Douglas MacArthur’s Ghost and the Bolton Democrats

 

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Image via the BBC

Today was a big day in diplomacy over there in Singapore. Trump met Kim and their advisers met each other. America has apparently committed to ending joint military exercises with South Korea (for now) and North Korea has started demolishing its weapons testing sites, though only a few so far.

The almost nonexistent relationship between the US and the DPRK is an artifact of the Cold War. One that became obsolete from an ideological point of view in 1992 but has lingered on anyway. This is, of course, because it (much like the Cold War itself in my opinion) was not primarily ideological but rather a contest of rival power poles and alliance networks. In reality, North Korea has remained an issue because it fears the United States and encirclement from their allies but also fears that this unenviable and de facto blockaded position on the world stage would force it to become so subordinate to their giant ally China that their sovereignty might also be indirectly compromised from that direction.  If you wondered why a government is so clamped down and beholden in all factors to security concerns this is why. China wants a compliant vassal state protecting its only land border with a US rival, South Korea and the US want to keep affirming their alliance, and Japan wants to stop being used as a testing ground for North Korean weapons demonstrations. North Korea, for all its oddness, really just wants to survive and avoid any kind of regime change operation, be it conducted from their south or, perhaps more indirectly, from their north. When it comes to security actions and goals abroad, Pyongyang is one of the most rational actors around today.

So why is there so much moaning that we are even talking to them directly now?

I have no interest in predicting whether these current talks will be successful or not. Trump is far too mercurial and there will be many established interests in many different countries who will not want these talks to produce good results. I *hope* they start a running dialogue that succeeds in their purposes, but I am not going to yet come out and say they will. They should, however, be given the chance. To increase the chance of them working, much of foreign policy in both major parties in the United States should be figuring out how to bring this about.

But here rises the ghost of Korean War General Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur began his role in the Korean War with a massive amphibious flanking victory at Inchon, changing the fortunes of the war which up to that point had been largely one North Korean victory after another. His famous hubris led him to build off this victory by driving ever onward without regrouping or securing his position and in frank disregard (which he would convince an initially reluctant Truman to follow with) for China’s determination of keep America off its border. What resulted, in the Yalu Campaign, was one of the US armies’ biggest defeats, perhaps second only in scale to the loss of the Philippines in 1942-something MacArthur also played a role in. The war went from imminent US victory to grinding stalemate, with MacArthur having to be replaced by the more cautious and adaptive General Ridgeway. There would be a ceasefire in 1953, but in technical terms the conflict never would end.

MacArthur returned stateside to play the victim of Washington, the scapegoat of the President. Never mind he himself had advocated for expanding the war into China and the use of tactical nuclear weapons to facilitate this grandiose and mad counter-offensive. Never mind that he had inverted his WWII career by starting out winning and ending up losing. He blamed others and became an icon of the far right which was just then beginning to descend into the howling madness of McCarthyism.

If he were around today he would sound like John Bolton…or your average establishment Democrat. After all, the historic meeting in Singapore had barely made the press when notorious King of Corruption and Popularity, Senator Bob Menendez, said it was a ‘victory for North Korea’ that we had somehow blundered into to our loss. Meanwhile, the old guard of the Democrats (as well as the sociopathic hawk and daily birthday cake quaffing Tom Cotton and his types) have been constantly pushing America’s famously vain and media-obsessed President to take a more hawkish line on North Korea.

Do keep in mind these are the same people who constantly refer to him as a madman and unhinged. Yet they want more war like policies from him as they vote for more and more defense spending increases. Amazing.

These Bolton Democrats are in effect trying to push Trump to his right on foreign policy as well as position them as the ‘true patriots’ who ‘aren’t afraid of foreign countries’ and can say ‘see we told you so’ if something goes wrong. The problem is that policy issues of this size really shouldn’t be partisan footballs. There is no ideological clique driving this policy, such as there was in Iraq, but rather probably just two leaders both seeking a win to legitimize their standing. This seemingly petty reason should not turn us away from the many opportunities that improving relations between DC and Pyongyang could represent. And it should not blind us to the fact that America holds most of the cards in this bilateral relationship, from sanctions to diplomatic relations in the region, and therefore can afford to give a little here and there. North Korea will have little to give up at the opening stages, so I don’t really view it as a failure to diplomacy to scrap the exercises early on.

Furthermore, in a grand strategy perspective, taking bold moves towards ending rivalry with the DPRK might provide proper benefits to American Grand Strategy in the future. The US is far stronger at sea than on land in Asia, and a Korean peninsula working towards reunification peacefully would almost certainly be a de facto neutral nation, allaying both Chinese and American concerns there. The task would be Herculean enough that they would most likely want to stay out of more great power rivalry, giving the Chinese some breathing room on their border and the US the ability to avoid being sucked into a repeat of 1950-3’s land war. Any conflict that might break out would be at sea, where the much more strategically vital Indonesia waits. This would most likely be to American advantage should it happen.

In the inevitable barrage of Norms Nerd commentary which is to follow, who will wring their hands and clutch their pearls about ‘normalizing a regime’, I can say only this: The Kim family and the ruling party have run North Korea for significantly over half a century. Get over it. You will find when you come to accept reality as it is and not as you wish it to be, that it can be much easier to get things done in the field of diplomacy than otherwise.

The Spectacle Presidency and the Spectacle of Opposition

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I was a History undergrad (thank the gods) and not a ‘political scientist’ until grad school. And even then, I stuck my political science more towards the real than the ideal. Geography and geology and anthropology were as much my focus as political science and philosophy. Because, at the end of the day, it is all about what really exists, not what we hope. Hope, as apparently Eisenhower and one of my co-workers mothers once said, is not an achievable policy. But the one political science class I took in undergrad was ‘The Presidency’. In it, our professor talked about how Reagan, then (and somehow still now) was lauded as this great president when in fact he was nothing but a milquetoast capable of great shows of spectacle. He used the media to build up issues which he could ‘solve’ in a media friendly way, from invading Grenada to smashing up the traffic control strikers. Everyone loved this. The people cheered, much as they would cheer as the charismatic but empty shell of the Clintons cut away any remainders of meritocracy in this country with a smile and a wave.

We have, unsurprisingly, an erratic administration in the White House. In light of the recent strikes in Syria, conducted without an investigation into an attack which occurred in a war where we know all sides possess chemical weapons, most likely based on the president having an emotional reaction to television, much like his core constituency does. Words, spoken or written, cannot adequately express how utterly horrifying a prospect that is. Grand strategy is now in the hands of serial molester and loofah/falafel shipping fanfic audiobook narrator Bill O’Reilly’s prime time rants.

The conservative movement, which often had pretenses of intellectualism but could find no intellectual with which to cling to aside from William F. Buckley (himself basically the Bill O’Reilly of the 1950s), Ayn Rand, and the clueless ideologue bro-‘wonk’ that is Paul Ryan-a man who opposed Obamacare so much for 8 years he never even came up with an alternative until one week before his epic failure in the House passing something far worse-is basically bereft of brains. In America this has always been so. Vague attempts to cling to the coattails of Edmund Burke usually come up short when faced with the sheer ranting racism and religious fanaticism that makes up the vast majority of American conservatives (and once again, always has). In many ways this makes Trump unremarkable except in one way, he is totally honest. A purely instinct-driven creature, he shuffles from outrage to outrage and poll boosting issue to poll boosting issue as only the most delicate of right wing shrinking violets can. The mask has not only slipped, but fallen into a boiling cauldron of lava and is never to be retrieved again. Trump is barely into his presidency. Sure, he has the potential to be beyond the scope of horror, but in the small time he has yet to even come close to Dubya’s track record of sheer globe spanning incompetence and murder. He also has yet (although his policies promise to do so soon) to come close to Bill Clinton’s record of waging ruthless and brutal warfare against America’s working class. In other words, the spectacle has never been more honest. Its all style and no substance, exactly what an enormous percentage of voters have been content with for a very long time.

But to find such a mercurial and unqualified character making an erratic President is hardly a perspective you need me to elucidate. You can find that anywhere. 90% of online content now exists to do exactly this. What I find even more craven, even more bothersome moving forward, is The Loyal Opposition, or what they call themselves with no self-awareness whatsoever, ‘The Resistance.’ They are just as much a fraudulent spectacle as the president they condemn….Condemned that is, until he shot some missiles and CNN got the footage.

Much like how the Democratic Party has been ‘anyone to the left of John McCain’ in definition since at least Carter, so too is The Resistancebasically defined as anyone who hates Trump. That is actually quite a lot of people of various divergent backgrounds. Most don’t have large financial backing and mainstream support anymore, but the ones that do….oh the ones that do. They certainly earned their this week didn’t they?

Nothing like a good act of war to bring out the sheer levels of contortions required for the sad sacks who pass for an opposition. Fareed Zakaria, one of the few neoliberals which I had any respect for, declared the act of President Baby’s hissy fit to be ‘Presidential’, Admiral Stavritis and other wannabees in an alternate universe Clinton cabinet could not stop themselves from using the kinds of words op ed columnists use when reviewing the latest self serving autobiography of a public figure. ‘Bold.’ ‘Decisive.’ ‘Insert Generic Descriptor Here.’

My original thought if Trump took us into the field of basically becoming Jihadist Offshore Support Group 1 was that the mainline democrats and Sensible Serious Center of which I have spoken before would suddenly pull the same move they did when their rosy Iraq predictions turned out to be wrong-suddenly flopping back into Dove mode. The good news is, they defied that low partisan bar. The bad news is they went even lower…by just coming around, at least on this one very important issue, to the very force they claim to oppose.

The day after former Secretary Clinton called for a wholesale attack on the airbases of Syria, something equivalent to if the Pearl Harbor assault had hit the entire West Coast in addition to Hawaii, Trump struck only one (so far) in a demonstration of spectacle which immediately was followed by bipartisan praise. In other words, The Resistance™ came around to Trump. Because he bombed someone. That is just as horrifying as the idea that he ordered the attacks based on his emotional response to the news. It also shows that it is Trump who is becoming much like the DC establishment he ran against, rather than bending it to his will. This blog is focused on foreign policy issues, but there is ample reason to see the same effect on domestic policy as well if one is willing to look for it.

The only thing The Resistance™ is doing is building themselves up as the people who could do the same failed policies, but more politely. With less….acrimony. In the case specifically of Syria most Democrats demand something more hawkish than Trumps irresponsible flirtations with World War III on behalf of sectarian Wahhabi fundamentalists. And what the Thomas Freidmans’ and David Brooks’ of the world want is precisely that, because its safe and polite. It is what they know. America has an excess of military power so it must ‘do something’, and damn the consequences. I mean, otherwise those bombs just might sit around. Why have that when you can use them to provide collective therapy for the neoliberal/neoconservative on the world stage? These people have no actual critique of systemic forces, but only brands. Coke and Pepsi, Marvel and DC, Lockheed Martin and B.A.E. Systems, the Democrats and the Republicans.

Spectacle Presidency, meet Spectacle Opposition.

 

 

Fortunately, occasional lone voices cry out in the wilderness against this double sided madness. One of them has been one heartily endorsed by this blog since before the party primaries. That continues to be a damn good call.

Tulsi triggers liberals