6 of the US Constitution (“The Supremacy Clause”) and the Pacquete Habana (1900). In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola,  175 U.S. 677 (1900);  Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774,  781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[6] See Beth PolebauNational Self-Defense in International Law:  An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age, 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline case transformed the right to Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine).

[7] Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).

[8] Expressions of decisional irrationality in US dealings with North Korea could take different and overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[9] There is now a substantial literature that deals with the expected consequences of a nuclear war.  For earlier works by this author, see, for example:  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); MIMICKING SISYPHUS:  AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1983); REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1984); and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON:  ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[10] See: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), p. 63.

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Reality-Denial Among America’s Democratic Party Faithful

Eric Zuesse

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I used to be a Democrat, until the majority of Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted in 2002 for George W. Bush’s 2003 catastrophic invasion of Iraq, even though everything that Bush and his Administration were alleging the invasion to be based on were mere lies, by him and his Administration. A Senator or Representative is supposed to represent the interests of the American public, not of the billionaires who control Lockheed Martin and ExxonMobil and Halliburton, etc., but those Democrats (and virtually all Republicans also) represented those billionaires, and certainly NOT the American public. Among the 29 Democratic Senators who, on that fateful day of 11 October 2002, voted to authorize Bush to invade Iraq, were the Party’s 2004 Presidential nominee John Kerry, and its 2016 Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and its likely 2020 nominee Joe Biden. (Barack Obama wasn’t yet a member of Congress in 2002.) In other words: the Senators who did, included the ones whom Democrats chose (and still are expected to choose) as their Presidential nominees. There is no apology for such treachery as those Senators (and 68% of the House, too) perpetrated by authorizing that criminal invasion, other than to say “I made a mistake,” but if I could see, even at that time, that it was all mere lies, then were they, our most successful Senators (and Representatives), really such nitwits that they could not — they, who are surrounded by lobbyists and not actually by the people they are supposed to represent? They joined in with George W. Bush’s lies, because they chose to be surrounded by such lobbyists, even though all of Bush’s efforts to get the U.N. to endorse an invasion of Iraq turned out to be fruitless. And, then, on 17 March 2003, he, our American President, suddenly warned the U.N. weapons-inspectors to leave Iraq immediately so Bush could invade that country, which had never invaded, nor even threatened to invade, the United States. This was a clear case of international aggression, just like what Justice Robert Jackson who headed the U.S. prosecution team at the Nuremberg Tribunal after WW II charged Hitler’s top henchmen for having done, and for which those men became executed. Why not Bush, now, for Iraq; why not Obama, now, for Libya; why not Obama, now, for Syria; why not Trump, now, for Syria; why not Trump, also, for Venezuela, if he also invades there? Fascists, all of them, but in today’s America, the public are unconcerned about that, and respond only as political partisans, supporting Democratic Party billionaires’ candidates against Republican Party billionaires’ candidates, or vice-versa, and not even giving a damn about the millions of senselessly slaughtered in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere, for which America’s top responsible officials should therefore be internationally prosecuted, and perhaps hung (like at Nuremberg). So, the only reason, now, to have any loyalty to either of America’s Parties is a mixture of stupidity and psychopathy. And that describes today’s Democrats, just as much as it does today’s Republicans.

The leading political news-site for Democratic-Party operatives and loyal followers is politicalwire.com, and their reader-comments display starkly the mentality that — on this Party’s side — guides the Party’s electorate. Those reader-comments display a Party that’s a dream for the Democratic Party’s billionaires, because the mentality they display is slavish — not physically slavish, but mentally slavish, the slavery of people who hug their prejudices, and who hate anyone (even fellow-Democrats) that challenges their prejudices (tries to help free them from their mental slavery). So: Democratic Party voters’ prejudices have become locked-in, and those people refuse to allow any way out of their existing prejudices. These operatives and voters insist upon retaining their prejudices, exactly as they are. For the Democratic Party’s billionaires’ lobbyists, and media, and think tanks, to have their way with those people, is so easy — it’s like dealing with a slave who says, “Whip me again, Mas’r.” It’s a pathetic political form of self-flagellation, which views the master as being rightfully superior to one’s self — to one’s own mental faculties — handing the whip to that ‘superior’ or master. Is this what American politics has now come down to? It’s what has caused the Democratic Party to be as neoconservative — American imperialist — as is the Republican Party.

On August 8th, Political Wire headlined “Russian Interference Likely Did Not Affect 2016 Result”, and summarized, and linked to, an extremely careful and well-planned and executed, thoroughly scientific, study, which concluded that, “I find no evidence that Russian attempts to target voters in key swing states had any effect on the election results in those states. Instead, the results were almost totally predictable based on the political and demographic characteristics of those states, especially their past voting tendencies, ideological leanings, and demographics.” He found absolutely “no evidence” that it “had any effect” upon the electoral outcome. Anyone who would have clicked through there to the actual study itself would have seen that it was definitive on its subject, and that there is no reasonable basis for accepting Hillary Clinton’s distorting insinuations that she had lost the election because of Russian interference. This study’s author accepted unquestioningly the Mueller Report in its allegation (on its page 19) that Russia’s Government “sought to influence [American] public opinion through online media and forums … as early as 2014.” However, even the Mueller Report doesn’t anywhere allege that Russia “tried to” or “attempted to” cause America’s voters to prefer one candidate over another candidate in the election. Even an allegation like that  would have been devoid of even that Report’s own shabby evidentiary standard to become cited. In other words: even the Mueller Report doesn’t play so fast-and-loose with truth for it to allege anything that is at all contradictory to anything in this scientific analysis and conclusion about the matter: that Hillary Cinton’s defeat cannot rationally be even hypothetically blamed on ‘Russian interference’. If there was such interference, no one has yet nailed it. Insinuations have replaced it. Anyone who believes such an allegation is a willing mental slave. How common are such slaves, actually?

A good indication of how common they are is the Disqus thread (the reader-comments) to that Political Wire summary of the scientific study’s findings:

As was earlier noted, readers at that site are Democratic Party operatives, and extremely loyal Democratic Party voters. Overwhelmingly, those readers are sloughing off that scientific study and analysis of the data. Some do so by attacking its author, as being just “one person with one opinion,” and referring (mainly) to the extremely partisan Democratic Party propaganda-organ the New Yorker, and its rabidly partisan Jane Mayer’s 24 July 2018 “How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump”, which summarizes Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s book, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President — What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know, which book was effectively and accurately destroyed in a two-star review of it at Amazon, by a “B. Wilson,” titled, appropriately, “Little if any real proof is established that the Russians swung the election. A top 10 list.” Looking at the Jamieson book itself, one sees no consideration whatsoever of the data and issues which were dealt with — quantitatively, and on the basis of high quality empirical facts — in the scientific study. Instead, Jamieson’s work is a non-quantitative ‘analysis’ that’s actually loaded with, and built upon, hedged assertions, such as “We can surmise the probable although not certain impact Russian shenanigans had on the balance of messages between the two major party campaigns” — and no data, and no counts, but pure hypothesization, without clear derivation from specific instances of anything. Her book is even less trustworthy than the Mueller Report that it cites so frequently. In short: it’s trash. But that’s good enough to override science, in the minds of believing partisans — mental slaves: people who ignore proven truth, in order to sustain their existing prejudices.

Jane Mayer said of Jamieson’s book, “In two hundred and twenty-four pages of extremely dry prose, with four appendixes of charts and graphs and fifty-four pages of footnotes, Jamieson makes a strong case that, in 2016, ‘Russian masterminds’ pulled off a technological and political coup. Moreover, she concludes, the American media ‘inadvertently helped them achieve their goals.’” Anyone who thinks that American media were predominantly slanted for Trump instead of for Hillary is beyond all reason and evidence — but there they are at Political Wire, as readers, commenting upon a squib, which summarizes this scientific study (the first and only one on the subject).

Of course, such closed-mindedness is good for sustaining any political party, but it can destroy any democracy.

NOTE: Incidentally, while I consider that scientific study to be definitive on its topic, I strongly disagree with its author’s analysis, in his 2018 book, The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump, to the effect that “elites and activists” haven’t shaped “the American social and cultural landscape” of our time. As a historian (which he certainly is not — he’s a political scientist), I believe that, specifically (and ever since at least the time of FDR’s death in 1945) the wealthiest Americans (and not merely ambiguous “elites and activists”) did shape it, to become, as it now is: fascist. That’s why both Parties now are fascist — one liberal fascist, and the other conservative fascist. Liberalism is not  progressivism. And fascism (extreme conservatism) is the opposite of progressivism. By contrast, liberalism mixes together those two opposites.  (Fascism is the modern form of feudalism, and derives from that. Progressivism is the anti-fascism.) Furthermore, by now, there exists massive empirical evidence that the U.S. Government, at least ever since 1981, is no democracy, at all, but is instead ruled only by its very wealthiest and well-connected citizens, so that, as the first of these studies phrased this matter: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” (A superb 6-minute video summary of that landmark study is here.) Consequently, that book is bad even within its own field of political science. The book’s author, furthermore, displays there a strong prejudice favoring the Democratic Party. Fortunately, however, his scientific analysis of the 2016 election was unafflicted by that, or any other, prejudice. It was straight science. Furthermore, any ad-hominem attack (such as is common in the Political Wire reader-comments) is entirely unscientific regarding any study, including that author’s. Virtually all of the reader-comments at that Political Wire article reflect mental slaves. Instead of their being grateful to the study’s author for freeing them from lies which afflict them, they insult that messenger of science.

Furthermore: on 14 June 2016 (just 17 days after Trump won the Republican nomination) Dylan Matthews at Vox had headlined “One of the best election models predicts a Trump victory. Its creator doesn’t believe it.” Matthews opened: “One of the most respected and accurate forecasting models in political sciences says that Donald Trump will win the 2016 presidential election, and by a fairly comfortable margin at that. There’s just one problem: Its creator doesn’t believe his own forecast.” That author, Professor Alan I. Abramowitz’s, formula for predicting U.S. electoral outcomes will probably now become standard. (Trump had actually won by slightly less than Abromowitz’s model predicted, and this is what Abromowitz’s 8 August 2019 article was now documenting. He points out there that especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — the three states which decided the election’s outcome — Trump’s victory-margin was, in fact, lower than Abromowitz’s model had predicted it would be. So, when that Political Wire commenter attacked this author, as being just “one person with one opinion,” he was attacking the one person who had actually predicted accurately not just the 2016 Presidential election’s outcome, but the reasons why Trump was heading for victory. He was attacking the only person who had publicly figured these things out, in advance of the outcome.)

To be a mental slave is to be a believer in lies. This type of slavery was first documented anecdotally in Charles Mackay’s 1841, 500+page, classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds. How is democracy possible with so many willing mental slaves voting — regardless of what the particular Party is? Is democracy impossible? Is the political situation actually hopeless? Shouldn’t overcoming prejudice — anti-scientific thinking (a tendency to believeonly what one wants to believe) — be actually the chief purpose of all publicly financed education?

Author’s note: first posted at strategic-culture.org

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