Ruins of the Forum in Rome, the classic example of a collapsed empire.
James Petras is a commenter with whom I find myself frequently agreeing. In a good way, it’s something akin to how I feel about Paul Krugman (with whom I have plenty of disagreements, of course; but I’m generally on the same side).
Today I feel obliged to mull over his prediction of a coming breakdown in the federal government, which, again, I view pretty similarly as Petras does, as an institution running a global empire, and maintaining it by means of an endless war. I perform this exercise not as a critique of Mr Petras alone, but as a warning about how we can all go off the cliff of overconfidence.
The post begins with a valuable prefatory statement, saying that the ruling elite, the imperial power of the United States, has a variety of conflicting factions, and that the surprise election of Donald Trump has revealed, since his accession to power, an open struggle for power within these factions.
When I say I agree with this I am not only consenting to its plausibility but asserting that Mr Petras is simply examining our own government within a framework informed by the history of virtually all imperial regimes, bar none; they all suffer factional struggle for control among competing factions. Roman, Holy Roman, Spanish, Russian, Austro-Hungarian histories — all of these could provide innumerable specific examples if the reader wished me to elaborate.
Then the column turns to a prediction of a coming struggle between factions.
The September Showdown
The big test of power will be focused on the raising of the public debt ceiling and the continued funding of the entire federal government. Without agreement there will be a massive governmental shutdown – a kind of ‘general strike’ paralyzing essential domestic and foreign programs – including the funding of Medicare, the payment of Social Security pensions and the salaries of millions of government and Armed Forces employees.
Well, what if there is an agreement; what then? Mr Petras is not simply suggesting what might happen if there’s no agreement (which might indeed take place, although we have reason to doubt it); he’s so certain that there will be no agreement that he draws horrific conclusions from this coming lack of agreement. The next sentence speaks about the militarized bureaucracy and the Democratic Party which have been openly conspiring to overthrow the Trump Administration since it began.
The pro-‘regime-change’ forces (coup makers) have decided to go for broke in order to secure the programatic capitulation of the Trump regime or its ouster.
You see the verb use is in the perfect indicative tense: “have decided”. No reason to believe that a fairly large group, with shifting allegiances and agendas, has come to a definite plan of decisive action, is given by Mr Petras. He simply asserts it without any evidence.
The Presidential power elite may choose the option of ruling by decree – based on the ensuing economic crisis. They may capitalize on a hue and cry from a Wall Street collapse and claim an imminent threat to national security on our national borders and overseas bases to declare a military emergency. Without support from the intelligence services, their success is doubtful.
Were there to be a significant threat by (let us call it) the Deep State to the powers of the Trump Administration, the classic response would appear to be a declaration of an external threat. We might go to war with North Korea, for instance. We won’t see that, says Mr Petras, because the intelligence services won’t support it.
We just saw that the intelligence services did not support a strike against Syria. I put the recent summary of that incident in boldface:
Hersh’s article, “Trump’s Red Line,” based on US intelligence sources, documents that the US intelligence apparatus knew that the Syrian attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was a conventional weapons attack on a meeting of anti-regime Islamists. Plans for the attack were communicated to the US military-intelligence apparatus ahead of time by the Russian military.
“A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the US military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground,” Hersh writes.
The Syrian bombing of Khan Sheikhoun was used as a pretext by the Trump administration for firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the al-Shayrat airbase, reportedly killing nine civilians. The Democratic Party, which has based its opposition to Trump on demands that it adopt a harder line against Syria and Russia, supported the strikes.
So we are expected to believe that the very same intelligence services which allowed Trump to bomb Syria and, a few days later, shoot down a Syrian air force jet, without objection, are going to intervene in some future adventure by Trump in some other theater.
Both sides will blame each other for the mounting breakdown. Temporary Treasury expedients will not save the situation. The mass media will go into a hysterical mode, from political criticism to demanding open regime change. The Presidential regime may assume dictatorial powers in order ‘to save the country’.
Congressional moderates will demand a temporary solution: A week-to-week trickle of federal spending.
However, the coup-makers and the ‘Bonapartists’ will block any ‘rotten compromise’.
The military will be mobilized along with the entire security and judicial apparatus to dictate the outcome.
The hysterical mode here is that of Mr Petras, not the putative mass media discussion of the circumstances of a failure to increase the debt ceiling.
Now, I could be wrong and Mr Petras right. We will see in September. What I am saying is, that he’s going out on a very long limb here, and I disagree, not only with this prediction, but even with the self-assurance with which he makes such an extraordinary statement. Recall how shocked the Republicans were when Romney didn’t win, or the Democrats, when Hillary Clinton lost. On such quicksands you cannot build a reliable conception of the way the world works (you can practice your Doublethink, if that’s what you’re choosing to do; but that’s exactly the opposite of what I am attempting here).
Factional struggle in Washington’s ruling circles is especially open these days, revealing a great deal of what is usually decided behind closed doors. With that I think we all can agree. With that Mr Petras begins, and I wish he had stayed there.