We Will Not Get Peace from the People Who Dismember Dissidents Alive

In the wake of Trump’s announcement that the US will withdraw from Syria and James Mattis’ subsequent resignation, Jeremy Scahill captured the ambivalence of the moment this way:

I agree with much of what Scahill says: I welcome withdrawing troops from overseas. We should never forget that Mattis earned his name, Mad Dog, nor that he got fired by Obama for being too belligerent. The panicked response of a bunch of warmongers is telling. Trump cannot be trusted.

But I think Scahill is too pat in saying “the chaos presents opportunity,” in part because (as he suggests) there doesn’t yet exist “an alternative vision for US foreign policy.”

And while I appreciate that Scahill really does capture this ambivalence, far too many others welcoming a potential troop withdrawal are not recognizing the complexity of the moment.

While we don’t yet fully understand the complex dynamics that led to it, Trump decided to withdraw from Syria during a phone call with a man who has spent two months embarrassing Trump, Trump’s son-in-law, and the corrupt Saudi prince whose crackdown Trump has enthusiastically backed by releasing details of how that prince lulled an American resident dissident to a third country so he could be chopped up with a bone saw while still breathing. And even while Erdogan was embarrassing Trump with those details about Khashoggi’s assassination, he was pressuring Trump to extend the same favor to him by extraditing Fethullah Gulen so he could be chopped up in some grisly fashion.

It is a mistake to think we will get peace from men who dismember dissidents alive.

All that said, Trump will do what he wants and unless the simmering revolt at DOD changes his mind, he will withdraw from Syria and drawdown in Afghanistan.

And if that happens those who would like peace had damn well be better prepared  for that “opportunity” than by simply hoping a future alternative US foreign policy arises. It will take immediate tactical actions to prevent any withdrawal from creating more chaos and misery both in the US and overseas. After all, Trump says he wants to bring troops home, but he has already come perilously close to violating posse comitatus by deploying troops domestically, and that was even with Mattis pushing back against that campaign stunt.

At a minimum, those who want peace need to answer some of the following questions immediately:

What person would both be willing to work for Trump and pursue a policy of peace?

I could not think of any person who could be confirmed by the Senate — even one where nutjobs like Marsha Blackburn have replaced people like Bob Corker — that would be willing to work for Donald Trump and might pursue some kind of alternative foreign policy.

In fact, the only person I could think of for the job (ruling out Erik Prince for a variety of reasons) would be Tom Cotton.

So job number one, for people who hope to use this as an opportunity, is to start coming up with names of people who could replace Mattis and anyone else who quits along with him.

How to prevent the refugee crisis from getting worse?

Multiple accounts of the events leading up to Trump’s decision make it clear that Erdogan would like to use US withdrawal to massacre the Kurds. It’s possible we’ll see similar massacres in Assad-held Syria and Afghanistan as those left try to consolidate their victory.

For all the years the refugee crisis has been mostly a political prop here in the US, it has posed a real threat to the European Union (indeed, I went to several meetings with EUP members in the weeks before Trump’s election where they said it was the greatest threat to the EU). So we need to start thinking seriously about how to prevent genocide and other massacres and the inevitable refugee crises that would result.

How to counter Trump’s fondness for fossil fuels and arms sales?

No withdrawal is going to lead to “peace” or even a retreat of the US empire so long as Trump exacerbates an already unforgivable US addiction to fossil fuels and reliance on arms sales. Particularly with Saudi Arabia but also with Turkey, Trump has excused his fondness for authoritarianism by pointing to arms sales.

And on these issues, Trump actually agrees with the “war party in DC,” which will make it far harder to counter them. Yes, many of the new Democrats entering Congress — most of all Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — don’t have these horrible habits. So what can you do to make sure her Green New Deal not only isn’t squelched by party leadership, but is seen as the alternative to Trump by centrists?

Nukes. How to prevent Trump from using them?

It’s not that Trump is opposed to violence. He’s opposed to engagement and complexity and long term engagement.

Which means, particularly as more and more so-called adults leave, the chance he’ll turn a tantrum into a nuclear strike skyrocket. Mattis won’t be there to stop him.

How to balance accountability for the mistakes that got us here with accountability for Trump?

The movement that brands itself as “The Resistance” has long made a grave mistake of embracing whatever warmed over anti-Trump centrist wanted to loudly denounce the President.

As a result, the mistakes of many of those people — people like John Brennan and Jim Comey and David Frum and David Brooks — were ignored, even when those mistakes created the vacuum that Trump (and Vladimir Putin) have filled.

Trump would not be President if George Bush had not invaded Iraq, abetted by Frum’s nifty tagline, Axis of Evil. Trump would not be President if the banks that crashed the economy in 2008 had been accountable by people like former Bridgewater Associates executive and HSBC board member then FBI Director Jim Comey.

Again, this is about complexity. But so long as those who would keep Trump accountable ignore what made Trump possible, we will make no progress.

How to preserve democracy long enough to pursue a new foreign policy?

Finally, an increasingly real challenge. Trump sides with Putin and Erdogan and Mohammed bin Salman and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi not because it serves US interests (which is the excuse American politicians usually offer for tolerating Saudi and Egyptian authoritarianism). He does so because he genuinely loves their authoritarianism.

And as Republicans in the Senate begin to push back against Trump, Democrats in the House try to hold him accountable, and the so-called adults leave his Administration, it raises the chances that Trump will embrace increasingly desperate measures to implement his policies. We can’t just assume that Mueller and SDNY and NY State will prevent a Trump authoritarian power grab, particularly not as he continues to pack the courts.

While numerous State Attorneys General and NGOs are having reasonable success at constraining Trump, thus far, in the courts, eventually we’re going to need a bipartisan commitment in DC to constraining Trump. Eventually we’re going to need to convince a bunch of Republican Senators that Trump is doing permanent damage to this country. That’s going to take building, not severing, relationships with some Republicans, even while finding some means to persuade them that Trump can no longer benefit them.

To some degree, we have no choice but to find answers to these questions, one way or another. It is especially incumbent on those celebrating a withdrawal to acknowledge, and try to answer, them.

114 replies
  1. sharl says:

    This is a superb conversation starter, in what I hope will turn out to be an extended, thoughtful and empathetic exchange. It’s a steaming, flaming, complicated mess, but the inter-tangled issues aren’t likely to go away on their own.

  2. Jerome Steele says:

    The points here are important – the chaos is only an opportunity if there is a coherent plan and a set of actions that advance an alternative to empire.

    Otherwise the chaos will only lead to more human suffering.

    • BobCon says:

      That’s a great summary of the dilemma.

      One good recent comparison is that there are plenty of problems with the EU, and good reasons why the UK should have joined on different terms or maybe even stayed out. But Brexit is a disaster, and anyone in Labour who wants to hold a pro-Brexit stance right now is close to as big an idiot as Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.

  3. Yogarhythms says:

    EW, Thank you for waking up your audience with legislative reality that Palace vacuums may lead to real shifts away from empire but only with players willing to share sandbox with others. “I will gladly wear the shutdown mantle” forgotten by him is a mantra celebrating begging for change.

  4. fastenbulbous says:

    Still can’t put my thoughts down. Still too horrific. A few stray sanitized blurps escape…

    I suppose the only reason these despots aren’t assassinated is that they would only be replaced by worse humans. Is that inevitable (or just likely)? I don’t understand why pig-heads of industry aren’t made to feel some personal risk for their greed. Maybe a few bombed boardrooms would change the calculus.

    Maybe if the bulk of humanity fought back against these assholes instead of falling into line, things might be different. But I really see little hope….

    (Merry fucking Christmas….)

  5. Drew says:

    Excellent piece Marcy. So here I sit, procrastinating in the middle of writing a Christmas Eve sermon, puzzling over the verse that begins, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” The problem is, the deeper I dig into it, the more debate & dissension there is about to whom and for what that peace is about (both in terms of what the actual words are in the text and how they are to be interpreted).

    I’m inclined to believe that the peace involved is not some “spiritual” and “far away” thing. But somehow our systems, powers and principalities militate against peace for people. There’s clearly no peace in surrender to the brutalities of empire.

    Merry Christmas. or as we say in the Episcopal Church, where today is the Feast of St. Thomas and December 28 is the Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents: Happy Holidays.

  6. Erin McJ says:

    I think the last point — the practical necessity of building bridges with current Republican senators — is an important reason some people are holding their nose and retweeting Comey, or whatever-the-hell. Finding a messenger with whom the allies we need already have some common ground seems so much faster.

    David Brooks has a FWB-style relationship with the truth, I understand (something about trying to spend $20 at Red Lobster). Has he been saying useful stuff about Trump? My vaguely Bannonite dad doesn’t listen to me on politics, but does read Brooks. Dear Santa Brooks, if you could please take that broken clock of yours and synchronize it to our present time of two minutes to midnight, it would make my Christmas phone call a little easier.

    • koolmoe says:

      well said. Its a significant challenge to find ‘reasonable’ republicans who are willing to even listen. Both sides have contributed to the extreme partisanship of today (I imagine similar conversations were held during the Obama years in more conservative forums, though with a lot less truth and immediacy, IMO). It’s incumbent upon both sides to brea through the fever and try to honestly engage. Best the left can do is try in good faith, and hope we can find republicans who are willing to do so.
      I’d never have thought I’d find George Will to be a sane voice. :)

      I think one problem is, the left is so often un/fairly criticized for trying to compromise, and they so often get railroaded, that a lot on the left are just sick of it…not without reason…but its just another barrier to reasoned discussion.

  7. Kevin says:

    Not that it makes a big difference, but my understanding was that Khashoggi was no longer alive when he was dismembered.

    • Trip says:

      Have you read the transcript? I haven’t read the whole thing, but what I did I had to stop, it turned my stomach.

    • bmaz says:

      Kevin – I have no idea having not been there, but the reports were that he may well have been alive when it started.

      • Kevin says:

        I had intentionally avoided reading the transcript, just going off what I thought I remembered reading. Maybe just looking for some detail to be a little less horrible than it could be…

  8. mrtmbrnmn says:

    For the past 50 years and non-stop since the Russians withdrew from Afghanistan and the Soviet Union imploded, America has been the leading mayhem maker in the world. Stomping and bullying and invading our way around the globe like an 800-lb gorilla gone apes**t.  It’s high time we took a break and let the rest of the world come up for air.

    The Trump (of all people!) had the good sense (hard to believe) to take the totally ignored at the time sensible advice of the late Sen. George Aiken in the midst of the Vietnam Dreckstorm and apply it to our current military mayhem-making & misadventures in Afghanistan & Syria:  Declare victory and get out!

    The only possible wild card in this sensible step is that the ever-delusional BiBi Satanyahu might create some mayhem in Syria or Iran in the hope of sucking us back into the muck & mire for yet another foolish lost cause.

    • Lit3Bolt says:

      “I for one welcome our autocratic, international mafia-style Chinese, Russian, and Saudi overlords…”

      Everyone crying about American hegemony and thinking that the only reason troops are overseas is because they simply can’t get enough Muslim Baby Blood Milkshakes has to promise to act extra shocked and concerned when even worse wars, genocides, and terrorist incidents erupt as a result of feckless foreign policy under Trump.

  9. AitchD says:

    It would be delightful, I must say, to listen to President Obama at the House’s request, as he provides informed, discretionary background about electoral meddling, chain of command, and an elegant discourse on civics, and hopefully not needing to be sworn, a week or so after the SOTU address.

  10. P J Evans says:

    Too many people seem to think that the enemy of their enemy is their friend. (A temporary ally, maybe, but probably not a friend.)

  11. Rapier says:

    The stock market  will now turn the GOP Senators against Trump. No highfalutin principals will apply, or change.

    • BobCon says:

      You may be right. James Carville wasn’t joking when he said  “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”

      Although I will also point out that in 2008 the GOP right wing came perilously close to crashing the economy to own the libs. And that was with Bush and the pinstripe GOP pulling out all the stops to avoid 1929. I’m not convinced it has gotten through the thick heads of corporate America that the GOP wants the country to burn, and that includes the Hamptons, the North Shore, Block Island, Grosse Pointe, Carmel, and Aspen. We’ll see.

    • koolmoe says:

      That, plus the whole ‘fiscal responsibility’ thing that’s been the only consistent plank in the republican platform that resonates (well, and abortion). The Dems should make HUGE play on the rising deficit under Republican leadership. If a republican can’t show fiscal conservativism during their tenure, they have almost nothing else to lean against. How any non-radical righty could re-elect any republican who’s had a hand in the current deficit growth is beyond me.

  12. Diviz says:

    Can anyone verify this little delicious tidbit? If so, put RBG firmly under the “Preserving Democracy” column above.

    Gary Grumbach ‏ @GaryGrumbach

    NBC News has learned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voted FROM HER HOSPITAL BED to refuse to let the government enforce Pres. Trump’s proposed restriction on asylum. The court voted 5-4 to leave a lower court ruling in place that blocks enforcement of the crackdown. @PeteWilliamsNBC

    12:46 PM – 21 Dec 2018


    • Jenny says:

      However RBG voted – spot on!!!  Sending her good vibrations for a speedy recovery.

      From Laurence Tribe:  An outstanding 5-4 decision — with Chief Justice Roberts saving the day (and the rule of law) and with Kavanaugh and Gorsuch joining Thomas and Alito in voting to revive Trump’s lawless (in my view and that of the lower court) treatment of asylum-seekers.

  13. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Great piece. In a way, I think the Jared / Erik stuff is more disturbing than King Idiot’s old-school racketeering: those two have been raised in an era where ties to shitty states aren’t about regional strategic interests or even keeping the oil flowing, but because those shitty states have massive lumps of disembodied capital to throw around. I’m not sure how an alliance model or a national security model based upon the “stateness” of states — that they represent a population and a landmass — copes with the increasing detachment of state and state-affiliated capital from that.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Or to put it another way: 9/11 created a 20-year focus on non-state actors, but perhaps what we should be looking at is non-state states.

  14. Ewan says:

    Probably OT, I apologise, but since this blog is very law competent, it is the best place to ask. Just when Trump was elected, the SDNY AG Preet Barat(?) started investigating the Trump Foundation. At that point Trump wishes to close it but, so the news went, was prevented from doing so by the investigators. Now the Foundation is made to close down by the AG. What has changed, and what was the reason for both moves (keeping it open, closing it now)?

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The panicked response of a bunch of warmongers is telling. Trump cannot be trusted.

    A lot of people outside the congressional GOP membership knew that years ago.  How odd that it takes reducing US resources in an undeclared shooting war in the overwrought Middle East to convince some people of what they see with their lying eyes.


  16. Jeanne Albert says:

    Given the Flynn sentencing meltdown this week, and the indictment of his buddies, I’d like to know whether Mattis was looped into the decision to reject the Obama administration’s plans for taking Raqqa– the plan that Susan Rice briefed Flynn about, on or shortly after January 10, 2017, and which Flynn rejected. The plan that Turkey strongly opposed.

    On this issue, wouldn’t Mattis have also been part of the discussions between Obama’s outgoing team and their incoming counterparts? Seems likely to me, but as far as I can tell, Mattis has been silent on the matter.

    In Marcy’s timeline describing Flynn’s actions at the time, there’s a link to a May 17, 2017 McClatchy article which says that, “Whether Flynn consulted with anyone before making the decision is also unknown. The White House did not respond to questions about whether Trump or his secretary of defense nominee, Jim Mattis, signed off on the decision.”

    If Mattis was in fact involved in any discussions about this at the time, he might have an interesting story to tell.

    • AitchD says:

      Wouldn’t much be classified or privileged as something like Executive Privilege?

      It’s scary though about those hawks, Flynn, Kelly, Mattis, being so way up there: they put people and practices in scary-important places. I haven’t begun to decode Mattis’s encoded messages.

  17. Thomasa says:

    I have followed Scahill’s reporting since he began reporting for Democracy Now! I respect him and think long about what he has to say. Likewise Greenwald. They are not mired in sophistry like most of the apologists for the status quo. But Scahill is grasping at straws in this case IMHO. 

    I will admit to being manifestly discouraged at the present state of things and admit that criticizing those who do speak out serves little purpose unless I’m willing to do more than that. 

    Now is the moment to engage in some domestic realpolitik to take advantage of the chaos of the moment. We cannot just hope for the best. Attempting to make nice with conservative pundits is a fool’s errand. We’ll expend far too much effort parsing their sophistry. No need to name names here but a couple of them work for the New York Times. They will do what they will do anyway. 

    There are Republicans in congress who will do what’s right if given political cover. It’s up to us groundlings to provide that cover. If that involves making them think a more rational foreign policy is their idea then so be it. The alternative is a continuation of the game laid out on the devil’ chessboard, if I may borrow that book title. 

    I’m not competent to comment on the details of what that vision might be but it must offer an alternative to rent seekers grinding up the planet for their short-term gain. Infinite growth within a finite system cannot hold. I believe there are Republicans who understand that. Who are they and can we convince them to join with like minded Democrats to do what’s right? I hope I’m not grasping at straws. 

    • NorskieFlamethrower says:

      Now is the moment to engage in some realpolitik to take advantage of the chaos of the moment”.

      Unfortunate choice of words, I would suggest that “realpolitik” be replaced by “real politics”. I think I understand and agree with what you are saying. The chaos of this moment does create opportunity for new coalitions based on positions on fundamental issues not just concepts. But our starting point conceptually must be with the concepts and values articulated in the Constitution. Remember that there is no compromising with fascists and fascism and that coalitions must be built issue by issue taking on the immediate issues like the shutdown. Namaste

      • NorskieFlamethrower says:

        Our politics has been broken for a long time, just an endless airy argument between “stakeholders” fighting for a larger piece of an ever shrinking pie while the vast majority has been triangulated right out of the conversation.

      • Just Rob says:

        I wish this little thread could take on a life of its own.  I’d be fascinated to hear what almost every visitor to this blog has to say on the matter.

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      “I’m not competent to comment on the details of what that vision might be”… 

      You’re probably much more competent than anyone currently in the Trump Admin. Using your thoughts as a jumping-off point:

      1. No more rent seekers grinding up the globe for short-term gain.

      2. No more infinite growth within a finite system.

      3. No more partisanship if we’re going to have a future.

      4. No more planet if we don’t start working on 1,2 and 3.


    • koolmoe says:

      “There are Republicans in congress who will do what’s right if given political cover. It’s up to us groundlings to provide that cover.”

      I think that’s a very insightful and solid approach.
      I think that was kinda tried with renewable energy; job growth and energy independence, but the right is too beholden to the fossil lobby. I wonder what sort of cover can be provided…

  18. tatere says:

    “Eventually we’re going to need to convince a bunch of Republican Senators that Trump is doing permanent damage to this country.”

    That will never happen, but more importantly, why? Do you mean when he cancels the next Presidential election? Do you really expect that? It seems just as likely that he will pull a Palin, pardon himself and quit.

  19. scribe says:

    Trump would not be President if George Bush had not invaded Iraq, abetted by Frum’s nifty tagline, Axis of Evil. Trump would not be President if the banks that crashed the economy in 2008 had been accountable by people like former Bridgewater Associates executive and HSBC board member then FBI Director Jim Comey.

    And President Barack Obama, Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch and Treasury Secretary Tim “Turbo Tax” Geithner, all of whom found ways to not only foam the runway for the banks with the bodies of common people but also to limit prosecutions to bank customers, and not bankers, and surely not robosigner mills specializing in forgery, wire and mail fraud and stealing homes. And their bosses Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and whatshisname at Citibank. And President Barack Obama, whose White House Correspondents Dinner schtick devoted entirely to mocking Donald Trump set a fire in Trump to win, by any means and at all costs. And former Senator from MBNA, later Vice-President and current (unannounced) Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who shepherded the 2005 Bankruptcy amendments that both protected the banks, gave the hedge funds huge advantages in raping anything in sight, and made it impossible for the vast majority of ordinary people to get a fresh start in bankruptcy.

    There’s plenty of blame to go around. Limiting it to Republicans turns it into a partisan exercise and will vitiate, or enervate, cleaning up the mess. This has been a long time coming, and will be a long time cleaning up.

    • Trip says:

      I agree that there is plenty of blame to go around to both parties. But the vast majority does fall in the lap of the GOP.

    • Valley girl says:

      Thank you Scribe.  You mention the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.  I went to google to find Obama’s last WHCD appearance.  But, it’s long to watch, so I haven’t gotten but into the first 10 minutes.

      If you or anyone else remembers, at what WHCD was it that Obama made the joke, which went something like:  If someone does such and such to my daughters, I’d kill them with drones. ?

      Mr. Drone President.  I watched it at the time and was horrified that Obama could make a joke of this.  And, before that, I was horrified that Obama won the Nobel Peace prize.

      No, I was never an Obama supporter.  A flim-flam man is what I saw.  And a product of the Clinton neo-con (or is it neo-lib?) machine.

      In short, I completely agree with your comment.


    • Eureka says:

      And former Senator from MBNA, later Vice-President and current (unannounced) Presidential candidate Joe Biden…

      What _do_ we do about our in-shore havens/(inter)national policy drivers like DE and UT (the ones coming to mind at the moment)?

  20. P J Evans says:

    I understand Mattis sent fifty copies of his resignation letter to people high in DoD. Bets apparently are being made on how many others will be resigning in the next couple-three months.

  21. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It also seems obvious that Trump wants to unravel the liaisons that Putin and perhaps Erdogan consider dangereuses to them. Pity that those were the ones that promoted US interests and kept some of our most obvious enemies at bay.

    Trump will betray any interest to hide and avoid liability for his multitude of sins and, in all likelihood, his many crimes, in fact, a business empire built on them. He is dangerous to American interests, never more so than when cornered, as he is beginning to be now.

  22. new-radical says:

    @Thomase – Well said. “Infinite growth within a finite system cannot hold”. And to EW thanks for this post because now we are in the area of my professional expertise when you talk about Chaos and Complexity and from @Drew – “But somehow our ‘systems’, powers and principalities militate against peace for people”.
    Management is a closed system theory – Plan, Lead, Organize, Control, are all isomorphies of closed systems.
    Economics is the study of multiple stable equilibria. Equilibrium is a closed system theory, a theory of balancing forces. Eqilibrium is an isomorphy of a closed system.
    The Law is an adversarial system, for me to win, you must lose. It is a closed system theory.
    But each of these domains is an open system reality. The biggest problem is economics, because it is economics (very sadly) that drives everything and there is no economic incentive to study an open system theory of economics. The power-elites are well rewarded and so they deny the consequences of their closed system economic theory, which requires constant growth. The reality is that the economy is a CAS (Complex Self-adapting System) there is no need for growth. The closed system requirement for growth is easily understood and just as easily demonstrated to be fallacious, but that’s for another day.
    So here’s my mantra “we use closed system theories to ‘manage’ open system realities and the isomorphic law of systems informs us that this project must fail”.
    The “original contribution to knowledge” that I provided in my PhD thesis was that classical strategic planning is a closed system theory but the innovation required to create bold new strategies is an open system isomorphy.
    We are trying to shoe-horn an open system isomorphy -innovation- into a closed system isomorphy – planning- and it doesn’t go.
    And we are making the same core mistake with all the closed system theories when we try to ‘manage’ open system realities.
    Perhaps adversarial politics is even worse!

      • new-radical says:

        It starts with von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory. Bertalanffy explains how different systems behave in different ways and introduces the concept of isomorphic laws.

        M. Mitchell Waldrop provides an excellent explanation in Complexity – The Emerging Science At The Edge Of Order And Chaos. He introduces this book with  the economic problem of “Increasing Returns” as studied by the economist and scholar Brian Arthur. Arthur recognised that the problem could not be explained within the equilibrium theory of economics and how he was struggling in the academic world because of his diverging views.

        Within the framework of the philosophy (epistemology) of Karl Popper where Complexity and the whole of science fits, a theory cannot be proved only falsified. Of course this is what gets the frothy religious excited. Increasing Returns must falsify classical economic theory and the economists knew it and didn’t like it. Waldrop’s book is a must for anyone interested and the reader will have enough info to make up their own minds.

        A really good explanation of the core constructs can be found in Stuart Kauffman’s At Home In The Universe – The Search For The Laws Of Complexity. Kauffman takes the reader much deeper into the subject. It is readily digestible.

        But if you get that and want more, John Holland’s Emergence – from Chaos to Order, is wonderful, but it is more difficult.

        I’m not trying to be a smart arse, to understand Complexity is to understand why the economy is a CAS.


        • Eureka says:

          As we overlapped, please see my comment below:  I understand your pov a little better and am familiar with your sources on a scale from ~’on my bookshelf’ to ‘have heard of it.’

          I still, of course, wonder the role in this type of modelling of human beings.  Or of the pragmatics of what happens.  Policy.  Etc.  Do you have thoughts there?

          “Complex _self_-adapting system”  sounds like neoliberalist ‘leave the markets be’ policy.

      • Eureka says:

        To clarify:  Besides that I am wondering what you mean from your pov, how do human agencies fit here?

        ADD: your reply wasn’t present when I made this reply, so excuse any overlap.

        • new-radical says:

          So that was the big ask of Bertalanffy. He was a scientist/mathematician and extolled social scientists to take up the task of researching social science, specifically as what he called “open” systems. Few have answered the call, because for career academics it is suicide.

          Harvard Business School does not want to say “well we got it wrong”, neither does The Chicago School of Economics. And as for the politicians…

          In my thesis I demonstrated how strategy is a CAS construct. My examiners must have agreed and I have published twelve papers in top international peer reviewed journals. So those reviewers must also agree.

          So, in the 15 years since then I have been working (in my spare time) on the implications for other social systems or to use your terms “human agencies”. I have looked comprehensively at the whole of management theory. I am currently working on political economy and the implications are so startling that it is no surprise to me that few professional academics are exploring these problems.

          As a quick metaphor, we understand how a Porsche 911 works because we understand (probably) all the isomorphic laws of closed systems. And a motor car is a closed system. We understand only a very few of the isomorphic laws of an oak tree, which is an open system (CAS).

          So is a company like a car? these constructs can be construed as isomorphies: measure, design, build, control…

          Or is it like an oak tree: plant, fertilize, grow… with isomorphies like: emergence, synergy, innovation.

          Then look at the economy and see what set of isomorphic laws might apply and then you will get a sense of where I’m coming from.

          And no I am not some nutter with a beyond unity engine to fuel the world for eternity. Some of those stigmas have been attached to Complexity, probably by the power-elites who want it just the way it is.

          • P J Evans says:

            They tend to assume that humans react in predictable, rational ways. There’s no real evidence for either of those.

  23. Rusharuse says:

    Mueller . . . . . Mueller?

    No “Perp walks” today –  get to eat Xmas pud at home? Very disappointing!

  24. posaune says:

    scribe @ 5:54; completely agree. can’t help but remember that it was Bill Clinton who signed the repeal of Glass Steagall. to me, that was the beginning of the bow down to wall street.

    • koolmoe says:

      yeah…but wasn’t that with the CwA Republican congress? And Bill was trying to play their game – compromise, give a little, get a little…which plainly doesn’t work with Republicans…but iirc that was the justification overall, though seems like way to big a Give.

  25. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    @scribe — agree on every. single. point.

    I made it to the elliptical machine today, hit MSNBC, and there was Neera Tanden, yet again, yammering away about whatever. The media needs to stop booking the very people who were complicit in electing politicians who failed deliver accountability to the public, while enriching themselves and banksters.

    Before the election, Dylan Ratigan described the US public as deep into the ‘elimination game’, to wit:
    You give me 5 bucks, you keep 5, we’re good.
    You give me 4 bucks, you keep 6, I’m unsettled.
    You give me 3 bucks, you keep 7, I’m getting pissed.
    You give me 2 bucks, you keep 8, and I’m going to burn the f*cking house down if that’s what it takes to ensure that you will never get another dollar.

    What’s interesting is that research from the field of epidemiology (‘The Spirit Level’) has uncovered a trove of data showing quite clearly that when things are evenly distributed, every single individual in the society has better health. You get into the 2 : 8 range, and even the (few) people keeping 8 dollars start having more health problems.

    IMVHO, in about 2008 Obama’s policies were the equivalent of offering Americans 3 dollars (while the banks, military contractors, and unaccountable forces kept 7), and by 2016, a whole lot of pissed off people were willing to risk the ‘elimination game’ and burn the f*cking house down.

    I seriously doubt that any of them could even imagine dismembered journalists as part of the bargain.

    The GOP needs to ask itself how much collateral damage can happen before there’s nothing left to save.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Note that scribe mentioned the war against the ‘Axis of Evil’, as well as the lack of accountability.

        Anecdotally, I was hearing simmering frustration about lack of accountability.  One of the manifestations was financial — people making the decisions about how to handle the Financial Meltdown (Geithner, bankers) may have lost money in the stock market, but they continued to have jobs, titles, sinecures.  Other people actually lost jobs, while municipalities were cutting budgets.  There was a sense that the people who caused the problem(s) — military, financial — got away without so much as being fingerprinted, whereas others lost considerable amounts of money (but due to lack of political connections, were financial collateral damage for the larger system.)  Look at how many people who were cheerleading for Iraq are currently pundits on cable tv shows; how is that accountability?!

        However, this post is about creating new foreign policy structures.  It’s my view that people who are traumatized by losing years of savings tend to hunker down.  This increases the difficulty of engaging their interest, and they believe themselves more constrained than they had expected.  That translates to weak political support.

        I agree with scribe that this whole mess has been years in the making.  I interpret the November elections as a sign that people are very open to new leadership, and new ideas.  But new leaders will have to set up accountability structures, and they will have to show they are competent.  It would be a welcome change (!).

        Trump is a symptom at least as much as he is a cause.  Getting the diagnosis correct is at least half the battle.  That diagnosis will have to incorporate the points that scribe made, IMVHO.

          • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

            As far as I’m aware, there was never an AUMF about the ‘Axis of Evil’, although they were clearly implied to be ‘terrorists and their funders’.  I don’t believe there was ever a declaration, although Bush II did yammer about it in a speech to Congress:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btkJhAM7hZw

            I thought that was part of the point of this post: a history of short-sighted policies, and – as scribe pointed out – complete lack of accountability, have brought us to this moment.   People were expedient, and now we have blowback like … well… like the phrase ‘bone saw’ taking on a whole new resonance.


    • Eureka says:

      I have viewed my R senator as a hopeless cause, due to his staunch record on blowing off constituents, his role in the tax bill, and his ‘not up until ’22’ shield, among other things.  I will try to de-jade my attitude and approach in January.  Might not be the best use of my time, but it’s an option.

  26. fastenbulbous says:

    “Hey, Mr Republicans, please stop heating up the water we are in. If you don’t we will be very upset.

    Everybody will be mad at you.

    Thank you for listening”

    signed the frogs

  27. Jonathan says:

    Well, I can’t help but remember how unnecessary TARP was, and the less well understood reason why the public has had every right to be furious about the bank bailouts, ever since.

    Fun fact: there was one, and only one day–September 18, 2008– where the financial sector crisis actually threatened to unravel the rest of the economy. When Lehman Brothers failed, money money market funds had to take losses on the Lehman bonds they owned. And therefore holders of money market funds could no longer count on getting back on demand, all the money they had on deposit in money market accounts. At which point everyday customers, who had believed that money market accounts were as safe as bank accounts, stampeded to withdraw funds, to the tune of billions of dollars per hour.

    But money market funds are also crucial as a source of funding for Corporate America — many companies, like, say, Wal-Mart, finance their inventories by selling short term bonds to money market funds. So at the height of the crisis the run on money funds indeed did threaten to cut off major corporations from short term credit, instantly. A scenario right out the ‘Thirties.

    So Geroge W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson did the only thing he could have done. He caused the Treasury to guarantee money funds against loss. End of panic, at least on the facts.

    Having basically extended an FDIC guarantee to money market funds, there was no need for TARP. At all. Paulson’s energetic, and successful selling of TARP was all about bailing out his Wall Street friends. America’s economy was already safe. In short, Paulson LIED. Viciously.

    After stopping the panic Paulson should have had the FDIC put all the weak banks into receivership, fired the bad managements, and jailed the criminal managements, as happened in 1989-90 with the bad thrift institutions. (In the wake of the S&L crisis, 1,062 bankers went to jail.) Instead, he corruptly saved the bad bankers when his duty was to save the banking SYSTEM. And then to top it off, the Fed spent trillions of taxpayer money to prop up the bad banks with a plethora of credit facilities which were given purposely opaque acronyms like TALF, TSLF, etc.

    Obama continued the policies of Bush and Paulson, sent no bankers to jail, and allowed the bad bankers to foreclose on 9 to 14 million homes, depending on how you count. That’s 10 million or more families who were left bankrupt, with NOTHING. He even allowed the two weakest big banks, BankAmerica and Citigroup, to stay whole at taxpayers expense. W. started it but Obama — was enthusiastically complicit. No wonder the rubes supported Trump and decided to burn everything down.

  28. JohnM says:

    Why are you associating Jim Comey’s time at HSBC for less than 6 months in 2013 with the 2008 financial crisis? Maybe the association is strong(er) with Bridgewater Associates but I’m not familiar with this latter institution.

    Separate from this post, an interesting line of inquiry is how Comey and Stuart Levey, Treasury’s ex-financial intelligence mastermind and HSBC chief legal counsel from 2012, might have worked together to respond to Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou’s 2013 Power Point presentation to HSBC on Huawei’s connection to Skycom and non-connection, asserts Wanzhou, to financial dealings in Iran. Five years later, that PP presentation is a key part of the US govt’s open court justification for extraditing Wanzhou from Canada.

  29. Charles says:

    What the left as a whole fails to realize (with Noam Chomsky as a notable exception) is that all Great Powers are ruthless and violent. Withdraw American power and the void will be filled with Russian or Chinese power. In the case of Russia, at least, that power is barely distinguishable from organized crime. Some of the largest humanitarian crises in the world are being caused by the Chinese, the Saudis, the Moroccans, the Burmese. Many times the most brutal killers have the same nationality or ethnicity as their victims.

    When America was the sole hegemon, calling for American withdrawal from countries it occupied made some sort of sense. Now, it doesn’t.

    The long-term solution is genuine democracy, beginning here, but extended to every corner of this troubled planet.

  30. Watson says:

    To Jonathan at 9:51pm:
    Obama understands and accepts what the late Bob Fitch called the ‘grim hydraulics of trickle-down economics’. In the election campaign after the 2007-08 financial meltdown, McCain was a deer in the headlights on economic policy, but Obama knew what the banksters wanted and he gave it to them: criminal immunity, a bail-out, and an effectively interest-free credit line that continues to this day.

  31. Jonathan says:

    @Watson: Exactly right. The pity is that Obama — theoretically at least — had a short window of opportunity where he could have rammed a proper solution of the financial crisis through his Congressional majority and ensured Democratic rule for years to come. OTOH he has been well paid in retirement, for the favors he did in office for the corporate/ financial powers that be. Following Bill Clinton’s trail.

    I don’t mean to be singling out the Dems here. In my view, the Republicans stand for evil and the Democrats stand for nothing.

    • BobCon says:

      No. The Democrats in Obama’s time stood for Obamacare, which was definitely something. It was short of a true national healthcare system, but it has meant health coverage for tens of millions who otherwise went without.

      You can go down the list of the environment, labor protections, consumer protections and more. Not enough, but something.

      It’s easy to dismiss things like Obamacare if you aren’t using it, or the other parts of the ACA. But the protests of the last two years have made it clear that millions and millions need the ACA, and we’re seeing millions of other people who are being hurt when they lose other things Democrats stand for.

      They’re short of of where they need to be, but they are still big, important things. Screw nihilism and all of its malignant relatives.

      • Eureka says:

        Great comment, and this part should be framed:

        Screw nihilism and all of its malignant relatives.

        (And while I am framing things, something Rayne ~said a couple months back should be so memorialized:)

        Facebook should be burned to the ground

        ~pretty sure this was it

  32. klynn says:

    Marcy, thank you for this piece. Sadly, the avenues for action used by the peacemakers were destroyed when USIA was “dismembered” with the budgets and programs buried inside DOD and the State deprtment. Over time, DOD and the State dept disolved a number of the programs that would have done the work you are suggesting. We would have to reinvent the wheel for the most part, in order to stand up and answer all your questions above. Whatever effort would be done now, probably could not get in to place in time. Some aspects could get into place fairly quickly, but not all. The history behind the destruction of USIA is a sad statement about our nation abandoning concepts such as geopolitical stabilization and democracy building.

  33. Trip says:

    Marcy tweeted:

    Bolton’s Hawkish Syria Plan Backfired, Pushing Trump to Get Out

    The national security adviser expanded U.S. goals in Syria to challenge Iran. But Trump wasn’t on board, senior officials say, and Turkey took an opportunity to push the U.S. out.


    Can someone explain why, if this is true, Bolton hasn’t been shit-canned? While you’re at it, can someone explain why Bolton was hired in the first place, since he is a known hawkish psychopathic nutjob?
    If your goal is to bring troops home worldwide, why hire someone you know is always itching for war? On top of that, why hire so many generals, to begin with? Their specialty is war and battle. Why kill the state department?

    • Howamart says:

      Because Trump has no stable ideology or plans, and does what sounds good at the time based on whoever has his ear at the moment (usually a FOX shouter)?

  34. klynn says:

    EW, the Ackerman link you tweeted…

    While I am no fan of Bolton, and on the whole,  I think the story has a ring of truth; I would be thinking really hard, if I were Spencer, about the source and whether they are possibly a foreign agent. The narrative reads like propaganda to counter the “Putin over Mattis” conclusion from Mattis’ letter.

  35. Trip says:

    Really? I thought it read like, “Trump had strong ideological ideals and a singular mission against ISIS, while Bolton fucked it up wanting to fight Iran, and Erdogan’s threat caused Trump to make the sudden announcement of pulling out”. AKA “Not Trump’s fault”. I read it last night, but IIRC, it doesn’t seem to touch the Mattis resignation. But you could be right, I have no idea. I was kind of tired at that point.

    • klynn says:

      I’ll add that it appears possible  the person who sourced the “fire Powell at the Fed”  sourced the Ackerman bit.

  36. Trip says:

    Since we’re upon the holidays…Peeps without paychecks, immigrants without water, children torn from parents, healthcare at risk…

    Trump believes the crowds are always cheering for him (based on what miserly Fox News talking heads say). It reminds me of this scene from the classic 1970’s Scrooge: where Scrooge completely misinterprets the town’s sentiments toward him.

    Thank you very much:


  37. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump’s shutdown includes the DoJ and Kirstjen Nielsen’s Heimat Sicherheitsdienst, which oversees the SS detail that used to be managed by the Treasury, showing what a funny sense of security Trump has.  I’m sure he would be happy to starve Mueller’s team – and everyone else at the DoJ investigating his family’s crimes – for months on end.

    The whole thing is a farce.  Trump tells himself he’s showing toughness and resolve, and keeping his base riled, resentful and faithful.  In fact, he demonstrates his lack of resolve as well as judgment.  And he demonstrates his willingness to make anyone and everyone suffer until he gets that warm bottle of milk with the fresh nipple he needs to make himself feel secure.

    I feel sorry for the White House staff that the workaholic Don won’t be spending his half month holiday at Mar-a-Lago: they could use the break and M-a-L could probably use the revenue, what with all those undocumented workers to pay.

  38. BobCon says:

    @EofH – What do think is the over/under on the number of hours Trump lasts in his symbolic stay in DC before he flees for Florida? 24? 36?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You’re better at that than I am, but I’ll go for 48 and a Sunday evening getaway, when the fewest people are paying attention.  Man works so hard, he’s gottahaveabreak.  That’ll give Mar-a-Lago a week’s worth of income to keep it afloat.

  39. P J Evans says:

    I had ACA coverage for two years between retiring and hitting 65. For my 65th birthday, I used it to get the tetanus-pertussis booster, the shingles shot (which Medicare does not cover, even though it’s only recommended for people over 50 or 60), and a flu shot. The shingles shot (Zostavax, at that time) alone is more than $200. I was happy not to have to pay that, though I think $25 or 30 would be a reasonable copay for that kind of cost.

  40. Jenny says:

    Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one. John Lennon

  41. Vinnie Gambone says:

    To Tea Leaves point RE: Dylan Ratigan. During the campaign a journalist was asking Die Hard Trump supporters why they still supported Trump given his many falsehoods. He reported this response from one of them. ” Oh, I know Trump’s not going to build the wall, and that his spiel about jobs and making America Great is just BS.” … reporter: ” So then why are you voting for him ? …Reponse. ” Oh, just to stick it to people like you.” More truth in that than any other explanation.

    I firmly believe that sentiment is present in most if not all of Trump’s voters. They are just sick of the overeducated, over articulated finger wagging, know it alls. Maybe me not talk pretty some day, but me vote for Trump today, and double em ef you policy wonks, and wanks if you don’t like it. It is palpable in any discussion with almost any Trumpian, this disdain, this disgust. ” Disgusting ” Disgraceful” All the vocabulary of scorn Trump and his supporters constantly use. It is visceral. not cerebral.

    The studies on voters have shown, ( Pew, I think ) no amount of discourse changes the other side’s mind. No one ever says, you know, I never thought about it that way, Your Right !. So the sliding scale of the elimination game makes sense to me. And therein lies a gateway to new circles of hell.

    I don’t know how we ever come back from that.

  42. Vinnie Gambone says:

    Well, my Christmas has been made by having stumbled upon this site. Talk about wise men and wise women. Wow . Thank you all.

  43. Wm. Boyce says:

    “Trump would not be President if George Bush had not invaded Iraq, abetted by Frum’s nifty tagline, Axis of Evil. Trump would not be President if the banks that crashed the economy in 2008 had been accountable by people like former Bridgewater Associates executive and HSBC board member then FBI Director Jim Comey.”

    Yes, ol’ W and his “Axis of Evil.” And Alan Greenspan who never lifted a finger at the Fed, even though he had all the tools to restrain the insane housing bubble that burst.

    “David Brooks has a FWB-style relationship with the truth,…”

    I don’t know what FWB means, but Mr. Brooks is featured in an Intercept piece as writing the worst piece ever in the late-not-lamented American Standard in 2003. It started with the deathless phrase, “Now that the war in Iraq is over…”

    Nobody in their right mind is going to work w/the creature, which leaves the Fox & Friends crew.

  44. David says:

    It is “going to take building, not severing, relationships with some Republicans.” The sane are apart from Republicans for reasons, not for the cruel fun of it the way Republicans hate liberals. Republicans do not play well with others.

  45. Bay State Librul says:

    <<There’s plenty of blame to go around. Limiting it to Republicans turns it into a partisan exercise and will vitiate, or enervate, cleaning up the mess. This has been a long time coming, and will be a long time cleaning up.>> Scribe.

    I agree, the Dems are not perfect, but you’ve thrown around a lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking to fill the Rose Bowl.

  46. Michael says:

    RE: David Brooks (NY Times)…. When PBS’ News Hour went to their usual Friday segment “with Shields and Brooks”, David Brooks was “away”. Both his replacement(1) and Mark Shields were reduced to stammering for words expressing: their outrage for the firing of SECDEF; blistering Trump’s hide; dire consequences of the two. I thought, “How convenient that Brook’ being “away” spared him the tightrope walk of equivocation and sapred us having to grit our teeth through it.

    (1) Cannot pull up the name of Brooks’ replacement, but I’ve read him many times (in WaPo, I think).

  47. Trip says:

    Have we heard any more news on troop withdrawal? In spite of whatever questionable catalyst got us here, it would be nice to know that there is movement. Also, are we only moving boots off the ground? What about airstrikes from drones or planes? With that military budget increase, will we simply be replacing the troops with more diabolical maneuvers like supplanting them with Erik Prince’s murder for hire mercenaries? Getting out of Syria and Afghanistan is long overdo. But we need more information.

  48. earlofhuntingdon says:

    if Trump “withdraws” troops the way he signs bills (really, blank sheets of paper) for the camera at his White House “studio”, the troops won’t be coming home for some time.

  49. P J Evans says:

    @earlof huntingdon
    As I understand it, most of the bills Himself has to sign are things like post-office naming. The only major one is the CR that he’s refusing to sign because it’s not funding his effing wall.

  50. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Except that in the most recent “signing ceremony,” the papers on his desk, on which he swirled his signature as if he were finger painting, were blank sheets of paper.

    Like much else in this administration, it’s all for show – and to hide what the Don is really doing.

  51. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As if we needed another reminder that irony is dead, the new “acting” SecDef is telling the Don that defense costs are too high.

    I assume that Patrick Shanahan – a former Boeing executive – means that it is other defense contractors which are overcharging the DoD.

  52. timbo says:

    I’m feeling that some of what has happened these past few weeks has something to do with this as well…


    Basically, Netanyahu is also a player in these games… something we forget… except when he comes to the US, snubs POTUS Obama, and does a private speaking tour of the GOP lead Congress. I feel…follow the money… because, possibly, Netanyahu’s troubles involve US entities and some of those US entities may have laundered campaign monies… possibly in 2016… and maybe even in 2018… these games aren’t new and this isn’t just about Russia and China but also about the weakening of representative democracy and the rise of authoritarianism in general…

Comments are closed.