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John Bolton – Our very own Dr. Strangelove

by Lawrence Davidson, 3/22/18

Donald Trump has finally given John Bolton (a man who apparently believes that war is the answer to all foreign policy problems) a job. Bolton wanted a good job with this administration right from the start but Trump resisted because he didn’t like JB’s mustache (that is not a joke). Obviously, the president has shed that bias. To mark this audacious appointment of a real life “Dr. Strangelove” to high office, I offer a repost of my November 2015 analysis, “John Bolton’s Love of Bombs.”

John Bolton’s Love of Bombs – An Analysis (31 November 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – 1968: “No Innocent Civilians”

The year was 1968. I had just earned a master’s degree in history at Georgetown University, where I had also helped found the university’s chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Unfortunately, there was no time to celebrate, because within days of getting the degree I was on U.S. Army bus, along with about 30 others, heading from Washington, D.C. to Fort Holabird in Baltimore. At that time there was a military draft induction center there, and according to my low draft lottery number, my time had come.

At Holabird we piled into a classroom-like setting and were given a lecture by a rather over-muscled middle-aged sergeant with buzz haircut. He told us (I am paraphrasing from memory here) that “the Vietnam war was absolutely necessary. If the commies got their way the domino effect would see all of Southeast Asia go Red. There was no way you could negotiate with Hanoi and so it was time to increase the intensity of bombing over North Vietnam.” I remember that he ended by telling us that “there were no innocent civilians in Vietnam – when they call their soldiers part of a people’s army, they mean it.” Only later did I realize he was extrapolating on the position laid out by the infamous General Curtis “Bomb Them Back to the Stone Age” Lemay. When the sergeant had talked himself out, he began distributing the written intelligence and aptitude tests that were part of the pre-induction process. As he was doing so he asked if there were any questions. I was the only one who raised his hand.

You have to keep in mind that I was 23 years old, a radical, and not afraid of authority figures. So I asked him, “Why should any of us here believe a word you say about this war when all you have given us are opinions standing in for facts?” He looked at me in a murderous way and said. “What is it about these forms that you don’t understand?” A good number of the boys (I was the oldest among the prospective inductees) in the room laughed – at me. What the heck can you expect from cannon fodder.

I eventually beat the draft and forgot about the above incident. That is, until I read John Bolton’s 26 March 2015 op-ed “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran” in the New York Times (NYT).

Part II – 2015: Bolton’s Bombs

John Bolton is a neoconservative veteran of the George W. Bush era. His claims to fame, besides a real talent for temper tantrums, include serving as President Bush’s Under Secretary of State for Arms Control. In this capacity he undercut international efforts to limit such things as biological weapons. He also served as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. It would appear he was chosen for this post mainly because he despised the UN. Under George W. Bush the times were truly Orwellian. Finally – and this is what took me back to 1968 – Bolton’s op-ed demonstrated that he can’t tell the difference between his own opinion and fact.

Let’s analyse Bolton’s NYT op-ed:

First, Bolton is absolutely convinced that Iran will produce nuclear weapons. How does he know? Because “Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident.” To firm up his case he misleadingly tells us that “the president’s own director of National Intelligence [James Clapper] testified in 2014 that they [economic sanctions] had not stopped Iran’s progressing its nuclear program.” Yes, the quote is accurate, but Mr. Bolton’s use of it is not. As intelligence agencies, including those under Clapper, attest, the nuclear program Iran has been working on since 2003 is not a weapons program. Rather, it is one aimed at the production of energy and nuclear medical capabilities. Again, it should be emphasized that it is the consensus of all U.S. intelligence agencies, dating from 2011, and not 2007 as Bolton asserts, that there is no evidence that Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons. Today there is no evidence that would cause a change of view.

However, Mr. Bolton is so obsessed with bombs that, in the case of Iran, there is no difference between any sort of nuclear program and a weapons program. And, he obviously feels his opinion is more “true” than the estimates of professional intelligence agencies. It is a blindspot he shares with the Republican Party and other certain political leaders, such as Benjamin Netanyahu. Of course, it is exactly to ensure that Iran’s “progress” stays focused on non-weapon use of nuclear power that the present negotiations between the P5 + 1 and Iran are directed. But Bolton will never be satisfied. He “knows” the Iranians are out for weapons. Maybe he is psychic.

Second, Bolton claims that taking the negotiation or diplomatic path with Iran has triggered a nuclear arms race in the region. How does he know this? The Saudis tell him so. The governing oligarchy in Riyadh has already said that if the Shiite Iranians are building the bomb, they want nuclear weapons too. Like Bolton, the Saudis equate know-how with production. So Bolton tells us that we can expect the Saudis to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan – and it is all Iran’s fault. Hold on! Why shouldn’t it be Israel’s fault? Israel was the first country in the Middle East to actually build and stockpile nuclear weapons. In Bolton’s mind, apparently, that’s different. Bolton tells us “other states in the region understood … that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure. Iran is a different story.” This is a proposition for which Bolton offers no proof. Given Israel’s continuous history of aggressive expansion, just what is the Israeli stockpile deterring? After all, holding a nuclear weapon over other people’s heads while you conquer Arab land seems a very offensive use of “deterrence.” And sure “Iran is different story.” It doesn’t even own a nuclear weapon, much less a stockpile.

Third, John Bolton has an answer for all of this. Being a neoconservative who cut his teeth on undermining arms control, the answer is that “only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor … can accomplish what is required.” He goes on to detail the targets and the ultimate goal of his proposed aggression: “Rendering inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations and the Arak heavy-water production facility and reactor would be priorities. So, too, would be the little-noticed but critical uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan. …The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

What this scenario actually proves is that Mr. Bolton has little capacity to think his schemes through. By his own admission such a bombing adventure would only “set back its [Iran’s] program three to five years,” meanwhile killing thousands, making a dangerous enemy of Iran for years to come and, last but not least, risking a war in the Persian Gulf that would seriously disrupt the world’s flow of oil. And let’s not forget that such an attack would, at the very least, disrupt Iran’s fight against ISIS, which is supporting an important U.S. interest.

As for Israel, Bolton is exaggerating. The Zionist state does not have the capacity to “do what’s necessary.” The distance between the two countries is prohibitive, and even if Israeli warplanes could get to Iran and back (say by refueling in, of all places, Saudi Arabia), the operation would take multiple sorties, during which the Israel stands to lose a good number of planes and pilots. In fact Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to prepare the Israeli air force for an attack on Iran only to have his own military officers strongly object.

Part III – Sloppy Thinking

John Bolton’s op-ed to the New York Times is just a mess – a dangerous flight of fancy based on skewed opinions rather than hard evidence and facts. In what must have been a very weak moment while writing this piece, he actually admits that there is a “lack of palpable evidence” for his case. He then moves right ahead as if the absence of evidence and facts just do not matter.

And what are the facts? Well, the Iranians do have a certain level of nuclear know-how which has been turned toward energy production and medical use. They do not have a nuclear bomb and have repeatedly said they don’t want a nuclear bomb. They have stated that they have religious objections to moving in that direction and know that the use of such a weapon would be a suicidal act. Western governments, pressured by Zionist and other special interests, have decided that the Iranians are not trustworthy, and so draconian economic sanctions have been implemented. Now, negotiations to put in place mechanisms to ensure that the Iranians stay true to their word appear near completion.

However, just like that hard-nosed sergeant back in 1968, Bolton dismisses negotiations. Like the analytically deficient noncom at the induction center, he is much more comfortable with death and destruction. And indeed, given Bolton’s influence on the right, his public advocacy of a nuclear attack on Iran in 2009, and his having become a foreign policy advisor for presidential candidate Ted Cruz, he might be judged the most dangerous man in the U.S. – if it wasn’t for the fact that he has so much competition: all those Republican leaders in Congress beating their breasts and swearing that they are going to destroy the president’s one positive effort to make the world safer; the sharks at AIPAC who are determined, for the sake of Israel, to make war on Iran right down to the last American soldier; and untold millions of Christian Zionists who see any conflagration in the Middle East as a good thing because it brings closer the annihilation for which they positively yearn.

What is the New York Times doing publishing this nonsense? It seems to me when you accept a piece for an op-ed page it should be recognized as having been thought through and demonstrating some relation to reality. And, you should certainly make sure that it does not represent, as Robert Parry put it, an “incitement to murder and violation of international law.” I guess the NYT editors disagree.

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Massacre in Las Vegas

from Lawrence Davidson, To the Point Analyses, 10/2/17

On the occasion of the latest episode of mass murder, I would like to redistribute an essay I wrote in July of 2012 – after yet a different shooting. Please note that I see no reason to change the title of the essay. LD

An American Motto: Free, Armed and Stupid – An Analysis (22 July 2012) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Gun Violence Epidemic Continues

Well here we go again. Late in the evening of July 20th “a masked gunman entered a Colorado movie theater playing the new Batman movie and “opened fire…killing at least 12 people and wounding 50.” [To this we can now add the December 14th massacre of 20 young children and 6 adults by twenty year-old gunman in Newtown Conn.] The gunman was not a large anthropomorphized bat but rather a young white male, and he “was armed with a rifle, a shotgun and two handguns” all of which he had legally obtained.

This is nothing new in the Land Of The Free. Among the more notable victims of the nation’s love affair with deadly weapons have been Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan and, of course, John Lennon. Then there are the recent (and periodically on-going) mass murders among the population at large: the Colombine High School shootings, the Beltway sniper incidents, the Virginia Tech massacre, and the 2011 Tucson killings. To this can be added the daily shootings that occur in every city in the country. Taking the representative year 2007, there were 31,224 deaths from gunshots with 17,352 of them (56%) being suicides. The numbers have, generally, been going up.

Part II – The Gun Advocates’ Excuses

Those who stand against tightening up the nation’s presently useless gun laws have a variety of arguments most of which are in good part delusional. Thus:

1. EXCUSE NUMBER ONE – Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

a. It is certainly true that while sitting on a shelf, locked in a draw, or carried in a holster, guns are inert pieces of machinery and, ultimately, it takes a finger to pull the trigger. Yet this fact is actually irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because guns are not manufactured to stay on shelves, in draws or holsters. That inert status has nothing to do with why they exist. So, we can go on and ask,

b. Why are guns manufactured? Why do they exist? Primitive firearms were invented in China sometime in the 12thcentury. They were invented to be used in warfare, that is to kill and injure other people. As the technology spread Westward, first into the Arab lands and then to Europe, it was improved, but the raison d’etre (its reason for being), to kill and injure others. stayed the same. The only thing that has changed over time is that in certain lands, particularly the U.S., a monopoly on the possession of such weapons ceased to be held by the state and guns diffused into the population as a whole.

In the United States, this process of diffusion was allowed based on a peculiar interpretation of Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment says that the right of the citizens to bear arms shall not be infringed. But that statement forms a dependent clause in a sentence that links the right to bear arms to the maintenance of “a well regulated militia.” Apart from the National Guard, the modern U.S. does not maintain militias. And, most of the membership of the National Rifle Association (NRA), along with the other gun-toting tough guys walking the streets of (particularly) the mid and southern U.S., don’t even belong to National Guard.

c. The hard truth is that guns were originally invented, and still today are primarily made, to shoot people. Their other uses: in hunting, to shoot holes in paper targets, to blast clay projectiles out of the air for fun, are strictly secondary to their primary purpose.

d. So the argument that guns don’t kill people is a-historical and something of a red herring. Guns are essentially our partners, intimate accessories if you will, in what is most often criminal activity, facilitating the efficiency of acts of homicide, assault and suicide. At the rate we pursue these activities, we just couldn’t maintain the modern level of mayhem without them.

2. EXCUSE NUMBER TWO – Guns are most often used for self-defense.

a. If you go on the web, you can find surveys that allege the use of guns for self-defense numbering in the millions of episodes per year. However, these surveys are often carried out by biased organizations and are methodologically flawed. They have therefore been demonstrated to be unreliable.

b. More reliable studies, conducted by unbiased sources have shown, among other things, that: very few criminals are shot by law-abiding citizens; most criminals are shot either by the police, or by other criminals; and firearms reported to have been used in self-defense are, most of the time, used against members of a family or erstwhile friends during arguments.

Along the same lines, the statement concerning the Colorado theater massacre issued by Luke O’Dell, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners association, reflected the misconception that the answer to gun violence is more guns: “Potentially, if there had been a law-abiding citizen who had been able to carry [a gun] in the theater [in Colorado], it’s possible that the death toll would have been less.” One might more plausibly argue that if the shooter had not been able to procure a rifle, a shotgun and two handguns “to carry” into the theater, the death toll would have been zero.

Part III – The Problem of Lobby Power

It seems not to matter how many times these massacres take place. Nothing is likely to change. Here is what an article entitled “Still Little Interest In U.S. Gun Control” in the Philadelphia Inquirer of 22 July 2012 had to say, “Despite periodic mass shootings…the political calculus seems locked down. Most Republicans adamantly oppose tighter gun controls, and most Democrats would prefer to focus on other issues.” Why so? The reason has to do with a very flawed aspect of our political system. Ours is a system that allows a relatively small number of citizens (in this case gun zealots) to form a special interest, or lobby group, that raises and distributes great amounts of money nationwide and, in some parts of the country, exercises strong voting influence. These lobbies can hold crazy ideas that demonstrably harm society and make us look like an insane nation to the rest of the world, but that doesn’t matter either. The politicians will positively respond anyway to get money and electoral support. In this sense, we live in a land devoid of “national interest.” There is only the interest of lobby groups and the politicians controlled by them.

Nor is this situation unique to the problem of the nation’s gun laws and the power of the NRA. If we look at foreign policy, we see that similar lobbies skew policy with disastrous results. The Zionist lobby has the entire U.S. government head over heels in support of the basically racist state of Israel. And, this position does demonstrable harm to our standing throughout the Middle East and Muslim world. It’s crazy, but it has been going on for at least 65 years. The Cuban lobby of anti-Castro fanatics has intimidated Washington to blockade, sanction and otherwise isolate Cuba even though the rest of the world is content to trade and have normal relations with the island nation. Our politicians say they take this stand because the Cuban government is a communist dictatorship. So what? Do we have normal relations with China? Do we trade with Vietnam? They are obviously being less than truthful. They take the stand because they are bought and bullied by a bunch of well organized, well funded, fanatics. The whole thing is crazy and has been going on since 1960.

Part IV – Conclusion

There is simply something wrong with our political system. Too few people can command too much power in the name of relatively small minority groups. We need campaign finance reform and much more transparency when it comes to the operations of special interests. We need shorter electoral periods and limits on how much it can cost to run for any office. We need honest and open regional and national debates on both domestic and foreign policies that affect large numbers of our citizens (whether those citizens know it or not).

And, last but not least, we need a rational rethinking of what the word “freedom” means.

– Does “freedom” mean that just about anyone is free to carry weapons that potentially put the rest of us in danger? Free to carry weapons that are most often going to be used to shoot off the carrier’s foot, or shoot someone he or she imagines is acting abnormally, or shoot a family member in a heated argument, or, in a fit of depression, to blow one’s own brains out? Does it mean that people are free to carry weapons that they may decide to use in an act of mass murder?

– Does “freedom” mean that if you have a lot of money you can use it to corrupt the nation’s politicians so that they distort the positions and policies of government to such a degree that they cease to have any connection to common sense definitions of community or national interest?

The answer is yes. That, in good part, is actually what freedom means in the U.S. And these stupid definitions of “freedom” are slowly but surely undermining the body politic. There are no super heroes out there to save us: no Superman, no Batman, no Catwoman, and the like. There is just us. And if we don’t find a way to, in essence, work our way free of the pseudo “freedoms” that are ruining our political system, no one else will. Things will simply get worse.

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Labor Day 2017 – An Analysis (6 September 2017)

by Lawrence Davidson, To the Point Analyses

Part I – Job Satisfaction at the Heart of Capitalism

We have just celebrated Labor Day weekend (September 2, 3, 4) in the United States, the very heartland of capitalism. Apropos of the holiday, I happened to have run across a July 2016 survey with the original paradoxical title, “Job Satisfaction Hits a 10-Year High – But It’s Still Below 50%.” What the survey reports is that “just under half (49.6%) of U.S. workers surveyed reported they are satisfied with their jobs.” These are workers in “traditional jobs,” which are typically eight-hour-a-day employment at conventional job sites. The report then compares this “just under half” rate to the reported job satisfaction of “independent” workers – those self-employed or working in an autonomous or semi-autonomous way. The reported satisfaction level of these “independent” workers was 65%.

The first number is downright depressing and the second is not very impressive. Also, consider what the report attributed the improvement (compared to say, 40% satisfaction in 2010 for traditional jobs) of the low satisfaction numbers to: “a decline in layoffs, stronger wage growth and expanding job opportunities [expanding labor market].” None of these factors addresses what ought to be one of the major, and obvious, goals of work – the fulfillment, as far as possible, of individual human potential. Or, to state it another way, providing avenues for the individual to “be all he or she can be.”…

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A Culture War Against Tolerance – An Analysis

By Lawrence Davidson, To the Point Analyses, 7/16/17

Part I – Tolerance Amid Growing Intolerance

In case you haven’t noticed, the United States is a country deeply divided on a large number of basic issues: racial issues, gender issues, issues of sexual preference, the role of government in society, the role of religious views in shaping laws, and so on. Influential Institutions, such as media outlets, are being labeled as “left” or “right” depending on how they report or relate on these issues. Battles now rage on these topics in the halls of Congress. Finally, the Supreme Court’s legal decisions on cases that reflect these questions have been trending toward the “conservative” end of the spectrum. All of this makes it quite difficult to have a meaningful discussion or debate about such issues in the public realm. Such attempts have often led to further divisiveness instead of reconciliation – reflecting what some might describe as an ongoing culture war.

The one place where thoughtful debates are usually encouraged is on the university and colleges campuses. This is particularly so in the “humanities” and “social sciences” classrooms, where you find courses in history, English, foreign languages, sociology, anthropology, political science and the like. Such areas of study draw on diverse source material and examples. And so, running against the popular grain, so to speak, divisive issues often become legitimate aspects of study.

This process of study and discussion concerning controversial topics has been going on on U.S. campuses at least since the end of World War II. By the 1970s clear preferences as to how these issues should be thought about appeared. And, they consistently agreed with a tolerant stand that maximized the virtues of equality and social justice….

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