Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 18 Nov 04 11:52
Longtime political activist Carol Brightman (who first joined us in Inkwell five years ago with "Sweet Chaos: The Greateful Dead's American Adventure") returns today with a very different book, "Total Insecurity: The Myth of American Omnipotence," which she likens to the Viet-Report she edited back in the '60s. "Total Insecurity" is all about the hollowing out of the American empire, focussing on the reasons behind the reasons for the war in Iraq, why it has become unwinnable, and how it is bleeding America dry. Our moderator for this conversation is Eric Mankin. Eric is a longtime journalist (Time/Life, LA Herald-Examiner, LA Weekly) who now does science writing for the University of Southern California. He has been on the WELL since 1996. Welcome, Carol and Eric! Glad to have you here.
Eric Mankin (stet) Thu 18 Nov 04 12:40
Thank you, Cynthia. I've been reading Carol's very personal memoir, revisiting some memories. I seem to hear CSNY far away playing "Four Dead in Ohio" and hearing Walter Cronkite's voice talking about a war in Southeast Asia. Maybe the best place to begin is to talk about that past and how it connects to this present. Carol, before we get into the latest set of lies, can you talk a little about the Viet-Report, for people who aren't familiar with it, such as, to be candid, myself.
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Thu 18 Nov 04 14:49
Well, first, I wouldn't say this books is anything `like' Viet-Report, which was a magazine, published around 8 or 9 times a year, out of New York. It started in 1965 in response to the lack of info about Vietnam and that war in the American media. "To inform and not to persuade," was our motto that lasted only for the first issue, which turned to the French press (France, with US help, had lost the first Indochina war in 1954) for help in bringing Americans up to snuff on the war breaking over our shores. It ran until 1968, and very soon the editors were doing much of the writing, going to South Vietnam and North Vietnam--where I went in 1967--and we were very much committed to persuading our readers to organize against the war. But there was a peculiar feature to V-R which was that almost until the end (last issue: "Colonialism and Liberation in America"), we ran relevant material from administration spokesmen: Walt Rostow, William and McGeorge Bundy, not to provide an 'even' balence, but to teach ourselves and our readers what this war was all about.
Eric Mankin (stet) Thu 18 Nov 04 15:29
Vietnam has been casting a much more emphatic shadow in the last year or so -- particularly with the campaign issues coming out of Kerry's service, and subsequent role in the protests against the war. And the cultural divide that opened during the Vietnam war now seems more ingrained than ever, 30 years after the helicopters took off from the US embassy. So, perhaps we can start here: Iraq and Vietnam. Differences, similarities, continuities, disconnects, lessons and non-lessons...
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Thu 18 Nov 04 18:14
Let's start with differences.... Iraq was/is all about oil, the 2nd largest oil reserves (after Saudi Arabia). The US didn't want it just for itself but to control the distribution to the rest of the world, to Europe, Russia, China. Vietnam was not about a natural resource but about military strategy: to introduce `limited war' (Kissinger)into a Cold War world in which "mutual assured destruction," via nuclear weapons, was threatened if either great power seized the territory of the other. Indochina was a new region for the US, recently fallen from the French tree; the gamble was to dislodge the Vietnamese communists, lay in US bases which would surround China, and claim it for the US. The Vietnamese communists were not serious enough for either Russia or China to defend through a direct confrontation with the US. So the thinking went...Never did it occur to Kennedy or McNamara or Johnson that the Vietnamese were fully capable of taking on the most powerful military force in the world... Just as it never occured to Bush or Rumsfeld that there would even be an Iraqi resistance, much less one as strong as this one is proving to be. I'm so much in the middle of all this that I don't know where to stop. But it occurs to me that "continuity" is the most important relation between the two wars. The US didn't learn its lesson from Vietnam, not really, so once again it's waging war against a people, who are being brought together by the Occupation quicker than the US can throw up governments.
Eric Mankin (stet) Thu 18 Nov 04 19:49
Agreed, and, please, let's talk about the continuing. One important issue is the US is -- us, we're the United States, at least in theory. A huge number of Americans don't accept the idea of their country as world cop, but nevertheless aren't ready to renounce American identity, much less citizenship. So how do we move forward? The internal division created by the Vietnam war just seems to be ramifying and duplicating. The intervention in Vietnam was initated by Kennedy and escalated by Johnson, both Democrats. The resistance built up for years in which the counterculture defined itself by demonizing "liberals" as opposed to radicals. How do we now define the issues in Iraq (and elsewhere) so that, to use your formulation, "the US learns its lesson."?
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Fri 19 Nov 04 15:13
Of course, we embrace our citizenship and American identity, and show how Bush & Company are losing the war at a tremendous cost to the US, just as we did in Vietnam. Only we're at the beginning of that effort now, and there's a tremendous amount of facts to get out. Just one, right now: despite the oil hunger that drove us in and led us to protect only one ministry from looting, the oil ministrly, no oil is getting out of Iraq. None. The sabotage, carried out mainly by Shi'ites in the Basra area, has been continuous. I know I'm leaving your point about how Vietnam was a Democratic war unexamined for the moment--though Kerry was on record as wanting to leave American policy in the Middle East alone, and even wanted to step up the war, though still without a draft... I want to stress the blockage of the oil, something we doing hear about like so much in Iraq.
Eric Mankin (stet) Fri 19 Nov 04 15:46
I don't think the point about Kennedy and Johnson's role is crucial, except insofar as they felt obligated to intervene to avoid charges of being soft on communism. What I do think is important now is if we can trace what were the threads and forces that caused the nation to turn against what was initially a widely accepted war. That is, what is the relevance of the Vietnam war to the present situation. I know that's a major thread in your book -- perhaps you could talk about your discussion in "Total Insecurity:" Rather than clumsily parapharasing you, perhaps you could state what you think are the major lines of your thinking for people who still haven't see the title (Verso Books, ask for it) in their local B&N The Amazon address, by the way, is: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1844670104/qid=1100907942/sr=8-1 /ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/103-1294609-8579055?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 .
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 19 Nov 04 15:56
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Christian Crumlish (xian) Sat 20 Nov 04 10:59
Hi, Carol! I never did publish my interview with you about "Fat Trip" (I still like that title best)... someday it will appear in an archive somewhere or something. Now I need to get my hands on your newest book so I can ask a relevant question.
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Sat 20 Nov 04 13:20
Christian, hello!! Eric, good question. But huge. First we were in so many ways a different country then. No neocons. They only got started in the mid-70s, partly to save the USA from liberals and radicals (remember them?). I recall a bunch of farm women in southern Illinois around that time organizing against the Equal Rights Amendment, much in the manner that we had moved for women's rights. Neocons like Richard Perle started out with conservative Dems like Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson, then gradually worked their way into government by way of the Pentagon. Rumsfeld was first Defense Sec in the Ford administration. But in the 60s these guys were only a rumor, and the Movement (as we called ourselves) was coming up fast, first via the black-dominated Civil Rights movement, then through the antiwar movement. I've come to see the anti-authoritarian thrust of this period as so much unfinished business, but useful in the end to certain authorities, like multinational corporations (then called conglomerates) who were also sweeping the slate clean, bringing about a shift in control from domestic companies to global ones. If anybody's interested in this, I can try to explain later...But your question Eric has to do with the chapter called "Vietnam Redux" in TI, and some of chapter one, "Starting Over is Not An Easy Thing to Do." The latter describes (among other things) the long, slow free-fall of liberalism, and the rise of neoliberalism in the late 70s, and behind the withering away of American traditions of dissent, the dying out of the idea of change. This last is important, and can only swing back I think after the dismal elections. For now change mainly exists as personal change or legislative adjustments, and has lost its social agency. It's been replaced in the popular mind by force or accident. The intricate chain of events that led up to 9/11 or the war in Iraq--the actual history, that is--remains largely unknown. It all appears like the hand of God or the Devil. And we were ripe for all the lies about WMD and Saddam's link to al Qaeda. It's only now that we're tracking the gathering storm over oil in the Middle East, and in Iraq in particular, through the 60s, 80s, 90s to 2000, when Saddam became the first world leader to switch from the dollar to the euro in the oil trade. That is a good place to stop, because a lot of us are still unaware that ever happened, and remain ignorant of the hidden battle between petrodollars and euros that in the Middle East.
Eric Mankin (stet) Sat 20 Nov 04 20:51
I think this is unquestionably true, but at least for me the question is where do we go from here? Hidden agendas are as old as politics. In 1965-73, despite this agenda, a mass movement emerged that -- despite the failure to elect George McGovern -- discredited the war in Vietnam, and ultimately ended it. That was then, this is now. What is peculiar to me is that many of the tropes of the counterculture/antiwar movement have been adopted by the war and money party. The alternative press has matured into mass marketing for cosmetic surgery and movies, whereas the passionate political engagement has moved to foam hate radio on a.m., listened to by 17 percent of the population, which I think is more than ever read the underground press. The rejection of network media and insistence that the real truth is being hidden now goes to FreeRepublic & the ilk. I was interesed to read about move to sell oil for euros rather than dollars by Saddam Hussein and I'm sure that the hidden political economy of oil is an important thread in the scenario that we've seen unroll. But what troubles me more than the fact that the policy is obviously, transparently peculiar is the fact that it continued to draw the support of an electoral majority. Of course, Nixon's policy did too: McGovern lost by a landslide, and then came Watergate. But absent a Watergate, how is this policy going to be unraveled? And, more to the point, is a Watergate remotely posssible now?
If gopod's on our side s/he'll stop the next war (karish) Sun 21 Nov 04 12:15
Carol, thanks for coming to talk with us. The preface to "Total Insecurity" lives up to the book's title. I felt an almost-physical shock while reading it, as it brought back all the fear I felt in the late 1960s, including my intellectual uncertainty as I first tried to absorb new ideas from the likes of DeBray and Fanon and Proudhon and to fit them into my view of what was happening in the world around me. My insights from that time had been in the background of the way I process news today; it's a revelation to see them come back into focus.
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Sun 21 Nov 04 15:01
Karish--that's me, never grows old. Thing is those insights never grow old either, only (as Eric implies) the people have changed, and so have their minders, fundamentally. The minders--tv, Fox, the preachers, all those who prime the pumps of faith in the unreal world of Bush's war--have the job, whether they know it or not, of keeping America's eye far from what America does in the world. Thus most of us miss the gore of Falluja and the steady buildup of the Iraqi resistance, which has sent many of its men into the Iraqi army and police for training. The insurgents fight dirty, no doubt about it; if you work for the foreigners (US) your days are numbered. But there is more unity between the Sunni and the Shi'ites, who fight when the Sunni are quiet, than the US lets on or even knows. It's the result of the Occupation, which has taken the divided people of Iraq and driven them into a unity that transcends anything under Saddam around the demand that the US quit Iraq. What do we want to tallk about now? The back-door draft that the Pentagon has just lined up, by calling up 4000 Individual Ready Troops (2000 of which have refused) who are in their 40s? Or the talk of going into Iran (without the troops), who is already behind many of the Shi'ites in Iraq? Or how to get the word out about the war, and break through the tv paradigm. Which is partly how to see the US as if from Europe, China, Russia, Bolivia, Venezuela..Opec?
Eric Mankin (stet) Sun 21 Nov 04 21:19
Clearly, how to get the word out about the war, or, more to the point, having the pieces fit together. The facts are lying out in plain sight. And, yes, the view from Kansas is not the view from Bolivia: that's not so much a problem as a given.
Karen (kgf) Mon 22 Nov 04 07:24
What about the sabre-rattling about Iran? What the heck are we up to?
gazorinblat (dwaite) Mon 22 Nov 04 08:36
Hello Carol! Well-come... I'm captiovated by this book. I've been following these wars in Iraq and Afganistan - I think- pretty carefully, and your insite and reference help shed new lights on old, and sometimes discounted issues including pipelines in Afganistan and 1/5 of the oil reserve in Iraq. I'm about a third of the way through - jsut picked it up a few days ago - as my commute book and I'm tempted to take longer commutes on public transportaion to read more :-) There is a point in your book relative early on where you mention Iraq's conversion from US-pretro dollars to the Euro and how frightening this was to the US administration - especially those in power now. They you show that if the rest of Opec were to move to the Euro how it would devistate US interestes and the economy - with that in mind, I'm hoping you might want to comment about... -Do you think that AlQueda my have been trying to push US military involvement to give cover for OPEC nations to move to the Euro quicker? and - If using the term quicker is odd, do you thin Opec will ever move to the Euro and therefore destabalize the US dollar... thanks...
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Mon 22 Nov 04 18:11
Karen--I tend to think all the sabre-rattling about Iran is faked to substitute for fact that US is losing in Iraq and badly over-committed militarily. It was in the neocon cards (regime change in Iran), but like the the real events in Iraq, victory is no longer even talked about by the Bush administration. gozorinblat--I never thought about al Qaeda pushing US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq to give cover for OPec nations to move to the euro quicker. It's too complex for me. But makes sense in a complex sort of way. If you think of al Quaeda this way, with this kind of power.. But yes, I do think Opec will turn to the euro--by the end of the decade if the dollar keeps falling, and it makes less and less sense to sell oil for the debased dollar. Opec is already leaning in this direction. After the oil crisis started Saudi Arabia (Opec's leader) stopped putting its petrodollars in US banks, and stopped investing them in US-sponsored Saudi development projects. They turned toward Middle Eastern sources for building vast hotel and shopping centers, whose markets are not American either, far from it. Bush's satisfaction with the falling dollar is the short term benefit to American exports. This is its only benefit as far as I can see, and the rocketing US trade deficit is far more significant. It's a key idea in my book. Put by Morgan Stanley's chief economist, Stephen Roach, the question is "Can a savings-short US economy continue to finance an ever-widening expansion of its military superiority?" And his answer is "No."
David Gans (tnf) Mon 22 Nov 04 18:18
I'm scared. I don't know which is worse - that they're insane theocrats who believe God will break the fall, or that they're selling the country to their middle eastern partners, or that they're just bent on stealing everything without regard to the end result.
Low and popular (rik) Mon 22 Nov 04 18:48
My thoughts, exactly.
Eric Mankin (stet) Mon 22 Nov 04 18:54
I really have no trouble at all finding things to worry about in the current power constellation. What I'm looking for -- and hoping Carol can suggest -- are strategies or directions or anything else that might find a way toward changing things. These might be electoral, or media, or anything else. But I don't think we're really short of information on problems. To go back to a more basic level. 1. What's the alternate vision that needs to be put forward. 2. How can it be put forward in Kansas, as opposed to Portugal or Bolivia.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 22 Nov 04 20:24
Thank you, Eric.
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Tue 23 Nov 04 18:17
Maybe it's my familiarity with Vietnam but I think the real opening here is the war in Iraq. I don't think Bush has an exit strategy but I think we can help force our government to exit. The strategy behind the war is full of holes, from the missing Iraqi oil to the plunging dollar which weakens petrodollars, to the expanding resistance, to the refusal of the Individual Ready Reserves--2000 of the 4000 who have been called--to come to Iraq. The soldiers are the key, and were in Vietnam when it was their increasing refusal to fight in '69-'70 that led to increased reliance on the air war and on Vietnamization. Here `Iraqization' is already in force and already collapsing. The US claims to be able to pull out when the Iraqi army and police are ready to take over, but as in Samara or Mosul only a few weeks after the US withdrew and left Iraqi forces in control, the Iraqis are wiped out. In Falluja Marines encountered Iraqi national guard with red and white tape on uniforms indicating their loyalty--without the tape they were insurgents--and still the Iraqis opened fire. Unlike in Vietnam we have little contact with these soldiers, who are not draftees, who are much younger for the most part, and who are embedded in the same culture that sees the war as a war on terror, or even if they don't buy any of the lies, are still fighting for their own and their buddies survival, with no time to question. There are exceptions, and the soldiers who have come home to question the war line have made contact with antiwar groups like Vets for Peace, Military Families Speak OUt, Global Exchange, CodePink and El Guerrero Azteca. Fernando Suarez del Solar of Vets for Peace and Medea Benjamin of CodePink are organizing a Humanitarian peace effort in December to meet on the Iraqi-Jordanian border and hook up with Iraqi humanitarian aid organizations with medical supplies for Falluja, for example. There are a lot of actions like this getting off the ground. But it's easier for anti-Bushniks to swap tales about the ogre than to take a few hard steps toward ending the war.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 23 Nov 04 20:17
Seems to me the whole nature of political discourse is different now. We have a compliant and often complicit press, 20-some years of relentless pounding of Reaganistic values as opposed to the JFK world I grew up in, and it seems to me there are an awful lot of people who have bought into the faith-based style of the Bush regime. I don't know if there are enough con- cerned citizens to make a dent in the shield of bullshit and denial that protects these kleptocrats from the consequences of their lies.
Carol Brightman (carolbrightman) Tue 23 Nov 04 21:12
When you get in touch with these concerned folks, suddenly you see it all differently. I haven't been in touch with them myself up here in Maine, and this more optimistic angle is a result of a few book tours around the country over the last month or so. You can only hear so much breastbeating over the elections before you want to take more direct action. In Maine the Iraqi recruits are mostly National Guard and REserves, and the families are left without breadwinners, with kids and drastically cut budgets. Something to do there...
David Gans (tnf) Tue 23 Nov 04 21:41
I sure hope so, Carol. I'm not breastbeating; I'm depressed and scared. We need to take our country back.
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