Iran, Trump, and the neoliberal/neoconservative compact

Bill Martin

Preface for this moment: The aim of my series of articles that began in March 2016 is not journalism, but instead to try to understand something that is unfolding at a rapid pace. When I look at certain philosophers and political theorists who are able to give immediate responses to very current events, I am a little envious, but at the same time I’m not at all sure that it’s such a good idea for philosophers to model responses of this sort.

We are already so deep into an anti-philosophy and anti-considered-reflection (anti-) “culture” that it seems not a good idea to add to this.

Obviously, social media has multiplied these tendencies to a stupifying degree, the overall effect of which cannot be estimated. Somehow in the midst of this at least some of us have to hold to the principle that the Owl of Minerva may take some days after the dusk to take flight.

As the Iran question opened up again, I was attempting to complete a second article on the impeachment nonsense. Then I thought to combine this piece with some material on the present Iran situation. There are interconnections to be sure, very strong ones as discussed below, but then I worried about the problems of “combining-two-into-one” (as Uncle Mao put it) and of making things too long and losing the thread.

Also, part of the next impeachment article discusses the Identity Politics angle played by Constitutional-Law witness Prof. Pamela Karlan, and, while I don’t think this issue is trivial, certainly it is trivial when placed in the context of happenings in the Middle East. Iran first, then.


My second piece here at Off Guardian raised harsh criticisms for the actions in Bolivia supported by the Trump administration and seemingly by President Trump himself.

At the same time I question how much of this actually comes from Trump and what is behind it — at the least, there are complex negotiations and maneuverings going on in the crossing/colliding orbits of the foreign policy agenda Trump has expressed many times, and all of the other factors of the power structure (the political establishment, the ruling class, the permanent state, the Deep State — and, if you can’t swallow this last term, just go with the CIA and the rest of the “intelligence community”), including the many minders who have been placed in the White House to attempt, often successfully, to undermine Trump.

In these circumstances, around the assassination of Gen. Qassim Suleimani, we cannot fail to add Israel and its intelligence agency — Mossad — and its military might, especially its nuclear weapons, and its U.S. proxy agency, AIPAC, into this mix. (Remember the especially galling moment in Netanyahu’s address to the U.S. Congress in 2015 when he demanded that Iran do certain things so that it could become a “normal country”?)

The State of Israel is unquestionably right in the center of what is unfolding here.

And certainly, in the case of anything that has global implications, Russia and China are involved too, and it cannot be a coincidence that these two countries have been conducting joint naval exercises with Iran.

In the largest terms, I think two things are going on.

First, Iran and Israel have been on a tripwire for a good while now—this should be news to no one. Can anyone imagine that things are otherwise than both regimes being fully-prepared to take preemptive action?

Obviously it is entirely possible that when one of them does take preemptive action, this will become nuclear very quickly, quite possibly from the very start. Indeed, the most likely scenario is that Israel makes a preemptive strike, and that strike could very well take the form of their using one of their highly-advanced military aircraft to drop a hydrogen bomb on Tehran.

Both Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Gen. Soleimani have relentlessly taunted the U.S., and President Trump personally, for the last year. Regarding the Iranian activity in Iraq, and in particular the activities around the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Khamenei tweeted to Trump directly, “You can’t do anything.” (Apparently Ayatollahs tweet now.)

This sort of thing would not matter in the least if it was just typical social-media bullshit, but it is occurring in the midst of two things: Iran is indeed making major moves in the region and in Iraq specifically, and, meanwhile, the neoliberal-neoconservative establishment has been howling against Trump since he took office, and before, about his often-stated intention of getting the U.S. out of the Middle East altogether.

And many of those voices are howling, or at least claiming to howl, for the sake of the State of Israel.

For my part, I am strictly anti-interventionist and anti-imperialist, which is one of the two main reasons I’m a “communist for Trump.”

So, what I am saying is not meant to excuse anything, including whatever Trump’s actual role in all this is; but the military strike in Baghdad may have been as much to forestall a war between Israel and Iran (which the U.S. would almost certainly be a part of very quickly, and then Russia, China, possibly others, and WWIII could follow) as it was to take Iran down a notch. Whether this was a good idea for those purposes, and whether this will work to forestall various nightmare scenarios, are additional questions.

Second, not only is Trump hobbled by the impeachment nonsense, it is the purpose of this nonsense to hobble him. So much of the nonsense, beyond narrow power moves within the power structure, is coming from the Deep State (or whatever–the neoliberal/neocon establishment, the CIA, etc.), with the Democrats (and the so-called Left who have subordinated themselves to the Democrats) taking the lead (but with plenty of Republicans on board for intervention); the aim of this hobbling is so that the power players of the neoliberal economic agenda and the neoconservative military agenda (what I call the neoliberal/neocon compact) can basically go on a rampage, trying to make up time and (imperialist) opportunities lost during the Trump disruption.

Regardless, however, of whatever specifically is unfolding here, this is truly a case where the devil is in the details, and most of these details are hidden from most people. There are too many people out there, mostly social media “commentators” and “poli-sci major”-types talking large about this and that, without really backing up and getting a larger sense of the geopolitics on the one side, and not thinking about the possibilities of real politics, a real thinking of the polis, on the other. Whatever—this sort of thing isn’t going to stop, but we need something else, too; we need some real theory.

I know it’s not a nice thing to say what I said about poli-sci types. The sad thing is that it also applies to philosophers with Ph.D.s who have never really studied political questions, but who decided back in the 1980s that they better “get political.”

Much of this had to do with Marxist arguments about Heidegger and those working with and influenced by Heidegger, and not that they didn’t occasionally come up with some brilliant stuff on both sides. When I put together the book version of all these articles, I’ll do a big footnote on this whole scene, the prospects of which I know will thrill many present readers.

Kidding aside, though, and going to this “theory” question, the kinds of readers who would find such a discussion worth pursuing are more like the ones who, I hope and imagine, would find my general project, of the Trump Clarification, Disruption, etc., worthwhile.

To make a very long story short, these philosophers, literary theorists, etc., especially those more influenced by Heidegger, had for a long time said that political questions did not interest them; then, in the space of a few years, they suddenly decided that what they were doing was not only “political,” or that it speaks to “the political” — they took the term over from Hannah Arendt — they suddenly began to declare that they were doing the real political theory all along and were far in advance of anyone else.

And again, some brilliant stuff came out of this scene, even if the people doing this work were pretty annoying at times—and not that I wasn’t pretty annoying myself, in the midst of all this.

What is most relevant for the present discussion, though, is that even by now most of these smart people have still not really given much attention to politics for itself, either in the sense of the anti-politics of mere machinations and circulations of power, or the real politics of what needs to be done and understood in order to create a good society.

Back in the day, despite some highfalutin’ rhetoric, most of these good people remained about what you would expect from academia, just sort of your typical left-liberals.

And that’s more or less where these people, and their academic progeny, are now, except they’ve more recently dressed themselves up as brave resistance fighters against Trump and the hordes of horrible, deplorable “Wal-Mart” people.

The poli-sci types are the same, politically, but without the deep reading and pedigree.

My brilliant life-partner thinks through these things quite a lot, and our conversations are crucial to my own thinking. These are some notes she made on Jan. 4:

I get the sense there are contradictory and complex Deep State factions.

On the one hand, the ever present ‘bomb bomb Iran’ group. On the other hand, the ‘pivot toward Iran’ group that seemingly Obama and Kerry had fashioned with the JCPOA, that ten-year moratorium on Iran developing a nuclear bomb, while allowing them to continue uranium enrichment.

In 2016 Obama also transferred $1.7 billion in cash to Iran, supposedly as reimbursement for weapons purchased by Iran from the U.S. in the 1970s but not delivered.

On top of that, I find very curious those claims that John Kerry has continued to actively work directly with Iran, telling them not to cooperate with Trump, seeking to undermine Trump’s attempts to get Iran to the table for a new, tougher deal, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

I wonder if this aspect is why Iran was so provocative of late, with their involvement in threatening a Benghazi redux against a US embassy in Iraq, and then cheeky in response to Trump’s increasing twitter ire, tauntingly replying to him, “you can’t do anything about it.”

Sounds to me like Iran leadership was waving a red flag in front of a Trumpian bull, itching for a fight. Either that, or maybe more likely, Iran leaders were supremely if naively confident that via John Kerry they had the US deep state on their side.

I mean, who knows, but it sounds like Kerry was whispering to Iran something like, ‘hey, don’t worry, we will get Trump out, then repivot to Iran’.

As late as October, Trump reiterated wanting to get out of the Middle East altogether:

We’re getting out. Let someone else fight over this long blood-stained sand. The job of our military is not to police the world.”

And then Iran picks up the pace. Thinking Trump will keep letting it go? Why pick that fight? Except thinking they’ve got better options coming from Kerry.

As one commenter said:

“Basically the equivalent of one leaving a bar fight, some guy stabs him in the back and so he turns round and smashes him with a bottle. Still not sticking around but needs to show who’s boss.”

At any rate, granted the US has a lot to answer for in meddling where we shouldn’t have been. But Trump has in some sense himself said this on occasion, and was the one wanting out, while still wanting to be tougher on Iran.

Also, US evil doings doesn’t mean Iran hasn’t got weird agendas of its own. (The Iranian constitution has written into it an imperative for expansion, and it has inserted itself into Iraq’s power structure, made possible of course, and possibly necessitated, after the US wrecked Iraq).

Pincer movements of US Deep State continue to be at work.

Maybe Trump has internalized the logic for his own Machiavellian reasons: not letting Iran taunt him without harsh reprisal, likewise signaling to North Korea not to try to put one past Trump who can outcrazy rocketman. I think Trump is sincere in wanting out of the Middle East, but is also a ruthless realpolitik type when entities don’t cooperate with the deals he offers and also when they actively threaten the US embassy.

At any rate, a section of the deep state has for many years or decades wanted war with Iran, and they seemed to have enticed or lured both sides into getting very close to that, feeding on both sides’ vanities or proclivities, while also actively undermining Trump’s hand of cards.

– Kathleen League, Ph.D. (Philosophy), author of Adorno, Radical Negativity, and Cultural Critique: Utopia in the Map of the World (2010)

It does help to discuss the ambitions of Iran in the Middle East and the world, in the context of a great Persian and Islamic civilization that goes back millennia. Some jarring of the historical memory—that is, lack thereof—of U.S. citizens is always good. (A good little bit of jarring to share with your less-memory-enabled friends: Show them a picture of the Taj Mahal, which is in India, of course, and remind them that this “wonder of the world” is an example of great Islamic architecture of Persian and Mughal inspiration.)

Given the “rise of China” (which may very well be the key to understanding much of what Trump is about, where the basic formula is the U.S. and China on the world stage, and everything else is triangulation), one could see a number of ancient civilizations wanting to get on board with challenging U.S. global hegemony.

One of the best articles I’ve seen on both sides of the current scene is Jim Kavanaugh’s “Impeachment: What Lies Beneath?” Let us note that this essay was first published at the author’s website, The Polemicist, on Dec. 17, 2019.

In the first half of the essay, “The Raw,” the author is discussing the remarkable weakness of the impeachment case and articles; the second half of the essay, “The Cooked,” begins with the following two paragraphs:

Which makes me wonder. The obviousness of this losing hand, and the fact that the most politically-seasoned, can’t-be-that-stupid Democrats seem determined to play it out, have my paranoid political Spidey senses all atingle. What are the cards they’re not showing? What lies beneath the thin ice of these Articles of Impeachment?

If the apparent agenda makes no sense, look for the hidden. Something that better explains why Pelosi, et. al. find it so urgent to replace Trump before the election and why they think they can succeed in doing that.

There is one thing that I can think of that drives such frantic urgency: War. That would also explain why Trump’s “national security” problem—embedded in the focus on Ukraine arms shipments, Russian aggression, etc.—is the real issue, the whistle to Republican war dogs.

But if so, the Ukro-Russian motif is itself a screen for another “national security”/war issue that cannot be stated explicitly. There’s no urgency about aggression towards Russia. There is for Iran.

These paragraphs mirror the structure of the essay altogether: beginning with impeachment and ending with Iran. In the next paragraph we see Kavanaugh’s prognosis, his proposal for how things might unfold:

So here’s my entirely speculative tea-leaf reading: If there’s a hidden agenda behind the urgency to remove Trump, one that might actually garner the votes of Republican Senators, it is to replace him with a president who will be a more reliable and effective leader for a military attack on Iran that Israel wants to initiate before next November. Spring is the cruelest season for launching wars.”

This was striking to read on December 17 and even more striking to reflect upon as of Friday, January 3. Kavanaugh’s arguments make a lot of sense, and perhaps it will turn out that “April is the cruelest month” (as he says at the end of the essay) — but don’t we have to consider that perhaps Trump has once again outplayed both Democrats and Republicans, and, even more, the Deep State?

As Trump said in announcing the drone strike that killed Gen. Soleimani, “We took action last night to stop a war; we did not take action to start a war.”

Attacks in/on other countries by the U.S. will not receive praise from me, not any more than did the U.S.-abetted coup in Bolivia. I will say, though, that I sure wish the party of the King of Drones, Barack Obama (who openly bragged about being “very good at killing people”) would shut the hell up.

That’s not going to happen, of course — the only thing here that will restrain them is the role of Israel in this.

Again, there’s no mystery to any of this—but what is a mystery to me is why anybody listens to the Democrats on this or any other issue.

Undoubtedly there are elements to this situation I don’t see or understand—but what we all have as a helpful guide is the fact that whatever the Democratic Party leadership says here, and whatever the conventional Left narrative presents on this situation, absolutely cannot be trusted.


One of the arguments I made in “Trump and the coup in Bolivia” (off-guardian.org, Dec. 16, 2019) is that “geopolitical considerations” are not a basis for intervening in a country that has never done anything to the intervening country.

This applies even more if the potential intervener is an imperialist state of global reach, such as the United States (and such as the UK, France, and that most under-maligned of countries, the Netherlands); it’s simply gangster logic to say that, for example, the United States “had to” intervene in (that is, invade) Vietnam because some other country was also aiming to intervene.

There is no geopolitical “teleological” that justifies the suspension of the ethical. That the U.S. invasion of Vietnam was a suspension of the ethical to a horrifying, and one could even say genocidal, degree should be a dramatic empirical example of what happens when “geopolitical” calculations take the place of “the ethical” in the sense I mean here, concern for the highest good of the people.

But of course the United States has not learned even the most elementary lessons here. Still, in this respect—and this is something that Democrats and the present Left are sickeningly hell-bent on avoiding—even simply the anti-interventionist rhetoric of Donald Trump, and his many references to “foolish wars” and the like, is vastly and qualitatively superior to what the main figures of the neoliberal-neoconservative compact, the Clintons, the Bushes, Obama, Cheney, etc., have to offer.

In particular, Trump on this point is vastly, qualitatively superior to Hillary Clinton — but this point is something that, despite a few weak protestations, the great majority of those supporting the Democrats seem to avoid at all costs (and there are tremendous costs!), or, to be uncharitable about things, they really just don’t care.

To the extent that these people are even thinking about such things, I suppose this is again a case where globalism is deemed superior to “nationalism.”

The general response of leftists and “blue no matter who”-types is to say, “Why are you still talking about Hillary?” They aren’t actually asking: this is just another diversion from the main point, which has to do with military intervention.

Just consider not only HRC’s attack on Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian agent, but also the fact that very few Democrats and even leftists could find the wherewithal to support Gabbard in her criticism of HRC as a corrupt warmonger.

The other main point on which Trump is vastly superior to Hillary and the rest of the neoliberal globalist core of the Democratic Party is in bringing to the fore the conditions and prospects of ordinary working people.

The only Democratic presidential candidates who have shown concern on these questions are Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang — who are also the ones who spoke up for Gabbard in her altercation with Hillary — and even Sanders is almost certainly not going to get anywhere near the nomination.

These two questions are related: the far-greater part of the “professional,” “educated,” “woke” liberal and “progressive” core of the Democratic Party want ordinary working people, i.e., the deplorables, to keep quiet, but also to keep working as long as that is needed by finance capital, keep going off to wars as long as that is needed by the neoliberal-neoconservative economic-military compact, and otherwise to go off and die from opioids, poverty, etc. Yes, there are limitations, sometimes severe, to what Trump has done or been able to do, on these issues.

But neither of these two big issues would even be issues if Trump had not been elected — not in the case of the Democratic nominee, not in the case of any other Republican who was running. Given this fact, I think it’s surprising that Trump has been able to do as much as he has, which includes changing the discourse significantly.

We can see this in the efforts of Pelosi and Schumer to challenge Trump on what is going on with Iran at this moment. As per usual, the elephant in the room, the State of Israel, is left out of all this.

And, as per usual, the thing they are criticizing Trump for, in this one instance, is something they never criticized Barack Obama for, even though the latter remains the world leader in drone strikes (and in deporting people back to Central and South America), and he did not seek the approval of Congress for any of this.

Never mind that the House impeachment hearings were supposedly all about “national security” and Trump’s not accepting everything that came out of the intelligence agencies at face value, and that now, when Trump does act on some very specific intelligence, they attack him for it.

But when I say “never mind,” I mean this both in the sense of noting the hypocrisy of it, but even more in the sense that nothing any Democratic political leader says (with perhaps a very few exceptions) should be granted any credence whatsoever.

These things being said, however, let us, all the same, consider a very important geopolitical question.

Let’s be clear, there is a difference between substituting geopolitical power calculations for a universal perspective on the good of humanity, and, on the other hand, recognizing that the existing layout of the world has to be taken into account in attempts to open up a true politics. (My larger perspective on the problem of “opening” is presented in the long essay, “The Fourth Hypothesis,” at counterpunch.org.)

Personally, I find the geopolitical analyses of George Friedman very much worthwhile to consider, especially when he is looking at things long-range, as in his books The Next 100 Years and The Next Decade. The latter was published at the beginning of 2012, and so we are coming to the close of the ten-year period that Friedman discusses.

One of the major arguments that Friedman makes in The Next Decade is that the United States will have to reach some sort of accommodation with Iran and its regional ambitions. The key to this, Friedman argues, is to bring about some kind of balance of power again, such as existed before Iraq was torn apart.

This is the key in general to continued U.S. hegemony in the world, in Friedman’s view—regional balances that keep regional powers tied up and unable to rise on the world stage. (An especially interesting example here is that Friedman says that Poland will be built up as a bulwark between Russia and Germany.)

In the larger global picture, if the U.S. is to find its own balance in the contemporary world, Friedman argues that the seemingly-endless instability in the Middle East is the first and foremost problem that must be solved. Iran is a major problem here, but so is Israel, and Friedman argues that the U.S. must find the path toward “quietly distanc[ing] itself from Israel” (p.6).

This course of action regarding Iran and Israel (and other actors in the Muslim world, including Pakistan and Turkey) is, in Friedman’s geopolitical perspective, not so much a matter of supporting U.S. global hegemony as it is recognizing the larger course that the U.S. will be compelled to take.

(As the founder, CEO, and “Chief Intelligence Officer” of Stratfor, Friedman aimed to provide “non-ideological” strategic intelligence. My understanding of “non-ideological” is that the analysis was not formulated to suit the agendas of the two mainstream political parties in the U.S. However, my sense is that Friedman does believe that U.S. global hegemony is on the whole good for the world.)

In his book that came out before The Next Decade (2011), The Next 100 Years (2009), Friedman makes the case that the U.S. will not be seriously challenged globally for decades to come—in fact, all the way until about 2080!

Just to give a different spin to something I said earlier, and that I’ve tried to emphasize in my articles since March 2016: questions of mere power are not questions of politics. Geopolitics is not politics, either—in my terminology, it is “anti-politics.”

For my part, I am not interested in supporting U.S. hegemony, not in the present and not in the future, and for the most part not in the past, either.

For the moment, let us simply say that the historical periods of the U.S. that are more supportable—because they make some contribution, however flawed, to the greater, universal, human project—are either from before the U.S. entered the road of seeking to compete with other “great powers” on the world stage, or quite apart from this road.

In my view, the end of U.S. global hegemony and, for that matter, the end of any “great nation-state” global hegemony, is a condition sine qua non of a human future that is just and sustainable. So, again, the brilliance that George Friedman often brings to geopolitical analysis is to be understood in terms of a coldly-realistic perspective, not a warmly-normative one.)

Of course, this continued U.S. hegemony depends on certain “wise” courses of action being taken by U.S. leaders (Friedman doesn’t really get into the question of what might be behind these leaders), including a “subtle” approach to the aforementioned questions of Israel and Iran.

Obviously, anything associated with Donald Trump is not going to be overly subtle! On the other hand, here we are almost at the end of Friedman’s decade, so perhaps the time for subtlety has passed, and the U.S. is compelled to be a bit heavy-handed if there is to be any chance of extricating itself from the endless quagmire.

However, there’s a certain fly, a rather large one, in the ointment that seems to have eluded Friedman’s calculations: “the rise of China.”

It isn’t that Friedman avoids the China question, not at all; Friedman argues, however, that by 2020 China will not only not be contending with the United States to have the largest economy in the world, but instead that China will fragment, perhaps even devolve into civil war, because of deep inequalities between the relatively prosperous coastal urban areas, and the rural interior.

Certainly I know from study, and many conversations with people in China, this was a real concern going into the 2010s and in the first half of the decade.

The chapter dealing with all this in The Next 100 Years (Ch. 5) is titled, “China 2020: Paper Tiger,” the latter term being one that Chairman Mao used regarding U.S. imperialism. Friedman writes of another “figure like Mao emerg[ing] to close the country off from the outside, [to] equalize the wealth—or poverty …” (p.7).

Being an anti-necessitarian in philosophy, I certainly believe anything can happen in social matters, but it seems as though President Xi Jinping and the current leadership of the Communist Party of China have, at least for the time being, managed to head off fragmentation at the pass, so to speak.

Friedman argued that the “pass” that China especially had to deal with is unsustainable growth rates; but it appears that China has accomplished this, by purposely slowing its economy down.

One of the things that Friedman is especially helpful with, in his larger geopolitical analysis, is understanding the role that naval power plays in sustaining U.S. hegemony. (In global terms, such power is what keeps the neoliberal “free market” running, and this power is far from free.)

Here again, though, we find an indicator where Friedman’s analysis of China appears to be off:

The Chinese have a weak navy that could not survive a confrontation with the United States. … China does not [even] have the naval power to force its way across the Taiwan Strait, … China is not going to develop a naval capacity that can challenge the United States within a decade. It takes a long time to build a navy.”

My insertion of the word “even” in the second sentence here changes the meaning of what Friedman is saying a little bit, but the basic point is that he was making this argument from the standpoint of 2009, and raising the question of what could happen if China felt compelled to accomplish militarily what it cannot do purely through economic means.

Note, as I did in the Off Guardian article on the coup in Bolivia, that the United States does this sort of thing all the time—because it can. Friedman’s argument is that China cannot do this, even in the case of Taiwan (which the PRC claims as a province, not a separate country).

Perhaps Friedman is right in terms of an actual naval confrontation in the Taiwan Strait, but it certainly appears to be the case that China has already in this last decade built a navy quite strong enough to force the United States to concede that such a confrontation would be a very bad idea in the first place.

If this is indeed the case, then it appears that China’s navy is already substantially on the (maritime) map, and we’re seeing this in the joint exercises recently conducted with the navies of Russia and Iran. The Straits of Taiwan are not the question at this moment so much as are the Straits of Hormuz, and a confrontation there would not be only a question of military power.

The larger point is that the PRC does seem to have reached the point that, just as with U.S. global power, every major geopolitical question is also a matter of Chinese power, whether economic, political, or military. And the Chinese navy is growing more rapidly than ever, even as we speak.

Given the way that military procurement and technology development works in the United States, basically through monopoly-capitalist economics and government-corruption “politics,” it seems highly likely, as Paul Craig Roberts has argued repeatedly, that in general China has better weapons systems and a better level of military preparedness than the United States, as does Russia as well.

In other words, what Friedman argued regarding Iran and Israel has to be rethought because it appears that China is indeed going to stay on the rise for some time to come.

This is hardly a scientific statement, but my own sense, having spent about a year in total out of the last eight in the PRC, is that it is hard to imagine China not surpassing the United States in almost every way. A very simple indicator of this is that there is great optimism in China; a lot of people there get out of bed every day thinking it’s going to be a good day, and they go to bed at night thinking tomorrow will be even better.

They aren’t manic about this—indeed, as with President Xi’s 2020 New Year’s address, which you can watch on YouTube, they tend to be measured and sensible.

There are exceptions, of course, but parents in China seem to love and care for their children (and the one-child family will remain the norm, it appears, despite the official change in policy) in ways that is not seen nearly as much in the U.S.; in turn, the schools are much better and the students work harder.

Yes, there are some ways in which people are “more free” in the U.S., though some of these “freedoms” are “bogus” (to quote Jeffersonian political theorist Jeff Spicoli), and there are other ways in which Chinese people are more free. For instance, walking down the street or going to a bar in China, there is almost no chance of an encounter that leads to someone being shot.

Even more significantly, women in general are vastly safer from sexual assault in China than in the United States — this is a legacy of the Mao period that does not get nearly the attention it deserves in the U.S., perhaps least of all among the current generation of feminists (or so-called “feminists”).

Ironically, however, recalibration of issues in light of China’s continued rise still points in the same direction that Friedman points to: reach an accommodation with Iran, let armed-to-the-teeth/nuclear Israel deal with its own affairs and reach its own arrangement with Iran, achieve energy independence in the U.S., and essentially get out of the Middle East.


One area where we could certainly discuss subtlety is regarding Trump’s military threat against Iran’s cultural sites. Many people posted pictures of these sites on Facebook and elsewhere, and it was wonderful to see them.

Certainly, it was an ugly thing for Trump to threaten these great creations of human civilization. And yet, again — and this is where I get in trouble with my friends who think that all I do is make excuses for Trump, but here goes — I think the purpose of these threats was quite different than what my liberal and left friends and others imagined.

Of course this is because, for them, only the most base and stupid motivations can be assigned to Trump. I’m not going to defend a threat against great artifacts of an ancient civilization any more than I would the drone strike that led to this scenario in the first place (though, again, would the defenders of the King of Drones ferme ta bouche, si vous plait?) — but it seems more than likely that the strategery employed by Trump here was to rouse the Iranian masses to consider what their regime was getting them into. And that seems to have worked — not that that is all to be said on the matter (see thoughts on utilitarianism and pragmatism below).

George Friedman has a new book coming out on February 25, The Storm Before the Calm; I’m looking forward to reading it.


Getting out of the Middle East, where nothing good has been achieved (even in the warped terms of U.S. imperialism) for decades, has been Trump’s declared purpose for some time now. A dividing line needs to be drawn, very-sharply drawn, between those who support this goal, and those who oppose this goal.

Whether those who want to keep the endless war machine turning are Democrats or Republicans, they ought to be opposed vigorously, and rendered unacceptable as anyone who is allowed to be any kind of “public representative” or to have their hands on the real machinery of power.

Of course, the latter group includes numerous figures whose records are not up for review by anyone, such as Bill Kristol or Max Boot; others are media figures such as Rachel Maddow; still others are top generals in the pentagon or ensconced functionaries in the State Department; and then there are others whose names or exact positions in the state apparatus you and I will never know.

In all of these groups, Trump’s only real tools are rhetoric and exposure — and yet the dogs of war still howl with indignation that anyone would question what they are doing.

Two of the best supporters of Trump’s stated agenda are Tucker Carlson and Steve Hilton. Neither of them pull any punches on this issue when it comes to Republicans, and both of them go some distance beyond Trump in stating an explicitly anti-war agenda.

They perhaps do not entirely fit the mold of leftist anti-imperialism as it existed from the 1890s through the Sixties (as in the political decade, perhaps 1964-1974 or so) and 1970s, but they do in fact fit this mold vastly better than almost any major figure of the Democratic Party, with the possible exceptions of Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and Andrew Yang. (But none of them has gone as far as Trump on this question!)

Certainly Elizabeth Warren is no exception, and at the moment of this writing she has made the crucial turn toward sticking the knife back into Bernie’s back. That is her job, in my view, and part of it is to seem close to Bernie’s positions (whatever their defects, which I’ll discuss elsewhere), at least the ones that are more directly “economic,” while winking at the ruling class.

There are a few things Carlson and Hilton say on the Iran situation and the Middle East in general that I don’t agree with. But in the main I think both are right on where these issues are concerned.

As I’ve quoted Carlson a number of times previously, and as I also want to put forward Hilton as an important voice for a politics subservient to neither the liberal nor the conservative establishments, here let me quote what Hilton said in the midst of the Iran crisis, on January 5, 2020:

The best thing America can do to put the Middle East on a path that leads to more democracy, less terrorism, human rights and economic growth is to get the hell out of there while showing an absolute crystal clear determination to defend American interests with force whenever they are threatened.

That doesn’t mean not doing anything, it means intervening only in ways that help America.

It means responding only to attacks on Americans disproportionately as a deterrent, just as we saw this week…and it means finally accepting that it’s not our job to fix the Middle East from afar.

The only part of this I take exception to is the “intervening only in ways that help America”-bit—that opens the door to exactly the kinds of problems that Hilton wants the U.S. to avoid, besides the (to me, more important) fact that it is just morally wrong to think it is acceptable to intervene if it is in one’s “interests.”

My guess is that Hilton thinks that there is some built-in utilitarian or pragmatic calculus that means the morally-problematic interventions will not occur. I do not see where this has ever worked, but more importantly, this is where philosophy is important, theoretical work and abstract thinking are important.

It used to be that the Left was pretty good at this sort of thing, and there were some thoughtful conservatives who weren’t bad, either. (A decent number of the latter, significantly, come from the Catholic intellectual tradition.) Now there are still a few of the latter, and there are ordinary people who are “thoughtful conservatives” in their “unschooled way”—which is often better!—but the Left has sold its intellectual soul along with its political soul.

That’s a story for elsewhere (I have told parts of it in previous articles in this series); the point here is that the utilitarianism and “pragmatism” of merely calculating interests is not nearly going to cut it. (I have partly gone into this here because Hilton also advocates “pragmatism” in his very worthwhile book, Positive Populism — it is the “affirmative” other side to Tucker Carlson’s critical, “negative” expose, Ship of Fools.)

The wonderful philosophical pragmatism of William James is another matter; this is important because James, along with his friend Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), were leading figures of the Anti-Imperialist League back in the 1890s, when the U.S. establishment was beating the drums loudly to get into the race with Europeans for colonies.

They were for never getting “in”—and of course they were not successful, which is why “get the hell out” is as important as anything people can say today.

What an insane world when the U.S. president says this and the political establishment opposes him, and “progressives” and “the Left” join in with the denunciations!

It has often been argued that the major utilitarian philosophers, from Bentham and Mill to Peter Singer, have implicit principles that go beyond the utilitarian calculus; I agree with this, and I think this is true of Steve Hilton as well.

In this light, allow me to quote a little more from the important statement he made on his Fox News Channel program, “The Next Revolution,” on January 5; all of this is stuff I entirely agree with, and that expresses some very good principles:

The West’s involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster from the start… and finally, with President Trump, America is in a position to bring it to an end. We don’t need their oil and we don’t need their problems.

Finally, we have a U.S. president who gets that and wants to get out. There are no prospects for Middle East peace as long as we are there.

We’re never going to defeat the ideology of Islamist terror as long as these countries are basket cases … and one of the reasons they are basket cases is that our preposterous foreign policy establishment with monumental arrogance have treated the middle east like some chess game played out in the board rooms in Washington and London.

– [foxnews.com, transcribed by Yael Halon]

So then there is the usual tittering about this and that regarding Carlson and Hilton from liberal and progressive Democrats and leftists who support the Democrats, and it seems to me that there is one major reason why there is this foolish tittering: It is because these liberals and leftists really don’t care about, for example, the destruction of Libya, or the murder of Berta Caceres.

Or, maybe they do care, but they have convinced themselves that these things have to swept under the rug in the name of defeating the pure evil of Trump. What this amounts to, in the “nationalist” discourse, is that Trump is some kind of nationalist (as he has said numerous times), perhaps of an “isolationist” sort, while the Democrats are in fact what can be called “nationalists of the neoliberal/neoconservative compact.”

My liberal and leftist friends (some of them Maoists and post-Maoists and Trotskyists or some other kinds of Marxists or purported radicals—feminists or antifa or whatever) just cannot see, it simply appears to be completely beyond the realm of their imaginations, that the latter kind of nationalism is much worse and qualitatively worse than what Trump represents, and it completely lacks the substantial good elements of Trump’s agenda.

But hey, don’t worry my liberal and leftist friends, it is hard to imagine that Joe Biden’s “return to normalcy” won’t happen at some point—it will take not only an immense movement to even have a chance of things working out otherwise, but a movement that likes of which is beyond everyone’s imagination at this point—a movement of a revolutionary politics that remains to be invented, as all real politics are, by the masses.

Liberals and leftists have little to worry about here, they’re okay with a Deep State society with a bullshit-democratic veneer and a neoliberal world order; this set-up doesn’t really affect them all that much, not negatively at any rate, and the deplorables can just go to hell.


The Left I grew up with was the Sixties Left, and they used to be a great source of historical memory, and of anti-imperialism, civil rights, and ordinary working-people empowerment.

The current Left, and whatever array of Democratic-Party supporters, have received their marching orders, finally, from commander Pelosi (in reality, something more like a lieutenant), so the two weeks or so of “immense concern” about Iran has given way again to the extraordinarily-important and solemn work of impeachment.

But then, impeachment is about derailing the three main aspects of Trump’s agenda, so you see how that works. Indeed, perhaps the way this is working is that Trump did in fact head off, whatever one thinks of the methods, a war with Iran (at this time! – and I do think this is but a temporary respite), or more accurately, a war between Iran and Israel that the U.S. would almost certainly be sucked into immediately.

So, it’s back to Plan A for the Democrats and the “Left” that would be laughably absurd if it wasn’t so reactionary, to get the neoliberal/ neoconservative endless-war agenda back on track, so that the march toward Iran can continue sooner rather than later. For now, the more spectacular the failure of this impeachment nonsense, the better!

Bill Martin is a philosopher and musician, retired from DePaul University. He is completing a book with the title, “The Trump Clarification: Disruption at the Edge of the System (toward a theory).” His most recent albums are “Raga Chaturanga” (Bill Martin + Zugzwang; Avant-Bass 3) and “Emptiness, Garden: String Quartets nos. 1 and 2 (Ryokucha Bass Guitar Quartet; Avant-Bass 4). He lives in Salina, Kansas, and plays bass guitar with The Radicles.