On January 23, 1976, one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century died a nearly forgotten man in self-imposed seclusion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Over the last three decades or so, you rarely, if ever, hear his name mentioned in the popular media. Once every few years, you might hear someone on PBS or C-Span remember him fondly and explain as to why he was one of the more important figures of the past century. In many respects, he had as much moral authority as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks; he was as politically active as Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, John Lewis, and Randall Robinson; and, as befits many men and women motivated by moral considerations, he conducted himself with great dignity. For much of his life, not surprisingly and not unlike many of his worthy successors, he was marginalized and shunned by the political establishment of his time — until events validated their ‘radical’ beliefs and resurrected their reputations.
Throughout his life, few principled men of his caliber paid as high a price and for as long a period as he did for his political beliefs.
Writing in 1945 in his remarkable essay Notes on Nationalism, author George Orwell noted the following distinction between patriotism and nationalism
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
If you’ve ever seen the movie The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, based on John le Carré’s famous spy thriller novel, you’ll remember the movie’s central character. Played by Richard Burton, Alec Leamas is a British spy coaxed out of retirement.
What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not! They’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me: drunkards, queers, hen-pecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives. Do you think they sit like monks in a cell, balancing right against wrong?
Even as his cynicism and self-loathing comes through quite clearly, notice the explicit references to political ideology by Leamas – something so evident in movies and literature during the several decades of the East-West Cold War.
SCOTT: Well, it certainly informs the vision of people around him. It was the neocon vision for the world. Brzezinski was certainly not a neocon, but on this point he sounds very much like them. You know, when [Paul] Wolfowitz and [Lewis “Scooter”] Libby were working for Cheney, when Cheney was secretary of defense back in 1992, they came up with this defense planning guidance draft which was later disowned, but it was the same thing, that we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role. And then there was a JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] strategic document, Joint Vision 2020, which for all I know is still in force, calling for “full spectrum dominance.” And this is a quote from the document: full spectrum dominance means the ability of US forces operating alone or with our allies to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations. I mean, this talk is just insane, but it is the language of geopolitics, and I think it’s the language that people learn in military schools. And that’s why it’s wrong to think it was just neocons. I’ve written something very recently and I’d like to quote it: all thought is socially conditioned, and at the center of large, highly developed societies, all bureaucratic thought is bureaucratically conditioned. But at the heart of dominant societies, this bureaucratic thinking slowly acquires the features of a dominance mindset, and those conditioned by this mindset come to participate in what I call the war machine. We saw it in Britain. And ironically, you know, when Britain started talking about global dominance, it was Sir Halford Mackinder, and the year was 1919, when Britain was already, after World War I, destined to no longer play the role that it played before. It’s a way, I think, of trying to keep the morale up. And I think that Brzezinski, when he wrote that book in 1997, he was worried that America would not be interested in playing the dominance role. And he, of course, is by background a Pole, for whom the great enemy in the world was Russia. And so he was trying to cheer America on to do things which it’s not capable of doing. His metaphor is The Grand Chessboard, which is, of course, a zero-sum model for world politics. The good sense of geopolitics is the way it’s been talked about by, say, Kissinger, when he says it’s seeking a mode of equilibrium in the world. And that, I think, is [inaudible] I think a better model than a chessboard for the world would be a canoe, an overloaded canoe with some very heavy players and it, and the art of geopolitics is to learn not to capsize the canoe.
JAY: And when you look at President Obama’s own statements during the election campaign when asked about foreign policy, he always rooted himself very clearly in what he said was the tradition of American pragmatic foreign policy, starting with Truman. He even included George Bush senior, Reagan. He never differentiated himself fundamentally, other than with George Bush junior. But the idea, even his opposition to the war in Iraq, had to do with that it was a stupid war that would weaken America’s ability to project power. So if you look at, in terms of Latin America, Afghanistan, his relationship with Russia, in terms of this either change of mindset or traditional, dominant theory of dominance, where do you put him after one year?
SCOTT: Well, as long as he’s trying to look forward to a second term, he’s going to fit into Washington. And I watched Brzezinski’s interview with you-a very good interview, I thought-and I can see how Brzezinski repeatedly said that he’s now no longer inside the system; he’s an outside adviser and remote from the way power decisions are made. I think that’s true. That allows him to be much wiser than he was when he wrote his book or when he had his famous interview with Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998. He is a wise man now, and almost by definition that means he doesn’t have as much influence. The wise are not the people who prevail in Washington. So that Obama, now that he’s at the heart of things, he’s got to live with his joint chiefs, he’s got to live with his Democratic Party. I mean, a lot of us like to think that democracy is the answer, but if we mean by democracy the two-party system that we have, the two-party system is very definitely part of the problem, because he is going to get attacked. If he does anything to pull back from Afghanistan, if he does anything that looks like he’s knuckling under to those outside forces there, he will be jumped on by members of both parties, who are, of course, all elected with the same money from the same big donors. We used to emphasize how the big donors came from the military-industrial complex, but we have to add to that now, having seen what’s happened in the last couple of years, they’ve come also from Wall Street and the big banks. They’re all part of the same -.
Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, is a poet, writer, and researcher. His most recent books are Drugs, Oil, and War (2005), The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (2007), The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11 and the Deep Politics of War (2008) and Mosaic Orpheus (poetry, 2009).
This is part one of an interview in which Scott talks with Paul Jay of The Real News Network about the corrupted mindset in Washington that chooses who becomes president, and about the war machine that co-opted Obama into his escalation of a drug-corrupted war and is not just a bureaucratic cabal inside Washington, but rather is solidly grounded in and supported by a wide coalition of forces in society, and about the need for a new kind of American foreign policy.
SCOTT: I think I have talked about the deep state. I prefer now just to talk about deep politics, that there are things which we just don’t face in our society, things we’re not willing to talk about. With respect to Afghanistan, one of the things that we don’t want to face and talk about is the presence of drug trafficking in the plans of the CIA for controlling remote areas of this world. And when you have a number of facts which are not being talked about, our politics becomes more and more like an iceberg, in which the visible part, the public politics, or, if you like, what goes on in the public state, is only a small percentage of the totality of what’s going on, a lot of this is not subject to the restraints of the Constitution at all. And that’s the part that I call deep politics. The phrase “deep state” is a bit dangerous, ’cause it might make people think that there’s a secret Pentagon and a secret White House, it’s nothing like that. It’s more this matter of the mindset that I’m talking about.
JAY: When you described the war machine, you use the words “drug-corrupted war machine,” and everyone knows that Afghanistan is now the manufacturer of the majority of the world’s heroin, but it doesn’t ever get talked about as a policy issue or as an underlying driving force in this struggle for all sides. So talk about this.
SCOTT: Well, I would say, actually, it has become talked about in the last year, with the beginning of Obama’s campaign. You know, when Bush first went in in 2001, they had a list of the main refineries, and they were never touched, because America’s coalition for developing local support in Afghanistan was made up very largely of warlords who were involved in the drug traffic. Our principal ally was going to be [Ahmad Shah] Massoud, and there was a big debate in Washington, before we went into Afghanistan, whether to make him an ally or not, because they knew he was involved in the drug traffic. Well, he was in fact assassinated, just a day or two before 9/11. But the Northern Alliance, which was the only faction in Afghanistan in that year that was growing poppy, they were our allies. And if you look at almost any newspaper story about drugs in Afghanistan, it’s going to be talking about the Taliban. But the Taliban are getting at most about a tenth of the revenues that are being raised by opium and heroin in Afghanistan, and the vast majority of it is going to the big warlords who essentially make up, to this day, the coalition that are supporting [Hamid] Karzai in Kabul.
Lately it’s become apparent to some of us that if one desires to see one’s diary reach the rec list, one’s chances are greatly improved if the title includes a hint of conversion to Obamaism, a pillorying of Hillary, or the old stand-by, BREAKING!!! Now, by nature, historioranters don’t get to shout “breaking” all that often, but since you all seem to have abandoned Mike Gravel, and have said everything that could possibly be said about Barrackemiah and/or Billary, I’m left with little choice but to pander like Senator Clinton at a Great Silent Majority rally.
So join me, if you will, just outside the Cave of the Moonbat, where tonight we’ll be scanning the skies, on the lookout for a school-bus-sized piece of space junk that NASA tells us (well, told us – the subject of this story broke literally and figuratively between 1973 and 1979) could crash/land almost anywhere on Earth. Perhaps in our observations, we’ll even get a glimpse of that rarest of celestial phenomena: A presidential candidate with a viable, workable, ambitious space policy.