Martin Luther King’s speech at Riverside, April 4, 1967 and expanding American wars

Today at Riverside Church, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, is going to speak on King’s legacy – on the 50th anniversary of the speech whose first draft was written by Vincent Harding – and current applications. This will be an important event. I would like to begin with two citations:

— “My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

— “I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. [applause]

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause]”

For the whole speech, see here.

Trump’s grotesque slashing of the budget for necessary social programs – ones that sustain a common good – and useless elevation of military expenses gives a new meaning to spiritual death…

More importantly, Trump has given over authority to the military to expand wars for 6 months in countries on which the US Congress has not declared war (first article below). This is part of the abdication, except for protest from below, of Congressional authority over war that has been going on with the Imperial Presidency since World War II. But here, sleepy Trump drops even Presidential authority. And while this should be big news, it goes unmentioned except in Politico.

Even “Mad Dog” Mattis, the man who wiped out a large part of the civilian population in Fallujah after the hanging of 4 American mercenaries – himself a war criminal – nonetheless rightly underlines that Congress should debate the policies…

Trump has extended the war-making powers which Obama, though with more careful supervision, also employed. King would have been scathing, today, on a government spending an escalated amount of war and stripping social programs. Except for resistance from below, this country, indeed, nears “spiritual death.”

Note that so far no one in Congress has objected to Trump’s militarism (Barbara Lee and Bernie Sanders have opposed important aspects of war making, but are not so far taking a lead on this). King’s speech – and the need for us to resist these policies from below – is today’s news.

The second article below is Graham Allison, a Harvard professor, on the cliched “Thucydides’ trap.” This is the idea that as the Soviet Unino clashes with the United States, so must China now. All this is ostensibly modeled on the rise of Athenian power confronting the Spartans, but with everything interesting and different about Athens – its democracy, for example, washed away. In this respect, Allison and contemporary American international relations scholars are unlike Thucydides. And while the Cuban missile crisis was a great danger, the US and the USSR did not go to war. Further, China has very carefully not attacked outside what it claimed as its own boundaries, since World War II. Contra Allison, it has not been expansionary. By way of contrast, America pushes up against China as it expanded NATO right up to Russia. American expansion or imperialism, under Trump, is dangerous…

Further, the point is not really Thucydides. It is, more sharply put, from Lenin’s imperialism (worth looking at it if you haven;t read it). What is sharply distinctive about Thucydides is the depiction of political debates and spiritual decline in Athens, accompanying “splendid” predation, from Pericles to Alcibiades and Nicias. Thucydides is, as is ,once again, missed by cliched international relations scholarship including Allison, not primarily a portraitist of great power rival (and this is more in the first 200 pages, what scholars like Gilpin at most read…), but more, how enthusiasm for expansion abroad leads to blind wars, and the undermining of democracy at home. That is the fate of the Athenian expedition in Syracuse, surrounded and smashed by the Syracusans led by Hermocratces who is the hero or mirror, in the later part of the History of Pericles, the great Athenian leader, in the first books

King would have understood the issues raised by Thucydides. He explores modern militarism, its role in corrupt wars and perversion of domestic wellbeing – the stripping of social programs as illustrating the ravenous destruction by the .0001% of any sort of common good. American militarism is a very great danger to humanity; there is a wide reservoir of public – and I suspect, military – opposition to unjust wars. This needs urgently to be mobilized.


The Agenda
Trump’s dangerous expansion of executive war powers

For decades, Congress has relinquished its constitutional role in declaring war. But Trump is taking it to new extremes.

With Washington distracted by the health care debate, President Donald Trump has quietly overseen an expansion in the administration’s war-making powers, giving the Department of Defense greater autonomy to conduct military operations independent of the White House.

Already, the Pentagon has used this expanded authority in Yemen, where the U.S. has recently conducted significant air operations against AQAP, an Al Qaeda offshoot. And on Friday, Trump extended the authority to parts of Somalia where the U.S. is targeting Shabab, a terrorist group. In military terms, Yemen and Somalia are now “areas of active hostility,” a bureaucratic way of saying that the U.S. is conducting military operations there, with little input or oversight from either the White House or Congress.

This expanded bombing campaign, though, could be just the tip of the iceberg. In early March, The Guardian reported that the White House is considering a secret Pentagon proposal to designate temporary areas of active hostility in which the military could launch what amounts to six-month wars without congressional approval. Under the proposal, once the president signs off on a temporary battlefield, commanders would be given “the same latitude to launch strikes, raids and campaigns” as they now have in active U.S. warzones like Iraq. Protections for civilians would also be scaled back.
These temporary battlefields, as The Guardian dubbed them, are not exactly new; the Obama administration already applied the label to conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. But the proposal Trump is considering would expand and formalize that decision, stretching the temporary battlefield designation to cover entire countries in which the United States is technically not at war. Despite the bureaucratic language, Trump’s plan, if implemented, is a flagrant perversion of the Constitution, redoubling the worst excesses of the Obama administration and further undercutting the rule of law.

To understand the recklessness of this proposal, a little history is in order. Though it names the president as “Commander in Chief” of the U.S. military, the Constitution explicitly delegates the power to “declare war” to Congress. The choice of the word “declare” was a careful one, as James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention reveal. Originally written as the power to “make war,” it was amended to communicate that while the executive is permitted “the power to repel sudden attacks” on American soil, it is not allowed to “commence war” independent of the legislature.

George Mason, the “father of the Bill of Rights,” was against “giving the power of war to the Executive, because [it was not] safely to be trusted with it,” Madison records, and Mason supported using “declare” as a means of “clogging rather than facilitating war [and instead] facilitating peace.”

In the years since the Constitution’s ratification, perhaps few of its provisions have been so thoroughly gutted of such well-established original intent as the War Powers Clause. The United States has engaged in military conflict in nearly every year of her existence, but just five times has Congress made a formal declaration of war: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
Following the U.S.’s declaration of war against the Axis nations in 1941, Congress has all but abandoned its constitutional role in foreign policy. In 1973, the War Powers Act was passed in a half-hearted attempt to regain some portion of the war authority seized by an already-overgrown executive. It provided that the president could commence war on his own, but he must notify Congress within 48 hours and withdraw U.S. troops from battle within 90 days if Congress declined to declare war or at least pass an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in that timespan.
Since then, executive war-making has been the norm. From Korea to Vietnam, Bosnia to Kuwait, and into the modern war on terror, none of America’s near-constant military operations in the post-World War era have been subject to an official congressional declaration of war. Obama’s tenure saw a further solidification of this status quo, thanks to a Congress unwilling to enforce the War Powers Act.
Today, the U.S. military is engaged in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Somalia with neither a formal declaration or an AUMF, and the AUMFs authorizing action in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and especially the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq are strained beyond all reasonable limits. These theaters of the war on terror are, in Washington’s telling, made legal by the 2001 AUMF that preceded the invasion of Afghanistan or the 2002 AUMF that preceded the invasion of Iraq. These documents clearly do not describe—and therefore cannot authorize—the current fight, which deals with territories and organizations substantially unrelated to the 9/11 attackers and the Hussein regime. ISIS was only founded in 2013, AQAP in 2009, and Somalia’s al Shabaab in 2006. How can AUMFs written before such organizations’ existence authorize these fights? Our Congress may have many talents, but seeing the future is not among them.

With this “temporary battlefields” idea, the White House once again strips Congress of what was left of its responsibility for our military, taking unilateral control of foreign policy for the foreseeable future.

What specifically makes this new plan different from the operations of administrations past is the new autonomy it gives the military from civilian control, not only in terms of congressional oversight but also in terms of presidential direction. In Obama’s scheme, which was already far afield from the constitutional war powers framework, the president and his top national security advisers remained intimately involved in the approval process for U.S. strikes outside of active war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. With the new plan, military commanders would be able to make these decisions independently during 180-day periods. This puts major foreign policy decisions one step further away from congressional influence and civilian control.

Defense Secretary James Mattis seems to understand the importance of constitutional congressional authority over military action. “Following more than a decade of fighting for poorly articulated political goals,” he wrote in a 2015 op-ed about ISIS, “the Congress needs to restore clarity to our policy if we are to gain the American people’s confidence and enlist the assistance of potential allies, while sending a chilling note that we mean business to our enemies.”

Mattis reiterated this point at a recent Senate committee meeting. “I would take no issue with the Congress stepping forward with an AUMF,” he said. “I thought the same thing for the last several years, I might add, and have not understood why the Congress hasn’t come forward with this, at least to debate.”
The Trump administration need not maintain Obama’s policies and procedures—in fact, it should not—but this proposal is regression, not reform. It demolishes the last remnants of one our Founders’ most necessary constitutional protections, and it opens the gate to a host of dangerous, imprudent military interventions with no demonstrable connection to U.S. national security interests.

After the last 15-plus years of imprudent executive war-making, what we need is not less oversight of our foreign policy, but more—more open debate about our goals and strategy, more realistic risk analysis, and more careful determination of what political outcomes we can achieve through military force.


The Atlantic
How Trump and China’s Xi could stumble into war
When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, it rarely ends well.

By Graham Allison March 31
Graham Allison is director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and author of “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”

Trump: ‘I look very much forward to meeting’ China’s president Play Video0:37
President Trump criticized jobs “going to China and other places,” during a meeting with manufacturers on March 31. He said he’s looking forward to a “very important, very special” meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. (The Washington Post)
It may not be apparent when President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet beneath the towering palms and crystal chandeliers at Mar-a-Lago this coming week, but the nations they lead are on a collision course for war.

An irresistibly rising China is challenging the United States’ accustomed dominance. Consider that the U.S. share of global economic output fell from 22 percent in 1980 to 16 percent today, while China’s grew from 2 percent to 18 percent over the same period. Historians know that when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarms should sound: extreme danger ahead. As Thucydides explained about the war that destroyed the two great city states of ancient Greece, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Likewise, a century ago, it was the rise of Germany and the fear it created in Britain that allowed an archduke’s assassination to ignite a conflagration so devastating that it required an entirely new category: world war.

This pattern, which I call the “Thucydides Trap,” recurs often. A major nation’s rise has disrupted the position of a dominant state 16 times over the past 500 years. In 12 of those 16 cases, the outcome was war. In the four cases that avoided violent conflict, that was possible only because of huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part of challenger and challenged. Think of Britain and the United States under Theodore Roosevelt, or the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

We are certain to see a succession of confrontations between China and the United States in the years ahead. What is in doubt is whether the leaders of these two great powers can manage these confrontations without escalating them to war. For now, that’s up to Trump and Xi.

If Hollywood made a movie pitting the United States against China on the road to war, central casting would be hard-pressed to find two better leads. As personalities, Trump and Xi could not be more different. Despite the formalities of a scripted summit, their contrasting styles will be on full display. But in many ways, they are mirror images of each other.

Both have pledged to restore the greatness of their nations with an agenda of radical change. Everyone knows Trump’s trademark one-liner. But when Xi rose to power in 2012, he announced his “China Dream,” calling for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Both men take pride in what they consider their unique leadership capabilities. Trump built his presidential aspirations on what he portrayed as unrivaled business acumen, memorably claiming that he alone could fix the nation’s problems. Xi has so firmly concentrated power in his own hands that he is now often referred to as the “Chairman of Everything.” Indeed, the exceptionalism ingrained in each man’s political agenda speaks to a broader similarity between the United States and China: Both have extreme superiority complexes. Each sees itself as without peers.

And, perhaps most important, both Trump and Xi view the nation the other leads as the principal obstacle to achieving their core ambition.

The danger is that amid the structural stress caused by China’s rise, and exaggerated by Xi’s and Trump’s clashing visions, inevitable crises that could otherwise be contained will result in outcomes neither side wants.

The potential sparks for such a conflict are frighteningly mundane. Already during the Trump administration, tensions have escalated over the status of Taiwan, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and trade. (During his campaign, Trump accused China of “raping” the U.S. economy. On Thursday, he tweeted that the meeting with Xi “will be a very difficult one,” because “we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses.”)

Could a trade conflict become a hot war that ends with nuclear explosions? As preposterous as that may sound, remember that Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor happened after the United States imposed crippling sanctions on Japan, bringing this country into a war that ended with atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The straightest path to war between the United States and China would begin with a sharp turn by Taiwan toward independence. During the presidential transition, Trump tripped this alarm with tweets and a phone call with Taiwan’s leader. No Chinese national security official I have ever met, and no U.S. official who has examined the situation, doubts that China would choose war over losing territory it considers vital to its national interest. Were a Taiwanese president, with or without encouragement from Trump, to cross one of Beijing’s bright red lines, China might begin with an updated version of its 1996 “missile tests” that bracketed Taiwan. If the United States came to Taiwan’s assistance and provided Navy escorts for the lifeline of ships supplying the island, China could try to sink one or more. And to prevent China from suppressing Taiwan, the United States would have to conduct massive, repeated attacks on missile bases on the Chinese mainland, killing thousands of Chinese. It’s hard to believe that China would not respond to such attacks with equivalent strikes on U.S. air bases in Guam and Japan, as well as carriers. From there to bombs exploding on U.S. soil is not a very long hop, skip or jump.

North Korea is another possible catalyst for a war no one wants — but nonetheless could happen. During the upcoming summit, Trump is expected to demand that Xi put more pressure on Kim Jong-un to rein in his nuclear program. On its current path, North Korea will acquire the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon against the U.S. homeland on Trump’s watch. The president has said he won’t allow this to happen. The Pentagon has reportedly prepared various military options to slow North Korea’s missile program. Although some might hope that fallout from a surgical strike would be limited, a U.S. attack could provoke retaliation that triggers a second Korean War or the collapse of the Kim regime. Either could lead to war between the United States and China.

U.S. war planners have examined scenarios for North Korea that begin with regime collapse. As the country descends into chaos, U.S. forces would try to destroy weapon systems capable of delivering a nuclear warhead against South Korea, Japan or Guam. The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command has a long-standing mission to secure “loose nukes” and has trained to enter the North to take control of its nuclear weapons facilities before rogue commanders could pirate these weapons to international arms bazaars. But because the sites are thought to be near China’s borders, it is likely that Chinese special forces would beat U.S. forces there. As Gen. Raymond Thomas, a former head of the Joint Special Operations Command, has warned, trying to secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons would result in a “vertical track meet” between Chinese and U.S.-South Korean forces. Unaware of each other’s presence, they could end up in a firefight and mistake accidental engagement for an intentional ambush requiring retaliation.

Another possibility is that, after a regime collapse, North Korean refugees would pour into China. Fearing its own instability, China could send troops into North Korea and establish a buffer state between it and South Korea. Under pressure from its population to liberate those who have lived under the most brutal regime on Earth, the South Korean government could also send troops marching north. Because U.S. troops and aircraft stationed in South Korea are integrated with South Korean troops in operational military plans, American and Chinese troops would then engage one another directly, as they did in 1950.

Is it possible to manage the structural stress between rising and ruling powers without war? Yes. Xi and President Barack Obama even discussed the Thucydides Trap at their 2015 summit, but could not agree what to do to escape it. Xi had proposed a “new form of great power relations.” But by this he meant an expansive concept of China’s core interests, including an Asian sphere of influence, which the United States could not accept.

Trump and Xi now have an opportunity to redirect the most significant relationship of the 21st century. More important than any specific deliverables from this summit will be whether the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations recognize the risks as far as any eye can see. If they settle for business as usual, we are likely to get history as usual – where the odds of war are against us.

Graham Allison is director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and author of “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”