America As The French Fourth Republic

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 00:22

Iraqi defense minister says that U.S. troops should stay in Iraq for another ten years:

The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq's borders from external threat until at least 2018.

Which is, of course, exactly what we are going to do. This one quote is all of the justification that another Republican administration will need to keep American troops in Iraq, at their present levels, for as long as the administration holds power. Then again, a Democratic administration will keep not as many, but still a lot, of troops in Iraq, too.  And the Democratic Congress won't ever do anything about it, because they are afraid of seeming like they were "against the troops." Doing that, or really anything that might even a little aggressive on Iraq, will, of course, hurt election chances..

The whole thing feels like we have entered a military dictatorship through means of manners and peer pressure. We are required to keep troops in Iraq for as long and in whatever quantities conservative generals tell us to keep them in Iraq, because otherwise we would be offending the troops. We can never order them to leave Iraq, because otherwise we would be offending the troops. We also can't cut back on military spending, because to do so would offend the troops. In order to avoid offending the troops, we collectively agree to let the military do whatever its most conservative commanding officers say we should do.

The whole thing smacks of the Algiers Crisis coup that caused the end of the fourth French Republic. In 1958, the French government abolished its constitution and willing handed over power to De Gaulle, including the power to write a new constitution greatly expanding the President's powers, because the military asked the government to do so. Of all the historical comparisons I have seen, the end of the French Fourth Republic really strikes me as the best analogy for what has happened to our democracy. It was, in effect, a modern, relatively bloodless coup perpetuated in a liberal democracy as the result of a national crisis, and with the willing support of a large percentage of the population. This isn't without precedent in America, considering the Business Plot to overthrow FDR back in the 1930's. Really, the only difference strikes me as being the comparatively crude military tactics proposed by the Business Plot, and the even the more sophisticated tactics utilized by De Gaulle were crude in comparison to the more gradual, more sophisticated techniques of the Powell memo. n both situations, military supremacy over the government was assured through popular will of the people, and enforced through our most pervasive institutions: government, mass media, and our sense of national supremacy.

It is funny how much conservatives hate France, since we seem to emulating them quite nicely. 

Chris Bowers :: America As The French Fourth Republic

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Interesting analogy (0.00 / 0)
And a frustrating state of affairs. Somewhere along the line our political elites forgot that the military works for us, not the other way around. Ironically, most members of the military (at least not the ones in Bush's orbit like Petraeus) have not forgotten this.

The Shock Doctrine, (4.00 / 1)
if you haven't read it, provides some nice insight into how our continuing military presence isn't just the will of the military arm, but also the commercial interests that have profited nicely from the Bush Administration's privatization of national security, and will do almost anything (including marshal the considerable discourse-influencing resources at their disposal - media conglomerates owned by defense contractors, think tanks and policy groups funded by them, paid flunkies marketed to the public as 'analysts', etc.) to maintain the occupation.

O.K. If We Are Going To Be Iraq For 10 Years, (0.00 / 0)
it is time to put it into the budget and under the "pay as you go" plan.

But that won't happen either, because the Republicans won't do it if elected because once Americans had to actually sacrifice to continue it they would demand that we redraw immediately. Democrats won't do it because they would be afraid of the political outcome either.

MoveOn (0.00 / 0)
Sounds like MoveOn was right in a very profound way.  We the people are being betrayed by the military's top brass who are selling out 200+ years of constitutional government for some juicy jobs a few years down the line.  Support the contractors is closer to it than support the troops.

Except, of course, (0.00 / 0)
That America can do a lot more damage to the rest of the world than the Fourth French Republic.

tell that (4.00 / 1)
To Algeria and Rwanda.

France has done its share of ratfucking in the name of preserving the vestiges of their colonial empire.

[ Parent ]
I have a billion or two tucked under my mattress. (0.00 / 0)
I'd be more than happy to throw it down a Blackwater sewer in Iraq. 

I would, however, reword this to this.

military corporate  supremacy over the government military was assured through popular will of the people, and enforced through our most pervasive institutions: government, mass media, and our sense of national supremacy.

And people want to know why Edwards and his supporters are pissed off. 

This Is Quite A Mish-Mash (4.00 / 1)

The antecedents you're citing aren't just wildly different from one another, they're wildly different from where we are today.  France had nothing comparable to the long stability of our constitutional order--as was particularly underscored by the Vichey regime--and though Bush has taken enormous steps to undermine it, such an analogy would require a cohesion of the military command that simply doesn't exist, if nothing else because Bush has played havoc with it as well.

In short, the conservative generals are creatures of Bush/Cheney, nothing more, nothing less.

The Powell Memo, of course, has grown notorious over the years, but has nothing to do with the rise of the religious right, and thus cannot be taken seriously as the grand master plan some take it to be.  It may be more explicit, and more notorious than what others were saying, but at the end of the day it needs to be seen as a symptom of a broader conservative reaction to the progressive advances of the post-WWII era, and the erosion of elite male WASP authority, rather than its cause. 

Collectively that reaction should be seen as a classic embodiment of what Gramsci called a hegemonic "war of position" or "culture war"--a prolonged struggle to build and/or take over cultural institutions on a broad array of fronts so as to dominate the production and dissemination of ideas and thus shape the fundamental presumptions and ideological content of what constitutes "common sense."

As Wikipedia explains:

Gramsci did not contend that hegemony was either monolithic or unified. Instead, hegemony was portrayed as a complex layering of social structures. Each of these structures have their own "mission" and internal logic that allows its members to behave in a way that is different from those in different structures. Yet, as with an army, each of these structures assumes the existence of other structures and by virtue of their differing missions, is able to coalesce and produce a larger structure that has a larger overall mission. This larger mission usually is not exactly the same as the mission for each smaller structure, but it assumes and subsumes them. Hegemony works in the same manner.

It' the utter failure of liberals and the Dems to engage in this culture war themselves (the exact opposite of Obama's charge) in any sort of organized way that is the primary cause of our current sad state.  The rise of the blogosphere has been quite fortuitous, as it gives us an openining for counter-hegemonic thought and action.  But as Peter Daou famously noted, the progressive blogosphere is not part of a larger coordinated configuration of institutions, and thus lacks the sort of synergistic power that is key to Gramsci's concept.

Gramsci distinguished between a "war of position" as described above, and a "war of movement" (or ""war of manoeuvre"), in which the accumulated (counter)hegemonic power would be deployed to finally take over state power.  He was writing from the point of view of advancing a Marxist, workinng-class strategy, however.  Already dominant class interests have no such need for a coherent "war of movement" to take over power, they can combine the two phases much more seemlessly--with examples such as the Congressional condemnation of MoveOn illustrating how "war of movement" tactics work to inflict strategic "war of position" damage on an unorganized liberal/Democratic opposition.

On the plus side, the Bush Administration has so thoroughly pulverized the military, that there's a genuine opening for a progressive reordering that centers on showing genuine concern for the well-being of those being most used and abused--not the top brass, but the vast majority of those who serve, as well as the increasingly neglected veterans.

Of course, I do not advocate for rebuilding the military so that it can go right out and do Iraq all over again, but genuine concern for how the troops have really been undermined can be part of a broader strategy for reorienting our entire posture in the world.

We do not have a military trained and conceived to do humanitarian interventions, peacekeeping and support work for devastated countries engaged in the hard work of nation-building, but if we genuinely want to win the so-called "war on terror," then that is precisely the sort of military we need--and it's a military much more in tune with the core American values that are our greatest asset on the world stage.  This is the sort of thinking we ought to be engaged in.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

That bad? (4.00 / 1)
It seems like there is some cause for the comparison.  France was suffering the decline of its international prestige from the higher water mark of pre-WWII, its colonies were breaking away violently (Algeria, Vietnam). 

The US too has been suffering a decline in relative power and influence as Russia and China get up off the mat, the EU is ever more unified, and we can't ignore the bloody nose given america by Al Qaeda, an organization so far off Bush's radar as to be beneath notice in August 2001.

It strikes me that empires facing decline do often undergo a degree of militarization and centralization in usually vain efforts to regain the power once held.

[ Parent ]
Not Quite The Same (0.00 / 0)
Sure there are similarities. But just look at how hard Bush has to look to find generals to push his line.  Not like the French generals and DeGaul.  Not even close.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Treason of the Clerks (0.00 / 0)
Well, yes, the Anglo-American right hates France, since 1789 actually, what with the right still being anglophile Federalists, Whigs, Thatcherites, and so on, but, now, also embracing Trotskyites and Darbyites.

But, so what?

It is the parochiality of the left -- mostly "reactionary", often "cringing" liberals, but also, certainly, the "draft-dodging progressives" -- that, more even than the Weimar/Vichy/Enron Democrats and "Bush Dog" collaborators, got us into our present state of military-civilian dysfunction and that cannot even take a tiny step to get us out -- whining, pleading, and, presently, trying to "snark" their way out on blogs instead.

From the Populist/Progressive, post-Reconstruction, consensus on the Spanish-American War, through the Washington-centric Jim Crow coalition of the Great, World, and Cold Wars, to the Bush v. Gore Judicial Coup, it is the cornpone American left that built the Pentagon Parody of Horse Guards Parade, The Admiralty, Whitehall, and The Circus.

And, they left that clap-trap standing after Fredrick the Great was re-interred at Sans Souci, cannot make use of the Congressional Majority they have today, and, duh!, question the state of our republican democracy. How did they imagine it could be sustained by the military-constitutional doctrine and organs of the British Empire?

Oh, we have an "all volunteer" military, and "inclusive", too! There you have it: empty, childish slogans.

The Democratic Leadership are First/Fourth Amendment-mongers, civil-rights mediators, and special pleaders with no clue what the Third Amendment was about, no idea where universal suffrage comes from, but really, really strong opinions on "an individual right of gun-ownership" or, maybe, "proficienchy with the English long-bow". Ah, "gun rights" may or may not exist, but they would have nothing whatsoever to do with "a well regulated militia". That phrase is English for the Swiss and German Landwehr back in the day or, for that matter, the Israel Defence Forces today. 

A well regulated militia is not to be found in English Common (Canon) Law and was not derived therefrom in 1784. No, "a republic, if you can keep it" requires not a poll tax or, now, credit-scored voter-registration but universal (originally manhood) suffrage tied to universal military obligation, you know, like Switzerland. The Confederation was the only other contemporary republic of note in 1784. That or the Republican Rome, of somewhat idyllic memory, by then were what the Republican-Democrats, "anti-Federalists", forced the other party to agree to reluctantly and, before 1800, not in good faith.

Well, we actually had a fine, regular commerce-raiding fleet, riverine Navy, Merchant Marine, Revenue Cutters, and even a few naval militia in New England before 1860.

But, we never for a single day had a truly well regulated militia or anything close to universal suffrage what with, well, you know, slaves.

Two battles, New Orleans and San Jacinto, sustained the mythology of militia as "cavalier" light cavalry and the political participation rate reached a historical high in 1858.

But, by 1860, both the US regular and militia forces had degenerated into indian and slave-chasing cavalry or pork-barrel coastal artillery polishing. The anglophile planter-militia failed first, and the CSA introduced conscription and induction of black sappers or teamsters.

Still, the CSA tore up the Army of the Potomac and forced conscription on the Union, too. they armed runaway slaves and large-scale importation of Irish soldiers. "The draft" is not an alternative to either regular or militia forces. It is the failure-mode of each and both when war intrudes upon the corrupt concession-tending and deal-cutting that is characteristic of a weak coalition government, neither republican or democratic in anything but rhetoric. 

After 1860, the US Merchant Marine never recovered and the Navy was purged, then rebuilt on Victorian lines. Black militia were "regularized" and shipped off to non-voting territories or forts in Texas. The last vestiges of an armed militia was abolished in 1905. Harry S. Truman was the last President to have ever been previously elected, not commissioned, a militia officer. He was also the last Democrat to do anything with or to the armed forces not approved by the GOP elite and, then, to leave office alive.

Since John F. Kennedy, -- like Truman a reserve officer -- Democratic Presidents have caved, shaved, or capitulated on every important military controversy but, at least, lived to inaugurate a Republican successor.

Basically, since the Civil War, the Democratic Party has been in coalition with the Federalist/Whig/GOP "other party". That other party has had the Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Treasury portfolios whoever had a majority in the Congress, on the Supreme Court, or in the Oval Office.

Curiously, Democrats were thrown out of that coalition in 1994, but still hope to find a Moderate Republican who will let them back into the soft side of it. Meanwhile, they do everything from the pacifistical fringe to the corrupt center, through their senile right to prove that they neither want nor are fit to take responsibility for any part of government that cannot be run exclusively by lawyers or just whiners.

Thus, James WEBB electrified the nation as a junior Senator with his "New Direction" speech. As a Republican Navy Secretary, he was the last and greatest reformer of our armed forces. He had the cred. But, as soon as his potential was seen by the Democratic Leadership, from the left-wing hand-wringers, through the centrist deal-makers, to the hereditary wind-bags, he was sent to the back of chamber and trashed by his own party in vote after vote.

The intersting thing was the sheer panic of the Democratic Leadership. They are not just terrified of "change" -- partisan competition and responsibility actually -- but they know they are just one speech away from it.

My guess is that the republic is sound, but shaky and insecure in every sense of the word until our military institutions are on constitutional grounds. That would be a universal franchise supported by a universal militia obligation which, yes, includes humanitarian roles for conscientious objectors.

Note that in Switzerland, they have cantonal formation of ethnically and religously diverse, um, voters. They have a Ministry of Defence, Civil Protection, and Sport (in four languages, not English). They have a high per-capita rate of defence-spending. No war, but some casualties. They do have world-wide commerce and influence, more than us in, say, Iran. They also, recently, voted to send armed soldiers abroad with Swiss humanitarian workers. 

The conscientious objecters have had a higher casualty rate than the soldiers and we becoming more prestigious than the military, no matter how arduously and dangerously they trained. It was a right/left controversy with the right isolationist and cynical but the left, idealistic and intensely proud of Swiss military history, voting to deploy troops overseas.

In the Confederation, as in Israel, these controversies involve a deep conversation over what is truly patriotic, because -- unlike here -- there is no class discrimination in military-patriotic insitutions and no superficial and hypocritical posturing over military service or distinction. (The Israeli equivalent of Jane Fonda, a  celebrated leader of Peace Now, was a ranger colonel, killed taking Beaufort Castle in a movie-grade assault.)

Chet Richards has a new book on military reform coming out soon. It is called If We Can Keep It -- still an open question, one Democrats still have no answer for, and little interest in. Protesting and whining entail little existential risk and no responsibility at all.

Our political culture is childish, but that should be no surprise in a country with gang-initiation rites for non-whites, "gun rights" for "white home-owners", and finishing-type graduate schools for the wealthy, but with no "barracks school" for everybody. 


[ Parent ]
Such Crap! (0.00 / 0)
It is the parochiality of the left -- mostly "reactionary", often "cringing" liberals, but also, certainly, the "draft-dodging progressives" -- that, more even than the Weimar/Vichy/Enron Democrats and "Bush Dog" collaborators, got us into our present state of military-civilian dysfunction and that cannot even take a tiny step to get us out -- whining, pleading, and, presently, trying to "snark" their way out on blogs instead.

The only left leadership we've ever had on military issues was two brief years with Ron Dellums as chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and he acceeded to Clinton's request to hold his fire for two years, so Clinton could get dug in, before getting serious.  Then, of course, the GOP swept into power as a result of all Clinton's clever settling in, and Dellums' window of opportunity was gone.

From the Populist/Progressive, post-Reconstruction, consensus on the Spanish-American War,

You are positively delusional.  There was no such consensus.  Mark Twain and William James were leaders in the Anti-Imperialist League, which represented Progressive opposition, and no one less than William Jennings Bryan lead the anti-imperialists on the Populist side.

through the Washington-centric Jim Crow coalition of the Great, World, and Cold Wars, to the Bush v. Gore Judicial Coup, it is the cornpone American left that built the Pentagon Parody of Horse Guards Parade, The Admiralty, Whitehall, and The Circus.

You have obviously never heard of the Conservative Coalition.  You're a political illiterate of the first order.  A Ron Paulista, perhaps???

Thus, James WEBB electrified the nation as a junior Senator with his "New Direction" speech. As a Republican Navy Secretary, he was the last and greatest reformer of our armed forces. He had the cred.

The "last and greatest reformer of our armed forces"! 

Webb was Secretary of the Navy for less than a year, May 1, 1987 - February 23, 1988.  He was a caretaker followup to John Lehman, who served more than six years, February 5, 1981 - April 10, 1987, and was responsible for overseeing the hair-brained mission of the "600 ship navy," a notion--like most of Reagan's military buildup--predicated on the false intelligence analysis of the early neo-con "Team B" operation.  By 1986, the Congress had had enough of the buildup, and started scaling back (the Dems won back control of the Senate, with a huge assist from Jesse Jackson registering large numbers of blacks in southern states).  The writing was on the wall for the buildup, but Webb was willing to keep on fighting after Lehman left, and so he gave it a go for a few months, before finally throwing in the towel.

There's nothing quite like a grand historical analysis that gets its facts wrong every step of the way.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
See what you are saying, but ya might be wrong about this... (4.00 / 2)
I think that your post, and Paul's reply seem to miss the mark, although both of your posts have merit about how IRAQ COULD apply to history, but our current situation is not static. It just seems silly to believe that Bush is not going to try and help the Republican Party and change the "reality" again in front of our eyes to change the debate entirely about IRAQ.

I am completely confused with how many of you smart democrats are seeing the lead up to the election and Iraq, and how they might fit together. 

1.  During the run-up to the election, Cheney/Bush are going to have their (lap dog), oops, I mean Patreaus declare that the surge worked, (although there may be no actual political agreements out of Iraq politicians, they will as Chris pointed out, say whatever their masters tell them to say), and we can now afford to bring our troop levels down to under 65,000, (while leaving contractors in place).  All of these troops coming home will dominate the news cycle for months.

2.  They will then claim that they did the right thing, and the war is winding down, and isn't the GOP wonderful, and the bush dogs will go along with whatever the GOP says, and the right wing media machine will try to install McCain into the white house now that the number 1 election issue is diffused. (this seems to be happening already).

3.  Conservative Americans who voted for Cheney/Bush in 2004 may not have learned their lesson yet, and having seen Bush declare victory, will vote GOP again, because we Democrats were too silly to admit that to fight the GOP, we actually have to, you know, fight the GOP. (Go Edwards)

Corporate America wins again.  Why can't everybody see this coming???

It's A Definite Possibility, But (0.00 / 0)
Up until quite recently, so was a major attack on Iran.

The fact is, there are any number of possibilities out there, that's one of the strategic benefits of the "madman theory" as developed by Nixon and Kissinger.

But it's hardly the silver bullet you make it out to be, particularly with the economy tanking the way it is, Afghanistan as bad as ever, Pakistan getting worse, and bin Laden still nowhere to be found.  And if it were to work, that would be highly dependent on the hegemonic war of position I was talking about, so I don't see how this counts as a refutation of my comments.

It is, of course, a distinct possibility that underscores the short-sightedness of the Congressional Dems and their Versailles backup singers.  But just because they could well get snookered this way does not mean it's a slam dunk for the GOP if they pull it off.  People have just been too demoralized for too long over this.  People have repeatedly told pollseters that so far as Bush is concerned, they are "done with him," and a last minute trick like declaring victory and coming home will not be enough to change many minds who have reached that point.  The best it can realistically do is create a window of possibility for a second-rate GOP candidate, who will not really satisfy the entire conservative coaltion, whoever he turns out to be.

The real vulnerability on the Dem side is that they haven't got a clue about articulating an alternative vision.  Which recalls the old adage, "You can't beat something with nothing."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Rosenberg - Why? (0.00 / 0)

Everytime you reply to me, I have to go Google stuff, figure out what I missed, and actually think.  How dare you...

Anyway, thanks for the replies, they actually make my day more interesting, and I am glad you are on our side.  And I hope you are right...

[ Parent ]
Business Plot (0.00 / 0)
The Business Plot was all but erased from history until very recently. The name "Smedley Butler" is memorized by all Marines, but nobody talks about his incendiary book or his testimony to Congress. Perhaps justice is distasteful to that wide swath of Americans who unfortunately prefer to dress up in Uncle Sam costumes and babble about the endless fountain of freedom than hold a few high-profile treason trials when the republic is threatened.

Caveats (0.00 / 0)
Chris' analysis assumes the Iraqis are not actors in their own fate. Lot of people have made that mistake -- think NeoCons, Cheney, most of the US military.

Do we really think "the surge" is working? Because unless it is, unless the "insurgents" have really been wiped out and aren't just waiting for the heat to subside, this scenario could quickly become untenable. There is no sign the set of quislings we've installed as a "government" in Baghdad can survive a determined attack from the various factions of their own people.

And the US military really is broke. Sure, the Bushies have found some generals eager to ride their horse, but most of the generals put a far higher value on maintaining their institution (and themselves) intact than on pulling bad leadership's chestnuts out of the fire. There'll be lots of friction there -- already is.

And remember, though the media have lost track of it, the US is losing a war in Afghanistan concurrently.

Can it happen here?

I Don't Think Chris Is Saying The Surge Is Working (0.00 / 0)
in the larger world of reality.  Working in the framework of US politics is all that really matters.  And with the Congressional Dems shooting down MoveOn, it's hard to see how "The Surge" (TM) could possibly stop working.

As long as Bush/Cheney/Patreaus/Pollack/O'Hanlon say it's working, then it's working.  Period. End of story.

In the real world, it seems to be largely working because the violence it was intended to stop has already largely fulfilled its main purpose of ethnic cleansing, and we've bought off the big players who were already ready to scale back on their own anyway.

There are further waves of violence potentially in the offing, but Bush has a reasonable chance at getting out of Dodge fast enough to shift the blame onto the next guy.

He has lots of practice in blame shifting.  After all his failures as a Texas oilman, it's really what he does the best.

Now, the utter brokeness of the US military, well, you're obviously not with the program there.  That was all Bill Clinton's fault, remember?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Chris or Matt (0.00 / 0)
Could you do a post on how Delegates work in the convention?  Is it fair to assume that Obama and Edwards will combine their delegates at some point?

Smells more like the 2nd Empire and 3rd Republic to me (0.00 / 0)
Actually, BushCo reminds me more of Napoleon III's Second Empire:  the decadent pretense of imperial power wasting a nation's resources; fundamentally inept strategic thinking and economic policies benefitting a tiny plutocracy while preparing a national decline, tending toward disastrous consequences, etc.  A mental and moral midget (followed by a series of right-wing apparatchiks), inflated by proganda, leading a powerful country toward a permanent decline in its global influence, etc. All masking fundamental transformations and violence of an obscenely destructive socioeconomic order. 

As Marx said so famously in 18th Brumaire, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.  W is such a pathetic epigone of former tragedies that he makes even Reagan or his father look like statesmen.  Let's hope it's not the second time as farce of 1929!

And now we have the Romneys and McCains and Clintons as Thiers, Mac-Mahons, and Faures. 


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