Follow Every Bear Market Economics blog post on Facebook here

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. we believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to:http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates
FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates

All Blogs licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Frank Ninkovich and the Domino Theory: A Reconsideration

The Crolian Progressive

Frank Ninkovich and the Domino Theory: A Reconsideration



In 1994 and 1999, Frank Ninkovich published two seminal works of American foreign policy history, Modernity and Power and The Wilsonian Century. In these volumes, Ninkovich brilliantly reinterpreted the domino theory as a metaphor for twentieth-century American foreign policy going back to Woodrow Wilson. According to Ninkovich, Wilson interpreted World War I as proof positive that any war, anywhere, could escalate into a world war involving the United States; America therefore had to prevent wars all over the world in order to ensure its own safety. Transmuted into the domino theory, this idea became the defining and tragic thrust of American cold war policy in the second half of the twentieth century, despite the fact that the dominoes never seemed to fall even where (as in Vietnam) the United States failed to stop them.

It's worth asking what impact the current wave of Middle Eastern revolutions has for Ninkovich's theory. After all, the revolutions are in fact a wave, aren't they? Doesn't that mean that the dominoes are falling this time, and that the domino theory is more useful than Ninkovich would like to admit? To answer that question, I want first to distinguish between two types of domino theory in a way that Ninkovich doesn't. The result, I think, bolsters Ninkovich's view while simultaneously salvaging a very different version of the domino theory that can help explain current events in the Middle East.

(Cross-posted from The Crolian Progressive.)

The idea that there are two different, yet related, domino theories, occurred to me when I was rereading Dwight Eisenhower's 1954 statement that gave the idea its name. Here's what Ike had to say in response to a question about "the strategic importance of Indochina to the free world":

Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the "falling domino" principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences. ...

But when we come to the possible sequence of events, the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following, now you begin to talk about areas that not only multiply the disadvantages that you would suffer through loss of materials, sources of materials, but now you are talking really about millions and millions and millions of people.

Finally, the geographical position achieved thereby does many things. It turns the so-called island defensive chain of Japan, Formosa, of the Philippines and to the southward; it moves in to threaten Australia and New Zealand.

It takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area or Japan, in turn, will have only one place in the world to go -- that is, toward the Communist areas in order to live.

So, the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world.

There are two domino theories at work in this statement, and the difference between them is in how many dominoes each contains. Domino Theory #1 states that, when a nation falls to a revolution, other nations in the region (or linked in some other way, such as France and Haiti in the 1790s) may fall too. This is what Eisenhower is getting at in the second paragraph quoted above. It is an obvious truism and has many precedents in history -- for instance, the Bolivarian revolutions in the 1830s, the 1848 "springtime of peoples" in Europe, the anticolonial revolutions in Africa and elsewhere from 1945-1965, and the current wave of revolutions in the Middle East.

On the other hand, when Eisenhower starts talking about Australia, New Zealand, and Japan falling too, he is asserting a fundamentally different version of the domino theory -- call it Domino Theory #2. This theory postulates a very specific consequence of the first domino falling: no matter where the first domino is located, the last domino in the chain will be the United States, triggering a world war. This, I believe, is the view Ninkovich is addressing with his "domino-theory-as-metaphor" idea. He rightly attributes this view to both Wilson and the Cold War presidents (with the possible exception of Carter).

Distinguishing between the two domino theories in this way points up the intellectual bankruptcy of the second one. For instance, the Wikipedia article on the domino theory errs in adducing the fall of Cambodia and Laos to Communism after American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975 as evidence in favor of the domino theory. In fact, the fate of Indochina after the Vietnam War is evidence against Domino Theory #2: the regional dominoes fell without touching the United States or triggering a world war. Similarly, the 1830s Bolivarian revolutions and anticolonial nationalism in the 1950s failed to bring the great powers even close to the brink of war.

Why, then, do some revolutionary waves, such as 1848, result in world wars, while others do not? Actually, the difference seems to be in the desire of the great powers to fight such wars. In 1815 and 1848, the major European powers, acting on Westphalian balance-of-power considerations, decided it was more important to stem the tide of rebellion (or in 1815, of Napoleon) than to preserve peace. Similarly, in 1939-1941, the Allies decided (relying on the precedent of World War I) that the Nazis must be stopped before they destroyed Europe. In fact, with the single, tragic exception of World War I, there has never been a world war that at least one side, and usually both, didn't want to fight. Even World War I isn't really an exception if you consider that militarists in all the belligerent countries (except perhaps the United States) did want to fight a war, just not the grinding trench war WWI turned out to be.

We see, then, that world wars only come about when world powers want to fight them, not because of some uncontrollable domino effect that requires us to fight everyone, everywhere, to forestall it. Put another way, the United States is only the last domino if it wants to be. So we've preserved, indeed reified, Ninkovich's interpretation of the domino theory (#2) as tragic and misguided, while at the same time helping to explain why it's wrong. Yes, as we're seeing in the Middle East right now, dominoes do fall sometimes. Wilsonian and cold war policy to the contrary, though, if we're careful and considerate of other nations, there's no reason to fear that the dominoes will fall on us.

Originally posted to The Crolian Progressive on Thu Mar 31, 2011 at 04:32 PM EDT.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Outgunned? Obama’s Defense of the Rebel Uprising in Libya

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Libya and Obama’s Defense of the Rebel Uprising

Over the past two weeks Libya has been subjected to the most brutal imperial air, sea and land assault in its modern history. Thousands of bombs and missiles, launched from American and European submarines, warships and fighter planes, are destroying Libyan military bases, airports, roads, ports, oil depots, artillery emplacements, tanks, armored carriers, planes and troop concentrations. Dozens of CIA and SAS special forces have been training, advising and mapping targets for the so-called Libyan ‘rebels’ engaged in a civil war against the Gaddafi government, its armed forces, popular militias and civilian supporters (NY Times, 3/30/11).

Despite this massive military support and their imperial ‘allies’ total control of Libya’s sky and coastline, the ‘rebels’ have proven incapable of mobilizing village or town support and are in retreat after being confronted by the Libyan government’s highly motivated troops and village militias (Al Jazeera, 3/30/11).

One of the most flimsy excuses for this inglorious rebel retreat offered by the Cameron-Obama-Sarkozy ‘coalition’, echoed by the mass media, is that their Libyan ‘clients’ are “outgunned” (Financial Times, 3/29/11). Obviously Obama and company don’t count the scores of jets, dozens of warships and submarines, the hundreds of daily attacks and the thousands of bombs dropped on the Libyan government since the start of Western imperial intervention. Direct military intervention of 20 major and minor foreign military powers, savaging the sovereign Libyan state, as well as scores of political accomplices in the United Nations do not contribute to any military advantage for the imperial clients – according to the daily pro-rebel propaganda. The Los Angeles Times (March 31, 2011), however described how “…many rebels in gun-mounted trucks turned and fled…even though their heavy machine guns and antiaircraft guns seemed a match for any similar government vehicle.” Indeed, no ‘rebel’ force in recent history has received such sustained military support from so many imperial powers in their confrontation with an established regime. Nevertheless, the ‘rebel’ forces on the front lines are in full retreat, fleeing in disarray and thoroughly disgusted with their ‘rebel’ generals and ministers back in Benghazi. Meanwhile the ‘rebel’ leaders, in elegant suits and tailored uniforms, answer the ‘call to battle’ by attending ‘summits’ in London where ‘liberation strategy’ consists of their appeal before the mass media for imperial ground troops (The Independent, London, 3/31/11).

Morale among the frontline ‘rebels’ is low: According to credible reports from the battlefront at Ajdabiya, “Rebels …complained that their erstwhile commanders were nowhere to be found. They griped about comrades who fled to the relative safety of Benghazi… (they complained that) forces in Benghazi monopolized 400 donated field radios and 400 more…satellite phones intended for the battlefield… (mostly) rebels say commanders rarely visit the battlefield and exercise little authority because many fighters do not trust them” (Los Angeles Times, 3/31/2011). Apparently ‘Twitters’ don’t work on the battlefield.

The decisive issues in a the civil war are not weapons, training or leadership, although certainly these factors are important: The basic difference between the military capability of the pro-government Libyan forces and the Libyan ‘rebels’, backed by both Western imperialists and ‘progressives,’ lies in their motivation, values and material advances. Western imperialist intervention has heightened national consciousness among the Libyan people, who now view their confrontation with the anti-Gaddafi ‘rebels’ as a fight to defend their homeland from foreign air and sea power and puppet land troops – a powerful incentive for any people or army. The opposite is true for the ‘rebels’, whose leaders have surrendered their national identity and depend entirely on imperialist military intervention to put them in power. What rank and file ‘rebel’ fighters are going to risk their lives, fighting their own compatriots, just to place their country under an imperialist or neo-colonial rule?

Finally Western journalists’ accounts are coming to light of village and town pro-government militias repelling these ‘rebels’ and even how “a busload of (Libyan) women suddenly emerged (from one village)… and began cheering as though they supported the rebels…” drawing the Western-backed rebels into a deadly ambush set by their pro-government husbands and neighbors (Globe and Mail, Canada, 3/28/11 and McClatchy News Service, 3/29/11).

The ‘rebels’, who enter their villages, are seen as invaders, breaking doors, blowing up homes and arresting and accusing local leaders of being ‘fifth columnists’ for Gaddafi. The threat of military ‘rebel’ occupation, the arrest and abuse of local authorities and the disruption of highly valued family, clan and local community relations have motivated local Libyan militias and fighters to attack the Western-backed ‘rebels’. The ‘rebels’ are regarded as ‘outsiders’ in terms of regional and clan allegiances; by trampling on local mores, the ‘rebels’ now find themselves in ‘hostile’ territory. What ‘rebel’ fighter would be willing to die defending hostile terrain? Such ‘rebels’ have only to call on foreign air-power to ‘liberate’ the pro-government village for them.

The Western media, unable to grasp these material advances by the pro-government forces, attribute popular backing of Gaddafi to ‘coercion’ or ‘co-optation’, relying on ‘rebel’ claims that ‘everybody is secretly opposed to the regime’. There is another material reality, which is conveniently ignored: The Gaddafi regime has effectively used the country’s oil wealth to build a vast network of public schools, hospitals and clinics. Libyans have the highest per capita income in Africa at $14,900 per annum (Financial Times, 4/2/11. Tens of thousands of low-income Libyan students have received scholarships to study at home and overseas. The urban infrastructure has been modernized, agriculture is subsidized and small-scale producers and manufacturers receive government credit. Gaddafi has overseen these effective programs, in addition to enriching his own clan/family. On the other hand, the Libyan rebels and their imperial mentors have targeted the entire civilian economy, bombed Libyan cities, cut trade and commercial networks, blocked the delivery of subsidized food and welfare to the poor, caused the suspension of schools and forced hundreds of thousands of foreign professionals, teachers, doctors and skilled contract workers to flee.

Libyans, who might otherwise resent Gaddafi’s long autocratic tenure in office, are now faced with the choice between supporting an advanced, functioning welfare state or a foreign-directed military conquest. Many have chosen, quite rationally, to stand with the regime.

The debacle of the imperial-backed ‘rebel’ forces, despite their immense technical-military advantage, is due to the quisling leadership, their role as ‘internal colonialists’ invading local communities and above all their wanton destruction of a social-welfare system which has benefited millions of ordinary Libyans for two generations. The failure of the ‘rebels’ to advance, despite the massive support of imperial air and sea power, means that the US-France-Britain ‘coalition’ will have to escalate its intervention beyond sending special forces, advisers and CIA assassination teams. Given Obama-Clinton’s stated objective of ‘regime change’, there will be no choice but to introduce imperialist troops, send large-scale shipments of armored carriers and tanks, and increase the use of the highly destructive depleted uranium munitions.

No doubt Obama, the most public face of ‘humanitarian armed intervention’ in Africa, will recite bigger and more grotesque lies, as Libyan villagers and townspeople fall victims to his imperial juggernaut. Washington’s ‘first black Chief Executive’ will earn history’s infamy as the US President responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of black Libyans and mass expulsion of millions of sub-Saharan African workers employed under the current regime (Globe and Mail, 3/28/11).

No doubt, Anglo-American progressives and leftists will continue to debate (in ‘civilized tones’) the pros and cons of this ‘intervention’, following in the footsteps of their predecessors, the French Socialists and US New Dealers from the 1930’s, who once debated the pros and cons of supporting Republican Spain… While Hitler and Mussolini bombed the republic on behalf of the ‘rebel’ fascist forces under General Franco who upheld the Falangist banner of ‘Family, Church and Civilization’ – a fascist prototype for Obama’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ on behalf of his ‘rebels’.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). Petras’ most recent book is Zionism, Militarism and the Decline of US Power (Clarity Press, 2008). He can be reached at: jpetras@binghamton.edu. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

This article was posted on Saturday, April 2nd, 2011 at 4:30pm and is filed under Imperialism, Libya, Military/Militarism, Obama.