Mean Regressive Politics

Mean Regression

The Tea Party is turning states into little Ayn Rand laboratories.

The last few months of 2010 have been illuminating when it comes to the priorities of the Republican Party. By jumping at the Obama-McConnell tax deal, Republicans underscored the fact that protecting the marginal tax rates of high earners—not reducing the federal deficit, and not even denying Obama legislative success—is their party’s primary focus at the federal level. It says something that most conservatives who opposed the tax deal did so on the grounds that it was not permanent, or that it did not completely eliminate the estate tax. As ever, to paraphrase Dick Cheney, Republicans seem to think deficits don’t matter.

Yet that’s not the half of it. For a true litmus test of the lengths Republicans will and will not go to in order defend the incomes of the very rich, you have to look to the states, where budget deficits are generally not allowed. There, a new crop of Republican governors and lawmakers—huge numbers of which rode to power on the Tea Party wave—are focused not just on preserving upper-income tax cuts, but actually cutting taxes for the rich while slashing services and raising taxes on the poor and middle class. All this is happening at a crucial time, since the most dire fiscal conditions in decades are about get vastly worse, as federal stimulus dollars run out.

One of the GOP’s biggest 2010 rock stars, Governor-elect Nikki Haley of South Carolina, is an especially instructive example: During the campaign, Haley came out for abolition of the state corporate-income tax. Facing an enormous and chronic state budget shortfall, she breezily suggested that her tax cut might be paid for by eliminating a recently enacted state sales-tax exemption for food purchases, because the exemption “didn’t create one job.” This statement, which seems to imply that eating is an economically useless activity, takes conservative disdain for consumption as a growth generator to new heights. Instead of trying to keep food on South Carolinians’ tables and consumer demand high, Haley is betting on a tax code tilted to “producers” and “job creators.” As Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey recently explained:

We are a right-to-work state. We keep the unions out. And if we become a no-­corporate-income-tax state as well, we will become a magnet for businesses to come to South Carolina. And that means more jobs for our citizens, more con­tracts for our small busi­nesses, and more growth for our economy.

It’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic endorsement of the old moonlight-and-magnolias approach of making lower business costs—including taxes, wages, and all those inconvenient regulations aimed at protecting the workforce or the environment—the sole strategy for economic development, at the expense of other public and private goods.

A similar thing is happening next door in Georgia, where outgoing Republican Governor Sonny Perdue created a heavily loaded fiscal commission tasked with addressing the state’s massive budget gap. (Incoming Republican Governor Nathan Deal is expected to embrace the report.) It suggests “redirecting the state’s taxing emphasis to what people buy and the services they use rather than the income they earn,” meaning adoption of a higher sales tax, paired with corporate and upper-income tax cuts and cuts in government services, and speaks somewhat dismissively of “advocates for the poor and elderly [who] stress that those groups spend a higher percentage of their income on goods and services that would be taxed under the Republicans’ scenario.” And Florida’s state budget situation may be even worse than South Carolina’s and Georgia’s—education costs for Haitian refugees are a major new problem—but Governor-elect Rick Scott is committed to both the elimination of corporate taxes and major reductions in property taxes that support local schools.

This trend is by no means confined to the South. Newly elected Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is insistently pushing for reductions in business taxes, which would double the state’s current $1.5 billion budget shortfall. In Pennsylvania, Governor-elect Tom Corbett is determined to cut corporate taxes by nearly one-third while increasing business deductions. Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker, who made headlines by turning down $810 million in federal money for a high-speed rail connection between Milwaukee and Madison, has pledged to cut corporate taxes for smaller employers, and also wants to give a state tax break that will encourage people to snap up those hardy conservative pet rocks, health savings accounts. Walker is facing a two-year, $3 billion budget shortfall. Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich, who, like Walker, turned down federal high-speed rail money, is pushing to restore a previously delayed state income-tax cut, even though his two-year budget shortfall is about $8 billion.

This is what Americans got when they voted for the Tea Party. When the last comparable wave of state-level Republicans took office, in 1994, it happened to coincide with the beginning of the long boom of the ‘90s, which allowed GOP officeholders to make popular tax cuts without reducing popular spending. Not this time: Across the country, Republicans are assuring that budget adjustments will be real and painful for everybody but the rich.

The Tax Revolt That Failed–September 1, 1997

The Tax Revolt That Failed

William A. Niskanen

September 1, 1997

The tax revolt that began 20 years ago has so far been a failure. For all the sound and fury over tax cuts, the average rates of federal, state, and local taxation are slightly higher than 20 years ago. True, top marginal rates have fallen steeply, even after accounting for the significant increases of the Bush and Clinton years. But otherwise the modern tax-limitation movement has achieved few of its objectives. This failure continues with the modest and incoherent tax reductions included in the 1997 federal budget agreement.

The modern tax-limitation movement was born in late 1972 when Governor Ronald Reagan convened a small group, of which I was a member, at his Century Plaza office in Los Angeles. Reagan observed that, notwithstanding the recent landslide re-election of a Republican president, conventional political processes would be insufficient to restrain the growth of government spending. Indeed, even real spending in Reagan’s own state was growing at a record rate during his tenure as governor of California. He asked us to consider an unconventional measure–a constitutional amendment to limit the spending and taxing authority of the state government.

A committee of his advisers drafted a ballot initiative for a state constitutional amendment, called Proposition 1, to limit the spending and taxing authority of the state of California. The first political tests of these proposals were discouraging. Proposition 1 lost narrowly in 1973, and a similar amendment was defeated in Michigan in 1976. The first “supply-side” tax-cut proposal, offered as a substitute for President Carter’s fiscal stimulus proposal, was defeated in Congress in 1977.

The breakthrough for tax limitation came in 1978, when Tennessee passed a general spending and tax-limitation amendment. California voters then approved Proposition 13, an amendment that substantially reduced local property tax rates while also, unfortunately, centralizing school authority and financing. Soon thereafter, Michigan voters approved a general spending and tax-limitation amendment. In later years, similar amendments were approved in six other states.

Breakthroughs in federal fiscal policy also occurred in 1978. Congress approved a reduction in the capital-gains tax rate over the opposition of the Carter administration. The Senate also approved a measure that combined a 30 percent cut in income-tax rates with a general limit on federal spending; it withered under Carter’s veto threat. The annual report of Congress’s bipartisan Joint Economic Committee endorsed this new supply-side fiscal policy in both 1979 and 1980. In 1980, the Senate Finance Committee approved a tax measure very similar to that proposed by Reagan, then a presidential candidate. A bipartisan consensus for the tax cuts later proposed by President Reagan formed before he was even inaugurated.

The growing tax revolt led to the Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA) of 1981, the first major reduction in federal tax rates since the Kennedy years. This legislation reduced federal income tax rates from a range of 14 to 70 percent to a range of 11 to 50 percent, indexed the personal exemption and tax brackets for inflation, and included a complex package of investment incentives.

Since 1981, however, Congress has enacted six major changes in federal tax policy, and here the record is mixed. Most of the investment incentives in ERTA were reversed in 1982, 1984, or 1986. The social-security legislation of 1983 accelerated a scheduled increase in payroll tax rates. The major tax-reform legislation in 1986 broadened the tax base, increased the personal exemption, and set two income-tax rates of 15 and 28 percent. After that, however, the pattern of rate reductions reversed. President George “no new taxes” Bush signed a 1990 tax bill that increased the top rate to 31 percent. And the Clinton tax legislation of 1993 increased the top income-tax rate to 39.6 percent and, by broadening the Medicare tax base to all earnings, increased the top rate on earnings to 42.5 percent.

All this legislative turmoil has made little difference to taxpayers. As Figure 1 illustrates, average tax rates as a percentage of net national output of goods and services have been remarkably stable since 1978. A much finer scale (Figure 2) is necessary to identify any significant trend or variation. Average federal tax rates have risen and fallen with little apparent trend; most of the variation has been due to changes in the employment rate and (before 1985) to the inflation rate. Contrary to the charge that the Reagan tax cuts eroded the federal revenue base, the average federal tax rate was slightly higher in 1989 than at a comparable stage of the business cycle in 1979.

The average state and local tax rates, in contrast, have been less variable but have increased slightly over this period. Overall, the average total tax rate has stayed essentially the same over this period, in part because the average federal tax revenues tend to move in inverse, cyclical relation to average state and local tax revenues.

The composition of taxes has also not changed very much. Figure 3 illustrates the average tax rates (also as a percentage of net national output) by major type of tax. Average individual income-tax rates are about the same as at the beginning of this period, although lower than the inflation-affected rates of the early 1980s. Average payroll-tax rates increased by more than 1 percentage point of national output by 1988 and have been roughly stable since then. The sum of all other types of taxes (on corporate income, sales, property, excises, and so on) has been a roughly stable share of national output over this period; some decline in the average corporate and property tax rates have been offset by an increase in the average sales tax rate.

The most important change in taxes during this period has been the structure of federal tax rates on labor income (Figure 4). The top marginal tax rate was sharply reduced by both the 1981 and 1986 tax laws, though it has increased by 14.5 percentage points since 1990. For lower-income workers subject to both the payroll tax and the individual income tax (but ineligible for the earned income tax credit), however, the effective marginal tax rate has risen by about 4 percentage points. For the five years from 1988 through 1992, the marginal federal tax rate on labor income was roughly flat for all brackets (except for a fairly small group of middle-income taxpayers subject to both the payroll tax and the 28 percent income tax rate). The tax revolt, in other words, did reduce substantially the progressivity of federal tax rates, but even this gain has been mostly offset in recent years.

Some of my friends suggest that the tax limitation movement has at least succeeded in stopping the growth of taxation, even if it hasn’t led to actual reductions. Maybe so, but that is a difficult hypothesis to test. Maybe the reduction in marginal tax rates makes the whole effort worthwhile, but again that is difficult to test because economic growth is also affected by a number of other conditions. In fact, productivity growth during this period, at least as conventionally measured, has been much lower than during the 1960s, so the economic advantage of lower marginal tax rates has been insufficient to offset other conditions that hurt productivity growth. But this analysis is complicated, because our conventional measure of output understates productivity growth.


The failure to reduce government spending relative to
national output is the primary reason for the
stability of average tax rates.


 

Four major lessons can be learned from the failure of the tax revolt over the past 20 years:

  • Tax cuts are unlikely to last unless they are matched by a reduction in government spending. The failure to reduce government spending relative to national output is the primary reason for the remarkable stability of average tax rates over the past 20 years. Any substantial tax cut should be made contingent on a roughly equal reduction in government spending.
  • Tax cuts do not necessarily lead to reduction in government spending. The issue of whether government spending rises or falls in response to a reduction in tax revenues has been debated and tested for this whole period without resolution. Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and James Buchanan are on opposite sides of this issue, and the empirical studies are also mixed. My own recent statistical estimates conclude that changes in real total federal spending between 1949 and 1996 were independent of prior changes in real total federal revenues. If tax cuts do not reduce government spending, of course, and end up increasing the budget deficit, they shift part of the burden of current spending to the next generation.
  • Tax cuts do not necessarily increase economic growth. The net economic effect of a tax cut depends on the type and rate of the tax, the type and level of spending that is reduced, and whether government subsequently alters its borrowing; the net effect may help or hinder growth. To increase economic growth, we should reduce those marginal tax rates that have the largest negative effect per dollar of tax revenue-combined with a reduction of spending for those programs with the lowest marginal value.
  • A narrow focus on tax cuts is not a sufficient economic program for the Republican party. Sooner or later, there is no way to avoid taking a position on what types of taxes to cut, what spending programs should be reduced, under what conditions a deficit may be appropriate, and the variety of other policies that affect the economy. A general bias in favor of tax cuts is commendable, but Republican politicians are often perceived as “Johnny One Note”s, proposing some type of tax cut to address almost any problem. The incoherent mishmash of the tax cuts in this year’s budget deal is only the latest example of this problem.

The trivial tax cuts in the 1997 bipartisan budget agreement make it clear that the tax revolt has run out of steam at the federal level. But the tax revolt is reviving in the states. Almost all of the state constitutions require that the operating budget be balanced, and a large number of states now have a constitutional or statutory tax limitation. Increasing concern about interstate competition, and prodding by the Cato Institute’s annual “fiscal report card,” has recently led some of the highest tax states such as New York to reduce their tax rates. Twenty-five governors have proposed net tax cuts for the coming fiscal year. If this momentum is to be sustained in the states, and returned to the federal government, it will have to be accompanied by serious efforts to reduce government spending.

William A. Niskanen is the chairman of the Cato Institute and a founder of the National Tax Limitation Committee. He was a member of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Reagan’s Ghost and the Wisconsin’s Manufactured Budget Crisis

[Walkers’ reliance on Reaganomics as the centerpiece of govt. has brought-on this crisis just as it has in every place where the damned doctrine was tried (SEE: The Tax Revolt That Failed).  Since it was a Reagan doctrine, it was first used in California, where he tax cut and privatized the state into bankruptcy.  His tax cuts for the rich brought a temporary jolt to upper incomes, but produced a hole in state revenues that had to be filled with general tax raises, which largely transferred much of the state tax burden to the middle and lower classes–and Californians have been paying for it ever since.

If Wisconsins allow Mr. Walker to decimate unions to pay for years of failed pro-business policies, then the rest of the country will quickly follow suit and the American union movement and all it stands for will forever be gone.

Scott Walker’s Manufactured Wisconsin Budget Crisis

By DJ Pangburn

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cut $117 million in taxes for businesses, and then asks state labor unions to take the hit.  What is wrong here?

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to us that Walker’s $117 million in business tax breaks are not part of Wisconsin’s $137 million budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2011, ending June 30, 2011.  It will, however, create a budget shortfall for the 2011-2013 two-year budget.  The state is expected to overspend by $258 million, through a combination of healthcare expenditures for the poor, prisons and debts to Minnesota.  (If the $258 million is not spent, then Wisconsin will have a budget surplus of $121 million).  It is these expenditures that Walker is looking to cut, and is attempting to do so by unilaterally short-circuiting the state labor unions’ collective bargaining rights.

Wisconsin’s resident dictator has made a national name for himself by focusing Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled government on attacking state labor unions.  Walker could have avoided villain status by actually allowing the unions to collectively bargain and asking them to take some cuts while the economy is in the toilet—but he chose to go another way and make what amounts to an opening salvo in the 2012 elections.

The unions would probably have agreed to some cuts — reasonable cuts, that is.  Having been in Wisconsin recently, with family members on both sides of the debate (business owners, teachers), I can tell all of my readers from first-hand experience that non-union workers and business owners believe it is reasonable for unions to take some cuts.  And the union members aren’t so much pissed about the proposed cuts (they understand economics), as they are that Walker decided to unilaterally take away their collective bargaining rights.

Why join a union if it is powerless to negotiate?  The issues here are literally putting Wisconsin families at odds with one another.

What many Wisconsin residents don’t know, however, is that the budget deficit that so concerns Walker is self-inflicted.  It is manufactured, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by a pro-corporate philosophy that rewards wealthy businessmen and does virtually nothing for average workers.

Why haven’t Wisconsin’s voters been up in arms that Walker cut $117 million in taxes for businesses, which will create a budget shortfall in the next two fiscal years?  If this sort of information were blazing across Wisconsin television screens and on the cover of newspapers, it would certainly neutralize Walker’s political gamesmanship.

Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau (the equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO) predicted a budget surplus (see update above).  And not only does he remain silent about his actions with the business tax cuts, he has the audacity to use it as a means of neutralizing unions on behalf of business owners.

Walker might have scored some points with Wisconsin voters if he had publicly stated, “I gave tax cuts to businesses in an effort to stimulate the economy,” and then took aim at wasteful government spending elsewhere, while bringing the unions to the table to negotiate pensions and healthcare.  He could have brought the Democrats into the process, and democracy could have served its intended purpose.

But he hijacked the entire process, sending Wisconsin’s Democratic Senators scattering to others states.

Walker’s actions amount to a pro-business, anti-union stance that cannot be chalked up to mere austerity measures. It is electoral gamesmanship—an opening chess move for the 2012 elections.

Everyone would like to see businesses do well and for workers to benefit from a healthy economy—but not by the dismantling of unions, which, though they have their problems like any large organization, do serve a purpose: allowing them to check their employers and guard against the sort of tyranny that Walker has embraced.

Pakistan’s intelligence ready to split with CIA

Pakistan’s intelligence ready to split with CIA

(AP)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s ISI spy agency is ready to split with the CIA because of its frustration over what it calls heavy-handed pressure and its anger over what it believes is a covert U.S. operation involving hundreds of contract spies, according to an internal document obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with U.S. and Pakistani officials.

Such a move could seriously damage the U.S war effort in Afghanistan, limit a program targeting al-Qaida insurgents along the Pakistan frontier, and restrict Washington’s access to information in the nuclear-armed country.

According to a statement drafted by the ISI, supported by interviews with officials, an already-fragile relationship between the two agencies collapsed following the shooting death of two Pakistanis by Raymond Davis, a U.S. contracted spy who is in jail in Pakistan facing possible multiple murder charges.

“Post-incident conduct of the CIA has virtually put the partnership into question,” said a media statement prepared by the ISI but never released. A copy was obtained this week by the AP.

The statement accused the CIA of using pressure tactics to free Davis.

“It is hard to predict if the relationship will ever reach the level at which it was prior to the Davis episode,” the statement said. “The onus of not stalling this relationship between the two agencies now squarely lies on the CIA.”

The ISI fears there are hundreds of CIA contracted spies operating in Pakistan without the knowledge of either the Pakistan government or the intelligence agency, a senior Pakistani intelligence official told the AP in an interview. He spoke only on condition he not be identified on grounds that exposure would compromise his security.

Pakistan intelligence had no idea who Davis was or what he was doing when he was arrested, the official said, adding that there are concerns about “how many more Raymond Davises are out there.”

Davis was arrested Jan. 27 in Lahore after shooting two Pakistanis. A third Pakistani was killed by a U.S. Consulate vehicle coming to assist the American. Pakistan demanded the driver be handed over, but the AP has learned the two U.S. employees in the car now are in the United States.

Davis has pleaded self-defense, but the Lahore police upon completing their investigation said they would seek murder charges. The ISI official told the AP that Davis had contacts in the tribal regions and knew both the men he shot. He said the ISI is investigating the possibility that the encounter on the streets of Lahore stemmed from a meeting or from threats to Davis.

The CIA repeatedly has tried to penetrate the ISI and learn more about Pakistan’s nuclear program. The ISI has mounted its own operations to gather intelligence on the CIA’s counterterrorism activities

The ISI is now scouring thousands of visas issued to U.S. employees in Pakistan. The ISI official said Davis’ visa application contains bogus references and phone numbers. He said thousands of visas were issued to U.S. Embassy employees over the past five months following a government directive to the Pakistan Embassy in Washington to issue visas without the usual vetting by the interior ministry and the ISI. The same directive was issued to the Pakistan embassies in Britain and the United Arab Emirates, he said.

Within two days of receiving that directive, the Pakistani Embassy issued 400 visas and since then thousands more have been issued, said the ISI official. A Western diplomat in Pakistan agreed that a “floodgate” opened for U.S. Embassy employees requesting Pakistani visas.

The ISI official said his agency knows and works with “the bona fide CIA people in Pakistan” but is upset that the CIA would send others over behind its back. For now, he said, his agency is not talking with the CIA at any level, including the most senior.

To regain support and assistance, he said, “they have to start showing respect, not belittling us, not being belligerent to us, not treating us like we are their lackeys.”

NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan could be adversely effected by a split between the ISI and the CIA. Washington complains bitterly about Pakistan’s refusal to go after the Pakistani-headquartered Haqqani network, which is believed to be the strongest fighting force in Afghanistan and closely allied with al-Qaida.

The ISI official said Pakistan is fed up with Washington’s complaints, and he accused the CIA of planting stories about ISI assistance to the Haqqani network.

Relations between the CIA and ISI have been on a downward slide since the name of the U.S. agency’s station chief in Pakistan was leaked in a lawsuit accusing him of killing civilians in a drone strike.

Fearing for his safety, the CIA eventually pulled the station chief out of the country. ISI leaders balked at allegations that they outed the CIA top spy in their country. Former and current U..S. officials believe the station chief fell out of favor, but the Pakistanis say this is not the case

Those accusations and the naming of ISI chief Shujah Pasha in a civil lawsuit in the United States — filed by family members of victims of a November 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, by insurgents — started the downslide in relations, the ISI official said.

To help repair the crucial relationship, the CIA earlier this year dispatched a very senior officer to be the new station chief who was previously the head of the European Division, one of the most important jobs in the National Clandestine Service, the agency’s spy arm.

The spy agencies have overcome lows before. During President George W. Bush’s first term, the ISI became enraged after it shared intelligence with the United States, only to learn that the then-CIA station chief passed that information to the British. The incident caused a serious row, one that threatened the CIA’s relationship with the ISI and deepened the levels of distrust between the two sides. At the time Pakistan almost threw the CIA station chief out of the country.

CIA spokesman George Little said “issues” between the two agencies will be sorted out.

“The CIA works closely with our Pakistani counterparts on a wide range of security challenges, including our common fight against al-Qaida and its terrorist allies,” he said. “The agency’s ties to ISI have been strong over the years, and when there are issues to sort out, we work through them. That’s the sign of a healthy partnership,” he said.

Adam Goldman reported from Washington. Kathy Gannon is AP special regional correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Conspiracy Theories—Sunstein and Vermeule

Conspiracy Theories.pdf

Cass R. Sunstein*

Adrian Vermeule**

Abstract
Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful
people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important
practice or some terrible event. A recent example is the belief, widespread in some parts
of the world, that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out not by Al Qaeda, but by Israel or
the United States. Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks,
including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant
challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by
which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such
theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable
cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational
influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality.
Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories;
they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because
those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a “crippled epistemology,” in
accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in
cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question
whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are
explored in this light.”  (read HERE)

Leo Strauss and the Noble Lie: The Neo-Cons at War

“The global reach of American [mass] culture threatened to trivialize life and turn it into entertainment. This is as terrifying as a specter for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmidt… All three of them were convinced that
liberal economics …destroys politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death… In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project with its emphasis on self- preservation and creature comforts. [Through war] Life can be politicized once more, and man’s humanity can be restored. This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honor and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country. I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he celebrates would ever come so close to political power… But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.”[vi]

Leo Strauss and the Noble Lie: The Neo-Cons at War

by
John G. Mason

A

s our Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once noted in an off the cuff remark, strategic truths sometimes need be defended by a “bodyguard of lies.”[i] Here Rumsfeld was thinking no doubt of Churchill’s famous quip defending Operation Fortitude, the mock invasion force aimed at Calais that drew the attention of Herr Hitler and his high command away from the Normandy beaches and hid the Allies’ operational plans in the summer of 1944. Rumsfeld’s critics in Washington and London, however, have in mind more the history of contemporary philosophy than the history of WWII.

In the past few months, the “bodyguard of lies” metaphor has been redeployed and used to characterize the Bush Administration’s raw manipulation of the CIA and other intelligence agencies for propaganda purposes and for the gross deceit that seems to characterize the rationales put forward for their Iraq policy. Of these there were many–WMDs, a suspected connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, or the humanitarian rescue of the Iraqi people. They shifted depending on their intended audience and perhaps the day of the week. The “imminent threat” of WMD’s were emphasized for the British public while links to “Al Qaeda-like terrorism” were stressed at home – where the fiction that Saddam was directly involved in the September 2001 attacks has been firmly embraced by over two thirds of the American public. As Olivier Roy rightly noted last May, ”Washington’s stated war goals were not logically coherent, and its more intellectually compelling arguments were usually played down or denied.” [ii]

By the summer of 2003 – when the hunt for banned Iraqi WMD’s had gone nowhere and the Al Qaeda connection to Saddam had disappeared into thin air along with Saddam and Osama themselves, the cumulative disappointment shook the official rationale for the Anglo American invasion of Iraq. This placed Mr. Rumsfeld and the civilian policy makers in his Pentagon group on the defensive and set them up for the critics who had been waiting impatiently in the wings during the short but triumphal march to Baghdad. Secretary Rumsfeld’s credibility problems had now become Blair’s and Bush’s nightmare—provoking a transatlantic media storm that has touched the political establishments of the co-belligerents.

In London this affair has mainly raised questions about the honesty of Mr. Blair and his press and defense secretaries. In Washington it has done so as well, and the prevailing view of the Administration’s war policy among its critics is summed up succulently by the United for Peace slogan: “Bush lies—Americans die.” But this affair has also a raised a related and perhaps even more troubling question about the philosophical roots of the ideology that’s driving the “counter-revolution” in foreign and domestic policy within the Bush Administration. In short, the relation between strategic disinformation and political truth has been very much on our minds of late—along with some concerns about the lessons taught by Leo Strauss to the brilliant group of his former students who now occupy the seats of power in Washington

A Crisis of Intelligence

Last May that Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia gave the speech on the Senate floor that marked the moment when Bush’s Iraq policy began to seriously unravel. “The truth,” he said, “has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Regarding the situation in Iraq, it appears to this Senator that the American people have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of long-standing international law, under false premises.” He concluded,  “We just fought a war that didn’t need to be fought.” And of course, Byrd assumes that “unnecessary wars” can never be just. But if proven this charge alone would constitute technical grounds for the impeachment of the President for “high crimes and misdemeanours”—as Senator Bob Graham of Florida pointed out last July.

The principal false premise in question was the claim that Saddam possessed an arsenal of chemical and biological terror weapons that was both operational in March and an immediate threat to the security of the United States, that is, an “imminent threat.” This is no small matter. This was the central claim made by Colin Powell and Jack Straw at the UN Security Council in order to justify the immediate use of military force against the Iraqi regime. This was the claim that justified the charges of disloyalty and unfaithfulness that put Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and Hans Blix on trial in the American and the British media for three long months. And finally this was the claim that—along with the baseless assertion that Saddam was a full partner with bin Laden’s terrorists in the attacks on New York and Washington—finally persuaded a reluctant and divided American public to rally behind their President during the Second Iraq War. But since the invasion ended, as we all know, these claims have been very much in doubt. Both on the ground in Iraq where American weapons inspectors reported having found nothing after a fruitless search for the missing chemical and nuclear arsenal and in London and Washington where this “intelligence failure” has become a major political scandal.

By June, the “policy and intelligence fiasco” had triggered a flood of leaks from the CIA, the DIA and the State Department as the battle between Rumsfeld’s Neo-Con warriors in the Pentagon and the “realists” in Powell’s State Department and the CIA broke into the public arena.[iii] And it was revealed that last year our Secretary of Defence set up his own in-house intelligence service, The Office of Special Plans (nicknamed the “Cabal”) to compete with both the CIA and the DIA. In the policy battles that raged throughout the summer and fall of 2002 within an administration deeply divided over its Iraq policy, this Pentagon group won almost all of the policy fights and as we say, “got their war on.”

But by this past Spring retired intelligence officers from the CIA and senior diplomats from the State department had begun to complain that Rumsfeld’s Pentagon “hot garbage” from Iraqi defectors around Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress directly to the White house in an exercise of “faith-based intelligence” where the Pentagon knew beforehand “what they wanted the intelligence to show.” They argued that the Neo-Conservative faction in the Pentagon was guilty of “grossly manipulating” intelligence data in order to shape public opinion. In the view of groups like “Veteran Intelligence Agents for Sanity,” Rumsfeld’s decision to create his own intelligence service with a “ stovepipe” leading directly to Oval Office set the stage for “hyping” to the national media whatever reports supported the Rumsfeld line on Iraq and eventually to passing off forged documents like the infamous Niger uranium memo to the highest levels of the Administration, to the U.S. Congress and eventually to the UN Security Council. They said this to anyone who would listen, and among those who did was Nicholas Kristof who put their charges against the “Pentagon crazies” on the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times—the main newspaper of the establishment opposition.

The flap over intelligence issues in the summer of 2003 immediately recalled to mind the controversy over the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence which had flared up in the Spring of 2002 with regard to Donald Rumsfeld’s proposal to conduct orchestrated media campaigns to achieve “strategic influence” with foreign public opinion. The manipulation of intelligence reports was seen as but one piece of a broader campaign of “information warfare”—where the Pentagon and British MOD jointly managed media stories before and during the Iraq conflict in ways that targeted the American and British domestic opinion. Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force Colonel and professor at the National War College, analysed some fifty different stories in the U.S. and UK that were planted in the press as part of a strategic information warfare campaign to win public support for the war and to isolate and punish opponents. We should note in passing that among the privileged targets of this disinformation campaign were the French and German governments—who were subjected to a mean spirited but very effective campaign of disinformation which helped stoke public anger in the U.S. against “Old Europe” and spark consumer and travel boycotts against these two countries.

These operations were carried out by the Pentagon “Office of Strategic Influence” which after being announced in the Spring of 2002, was dissolved—officially—in the Fall in the face of the public reaction against the idea that the US Government would knowingly plant false stories in the foreign press. But apparently the disinformation campaign went ahead as planned even after the office was disbanded—only with a different target audience in view. As Donald Rumsfeld remarked in a November 2002 press conference: ”If you want to savage this thing, fine, I’ll give you the corpse…but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.” And we can be sure that he did it with a smile.

In May 2003, the charges that U.S. Intelligence had been politically compromised were reinforced in by an inept attempt by Under-Secretary Wolfowitz to downplay the importance of the missing WMDs when he told Vanity Fair that the issue of Iraqi WMDs had been emphasised in the run-up to the war only “for bureaucratic reasons. It was the one reason everyone could agree on.” This effort at political damage control backfired and in a matter of days, the issue of the missing WMDs went from being a story told on the back pages to the lead article for TimeNewsweek and US News and World Report. Newsweek for example, gave the story to Michael Isikoff, their top investigative reporter who had dogged the Clintons for years throughout the Whitewater and Monicagate scandals. Clearly by this July, blood was in the water and the media sharks were circling Rumsfeld’s Pentagon.

The next step in the evolution of this affair followed from Seymour Hersh’s report in the May 5th issue ofThe New Yorker that the head of Rumsfeld disinformation operation was none other than one Adam Shulsky, a “Straussian” conservative,” who had once co-authored an article on Leo Strauss and role of deception in intelligence operations. The significance of this link went beyond Strauss’ belief that the inter-state relations were characterized by rivalries that often dealt in the currency of deceit and deception. What cut to the heart of the current affair was his belief, as William Pfaff put it, “that the essential truths about society and history should be held by an elite, and withheld from others who lack the fortitude to deal with truth. Society, Strauss thought, needs consoling lies.”[iv] This concept of the “consoling lie” became the journalistic key to how and why the Office of Special Operations had in the words of one of its staffers, Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, carried off: what she describes as “a subversion of constitutional limits on executive power and a co-optation through deceit of a large segment of the Congress.”

Neo Conservatives and the Strauss Connection

Hersh’s report gave the unfolding story of bureaucratic competition and deception campaigns a new philosophical twist. Not content to denounce a neo-conservative cabal for the disinformation campaign that helped them sell the Iraq war to the Bush Administration, the Congress and finally the American and British publics, critics now drew the philosophical pedigree of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon group into the debate. Quickly the members of the Cabal were dubbed the “Leo-Cons” in The New York Times to highlight their connection to political philosophy of Leo-Strauss—an émigré German professor of political philosophy who had taught at the University of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s.

But other political pedigrees have been suggested for this group. Michael Lind for instance traced their roots back to the right wing Shactmanite faction of the American Trotskyite movement who entered the Democratic Party in the 1960s and then split with the Left over the Vietnam War. Many members of this group continued their rightward itinerary by rallying to Senator Scoop Jackson’s campaign against the New Democrats. Some finished with the Democratic Leadership Council, while others found a home in the Reagan and now the Bush fils administrations. Other critics who promote an “Iran-Contra bis” scenario for the current flap over intelligence trace the group back to the policy cabal that had promoted the Contra war against the Sandinistas and who had lost their power and influence in the second Reagan Administration as a result of the Iran-Contra hearings of the late 1980s.

But in the midst of the growing press fury, it was the Straussian connection that stuck and the one writer who appeared as the most reliable guide to whom critics and journalists turned was Shadia B. Dury, the Canadian academic who had published her Leo Strauss and the American Right in 1999. Long quotes citing her as an authoritative source soon began to appear in the progressive press. At the same time, conservative critics dismissed her as a “liberal academic” who had “made a career of writing anti-Straussian exposés,” and in particular, one self-declared Straussian, Robert Locke, criticized her Leo-Strauss and the American Rightas a “snide, careless and inaccurate piece of liberal boilerplate.” More to the point, Dury’s recent claims about the links between Strauss, Straussians and Bush’s Foreign Policy have been rejected by Mark Blitz, (Professor at Claremont’s McKenna College and former Associate Director of the USUA under Reagan), because “Despite … Dury’s bluster, she give no coherent reason why Strauss’ students in the Bush Administration support the war in Iraq.[v]” As we shall see, Strauss, the Straussians and their critics as well have all been drawn into latest edition of America’s “culture wars” and find themselves at the epicenter of a distinct media storm of their own that has grown into an international affaire.

The Neo-Con Network and the Strauss School

In any case, Dury is quite right to point out that many of the most visible Neo Conservative figures within the ranks of the Bush Administration and among its house intellectuals who reside at the American Enterprise Institute and write for the Weekly Standard, have some kind of connection with Leo Strauss. Or if not with the Master himself, then at least with his most visible disciple, Allan Bloom, who taught at the University of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. Dury sums up her case about the Straussians connection to the Iraq war plainly: ” Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics. Public support for the Iraq war rested on lies about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United State. Now that the lies have been exposed, Paul Wolfowitz and other in the war party are denying that these were the real reasons for the war.” Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense, and one of the accused, freely admits to having taken one course with Allan Bloom, but denounces the whole idea of a Neo-Straussian cabal as “the product of fevered minds who seem incapable of understanding that 9/11 changed a lot of things and who search for a conspiracy theory to explain it.”

But whatever their relation to the authentic thought of Strauss, the Straussians represent a distinct generational cohort. Among their alumni are other Pentagon officials, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, the Chair of the National Defense Policy Board, Stephen Cambone, the Under Secretary of Intelligence, Elliot Abrams of the National Security Council and Adam Shulsky already mentioned. These are members of coherent neo-conservative group of policy makers that have served together in since the Reagan administration and who often socialize together as well. And given their willingness to look out for one another’s offspring, the network has a multi-generational dimension that passes membership and ideological belief from father to son as is the case, for instance, with Irving Kristol of Commentary who begat William Kristol of the Weekly Standard.

As William Pfaff notes, before the Straussians’ entry into their ranks, Republican conservatives were distinguished mainly by their intellectual poverty, and for that the brilliant “inverted Trotskyism” of the Straussians provided a remedy. Today they represent a broad network that cuts across the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party as well as a distinct intellectual school that has colonized Political Science and History departments as well as Law school faculties. The list of Straussian students in an impressive one at least for their political influence if not always for their intellectual coherence: Justice Clarence Thomas: Robert Bork, Supreme Court nominee: Alan Keyes former Assistant Secretary of State and Anti-Abortion Presidential candidate; William Bennett, former Education Secretary; John Podhoretz, the former New York Post Editorialist, and John T. Agresto, former National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chair, among others. They represent the warrior elite of the Intellectual Right of the Reagan era who especially distinguished themselves in their service in the long but ultimately failed campaign to hunt down President Clinton in the 1990s and thereby to reverse the cultural settlement of the post 1960s. In the wake of 9/11, many were called out of retirement to rally the country behind the “War on Terrorism” and do battle in the media with the “Blame America first crowd” among liberal academics.

All and all then, the Straussians are an exceptional intellectual and social movement. As Karl Jahn observes: “The greatest peculiarity of Straussianism is that there is such a thing. Not a single other “conservative thinker” has inspired a following remotely comparable, in size, continuity and influence to that of Leo Strauss. There is a Straussian School as there is no Weaverian or Burnhamite or Meryeran or Kendallist school. And this school has its own interest, ideas and purposes, which are clearly distinct from mainstream conservatism.”

But their influence is especially strong in the right wing policy think tanks in Washington—most notably the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)—set up by conservative foundations such as the Lynde and Harry Braddley Foundation. President Bush saluted the AEI as the home to “twenty of the best minds” in his administration, and it was their annual dinner in February 2003 that he give his clearest defense of his invasion of Iraq. Echoing the Wolfowitz argument for regime change in Iraq as the key to regional transformation, Bush declared that the liberation of Iraq was about bringing democracy to an entire region and Islam into the modern world. The audience at the American Enterprise Institute was understandably thrilled because his speech meant that the “Richard Perle School” had won its battle for the President’s heart and mind at least for the duration of the war. Radiating the sublime self-certainty that can only come from the place where evangelical faith meets worldly inexperience, our Warrior President committed us to making over not just one Arab dictatorship but all of them at once.

The importance of this speech then was as much about where it was said as what was said. The AEI is the Washington think tank that housed most of the strategic thinkers—Perle, Donnelly, Muravchik, and others—who lead the charge for war with Iraq during their years of exile under Clinton. Home base for the “Project for a New American Century,” whose authors dominate decision-making at the Bush Pentagon, this group has also been instrumental in aligning the administration’s Mid East policy with that of Ariel Sharon’s Likud. In the view of many critics the political kinship with Likud is as or more important than any lingering association with Leo Strauss for explaining the Neo-Conservative worldview.

In the reigning neo-conservative view, then, the Iraq war was a “a bold and daring project” to reshape the map of the Middle East by applying the “shock and awe” of battle to break down barriers to westernization—as though western armies from Napoleon to Dayan hadn’t already tried the application of brute force in 1799, 1918, 1956, and 1967. But for the Neo-con theorists, warfare remains the preferred means for administering shock therapy to the Mid East. In the event, things have turned out somewhat differently than expected. Conquering Iraq proved easier than occupying it, and far from breaking Islamist morale, the Bush conquest has instead turned Iraq into a magnet for violence attracting every available fedayin in the Middle East.

But the Iraq project is questionable on other grounds than its sheer political naiveté, for if we are to believe Shadia Dury, the Neo-Khans’ preference for belligerence is as much philosophical as it is political and has less to do with the defense of liberal democracy than some might think. She argues that we should treat Neo-Conservative enthusiasm for the spread of democracy with great skepticism because: “The idea that Strauss was a great defender of democracy is laughable. I suppose that Strauss disciples consider it a noble lie. Yet many in the media have been gullible enough to believe it. How could an admirer of Plato and Nietzsche be a Liberal democrat? The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty.”

In explaining the real appeal of “Shock and Awe” demonstrations of military force, Dury points out that like Karl Schmidt, Strauss believed firmly that politics and the State are rooted in the maintenance of the “Friend/Foe” distinction. As she argues in her interview with Postel, for Strauss,

The global reach of American [mass] culture threatened to trivialize life and turn it into entertainment. This is as terrifying as a specter for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmidt… All three of them were convinced that liberal economics …destroys politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death… In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project with its emphasis on self- preservation and creature comforts. [Through war] Life can be politicized once more, and man’s humanity can be restored. This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honor and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country. I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he celebrates would ever come so close to political power… But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.[vi]

In other words, Dury claims that Strauss believes that Men by their nature are inherently aggressive and can only restrained by a powerful nationalist state. “Because mankind is intrinsically wicked,” Strauss once wrote, “ he has to be governed. Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people.” And Dury adds that this means: “ If no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured.” Heroic values are required for the accomplishment of this struggle and for this the egoism and utilitarianism of modern liberalism is both an inadequate and unworthy foundation. Apparently this was shown to Strauss’s satisfaction by the utter failure of Weimar Republic to resist the rise of Hitler. In his view, Weimar’s fate is the doom of all liberal democracies given enough time.

For Straussians like Mark Blitz, however, the American Republic has a unique chance of escaping this fate precisely because of its cultural and political “exceptionalism”—that is, because American political culture retained many pre-modern and illiberal cultural elements that have been lost in the rest of the modern world. Writing from a safe distance in Paris, Carole Widmaier in Paris defends Strauss from his disciples’ nationalist excesses; denouncing their americano-centric, “point de vue absolutisé d’une nation ou d’une culture particulière… Il est moins grec que barbare.” And citing Strauss’ maxim that “ le barbare étant défini comme celui qui croit que ‘toutes les questions ont été résolues par son propre tradition ancestrale,’ “Widmaier condemns the Straussians that have come to power in America as much for their barbarism as having reduced Strauss’ esoteric philosophy to vulgar ideology.

After listening her defense of Strauss’s critique of tyranny grounded in a close reading of his texts, one can imagine Leo Strauss repeating after Karl Marx, “Quant à moi, je ne suis pas Straussian.” But then again, perhaps, Leo Strauss’ attitude toward American power in world was not so distant from that of his unilateralist disciples as Widmaier would have us believe, and certainly no less “heroic” in its potential imperial applications. Dury states that whenever he discussed contemporary international relations, Strauss was fond of repeating the story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians. And more precisely of how: “When Lilliput was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city, including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show of disrespect.” An apt image, then, for an American Gulliver today who shows strong exhibitionist tendencies and whose militarist urges push him to play the “pompier pyromane” around the world while “Old Europe” looks on in disbelief.

The Straussian Neo-Cons, then adopt a peculiar stance in the “Quarrel of the Ancients with the Moderns.” Essentially they argue that modern liberals are myopic dwarfs who actually have nowhere to stand philosophically – and certainly not on any ancient giants’ shoulders. For the Straussians modernity since Machiavelli has been a straight path to nihilism where all understanding of political virtue has been lost along with respect for a social hierarchy rooted in aristocratic values. To rediscover Virtue’s true meaning, they argue we must return to the classical schoolroom and the pagan philosophers where moral teaching began – but this is a path is only open to a select few. For the rest of us, a return to organized religion, what Strauss called a “pious fraud,” along with uplifting patriotic fables, are our only hope of avoiding the fall into total anomie. Given their rejection of modernity, it’s not surprising that Straussians should endorse a religious faith they don’t share as a necessary fiction needed to maintain good order among the masses. It is perhaps from this that comes the embrace of the Evangelical Christian Right by secular intellectual Jews as political allies within the Republican Party and of “Christian Zionists” by their Likud friends from Israel.

Dury work forces us to ask what qualifications if any the Neo-Straussians have for undertaking the democratic modernization of the Mid-East as a “generational project”—given their own skepticism about democracy and liberal modernity as a political projects. “They really have no use for liberalism and democracy, “Dury remarks,” but they’re conquering the world in their name…” This suggests that the Neo-Cons are something more complicated than the Wilsoniens bottés that Pierre Hassner has dubbed them. They’re too wedded to a radical critique of liberal modernity and to their alliances with Protestant fundamentalists Ayatollahs to be considered reliable friends of democracy in the Middle East or indeed anywhere else – and most especially at home.

In helping us pose these political questions, Shadia Dury may sometimes slip into a partisan, polemical mode—as her critics suggest—but perhaps we might forgive her blunt Canadian way of speaking. In America, the Neo-Cons and the Religious Right are winning our culture wars, and the hour is already late. Liberal democrats in North America no longer have the time or the luxury of arguing the other side’s position better than their opponents. Indeed, they must first understand their own position and argue it without reservation. This is something at least that Shadia Dury does not hesitate to do.


Notes


[i] See Donald Rumsfeld, News Briefing, U.S. Dept of Defense, September 25, 2001, p. 1.

[ii] On the conflict between the official diplomatic line and real strategic rationale for the invasion see Olivier Roy’s Op-Ed column, “Europe will not be fooled again, “The New York Times, May 13, 2003.

[iii] See Sonni Efron, “Diplomats on the Defensive,” The Los Angeles Times, May 8,2003www.latimes.com.

[iv] William Pfaff, “The Long Reach of Leo Strauss,” Op-Ed, International Herald Tribune, May 15, 2003.

[v] See Mark Blitz’s reply to Dury, “Leo Strauss, the Straussians and American Foreign Policy,” Open Democracy, November 14th, 2003, www.openDemocracy.net, p. 1.

[vi] Danny Postel, “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq,”
www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article-2-95-1542.jsp.

John G. Mason is Professor of Political Science at William Paterson University and has been a Visiting Professor (Professeur Invité) at l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in 2001 and at l’Université de Paris VIII in 2002 and 2003. He is a regular contributor to Esprit in Paris and Tribune in London. This article first appeared in French translation in Critique, March 2004.


Democratic-Revolution, Imperial regime change formula

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Democracy promotion: America’s new regime change formula

Washington’s formula for regime change underwent a makover in the 1980s. In a bid to ensure US political and economic interests were safeguarded, CIA backed coup d’états ousted democratically elected leaders from Iran to Chile.

In their place were brutal dictatorships and governments that committed heinous crimes against their people.

By the 1980s, the reign of terror that blazed across Latin America was too much for most people to stomach. From death squads to torture chambers and various massacres, the Latin American generals who trained in the US to spread democracy around the world quickly gained reputations for major human rights abuses.

To replace the overt support for dictatorships, a new concept for regime change was born; one that sounds and looks better – democracy promotion.

The concept of democracy promotion is simple; finance, train, and politically back local opposition forces around the world that support the American agenda.

Dr. William Robinson is one of the foremost experts on Washington’s democracy promotion initiatives, he wrote the book ‘Promoting Polyarhcy.’

In Latin America, in Eastern Europe with the Velvet Revolutions, in Africa, in the Middle East, really all over the world, the U.S. set up these different mechanisms now for penetrating these civil societies in the political systems of countries that are going to be intervened and to assure the outcome is going to be pleasing to Washington’s foreign policy objectives,” said Robinson.

Lawrence Wilkerson, the former Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “We do this through surrogates and nongovernmental organization and through people who are less suspecting of the evil that may lurk behind their actions than perhaps they were before. Have we learned some lessons in that regard? You bet! Do we do it better? You bet? Is it still just as heinous as it has always been? You bet!

So while the goal remains the same, it’s no longer the CIA but the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its partners spearheading the effort.

Allen Weintein, one of the founders of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) explained to the Washington Post in 1991, “A lot of what we do now was done covertly by the CIA 25 years ago.”

And like the CIA, USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy and a number of similar organizations receive funding from Congress.

Millions and millions of U.S. tax payer dollars go every year into funding for political organizations and campaigns in different countries in the world that promote US agenda. Most U.S. citizens are unaware of the fact that that is how their money is being spent, to meddle, and to influence and to interfere in other nation’s affairs,” said Eva Golinger who has been investigating the US’s democracy promotion efforts in Venezuela.

The concept of facilitating regime change through democracy promotion has garnered wide criticism not just abroad but also at home in the United States.

Congressman Ron Paul once wrote “It is particularly Orwellian to call US manipulation of foreign elections ‘promoting democracy.’ How would we Americans feel if for example the Chinese arrived with millions of dollars to support certain candidates deemed friendly to China?

I think it’s terrible, we use taxpayer’s money to go over and use our military and the CIA these programs that say ‘this is what you outta do’ and influence them. There is no authority for that, it doesn’t work, it teaches a lot of people to despise us,” Congressman Paul told RT.

Funding and how it operates

Democracy promotion has been a long standing element of US foreign policy. It operates as a key component of soft power linked to the diplomacy apparatus of Washington.

The moneys go from the U.S. State because we need to see this starts with the U.S. state.They go into the country that is going to be intervened and inside that country they identify a series of groups that are going to receive this money but also receive this kind of political influence that comes with giving money and comes with on the ground operatives tied to this money,” explained Robinson. “When the U.S. starts an interventionist program, they identify the different sectors it wants to organize.So it’s identifies the trades union movement and where are the pliant parts, the objective is to marginalize radical trade unions and bolster conservative trade unions.They identify women movements, marginalize radical movements and mobilize conservative women moments.Then they do the same with youth.All sectors of civil society will be identified and those that can be brought on board to the US interventionist project will be brought on board and funded.

One of many examples is the color revolutions in Eastern Europe.

As I saw happen for example in Ukraine, as I saw happen in Georgia, as I see happening in other places too, they don’t just propagandize or attempt to help with words and rhetoric that opposition, they actually do things that give that opposition more power,” said Wilkerson, recalling the involvement of USAID and NED.

William Blum, a US historian and the author of the book “Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WW II” said, “They copy from one area to another, the first one that was successful was the one in Serbia and they borrowed things from that revolution.Certain slogan, symbols and colors, and they use it again and again.”

Analysts recall the similarities in the color revolutions where youth groups were energized, rock bands lined up, and laser shows put on. The movements were marketed as cool.

The objective was to make them into a national passion, a national fad if you well,” said Blum.

Student leaders of the Serbian youth group Otpor who played a key role in the 2000 ousting of Slobodan Milosevic met 7 to 10 times with officials from USAID affiliates, according to the NY Times. The same group also received several hundred thousand dollars for demonstration material, t-shirts and stickers.

On the other side of the world, in Latin America, some of the most active and capable programs have and continue to flourish in countries where Capitalism isn’t the agenda.

Blum contends, “Venezuela, easily, that is the place where they send the most money.Chavez is enemy number one.

One opposition lawmaker that has been a key figure in Washington’s democracy promotion model in Venezuela is Maria Corina Machado; a woman who is by many standards and to plenty of critics, a product of US interventionism.Machado rose to fame with an NGO known as Sumate, an organization that received hundreds of thousands of dollars from USAID and NED. Sumate led fierce campaigns against democratically elected President Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution, including a referendum against the President in 2004.

In our case, we did receive funding from NED as did several, tens of organizations here in Venezuela,” Machador confessed.

Like Georgia’s Saakashvili, foreign financing bolstered Machado’s image on the national and international stage, even granting her a meeting with President George W. Bush.

This is about promoting an individual; this is about promoting someone who has the capacity to rise to power and share US agenda,” said Golinger.

Since 2000, USAID has activated more than 620 programs in Venezuela alone, costing up to $20 million dollars.

In 2002, a government document from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives explained a possible coup against Chavez was in the making. The author of the memo, OTI director Russell Porter wrote about the urgency of “sending an assessment team to Venezuela as soon as possible with a prejudice toward starting an active program to support civil society and the media.”

Another 2003 declassified memo drafted by USAID’s OTI in relation to the 2004 referendum said, “the overarching strategic objectives of the program remain the same: that is supporting the continuation of stable, free-market orientated democracy in Venezuela.”

Other documents declassified through Freedom of Information Acts show USAID affiliates NDI and IRI were awarded $500,000 each for campaign schools in Venezuela.These campaign school s were responsible for campaign strategy and organization, message development, outreach, fund-raising, public relations, get-out the-vote techniques, and candidate selection. That same cable also cites the importance of co-opting Venezuela’s poor, with the barrios as the main target. The barrios have long been known as Chavez strongholds.

In Latin American, democracy promotion programs target governments or organizations that have a socialist, anti-free market leaning.

The President of NED Carl Gershman insists democracy promotion does not mean regime change.

To him [Gershman], Democracy equates to Capitalism, the idea of socialism and democracy is alien to him, if he is working against a socialist government or movement, he is working for democracy,” said Blum.

Funding democracy with US taxpayer dollars

Democracy, US-style, doesn’t come cheap. Most of the money flows to forces in line with US interests. Washington has spent a far amount of money spread democracy worldwide.

We’re talking here about hundreds of millions of dollars, and over the years since this policy was consolidated, we’re talking about billions. The State Department will have an appropriation of several billion dollars for what it called the Office of Transition Initiatives. The Congress will have an appropriation hundreds of millions of dollars for the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID will have its own budget as well,” said Robinson.

Over the past two decades, USAID has spent 9 billion dollars promoting Washington’s democracy initiatives.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) received $132 million dollars during 2009; nearly all of the money came from U.S. government agencies.

However, USAID and NED are not the only ones. There is an entire network of organizations involved in the democracy promotion business such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the American Center for International Labor, the Center for International Private Enterprise and Freedom House.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an entire network of organizations involved in the democracy promotion business.

Although all the organizations insist there is no political affiliation, the board of directors for both NDI and IRI suggest otherwise.

Both boards consist of former Secretaries of State, national security advisers, members of Congress, and even Clinton, Bush and Reagan administration officials.

They all have a history in Washington. One deeply rooted in sustaining the current foreign policy priorities.

Blum said, “to understand US foreign policy, one must understand a very basic fact; the US government wants to dominate the world.”

He insists the soft money working behind scenes is directly linked to the CIA.

They had to have a new organization with a nice sounding name, with the word democracy, which would be free of the taint of the CIA, and that’s why the NED was created,” Blum added.

One of the key areas the democracy promotion network has invested in is Central America, where there is a rising tide in leftist, socialist ideologies.

According to the North American Congress on Latin America, USAID’s latest $2 million disbursement to Honduras was based on proposals to make the Central American country economically competitive on the global market.Since 2004, the United States has spent over $18 million on democracy promotion in Honduras.

While USAID requests $800,000 for more democracy promotion programs in Honduras for FY 2011, journalists and activists are being brutalized and killed under the U.S. backed government

In Egypt, a revolt against the US backed policies of Hosni Mubarak regime has mobilized these agencies to co-opt opposition groups to ensure the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections are beneficial to Washington.

Wael Nawara of the opposition party Al Ghad told RT funding and guidance from NED, NDI, IRI and USAID has increased in the past two years, and that NDI and IRI are operating in Egypt illegally.

Other countries the US has intervened in include the Philippines, Haiti, Nicaragua, Ecuador, El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan, and the Palestinian territories.

The USAID has implemented so called democracy promotion initiatives in over 100 countries in the past 25 years. This year’s budget is $1 billion dollars. According to USAID’s website, spending $10 million in a target country increases its amount of democratic change fivefold.

Blum insists there is pure hypocrisy in Washington’s democracy promotion agenda. “We have a very clear law on the books prohibiting foreign governments from interfering in our elections of supporting any candidates with money.So we do exactly abroad what we prohibit here at home,” he said.

Encouraging transparency is a stated core element of the US government’s democracy promotion efforts in foreign countries. But here at home the agencies themselves are far from transparent. Detailed program budgets and information are unavailable to the public and contact with the media is limited. Over the last six weeks, RT repeatedly requested interviews from USAID, NED, IRI and NDI. All of these requests were denied or unanswered.

Pepe Escobar, a South America based journalist for the Asia Times said US democracy promotion programs use political or other grievances in countries to push and coordinate their own agenda.

They use the locals,” said Escobar. “They mix their preoccupations and their grievances with the classic full spectrum dominance Washington agenda.”

The US targets nations who are strategic competitors and regimes that antagonize the United States. It utilizes the Pentagon and CIA strategy of full spectrum dominance.

Escobar explained that anti-government messages are often propelled through mainstream corporate media outlets in Brazil and Venezuela that are indirectly linked and influenced by US organizations like Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy.

He argued that over time it is possible other nations, like China, will use their growth to influence US elections; however that could take some time.

They [China] still do not understand the notion of soft power and smart power,” Escobar said. “Maybe it’s going to take a generation to understand how the West thinks.”

Jacob Hornberger, the president of The Future of Freedom Foundation explained that this policy of democracy promotion is not merely an Obama or Bush policy, but instead a systemic issue in overall US policy.

This is essentially US foreign policy and has been for decades,” he said. “They funnel money into elections, they engage in invasions, assassinations, coups, regime change operations. That’s what foreign policy has been about for a long time.”

Those who feel the policy is truly the promotion of democracy are operating under a lie, Hornberger argued.

The Government has no more commitment to democracy than it does to dictatorship,” he said.

The US government supports those who best serve their interest at a given time, including having supported leaders Saddam Hussein in the past.

They’re trying to get their people in public office in countries all over the world,” Hornberger said. “They will stop at nothing to affect that kind of regime change when the administration in that country isn’t towing the official line.

With the government on the brink of bankruptcy, Americans should be more outspoken against these programs which spend millions in US taxpayer dollars.

The US has entered the realm of imperialism and needs to return to the republican form of governance it was founded on, argued Hornberger.

This is not the limited government paradigm on which our country was founded. It’s a paradigm based on an empire from which our nation was born in resistance to empire,” he said.

What Americans have to decide is what do we want? Do we want an empire that is bankrupting this country?” asked Hornberger. “Or do we want to restore a republic and a sense of normality and peace and prosperity to America?