Friday, August 15, 2008

"The Argument for Lieberman"?

John Podhoretz has written a piece titled “The Argument for Lieberman.” In it, he writes:
"McCain's most dramatic possible play would be the selection of Lieberman -- a Democrat who was only eight years earlier his party's nominee for vice president and, after losing his own party's line in a Senate reelection bid in 2006 and winning instead as an independent, now calls himself an Independent Democrat. In selecting Lieberman, McCain would be doubling down on the central bet of his candidacy -- that aexperience, gravitas, and a willingness to buck the leaders of his own party out of a sense of integrity and what the American people need will trump youth-dynamism-charisma. In choosing Lieberman, McCain can credibly say that he is the candidate of change in 2008 -- a candidate of political change, willing to throw out partisan categories in pursuit of two specific goals."

In a world where McCain did not have to consider a VP based on his geographic or ideological weaknesses, I believe he would pick Lieberman. I also think he may have picked him if Obama selected Chuck Hagel (which seems less likely now than it was a few weeks ago). But as it stands, Lieberman doesn’t give McCain any votes; they have very similar foreign policy positions, and even though Lieberman leans to the left on social and domestic issues, the activist base of the Democratic Party hates the man with a red hot passion. Taking a stroll through Daily Kos and the Huffington Post any day of the week will reassure you of that; these folks are not going to be pulled to his campaign because he has someone on the ticket that supports Democratic initiatives.

John feels that having Lieberman on the ticket will confirm McCain’s willingness to cross political divides to win the war, and this is the strongest case for having Joe on the ticket. Like a lot of us who still fit somewhere on the left, and yet have supported candidates on the right who we generally disagree with on cultural and social issues, to have McCain choose a candidate at odds with his party’s conservative and religious base would speak volumes for his commitment to making the fight we are in a bipartisan effort. It will also piss off that base to no end, and the votes he may lose from having Lieberman on the ticket would likely outweigh those he gains.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Liberation in Korea

Tomorrow, August 15th, is Liberation Day in Korea, which coincides with the Victory over Japan by the Allied forces in 1945.

Reflecting on this important day in Korea’s history, here are a few editorials from some of the leading English papers.

Korea Times:
“If ideological confrontation is unavoidable, the nation should focus on its future aspect, not the past one. The only way Korea can secure space between its two giant neighbors is to not stick to petty nationalism but instead to grow up as real global citizens, who put logic ahead of emotion as well as the rule of law ahead of the rule by men.

It's also time to replace the nouveau niche-like slogans of ``advanced" country, ``first-rate nation" or ``another takeoff" with calm pledges to be reborn as a country of reason and common sense.”

Kim Dae-Joong of the Chosun Ilbo:
“Until the founding of the republic 60 years ago, we never had the concept that sovereignty resides with the people. But as could be seen in the protests against U.S. beef imports, the country has swung to the other extreme, and people now uphold Article 1 of the Constitution as if everyone of them were sovereign. That is a tremendous change. Leaping over a process other countries took centuries to achieve in 60-odd years, "our nation, freeing itself from the subjection of a feudalistic tribe, was reborn as a people in modern perception, nourishing social capabilities, determining its own fate and making decisions as sovereign subjects." The quote comes from "Re-recognition of the 60 Years of Our National Founding" edited by Kim Young-ho.

How did this happen? Academics have offered varying observations, but, when the history of our development is compressed, it cannot be denied that we learned democracy from the U.S. and advanced to the world after freeing ourselves from the yokes of China and Japan.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The American Socialist Split

I am bored with the election campaign at the moment; with little of substance coming out of either camp, I have opted to ignoring it until either candidate picks their VP, or when they enter their conventions. I recommend both candidates take this time to go on vacation, and hopefully we can have a more interesting debate when they return, rested and less cranky. It will also be interesting to see what the talking heads on cable news networks will talk about when they don’t have every campaign zig and zag to dissect.

I did notice that while the Socialist Party of the United States (SP-USA) has Brian Moore as their Presidential candidate, they also have a page at Obama’s website, which leads me to believe they would prefer him in office to McCain (I don’t think this is a leap in judgment, nor do I intended it to be a smear against Obama, but disagree with me if you must).

I find socialist parties within the United States and like minded groups on the left to be endlessly fascinating, so this seemed like a good time to go into an important split to the party’s ranks that produced some of those ex-Trotskyite Neocons everyone loves to hate.

Originally, the SP-USA was part of the Socialist Party of America (SPA), but like all left wing parties, it experienced schisms throughout its history. The first major split came in 1917, when hardliners in the party left to create a pro-Bolshevik grouping known as the Communist Labour Party. This group would later combine with the Communist Party of America to form the Communist Party USA (a group that has also endorsed Obama for that matter).

Eugene Debs is one of the most recognizable socialist candidates in American political history, and ran for President on a number of occasions, picking up almost a 100,000 votes in 1920 from behind bars. He was a founding member of the SPA.

The SPA eventually included a group known as Independent Socialist League; a group lead by Max Schachtman, an individual who was a Trotskyite even before Trotsky. Sean Matgamna writes:
“In August 1939 the Stalin-Hitler non-aggression pact freed Hitler’s hands for war. On 1 September 1939 the Nazi army invaded Poland. On 17 September the Russian army invaded Poland from the East, by agreement with the Nazis, and took control of a large part of the country. In November the USSR gave Finland an ultimatum to surrender certain strategic parts of its territory to the USSR or go to war. This had been agreed with the Nazis (as had the Russian occupation of the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia). The Finns decided to fight. Instead of an easy victory, Stalin got a war. The war ended on 13 March 1940 with Finland ceding territory to Stalin.

Trotsky, who thought that Russia’s embroilment in World War Two was imminent, was for the unconditional defence of the USSR. Shachtman wanted the defeat of the Soviet Union in Finland, though in general still advocating its defence "against imperialism". The debate which ensued became mixed up with organisational grievances inside the American Trotskyist movement, which split in April 1940.”

By the late 1950s, Schachtman had moved away form his previous Trotskyism, and had come closer to a democratic socialist one. He none-the-less maintained a strict party line for those working beneath him and within his organizations, keeping within the democratic centralism common amongst socialist parties. In 1957, his group joined the SPA which was floundering during this period. Commentary writer and prominent Neoconservative Joshua Muravchik, recalls his time with the Young People’s Socialist League (the youth group for the Socialist Party of America) in a piece he wrote about YPSL leader Penn Kemble, who died in 2005. He wrote:
“In the student world of that era, groups reflecting mainstream America held the allegiance of few. As a result, we YPSL’s, although earnestly regarding ourselves not only as socialists but even as Marxists of a sort, and thus to the Left of 99 percent of Americans, spent the largest portion of our energies battling student groups even farther to our Left. Sometimes this allowed us to capture the ostensible middle ground.”

He goes on to argue:

“In the early 1960’s (we were) on the losing side. In what proved a harbinger of the increasing radicalization of student activism throughout the decade, the left wing soon took command of YPSL, and the organization flew apart in an explosion of new factions, each more radical than the last. By 1965, most had found their way to more fertile fields in the emergent New Left. Ironically, they also thereby cleared a path for our rump of right-wingers to re-create the YPSL according to our own lights.”

They worked to focus the party’s attention towards aligning with the Democratic Party to pull it towards an anti-Soviet and more centrist minded stance, and since their portion of the organization was better organized and more active than others, they were able to successfully do so. However, by the late 60s the SPA was pulled in three separate ideological directions. There were those like David McReynolds, who hoped to bring the party back to its leftist roots as a separate and independent third party. Michael Harrington represented those who were interested in keeping the party aligned with the Democrats, but wanted a stronger push to the left within the organization. Schachtman hoped to make the party staunchly anti-communist and interventionist, as well as supporting Great Society programs at home.

The party’s schism came to a boiling point during the 1972 election, with each of the three tendencies supporting a separate Democratic candidate, with Schachtman and his followers pledging not to support George McGovern if he won the nomination.

McReynold’s left the party to form the Socialist Party USA, and has run minuscule electoral campaigns over the years. Their candidate for President in 2004 was Walter Brown, who received just over 10,000 votes (which was the strongest showing the party had seen since its creation). Its current candidates are Brian Moore and Stweart Alexander. Their platform calls for the “unconditional disarmament by the United States.” So you get the idea where these folks are coming from.

Harrington formed the Democratic Socialists of America, a group that sits comfortably within the left of the Democratic Party. It is also a small group, but it includes in its ranks prominent public intellectuals like Cornel West. The group is anti-interventionist, as can be seen form their statements on Iraq and Colombia.

This left only Schachtman’s followers, who went on to form the Social Democrats USA (SD-USA), effectively ending the SPA. Muravchik said of the split, “Dropping the two words “socialist” and “party” signified an overdue relinquishment of our self-concept as “radicals” and a dawning recognition that we were now centrists.” Although also small in numbers, the SD-USA would become more of a think tank than an actual political party, and many of its members (such as Carl Gershman, Arch Puddington, and Sandy Feldman) would go on to work in both Democratic and Republican administrations in very prominent positions. The group’s staunch internationalist and interventionist positions has connected them to neo-conservatism, and with that, the scorn of those on the left and right who have argued the entire NeoCon movement is a conspiracy hatched by Jewish socialists.

Since the death of Penn Kamble, the SD-USA has rolled into the Social Democratic Party of America.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All Hail the Obama Salute

I was pretty sure that hand gesture represents something other than Obama. But those may be my “San Francisco” values talking.

Monday, August 11, 2008

On Georgia

Since I know very little about Georgia and the Caucasus, I am trying to make sense of the war there from folks who have more experience with the region. Joshua Foust, someone I disagree with on Iraq frequently at A Second Hand Conjecture, has been writing extensively on the region for, a site dedicated to Caucasus related issues. Joshua writes:
“It is depressing to see some of the fallout of the fighting in Georgia, whether it is the heartbreaking realization that, no, neither the U.S. nor NATO will militarily intervene with a country they don’t have a treaty with, or the truly horrifying human suffering in both Tskhinvali and now Gori. Making things more depressing is Richard Holbrooke unironically complaining about Russian realpolitik while advocating American realpolitik… to say nothing of McCain’s borderline plagiarism or Obama’s deafening silence or George W. Bush’s bumping in Beijing. I just don’t trust anyone in charge to come up with a decent plan.

And plans need to be made. Saakashvili, politically, is finished. He was baited into a fight the Russians wanted, and he did so believing that NATO and the U.S. would support him and force a pro-Georgian solution. He was possibly tempted into taking action by NATO understandably holding Georgia’s ascension hostage to the resolution of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (no one wants to take on responsibility there), while U.S. arming and support could have convinced him he could “solve” the conflicts more conclusively. On all sides, he was caught out, and took action with no backup plan should his initial thrust be reversed.”

Definitely a site worth checking out.

Michael Totten is also in Azerbaijan, and will be writing about problems in the region at large.

The New Centrist, Marko Hoare, and Bob from Brockley have some information on the conflict from a slightly different perspective, and worth a read.

Korean Affairs

"The Japanese have United the People!"

I haven’t commented on Korean related foreign affairs in some time, and a great deal has happened since the anti-American beef protests a few months back. During the beef import spat, I had a friend tell me that I need just wait for Japan to do something nationalistic, and that it would effectively end anti-American marches and focus Korea’s attention on its historical foe.

My friend was 100% correct, and a territorial battle got underway over some small worthless rocks in the sea between Korea and Japan called Dokdo Island, which has been a contentious issue between Japan and Korea since the end of the Second World War. Part of the dispute has to do with how you interpret Japan’s renunciation of sovereignty (through papers such as the Rusk documents) over land they acquired through imperialism and conquest; Korea argues that Dokdo is historically Korean territory, and thus was rightfully returned to them at the end of the War. Japan argues that the islands are Japanese land, and are not included in the territory conquered and then relinquished after the war.

Like most territorial issues between old colonial powers and their former surrogates, this one brings out a blistering nationalist response from folks in both countries. So when the Foreign Minister of Japan claimed the island belonged to Japan, Korea’s collective attention turned away from the beef protests that had unfortunately crippled the government for months.
“A document on the website of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, reportedly posted earlier this year, claims that the Dokdo Islets, or Takeshima in Japanese, belong to Japan.

The controversial document, entitled "10 Issues of Takeshima", is available in English, Korean and Japanese in a section called "The Issue of Takeshima" on the ministry's official website ( area/takeshima).
Dated February 2008, the document claims that Takeshima is "clearly" Japanese territory from the standpoint of both history and international law. It says South Korea is illegally occupying the islands, against which Japan has been consistently protesting.”

The Japanese didn’t back down to Korean threats and the pulling of their diplomats from Japan, and announced new guidelines for school teachers that effectively state Tokyo's territorial claim to Dokdo.

Initially, the United States attempted to stay out of the issue, but the Bush administration opted to siding with the Korean government and argued that the territory did belong to Korea. The Board on Geographic Names under the U.S. Geological Survey changed the entry for Dokdo on its database from “undesignated sovereignty” to “South Korea.” The Japanese argued that this did not deter them, but the move effectively ended the crisis. Lee Dong Kwan, a government spokesperson said, “The exceptionally swift measure reflects President George W. Bush's full understanding of the South Korean public sentiment and the deep trust and friendship between the leaders of the two countries."

So when I traveled to Seoul to check out protests concerning beef imports, I was pleasantly surprised to see a small contingent of hardcore activists from the communist left in Korea as the only remaining protesters for this issue. They marched around with banners adorned with big red fists, and looked generally saddened that their revolution was not going to come. Beef imports have resumed, and are apparently selling well among the Korean population.

Over at the ROK Drop, they have been exposing the groups behind these protests for some time now, and some of the recent developments have only verified their original assessment. The same old groups, that have verifiable ties to North Korea, have orchestrated the entire event from the start, and have used beef imports to disarm and overthrow the Lee administration that had pushed for a harder line on North Korea.