Second Thoughts

My first introduction to the Second Thoughts crowd was in 1989 when I attended a conference at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University and took a seat in the audience near Fawn Hall. Yes, that Fawn Hall: the secretary who dutifully shredded compromising documents for Oliver North during the Iran-Contra days. She was part of a tour put together by those rowdy former editors of radical Ramparts magazine, Peter Collier and David Horowitz. The delegation included many former leftists like Joshua Muravchik, the Young People’s Socialist Leaguer turned American Enterprise Institute think-tanker. Where Fawn Hall fit in, I’m still not sure. Perhaps Horowitz just needed arm candy. (Hall was, after all, Playboy’s “Sex Star of 1987.”)

Collier and Horowitz, who must have suffered serious intellectual whiplash when they traded their Che berets for Gipper pins, had brought their troupe to the Polish city of Krakow in order to teach the Solidarity government-to-be a thing or two about political about-faces. Alas, the Solidarity crowd just drank it up. Within a year, Poland would swerve from disintegrating communism to a labor-union-supported government to shock-therapy neo-liberalism. Collier and Horowitz can’t take credit for this transformation. It would have happened even without their intervention. But it seemed, at the time, that everyone was having second thoughts: neo-Marxists were becoming neo-cons, Yippies were becoming Yuppies. And Collier and Horowitz were organizing Second Thoughts conferences left and right (well, mostly right) until, finally, the fad died out in the Clinton years and they had to make a (dis)honest living doing something else, like putting together an Anti-Chomsky Reader and rooting out supposed liberal bias in academe.

When I read of What Happened, Scott McClellan’s literary stab in the back of the Bush administration, I thought, “Hey, why should the Right have all the fun?” It’s time to put together a Second Thoughts conference of our own.

After all, George W. Bush has probably pushed more people to the left than Noam Chomsky. The new generation of Second Thoughts would include all the disillusioned military brass, such as Army General Eric Shinseki and Marine General Anthony Zinni. Then there are the conservative thinkers, like Francis Fukuyama and Larry Diamond, who became disgusted with the political incompetence of U.S. policy in Iraq. Let’s also throw in Cold Warriors George P. Shultz and Henry Kissinger who now support a world without nuclear weapons. Let’s also salt the delegation with former high-level appointees like former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who blasted Bush’s economic and foreign policy. David Kuo and John DiIulio exposed the faith-based initiatives as bunkum. Matthew Dowd, Lawrence Wilkerson, and Paul Pillar all fell away from the Church of Bush. And let’s add Media Matters for America president David Brock, who was blinded by the right, fell from his high horse, and now sees the light.

Okay, I know, they’re not all progressives now. They haven’t become critics of U.S. empire like Chalmers Johnson (who was once himself one of the more conservative scholars of Asia). But as we approach the 2008 elections, let’s go big tent and put together a star-studded group to tour the swing states. Let’s also send these new Second Thoughters to college campuses in a political version of Scared Straight. Now given the pallid new name of the Juvenile Awareness Program, the program sends ex-cons to schools to scare kids away from doing drugs, stealing cars, and killing people. In our version of shock therapy, Scottie McClellan and David Brock and Eric Shinseki would warn kids not to listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Bill O’Reilly or read Ann Coulter. Otherwise, they too might one day be party to murder abroad (like Iraq) or theft at home (like the Bush tax policy).

Maybe we could even lure Fawn Hall to join the tour. After her trip to Krakow, she married the former manager of the Doors and survived cocaine addiction. More importantly, she survived the intellectual drugs that Collier, Horowitz, and Muravchik were dispensing. I’m sure she’s ready for a whole new set of second thoughts.

Second Gulf War: Second Thoughts

The Iraq War has probably generated more second thoughts than any other policy of the Bush administration. Those who are having second thoughts include many soldiers who have returned home after their rotation after seeing and experiencing enough trauma to last a lifetime. The Pentagon’s solution to all this? End the war? Wrong. At least provide sufficient health care to returning vets with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)? Wrong again.

As FPIF contributor Adil Shamoo writes in A Moral Burden on U.S. Soldiers, “Media reports indicate that the military is conducting research to use drugs that will purportedly prevent PTSDs or eliminate the disorder. If these reports are true, there are serious concerns as to what kind of a future soldier is in the making. Do we really want soldiers without a conscience? Instead of the bionic 21st century soldier we imagined in the twentieth century, instead we may have soldiers drug-induced into humans with no conscience.”

Hmmnn, people with no conscience going over to Iraq? But we have that already. They’re called contractors. As FPIF contributor William D. Hartung explains in an excerpt from the new book Lessons from Iraq, Halliburton was not the only large firm to exploit the war for profit. In Invitation to Steal: War Profiteering in Iraq, he writes about the firm Custer Battles, named after its founders Scott Custer and Michael Battles, who went to Iraq with no capital, no employees, and no experience in the security business. “Shortly after arriving in Iraq, Custer Battles received a lucrative contract to provide security for the Baghdad airport,” Hartung writes. “As an example of just how loose controls were, one early payment to the company was made in the form of $2 million in shrink wrapped $20 bills, transferred to the firm in exchange for a handwritten receipt. A film of two Custer employees playing football with a brick of the shrink wrapped bills provided one of the most enduring images of greed and corruption generated by the Iraq occupation contracting fiasco.”

After Cataclysm

Greed seems to follow naturally in the wake of cataclysm. Consider also the case of companies working along the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Rita and Katrina. One such company, Signal International, brought over guest workers from India, who generally get about 60-80% of the wages of domestic workers. Signal promised the Indian workers the sky above to get them to travel to the United States. What they got instead was hell on earth, according to FPIF contributor Sameer Dossani.

“When the workers arrived in the United States, they found conditions very different to those they had seen in India and in the Middle East,” he writes in Hungry for Justice. “Workers were living 24 to a room with only two toilets and one bathroom between them. They were given poor quality food in the morning, and by the time they took their lunch break in the evening, the food had already started to spoil. For the lodging and food services, Signal charged each worker $1,050 per month. Furthermore workers were under constant threat of deportation; often deportation was used as an incentive to get the workers to work harder. They were already doing more welding every day than they ever had (a tactic that may have been used to reduce their hours and hence their wages). The threat of deportation often made them pick up that already brisk pace. Phrases like, ‘we know what life is like back in India, and this is better than that so you better not complain’ were common.”

A group of workers walked out – and have walked all the way to Washington, DC to demand justice.

In Wenchuan, meanwhile, earthquake survivors are reporting that many buildings collapsed because of the greed of the contractors, who cut corners with construction materials. Rather than go back to the status quo ante, FPIF contributor Emanuel Pastreich and I argue that China should turn Wenchuan into a model Green city. We write in Wenchuan as Eco-City that such a model of energy efficiency and Green common sense “can inspire the world – a Gaviotas for the 21st century. Such an eco-city can be a model of sustainable development that points beyond the contradictions of economic growth based on energy consumption. Wenchuan could draw admirers just as Curitiba in Brazil does for its excellent public transportation and environmental urban planning. Such a tribute to the earthquake’s victims, by implementing solutions that can save the planet, would be more fitting than any plaque or monument.”

Yes to All That!

FPIF and IPS teamed up with Yes! magazine to look at a new U.S. foreign policy. FPIF outreach director Erik Leaver has provided a chart of the candidates’ chief foreign policy positions. We’ll be featuring other Yes! pieces at FPIF, but here’s a link to the latest issue of the magazine if you can’t wait.