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Return of the Rubber-type Army

June 15, 2014 - Harry Eagar
Some things don’t change very much. Every few years, the foreign despots the United States bankrolls get in trouble, and the rightwingers assert that with just a little push, they can be propped back up. No real cost to us.

So the downfall of Maliki in Iraq is following a well-known script, which it is convenient to call the “Return of the Rubber-type Army.”

The phenomenon goes back to 1919, when President Wilson was tricked into believing that 100,000 fierce Russian fighters who could not wait to restore the tsar were ready to eliminate the Bolsheviks. All they required was money (of course!) and the stiffening of a few soldiers from the Arsenal of Democracy.

So Wilson sent a regiment of Michiganders to Murmansk. The 100,000 tsarist patriots did not show up, and before the Americans were withdrawn they had suffered some of the highest casualty rates of any American troops ever.

The truth was that no one who had a choice was going to choose to die so that Nicholas could accumulate more pretty enamel Easter eggs.

This story has been played out again and again, at the Bay of Pigs, in South Vietnam, in China, in Iran and lately in Syria and Iraq.

But the classic statement of the rightwing fantasy of farmers dying to die for them was made by A.J. Liebling in his “Wayward Press” column in the New Yorker in April 1951.

The United States was interested in having the North Korean and Chinese Communists driven out of Korea, though not so interested that it wanted to pay the blood-price itself. That was a job for poor farmers, preferably brown ones.

The rightwingers, like soon-to-be Speaker of the House Joseph Martin, wanted to “unleash Chiang Kai-shek,” who, conveniently had an idle army holed up on Formosa, whence they had fled after being trounced by the Chicoms in 1948. What would be more desirable than to ship them to Korea, where they would fight for the democracy they had not felt like fighting for in their homeland?

The truth was, in China these men had (for the most part) thought that what they were being asked to die for was landlordism and oppression of people like themselves, and they had voted by running away. It was the closest the Kuomintang ever came to democracy.

But that was not the point made by Liebling. He was concerned about the phony claims of the size of this army. He used an old gag from the printer’s trade about rubber type, which could be stretched or squeezed to fit whatever task was at hand. In this case, he ridiculed the varying claims about the size of the Chinese army available, which ranged from 450,000 to nearly 1,000,000, with several other estimates in between.

If the United States were ever to support a democratic regime led by more or less honest patriots, there no doubt would be a reservoir of patriotic men and women ready to die with our support. But seldom has the United States ever done so. The outstanding exception was under Franklin Roosevelt, where we supported patriots, not all of them democrats by any means, but who were at least not being asked to die so that the rich could get richer.

Instead, we have almost always backed murderous kleptocrats like Mobutu and Mubarek. We can go further than that. While both Democratic and Republican administrations have put their muscle behind these criminals, those have been the only kinds of local leaders that rightwingers have supported.

If I have overlooked any counterexample, I am sure someone will easily correct me.

Now, the notional Iraq army is throwing away its weapons and going back to the farm, just like the tsar’s soldiers in 1917. If reports can be believed (and maybe they can), the still-intact formations in Baghdad are wearing mufti under their uniforms so they can desert as soon as they have the chance.

This is not Barack Obama’s doing. When Incurious George invaded in 2003, he had made no plans for a successor government. It was supposed to arise from the ashes spontaneously.

To the extent that any preparations were made at all, Incurious George wanted the Iraqis to be led by Chalabi, a Sunni grifter with no political base who had not lived in Iraq for a generation. Small wonder that the majority Shia distrusted American bona fides and when they got their man, Maliki, inserted into the money pipeline from Washington, they made a point of showing their independence of American colonialism by running an old-style Arab despotism.

Something very similar is going on in Afghanistan, and it is hardly likely that the notional national army of that fake state will last much longer.

American rightwingers, most prominently John McCain, who has been closely involved in three wars, all of them lost, want to repeat the Rubber-type Army approach. There not only is no chance it will work from here on out, there was never any chance it could have worked, given the corruption and stupidity of the Bush policy.


Article Comments



Jun-22-14 9:30 PM

You are right about the origins of the national security state, but it is surprising to hear someone in Hawaii lay interventionism at the feet of the progressives.

It started well before Wilson and was resisted by Progressives at first. Even before Hawaii there was Samoa.

Intervention began with the navalists, who were largely rightwingers, although TR was a notable exception.

It's hard to say what would have happened if the US had not entered WWI as a combatant. To think there would not have been another European war seems improbable. It does seem likely that if America had been truly isolationist (not supplying the allies) that something dramatic would have happened earlier than the October Revolution.

Isolationists of the Ron Paul type never discuss how the capitalists sided with France in the Napoleonic wars. Capitalists will always intervene. History shows no instance when they didn't.


Jun-22-14 6:52 PM

But Harry if you know your history you would realize that interventionism was born out of the progressive movement. Wilson got us into WW1 and imprisoned/deported those who protested our involvement in foreign wars. The modern national security state can trace its roots back to the progressive movement and the Espionage Act.

If the isolationists had prevailed during WW1, there wouldn't have been a WW2. War making is a truly bi-partisan effort. There is no way you could even try to pretend like this nation could go to war without cooperation from both sides. The military industrial complex funnels money to states and creates jobs, which is why we are still making tanks that the Army has specifically asked Congress to stop making because we will never use them.


Jun-21-14 1:08 AM

You are right, bkaahui, to note that political positions are not uniformly packaged, but that doesn't make the concept of rightwingers meaningless.

I wuld not call HClinton a nocon; more of an opportunist.

But if we take McCain as our central point, a ravening, idiotic, bomb 'em all type, then we can accrete around him layers of varying degrees of rightwingness.

When it comes to foreign policy, the basic rightwing idiocy is the who-lost-China approach. We see today's rightwingers lining up to ask who-lost-Iraq? It was them.


Jun-20-14 12:39 AM

Does the term "right-wingers" include neoconservatives like Hillary Clinton who love to bomb countries and prop up dictators? And by that definition, it certainly couldn't include doves like Rand Paul.

That is the problem with the false left/right paradigm, it is not an accurate depiction of political reality. It is little more than a relic of times past.

Was Stalin "left-wing?" After all, he was a socialist. What about Trotsky? Lenin? Where is Mao? What about Kim Jong-Il?

The left/right narrative is only useful for determining economic positions, but it completely ignores the libertarian/authoritarian scale. For example, Stalin was a left authoritarian while Pinochet was a right authoritarian. Meanwhile, Ghandi and Chomsky are left libertarians whereas Ludwig Von Mises and Murray Rothbard are right libertarians.

But to say that Ghandi was anything like Stalin, or Rothbard was anything like Pinochet, is completely asinine.


Jun-17-14 12:36 AM

McCain is not nearly the craziest rightwinger on this issue but is probably the most prominent.

His random bombing of peasants in Vietnam did not win anything, so it's hard to figure why he thinks there will be a better result this time.


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