Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Translating James "Mad Dog" Mattis

Jim Mattis is an interesting dude. He gave an interview to a high school newspaper recently and a transcript was made of the exchange. Do read the whole thing.

But in case you don't read it, I want to tease out a few things because I think the way someone talks to students will be different to adults. Turns out it's disturbingly enlightening.

The first thing to notice is the core dynamic of American power laid bare at the beginning: the power struggle over Washington between diplomats (State) and soldiers (Defence), played out in proxy battles in faraway lands. Mattis neatly bridges the Potomac with a shout out to Tillerson, who about nine months ago was still serving industry as an ExxonMobil CEO (ExxonMobil is a transnational corporate, part of the extended civil service tied to the Pentagon). Here's Mattis:

"So what you have to do is make certain that your foreign policy is led by the diplomats, not by the military. I meet for breakfast once a week with Secretary of State Tillerson and I’ll advise him on the military factors for his foreign policy, but I do not believe that military issues should lead in foreign policy. I think that’s where diplomats lead and the military then reinforces the diplomats."

Notice how the set-up has the military playing the supporting role, while the diplomats are in the supported role. This is deliberate. When the Republicans are in the White House, the Pentagon has control of the executive. And boosting the diplomats might sound like he's abdicating an opportunity to drive home the nail. Not really. State pulled the same move in reverse for the last eight years, and for the same reasons. What's going on here is simple.

Framing it in this way, Mattis gets to say that when things go bad the blame should be with the diplomats and Defence was only helping out. But really, at least for the next 3.5 years, it will be Defence calling the major shots (pun intended) in Washington. State will work to undermine Defence, just as Defence did during Obama, but it won't have the platform (executive office) to broadcast to the American people its side of the story.

So for the time being, Mattis gets to pretend like the two factions are working together, when really he's neatly saying that when things inevitably go wrong, Defence was doing everything it could, but State screwed things up.

The meat of the interview, at least for me, starts when Mattis brings up the Marshall Plan:

"And look at us today, where Germany and Japan are two of our strongest allies in the United Nations, in NATO, in the Pacific. I think what you want to do is look at the Marshall Plan, but instead of the American’s carrying the full burden or even the heaviest burden, look at all the nations in the world since many nations have become wealthy since World War II, and see it as being an international effort."

I find this disturbing. The way I see it, the Marshall Plan was a result of the US and its allies entirely eviscerating their political enemies in Japan, Germany and Italy. Note that "political" refers to the different versions of democracy fought over during WWII and that the US waged war, not for freedom, but to remake the world in its democratic image. The 20th century was bloody not because people are nasty and evil but because democracy is the antithesis of good government.

The Marshall Plan should be seen as the US equivalent of the colonisation of Europe. It was the wholesale purchase (sorry, "aid") of Europe. And when you free a slave, the slave isn't let loose - he only changes master. Thus, the story of the 20th century. The Plan rebuilt Europe, sure, but at what cost? It seems to me, it only worked because the entire continent was exhausted, completely at the mercy of a rabid and angry new owner from across the Atlantic.

And now Mattis wants a new Marshall Plan in the Arab world? Do these words not enlighten us as to why Obama thought it a good idea to set the whole region aflame in 2011 with the Arab Spring? I'm not talking about coups and clandestine measures. At least not directly. Those are ham-fisted when conducted by Americans, and let's be honest, usually end in tears.

It was the incredible media messaging for decades, delivered all across the Middle East, from CNN and the State Department saying: rise up, tip over your autocratic governments and the US shall defend your democracy! Well, how did that work out in Libya, Syria Afghanistan and Iraq? Not so well, at least from where I'm sitting.

Run the numbers and you'll see why the logical thing for Mattis to suggest is a new Marshall Plan. After all, if you break it, you buy it. The Middle East is on fire and Washington has been pumping gasoline through its long and winding firehose. And you thought it was cool water pouring from the nozzle...

"On the education, I sometimes wonder how much better the world would be if we funded for nations where they have ideology problems, where the ideologies are hateful, full of hatred.I wonder what would happen if we turned around and we helped pay for high school students, a boy and girl at each high school in that country to come to America for one year and don’t do it just once, but do it ten years in a row...I think ideologies can be countered by showing people a better education and hope for the future by learning how to get along with one another. And for all of our problems in our country, we’re probably still the best example of that in the world."

Look, I'm not one to bash a genuine desire to teach Arab kids how to use a computer or a monkey wrench. Lord knows the Middle East needs some TLC. But "hateful" is just an emotive word, its purpose is only misdirection. It depicts nothing but Mattis' own goals. To him, and everyone in the US, hate is something other people feel. Mattis doesn't hate anybody. He's the one dropping 500-pound bombs of love while ISIS straps vests of hatred onto 18-year-olds.

You see, from the perspective of power, it doesn't matter what you think or believe, so long as you act in the required direction. You could be the nastiest, most disgusting human blowing up children, but if you act towards the default assumptions, you're good to go, baby. Again, it's not ISIS terrorism that drives Mattis to call the Wahabist ideology "hateful," it's that the goal of ISIS is to remake the world into one Caliphate in which nation-state and democratic ideals are cancelled and replaced by theocratic leaders answerable to no-one but God and other members of the priestly caste.

To Mattis, not only is ISIS not acting in the required direction, it behoves him to organise a programme both to kill everyone who thinks like the extremists and to compel or steal via "refugee" programmes the children of this broken region to travel to the US and undergo re-education in its esteemed universities. What he won't tell you, because he can't see it himself, is that the purpose of those universities - as with churches and temples in times past - is not education but cadre. These institutions churn out compliance first and skills second. Which is why they're so powerful.

Mattis believes everyone in the future will learn how to "get along." Duh, that's the end-goal of every hegemonic structure. What might surprise him is ISIS wants to do this as well. Both vectors sum for the same result. They are each in the world-eating business, and they know it too.

And you can see this thought pattern and strategy at work again in Mattis' description of the "Iran problem":

"So his idea on the way to do it was through education. I think that’s probably the most enduring way. Other things are shorter term and certainly, they can work for short term, but if you want to really change it in the long term, I think it comes down to doing so through education of the young people...Until the Iranian people can get rid of this theocracy, these guys who think they can tell the people even which candidates they get a choice of."

Did you feel a chill in the room, or is it just me? "Until the Iranian people can get rid of..." Who does Mattis think he's kidding? He's the one who told us to read history. Well, I've read plenty of Iran/US history, and it says right there in the textbooks how the US, France and all the other progressive, socialist countries have been balls deep in Iran for decades. Pushing and pulling the Iranian people to rise up against whatever regime the West thinks is evil today is a pastime activity in Washington. Miles Copeland, the forerunner of the CIA, boasted about standing outside mosques in Tehran handing $US100 bills to anyone who would yell "down with the Shah!"

And now we're supposed to believe, according to Mattis, that when the Iranian people start to peep and squeak about democracy and ridding themselves of meddlesome priests, it's all their idea. Like the Iranians magically came to the same governmental conclusion as the US and France, all on their own, that the best form of society is one built by progressive democracy? Give me a break.

The US is just playing firefighter with gasoline again. It awaits only a spark, which Washington will no doubt say was kindled by the desperate Iranians crying out for freedom. And as it rushes to provide that very freedom, dragging along those dripping firehoses, it will quickly slip the matches back inside its pocket. Ahh, Washington, I see those matches...

"The Iranian people are not the problem. The Iranian people are definitely not the problem, it’s the regime that sends agents around to murder ambassadors in Pakistan or in Washington DC. We’ve got to make certain that the Iranian people know that we don’t have any conflict with them. I’d start with that. 
"There are moderate regimes in the Middle East. The king of Jordan, clearly a moderating influence. The Emirates, the United Arab Emirates, I think almost a quarter of their ministers, what we would call secretaries of departments, are women...There’s a carrying capacity in any society for how much change it can incorporate at any one time."

Couldn't have said it better myself, Jim.

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