Thursday, October 27, 2016

It’s ON! Between Duterte and America

I’ve written a couple pieces of the smoking hot issue in Pivotland, Philippine president Duterte’s swerve toward a pro-PRC foreign policy, and what the U.S. and pro-American sector of the Manila elite are going to do about it.

The first piece, Reports of death of US-Philippine alliance may be exaggerated, addresses the fact that Duterte’s freedom of movement is constrained by the need to keep the Philippine military happy, and notes that ex-prez and retired general Fidel Ramos, who facilitated Duterte’s entrance on the national political stage, is signaling dissatisfaction with Duterte.

The second piece,  Duterte Plays the ‘Mamasapano’ Card, covers a Duterte counter-attack: a threat to relitigate the death of 44 Philippine National Police commandos at Mamasapano in Mindanao, a 2014 special ops fiasco conducted under the aegis of the United States which a) exposes ex-president Aquino to serious legal jeopardy b) posits that the US alliance is doing a better job of killing Filipinos than the PRC can ever hope to do.

The US seems to be embedded in a colonial mindset when it comes to the Philippines, something along the lines of “we’ve been selflessly looking after the Philippines for a century, and that thug Duterte won’t be allowed to screw that up during his brief (maybe curtailed) presidency.”

It takes a pretty superficial view of Philippine history, one that accepts the US self-definition as the Philippines’ security savior while ignoring the distortions and shortcomings of the colonial and neo-colonial relationship.

For me this tunnel vision was typified by the US media crowing over the formal delivery of a refurbished C-130 transport to the Philippine government by outgoing ambo Philip Goldberg.  Message: here’s the US making provisions for Philippine defense at the same time Duterte’s selling out the country to China.

To me, the inadvertent message was 1) here’s the US blindly stroking the pivot fetish while Duterte tries to solve the Mindanao insurgency that has cost at least 400,000 lives over the last century, win his drug war, and find a place for the Philippines in Asia that doesn’t give primacy to the US preoccupation with confronting the PRC and 2) the U.S., in my opinion, pretty much has a policy of keeping the Philippines flat on its behind as an independent military force by trickling out second-hand gear to the Philippine military while the sweet stuff is dangled in front of it during US joint military maneuvers and port calls.

But the United States is trying to find political leverage wherever it can and the Western media will, I’m sure, put its shoulder to the wheel to help out.

Philip Goldberg sat down for a 45-minute exit interview with Rappler.  As befitting Rappler’s origins in the Soros/Omidyar network of pro-US globalization advocacy, the interview was a stream of softballs about what to do about Duterte’s disregard of the awesomeness of the American relationship, an awesomeness that is acknowledged by virtually all Filipinos who inexplicably (and, if the US has anything to do about it, temporarily) at the same time give Duterte approval ratings of over 80%. 

It’s worth watching if you have the patience.  Goldberg is a smooth cat, and the Rappler tonguebath gives you no inkling of the fact that he intimately familiar with the wet work of end-arounding national governments to cultivate secessionist movements, you know, like what he did in Bolivia (declared persona non grata as a result) and Kosovo, and like that thing in Duterte’s home province of Mindanao, which in my opinion probably the main reason why Duterte wanted him out of the Philippines.

Goldberg also discretely plays the economic threat card, concern-trolling that anti-US attitudes will dismay “foreign investors”.  

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in subsequent weeks.  As far as I can tell, the biggest U.S. factor in the domestic Philippine economy is the call-center industry.  I doubt US corporations are interested in actually pulling their operations out and subjecting them to the English-language mercies of India, but certainly a call from the State Department or White House would convince them of the wisdom of at least making the threat.

And I also wonder if expected President Hillary Clinton will find it necessary to drop the hammer on Duterte, in order to demonstrate to a rather dubious Asia that there is no alternative to loyalty to the pivot.

I expect the next few months, in other words, to be very interesting.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism…

…But It’s Really Racism

I find the spectacle of liberals heroically mounting the barricades against Trump-fascism rather amusing.

For one thing, liberals don’t crush fascism.

Liberals appease fascism, then they exploit fascism.

In between there’s a great big war, where communists crush fascism.

That’s pretty much the lesson of WWII. 

Second thing is, Trump isn’t fascist.  

In my opinion, Trump’s an old-fashioned white American nativist, which is pretty much indistinguishable from old-fashioned racist when considering the subjugation of native Americans and African-Americans and Asian immigrants, but requires that touch of “nativist” nuance when considering indigenous bigotry against Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants and citizens.

Tagging him as “fascist” allows his critics to put an alien, non-American gloss on a set of attitudes and policies that have been mainstreamed in American politics for at least 150 years and predate the formulation of fascism by several decades if not a century.  Those nasty vetting/exclusion things he’s proposing are as American as apple pie.  For those interested in boning up on the Know Nothings and the Chinese Exclusion Act, I have this piece for you.

And for anybody who doesn’t believe the US government does not already engage in intensive “extreme” vetting and targeting of all Muslims immigrants, especially those from targeted countries, not only to identify potential security risks but to groom potential intelligence assets, I got the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you right here:

Real fascism, in theory, is a rather interesting and nasty beast.  In my opinion, it turns bolshevism on its head by using race or ethnic identity instead of class identity as the supreme, mobilizing force in national life.

In both fascism and bolshevism, democratic outcomes lack inherent legitimacy.  National legitimacy resides in the party, which embodies the essence of a threatened race or class in a way that Hegel might appreciate but Marx probably wouldn’t.  Subversion of democracy and seizure of state power are not only permissible; they are imperatives.

The need to seize state power and hold it while a fascist or bolshevik agenda is implemented dictates the need for a military force loyal to and subservient to the party and its leadership, not the state.

The purest fascism movement I know of exists in Ukraine.  I wrote about it here, and it’s a piece I think is well worth reading to understand what a political movement organized on fascist principles really looks like.

And Trump ain’t no fascist.  

He’s a nativist running a rather incompetent campaign.

It’s a little premature to throw dirt on the grave of the Trump candidacy, perhaps (I’ll check back in on November 9 [November 10: hah!]), but it looks like he spent too much time glorying in the adulation of his white male nativist base and too little time, effort, and money trying to deliver a plausible message that would allow other demographics to shrug off the “deplorable” tag and vote for him.  I don’t blame/credit the media too much for burying Trump, a prejudice of mine perhaps.  I blame Trump’s inability to construct an effective phalanx of pro-Trump messengers, a failure that’s probably rooted in the fact that Trump spent the primary and general campaign at war with the GOP establishment.

The only capital crime in politics is disunity, and the GOP and Trump are guilty on multiple counts.

The most interesting application of the “fascist” analysis, rather surprisingly, applies to the Clinton campaign, not the Trump campaign, when considering the cultivation of a nexus between big business and *ahem* racially inflected politics.

It should be remembered that fascism does not succeed in the real world as a crusade by race-obsessed lumpen.  It succeeds when fascists are co-opted by capitalists, as was unambiguously the case in Nazi Germany and Italy.  And big business supported fascism because it feared the alternatives: socialism and communism.

That’s because there is no more effective counter to class consciousness than race consciousness.

That’s one reason why, in my opinion, socialism hasn’t done a better job of catching on in the United States.  The contradictions between black and white labor formed a ready-made wedge.  The North’s abhorrence at the spread of slavery into the American West before the Civil War had more to do a desire to preserve these new realms for “free” labor—“free” in one context, from the competition of slave labor—than egalitarian principle.

White labor originally had legal recourse to beating back the challenge/threat of African-American labor instead of accommodating it as a “class” ally; it subsequently relied on institutional and customary advantages.

If anyone harbors illusions concerning the kumbaya solidarity between white and black labor in the post-World War II era, I think the article The Problem of Race in American Labor History by Herbert Hill (a freebie on JSTOR) is a good place to start.

The most reliable wedge against working class solidarity and a socialist narrative in American politics used to be white privilege which, when it was reliably backed by US business and political muscle, was a doctrine of de facto white supremacy.

However, in this campaign, the race wedge has cut the other way in a most interesting fashion.  White conservatives are appalled, and minority liberals energized, by the fact that the white guy, despite winning the majority white male vote, lost to a black guy not once but twice, giving a White Twilight/Black Dawn (TM) vibe to the national debate.

The perception of marginalized white clout is reinforced by the nomination of Hillary Clinton and her campaign emphasis on the empowerment of previously marginalized but now demographically more important groups.

The Clinton campaign has been all about race and its doppelganger—actually, the overarching and more ear-friendly term that encompasses racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual loyalties—“identity politics.”

The most calculated and systematic employment of racial politics was employed by the Hillary Clinton campaign in the Democratic primary to undercut the socialist-lite populist appeal of Bernie Sanders.

My personal disdain for the Clinton campaign was born on the day that John Lewis intoned “I never saw him” in order to dismiss the civil rights credentials of Bernie Sanders while announcing the Black Congressional Caucus endorsement of Hillary Clinton.  Bear in mind that during the 1960s, Sanders had affiliated his student group at the University of Chicago with Lewis’ SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; during the same era, Hillary Clinton was at Wellesley condemning “the snicks” for their excessively confrontational tactics.

Ah, politics.

To understand the significance of this event, one should read Fracture by the guru of woke Clintonism, Joy Reid.  Or read my piece on the subject.  Or simply understand that after Hillary Clinton lost Lewis’s endorsement, the black vote, and the southern Democratic primaries to Barack Obama in 2008, she was determined above all to secure and exploit monolithic black support in the primaries and, later on, the general in 2016.

So, in order to prevent Sanders from splitting the black vote to her disadvantage on ideological/class lines, Clinton played the race card.  Or, as we put it today when discussing the championing of historically disadvantaged a.k.a. non white male heterosexual groups, celebrated “identity politics”.

In the primary, this translated into an attack on Sanders and the apparently mythical “Bernie bro” as racist swine threatening the legacy of the first black president, venerated by the African American electorate, Barack Obama.

In the general, well, Donald Trump and his supporters provided acres more genuine grist for the identity warrior mill.

Trump’s populism draws its heat from American nativism, not “soak the rich” populism of the Sandernista stripe, and it was easily submerged in the “identity politics” narrative.

Trump’s ambitions to gain traction for a favorable American/populist/outsider narrative for his campaign have been frustrated by determined efforts to frame him as anti-Semitic, racist against blacks and Hispanics, sexist, and bigoted against the disabled—and ready to hold the door while Pepe the Frog feeds his opponents, including a large contingent of conservative and liberal Jewish journalists subjected to unimaginable invective by the Alt-Right-- into the ovens.

As an indication of the fungible & opportunistic character of the “identity politics” approach, as far as I can tell from a recent visit to a swing state, as the Clinton campaign pivoted to the general, the theme of Trump’s anti-black racism has been retired in favor of pushing his offenses against women and the disabled.  Perhaps this reflects the fact that Clinton has a well-advertised lock on the African-American vote and doesn’t need to cater to it; also, racism being what it is, playing the black card is not the best way to lure Republicans and indies to the Clinton camp.  

The high water mark of the Clinton African-American tilt was perhaps the abortive campaign to turn gun control into a referendum on the domination of Congress by white male conservatives.  It happened a few months ago, so who remembers?  But John Lewis led a sit-in occupation of the Senate floor in the wake of the Orlando shootings to highlight how America’s future was being held hostage to the whims of Trump-inclined white pols.  

That campaign pretty much went by the wayside (as did Black Lives Matter, a racial justice initiative partially funded by core Clinton backer George Soros; interesting, no?) as a) black nationalists started shooting policemen and b) Clinton kicked off a charm campaign to help wedge the black-wary GOP establishment away from Trump.

There is more to Clintonism, I think, than simply playing the “identity politics” card to screw Bernie Sanders or discombobulate the Trump campaign.  "Identity politics" is near the core of the Clintonian agenda as a bulwark against any class/populist upheaval that might threaten her brand of billionaire-friendly liberalism.

In my view, a key tell is Clinton’s enduring and grotesque loyalty to her family’s charitable foundation, an operation that in my opinion has no place on the resume of a public servant, as a font of prestige, conduit for influence, and model for billionaire-backed global engagement.  

By placing the focus of the campaign on identity politics and Trump’s actual and putative crimes against various identity groups, the Clinton campaign has successfully obscured what I consider to be its fundamental identity as a vehicle for neoliberal globalists keen to preserve and employ the United States as a welcoming environment and supreme vehicle for supra-sovereign business interests. 

Clintonism’s core identity is not, in other words, as a crusade for groups suffering from the legacy and future threat of oppression by Trump’s white male followers.  It is a full-court press to keep the wheels on the neoliberal sh*twagon as it careens down the road of globalization, and it recognizes the importance in American democracy of slicing and dicing the electorate by identity politics and co-opting useful demographics as the key to maintaining power.

In my view, the Trump and Clinton campaigns are both protofascist.

Trump has cornered the somewhat less entitled and increasingly threatened white ethnic group, some of whom are poised to make the jump to white nationalism with or without him.

Clinton has cornered the increasingly entitled and assertive global billionaire group, which adores the class-busting anti-socialist identity-based politics she practices.

But the bottom line is race.  

U.S. racism has stacked up 400 years of tinder that might take a few hundred more years, if ever, to burn off.  And until it does, every politician in the country is going to see his or her political future in flicking matches at it.

And that’s what we’re seeing in the current campaign.

A lot.

Not fascism.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Bangladesh: How the East Was Lost

My current piece at Asia Times, Is Balochistan Today's Bangladesh?, looks at the 1971 establishment of Bangladesh in context of Balochi independence advocates’ imploring Modi to do Balochistan a solid like Indira Gandhi did for East Pakistan.

Here’s a video of an independence advocate ringing the bell on Indian TV:

Long story short, there aren’t a lot of useful parallels between East Pakistan and Balochistan.  But that’s not going to stop Modi from messing with Pakistan in Balochistan if he really wants to.  For that matter, Pakistan has learned a few tricks since 1971 and I expect that things will not go well for Balochis, already enduring a nasty security operation cum occupation and demographic attack at the hands of Islamabad.

The important takeaway, I think, is don’t assume the PRC will stand idly by just because that’s what happened in the case of Bangladesh.  This proposition is becoming something of a perennial among India’s China hawks, along the lines of “Pakistan is so f’ed up, China will just sit back and let India fix it”.  

I think this is moonshine.

The PRC, I expect, is not a starry-eyed lover of Pakistan and sees problems with the terrorism-sponsoring sh*tshow at the core of Pakistan’s security policy.  I also expect ISI probably also discretely brandishes the threat of unleashing the local Islamists—who are viscerally anti-PRC thanks to the Chinese role in the storming of the Lal Masjid Mosque that birthed the TTP--to engage in anti-China mischief if circumstances dictate.

But the PRC has levers to use on Pakistan as a major economic & security interlocutor.  It has about zero levers to use on India.  

The PRC simply does not have enough love for India—a strategic competitor edging towards a de facto alliance with the United States and nibbling away at the PRC’s position in Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and the SCS—to cede the Muslim reaches of South Asia including Afghanistan as India’s sphere of influence and trust that India’s going to do a better and more enthusiastic job of suppressing Islamist militancy that threatens Xinjiang and the path of the OBOR through the stans than Pakistan.

So, all things being equal, a dysfunctional but allied Pakistan is a safer home for China’s AfPak portfolio than an adversarial India.

I don’t think the hawks seriously believe what they’re selling themselves.  But it’s a talking point to enable another turn of the escalatory crank against Pakistan by saying, Don’t worry about China.   We’ll be fine!

As for Bangladesh, like many Americans I daresay, my main exposure is via the George Harrison song.  Here it is!

But the loss of the East is a core issue of Pakistan identity and anxiety and now, thanks to Modi putting Balochistan into play, something that should perhaps be understood more fully as a precedent, a warning, and perhaps a good predictor of how South Asia and the world could blow up if and when the PRC and India come to blows over the issue of Pakistan’s territorial integrity and, indeed, its survival.

Perhaps the most significant takeaway is that early on in the crisis the elites of West Pakistan had perforce written off East Pakistan because of its distance and vulnerability, and because it was understood that the PRC would not intervene militarily to force Indian restraint.

The failure of Pakistan in the matter of East Pakistan a.k.a. Bangladesh in 1971 was complete and on many levels, and obscured by the desire of all actors, winners as well as losers, to dodge implication in the bloodiest aspects of the debacle.  I try to sort out the strands in this lengthy piece.

In particular, I propose that Pakistan’s plans for suppression of rebellion in the East may have involved a crime against humanity: an attempt to ethnically cleanse East Pakistan of Hindus in 1971.

I go into the strategic, geostrategic, political, and economic dead ends that Pakistan wandered into during the year that it tried to prevent the separation of East Pakistan.

Unsurprisingly, a disaster this total has spawned a conspiracy theory: that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto connived at the loss of East Pakistan so he could be ascendant in the West.  There’s something to it. 

Bhutto had little incentive to work for Pakistani unity and stood to benefit if the East was lost.  It looks he gave the tottering edifice of Pakistani rule a helpful push in a crucial meeting at his family hunting lodge in Larkana.

Once that was done, Bhutto didn’t have to do a lot except get out of the way and make sure he profited from the aftermath.

For background, in 1970, Pakistan was separated into East and West Wings.  The East Wing, today’s Bangladesh, was more populous and had a burgeoning localist movement.  In order to transition from military to civilian rule, the President, General Yahya Khan, set elections for December 1970. 
 Bhutto’s PPP did well in the West but not as well as the Awami League, under autonomy/independence minded Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the East.

If the electoral outcome was respected, the Awami League would control the national legislature, select the Prime Minister, and had the votes to impose its vision of autonomy on the nation.  

After several months of negotiations, General Yahya decided Awami League demands were unacceptable and ordered a military crackdown in the East.  India intervened, Pakistan was defeated, and by the end of 1971 East Pakistan was gone and Bangladesh had been born…and Bhutto had attained absolute power as President and Martial Law Administrator in the West.

The complete piece is below the fold.  It's in four parts:

Strategy: Hindu Genocide

Geostrategy: The China Non-Factor

Politics: The Larkana Conspiracy

Economics: The Ahmed Plan…or, What’s Jute Got to Do with It?