The Valerie Plame affair and domestic spying are not unusual in the U.S. Such 'scandals' grow out of the social and political base of a particular presidential regime. I think it is obvious that the Bush Regime's social base is relatively thin. If this supposition is accepted then the connections between the Valerie Plame Affair and the recently revealed program of domestic spying can be seen clearly, for what they are, an attempt to drive politics underground. Domestic leaks and domestic spying, when performed by one fraction of the ruling group to undermine another fraction of that group, is intra-class politics by other means.
The Guns and Cronies War & the Plame Affair
The kind of leak that flings mud at a "mainstream" political enemy and at the same time violates what our political advertising executives call "national security" is just a typical days work in times of regime insecurity. Such leaks most often occur when the governmental executive perceives that its political regime rests on a social class base that is a small fraction of the usual bipartisan ruling class support. I have remarked before in The Plame Affair, & the Social Character of the Bush Regime that in order for the Bush Regime to maintain support for its war policies it must buy off the sectors of the capitalist class with massive tax breaks and subsidies. It is trying to fight a "guns and butter" war in a way that is analogous to Lyndon Johnson's war. The Bush regime is also unable to institute a national military draft because it lacks of substantial popular support for the war. Popular mobilization for this war has not been possible, basically because the Bush regime is unable to tell basic truths of why the U.S. is in Iraq. (See my remarks on "imperial overreach" here.)
I am very suspicious of analogies between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War. The situations are completely different. The U.S. was willing to destroy Vietnam in order to obtain partial victory in the war against Southeast Asia. Vietnam had not resources that were vital to the economy of the world. The U.S. cannot destroy Iraq "in order to save it" the way it destroyed Vietnam. Not only is the oil supply in Iraq important but the region itself especially Saudi Arabia is key to U.S. goals of maintaining a hand on the thermostat of the world economy.
But there are some analogies to the Vietnam War which are useful, only because Vietnam provides a rich historical example of a war that eventually lost all popular appeal and was supported by an executive with a narrow social base.
Toward the Eighteenth Brumaire of George Bush: Domestic Spying
It is predictable that the current Bush Regime will begin to act in similar ways toward its mainstream political opponents as Presidents Johnson and Nixon. I think that this is the real lesson we should draw from the way the Bush advisors borrow from fascist legal theorist Carl Schmitt's ideas of unlimited executive power. The Bush Regime must establish something that imitates a Bonapartist administration in order to maintain its policies.
Even though Bush's political opponents would not put their analysis in the terms that I am using, one of the reasons for the uproar against domestic spying and the violation of FISA, is that a significant section of U.S. ruling groups realize that their rights might be violated if they allow this to pass unnoticed. They are not concerned with privacy rights per se. If they were they would stop corporations from invading our privacy every single day. They would also put a stop to FBI spying on peace groups, etc. The real problem with Bush's assertion that national security reasons gives him the right to decide who should be spied on is that it is potentially disrupted to other powerful political factions (the Democrats) and to financial capital. The kind of spying being used by the Bush regime could be used to spy on financial capital networks, for instance. It could be used to stop both technically legal and substantially illegal money laundering which often helps to sustain financial systems through bad times. Finally, if the Bush regimes domestic doctrines on spying hold their is the potential of Watergate type spying on the opposition party.
RFK, LBJ, the FBI - Leaks, National Security & Dirty Tricks
As an example of a kind of leak that is directly analogous to the Plame Affair I offer the following from a review of Taylor Branch's latest volume of his wonderful Martin Luther King biography:
In early March of 1967, Robert F. Kennedy suggested that the heavy bombing of Vietnam be suspended. Within twenty-four hours, headlines carried news of Kennedy’s involvement in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. Branch sets out the facts, and the reader is left to connect the dots running from an avenging Oval Office to an obliging F.B.I. headquarters.
J. Edgar Hoover looms unforgettably in these pages. No reader who has digested the Church Committee reports will be surprised by Branch’s evidence of F.B.I. transgressions against King and anyone else Hoover deemed un-American. Referring to King as “the burr head,” Hoover provided Johnson with spurious reports of Communists at the center of the S.C.L.C. and with copious evidence of King’s prolific extramarital calisthenics. Worse, he kept intelligence of assassination plots from King and barred F.B.I. agents from providing covert protection. THE MISSION by DAVID LEVERING LEWIS: Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s final chapter a review in the New Yorker - Issue of 2006-01-23 of Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge : America in the King Years, 1965-68
We should realize that we receive information from the rulers of our governmental either by accident or because we fight for it. Such leaks should be viewed as gifts to those of us who want to keep track of the history of our leaders. From this leak we learned about the Murder Incorporated run by Robert Kennedy from the White House.
We must also see the reason why such leaks are made and see those reasons clearly. Johnson was losing at the polls. He was fighting an increasingly unpopular war. In 1967 a large portion of U.S. corporations that did not benefit directly from Vietnam War spending had realized that the main reasons for the war no longer applied. Vietnam could be destroyed without continued invasion and the threat of the Vietnamese virus spreading to Indonesia had been stopped by the mass slaughter of approximately a half-million to a million Indonesians - a slaughter the U.S. rulers pushed forward and for which the CIA provided technical support. By 1967 it was clear that Johnson was loosing the support of the liberal "internationalists" of the major corporations. Johnson also knew it. Under these conditions he decided to push forward. He would do so by means of dirty tricks.
An Exhibition of the Weakness of the Bush Regime
It is important to see that often such dirty tricks against other members of the ruling group is a sign of weakness in any given executive regime. This is also true in the case of the Bush regime. If Bush wanted the power for domestic spying and if his policies were popular among the population as a whole and/or if there had been consensus among the rulers he would have simply gone to congress and authorized violations on our civil and human rights. This is what Franklin Roosevelt did. And when FDR violated domestic human rights he simply announced it publicly and then put all Japanese in concentration camps. He could do this because the war he was fighting had massive public support and, at least in relation to his military-industrial policy, massive support from the corporate owners.
Bush has no such support and thus must slander his mainstream opponents, buy off his corporate sponsors, and work his violations of the rule of law under the cover of darkness.
New York City
18 January 2006
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