Even worse, for the committedly anti-committal majority, which seems to include the President himself, the proposal of minimal means is burdened not only by threateningly maximal moral and historical justification, but by multiple additional independently intimidating justifications, each seemingly more disqualifyingly persuasive than the last.
The President has put before Congress a vote on the international system in its America-centric or Neo-Imperial form, with his office, as it has developed, and the norm against mass annihilation of people, as interdependent critical features of that system, subject to simultaneous yay or nay.
According to Ulfelder’s logic – which is not at base much different from the traditional and time-honored understanding of human nature – a definitive change in calculations in favor of escalating future mass atrocities is precisely what must occur if his preferred policy is adopted.
The Republican neo-imperialists believe that the empire needs to be more aggressively defended and wherever possible expanded. The Democratic neo-imperialists believe that the empire needs mainly to be secured, or, if expanded, expanded via collaboration. The citizenry appears somewhat agnostic or passive on the main questions, except when unsettled by events suggestive of a possible un-managed and abrupt rollback that would also entail a downward adjustment in consumption and other disruptions of accustomed expectations – a possibility or set of possibilities that few outside the neo-imperial mainstream seem equipped to analyze concretely.
…a residue or by-product of the same (world-)historical process realized as a nearly entirely dysfunctional passive aggressive national government care-taking the affairs of the passive aggressive polity that it passive-aggressively reflects, represents, and embodies, and that it is expected to preserve and to protect.
If progressives believe, or know whether they believe, that exceptional measures were justifiable, but went wrong, then an entirely different replacement regime and set of reforms might make sense than if they believe common rhetoric about rule of law mattering more than all other concerns, whatever the costs or risks. On the other hand, if they believe the War on Terror was in fact a self-obviating success, then they might wish to replace the AUMF with a new legal and administrative regime that acknowledges and learns from authentic successes – successful warmaking against a real and legitimate, not simply ideologically constructed enemy – as well as from errors.
So, yes, a larger number of people died, and many more were injured, and a lot of time and money was wasted protecting a fighting retreat, because the political-military risks of an attempted immediate retreat – both within Afghanistan and far beyond, and for many years – were unacceptable, just as the decision for it, given the real existing correlation of political interests and forces in 2009, was actually impossible. Instead, the Afghan Surge worked – politically. Politically, it was a tremendous success. Militarily, it never had very good prospects, but its narrowly military-political failure – its inability to transform Afghanistan into Japan at bargain prices – has the further benefit of removing further illusions about what is and isn’t possible even for the best data-driven school-building expeditionary killing machine the world has ever seen.
The Libya decision will be revealed, predictably, to have been a very American decision – instrumentalizing military force on behalf of political-economic popular sovereignty (i.e., “freedom”) against a vulnerable tyranny, in cooperation with allies, with “respect for the opinions of mankind.” It entailed risks and real human costs while shifting them from one group to another – as would every other decision. It may even have been the “wrong” decision from other perspectives. If so, that conclusion would not necessarily imply that there was a simply “right” or “better” decision to be made, or that the American president can be asked or expected to give every or any other perspective higher or equal priority.
Regardless of where we come down in the end on the wisdom and justifiability of the administration’s war policies, criticism that does not take the full debate and its real subject into consideration, that merely repeats what we already know – that war is awful and morally, culturally, and politically deforming; that it exceeds the terms of normal, lawful policy; that it makes us act like “barbarians” all on the way to Hell – does not deserve to be and likely will not be taken seriously.
The Roosevelt-Marshall welfare-warfare state and the global regime it fought and worked into existence remain intact but under pressure. They still depend on an ability to project beyond themselves, both economically as well as militarily, and both morally as well as practically.
The plural-realist or perspectivist thought (or anti-thought) can never be understood as generally valid except by reference to a standard that would govern the truth and consistency of all such assertions. This problem has always stood in the way of taking the "post-modernist insight" seriously: If it means what it is meant to mean, then it is at best provisional, and otherwise meaningless.
The President's summary of his policy on the Islamic State or on "the group known as ISIL" was not elegantly enunciated: "To degrade and ultimately destroy" is a compound infinitive phrase that is pitched to the demotic or colloquial in ways that contribute to misinterpretation and distortion.
The infinitive "to degrade," a somewhat esoteric military term of art roughly inserted into public discourse some years ago, is meant to refer us immediately to an enemy's capabilities, which are to be brought to a lower level, but the second and more common connotation of "degrade" is quietly also conveyed, perhaps somewhat intentionally if not entirely consciously: to humiliate, to render an object of spite. ((To complete the linguistic circuit from the high to the low, we can observe that in the language of the street, or perhaps the language of the President's "anger translator," to degrade IS is to fuck IS up, to chingar IS, or perhaps to smash IS, like a bug.)) Regarding the phrase in its entirety, the absence of pauses (which could be indicated by commas) and the omission of the second particle "to" run the two parts of the President's program together, and encourage his critics to indulge their impatience or polemical convenience, to drop the qualifying adverb "ultimately" altogether or to treat it as an intensifier, and, as events unfold, to expound on each day's, week's, or month's necessarily mixed results as somehow contradicting a solemn promise or revealing a strategy already "in ruins" or "in full-scale... meltdown," or suffering from a fatal mismatch of minimal means and maximal ends, or, also premature if less dramatic, simply "not working."
"To degrade and, ultimately, to destroy" might have been more difficult to misinterpret, since a more careful phrasing would clearly designate and distinguish two phases of a long-term strategy. As offered and initially implemented, if not as articulated or heard or unconscientiously translated, the strategy seems to mean "at first primarily to contain, but actively to contain in such a way, specifically by reduction of capacities and potentials, as to expose the targeted entity to destruction." Indeed, the two-part program does not exclude - or perhaps can be taken to imply - a policy shaped to the nature of a presumed ultimately self-destructive phenomenon.
TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.
For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.
The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.
Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.
[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.