Wednesday, 27 August 2014



In an open society where disparate interests, from defense industries to agrochemical exporters, are competing for government advocacy we n expect contradictions in foreign policy. For example, exporters may object to sanctions as a foreign policy tool, while ideologues and defense industry interests may insist on it, siding with various lobbying groups. While it is not unusual to have foreign policy contradictions within certain boundaries, it is very costly to have a foreign policy rooted in contradictions that backfire to the detriment of the broader national interests. With special interests behind the foreign policy contradictions subordinating the national interest the result is continued erosion of US economic power and political influence in the world.

The contradictions in US foreign policy from the Vietnam War to the present have been so glaring in certain instances that it must leave a great many policy observers speechless. One example is the Iran-Contra deal involving Oliver North, among other shady characters in the Reagan administration.  After an Islamic group in Lebanon held seven US hostages in 1985, the US arranged for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, the ultimate absurdity on face value, while the US would compensate Tel Aviv.

Adding to this absurdity that played out in congressional hearings on TV, the Reagan administration arranged for part of the money made from the sale of weapons to flow to the Nicaraguan contras (rebels against a duly-elected government).  Where exactly would the US receive any benefit from this entire affair, considering Iran was part of the “Axis of Evil”, while Nicaragua under an elected regime was also evil but targeted for overthrow.

Similar examples have multiplied in the last twenty years, and they have become even more absurd during the Obama administration that promised to deliver a less ideologically-based more practical foreign policy rooted not in unilateral action but multilateral consultations before taking action and not after the fact. Contemporary history has shown that the US has derived no benefit of any sort by pursuing a policy immersed in contradictions and chaos intended to foster destabilization on purpose, and the cost has been very high.

Lessons from Otto von Bismarck’s and Kaiser Wilhelm’s Policies

It is not unusual for the government of a Great Power to have a foreign policy that is multidimensional and has some contradictions, but in its core it remains cohesive. One of the reasons for the downfall of the 19th century diplomat and statesman Otto von Bismarck was that he pursued a foreign policy mired in what appeared contradictions that Kaiser Wilhelm II simply could not grasp and had to dismiss the elder statesman. The purposeful contradictions in Bismarck’s foreign policy were rooted in the logic of setting self-imposed limits. The goal was for Germany to retain its continental supremacy, while conceding naval dominance to Great Britain, and neutralizing Russia. This meant maintaining the German Empire as a land-based power while conceding to Great Britain the dominance over the high seas owing to its vast colonial network; containing Russia while also reassuring it no conflict would take place between Austria and Russia; and not allowing Austria-Hungary to upset the status quo in the Balkans.

Despite the secret alliances and obvious contradictions that the Kaiser did not appreciate, Bismarck’s “Realpolitik” approach was intended to maintain the country’s continental supremacy without any other power upsetting the status quo. He spent enormous energies in the 1870s and 1880s trying to avoid a broader war that would upset the delicate balance of power in Europe and European colonies. This policy made sense amid the Age of Imperialism, and it worked because openly and secretly the Great Powers and their smaller allies and satellites knew where they stood, they knew their limitations, and what boundaries of power not to cross.

The Kaiser dismissed Bismarck in 1890 (officially, Bismarck resigned), replacing him with individuals who did not believe in setting limitations to German sea power ambitions. The Kaiser’s new team did not believe in secret agreements with Russia to keep the peace on the continent, and they did not believe in restraining Germany’s ability to expand globally without restraint, even risking war to achieve this goal. In The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany, John Röhl places all blame on the emperor and even compares him to Hitler, but most historians point to a business, military, and conservative political establishment behind the Kaiser’s policies.

As the German historian Fritz Fischer noted in his book World Power or Decline, the post-Bismarck government leading to WWI believed that risking it all to become globally hegemonic was a worthy and an achievable goal. We know that the government overreached and amazingly never took into account the US coming to the side of Great Britain and France. The lesson from the Bismarckian era and that of his most significant successor Theolbal Bethnmann-Hollweg serves as a very important example for the US today of how to approach managing its debt-burdened empire challenged by Asia and Eurasia, and rivaled by the European Union. Not because the US is on the path to a global war, but because of its inordinate reliance on military as a component of foreign policy and the immense contradictions in that policy we are likely to see continued erosion of economic power that serves as the base of military might.

Lack of clarity in goals, methods, a coherent post-Communist doctrine, and specific justifications for foreign policy have not just enemies, but allies confused as to what the US would or would not do next. This is not to suggest that US foreign policy must be fixed and inflexible so that the government cannot respond to new situations, new crises, new regimes that may come to power or rebel groups threatening those same regimes. The sources of contradictions are internal and range from ideological and political to economic and military. For example, few political observers failed to notice that during Arab Spring revolts the rhetoric of the US about freedom and democracy pertained only to those countries where the US was eager to see regime change. Regarding the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia where the US backed the authoritarian regimes, there was silence.

US Policy toward Syria and ISIS

The announcement in June 2014 that the US is open to working with Iran to contain the extremist Islamic State and the Levant (ISL) jihadists must have come as a shock to Israelis and American hardliners, especially since the regime in Tehran demanded lifting of sanctions by the US in order to help with ISIS. An ultra-fanatic rebel group of Sunnis that started its fight in Syria and has now spread inside Iraq, ISL (ISIS) has been receiving funding from US allies in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, but also indirectly from organizations working out of Turkey to fund rebels in Syria though not directly ISL or ISIS as commonly known.

Shocking for right wingers who had no problem with US allies’ money going to anti-Assad jihadists, there have been some counter-terrorism experts suggesting the US could work with the regime of President Assad who accepted the offer for political and military considerations. However, the US would prefer to bomb select targets in Syria, something Damascus vehemently opposes without coordination on how to combat ISIS with Syria. That the US wants to help defeat ISIS is a symptom of a policy rooted in contradiction. On the surface, it is obvious ISIS is a threat as much to the US as to Syria, Iraq, and Iran, but that was only until recently when ISIS decided to declare jihad on a much broader scale than just Assad’s Syria.

One of the greatest tragedies in contemporary history, the US helped to create ISIS jihadists whose goal was to remove Iranian-backed Assad from power so the US could have a regime that is not pro-Russian as it has been historically, but pro-West, after the pretext of the Arab Spring uprisings. This reckless adventure of mercenary jihadists has not achieved the goal of toppling Assad in the last three years, creating far too many problems for the US that was forced to the negotiating table with Russia and Iran, and forced to concede that Assad is almost impossible to remove short of sending an invading army. There was never any doubt in the last three years that Russia and China along with Iran and its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon would play a role in blocking US schemes to determine the regional balance of power to the exclusion of the three countries backing Syria.

In August 2014, the US reversed course, trying to work with Assad indirectly to remove ISIS rebels now deemed “terrorists whereas a few months ago they were freedom fighters. Even worse, it has secured the support of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, all involved in undermining Syria’s government, in the anti-ISIS campaign.  Meanwhile, from backdoor channels the US continues trying to destabilize and ultimately overthrow Assad. This on top of the new US collaboration with Iran, while permitting Israel to reduce Gaza to a pulp so that the new US policy toward Iran and Syria can be justified and Israel can feel that the US still supports its catalytic role in the regional balance of power.

The US and Iran also have agree that if the problem is Iraq’s president Jalal Talabani, who worked with Washington and Tehran to stay in power, then he can be replaced because he has failed to unify the nation. Considering that Talabani has become a liability as far as Sunni Muslims are concerned, and he is as much a threat as ISIS to strengthening Kurds, Turkey with Kurdish population has no interest in seeing any momentum for the creation of a great Kurdish state. The problem here is that the US is ambiguous on where it really stands on the Kurdish question, given that it impacts not just Iraq’s territorial sovereignty but Turkey a NATO ally historically engaged in intermittent armed conflict with the PKK – Kurdistan Workers Party.

If someone were to examine not just US foreign policy toward Iraq, Syria and Iran, the ‘war on terror” remains the ultimate absurdity of the last two decades. In the absence of a Cold War ideology fighting Communism, the ideological vacuum is such that the US has to grab onto a manufactured “terrorism” crusade that really has no business when conducting conventional foreign policy between states. Ironically, it the US and its allies, not Iran and Syria, that helped to create the problem of ISIS terrorism. 

Contradictions in US Policy toward Russia and China

China and Russia were rivals of the US throughout the Cold War. Despite the economic integration of China and Russia into the world economy, they remain military rivals for the US to take seriously. This is not only because they have nuclear weapons, but largely because their combined strength at all levels from political to economic, as well as their global influence merits serious treatment of these two countries as potential enemies and collaborators on significant matters. Both have demonstrated that they are interested in business-like diplomacy and solving problems at the negotiating table rather than resorting to force that destabilizes their respective economies.

The contradictions in US foreign policy do not rest in the containment-engagement dichotomy that is obvious and to be expected, but in very clear cut cases where policy seems aimless, random or simply irrational.  A recent glaring example is the Ukraine crisis that hit hard US exports to Russia, especially manufactured goods and banks moving billions around for the economic elites of Russia’s oligarchs. Not only is the US auto industry hurting, but it is dragging the ailing European car industry along with it, threatening the agricultural exports, and possibly energy and at the extreme air travel unless there is a political settlement that satisfies Moscow’s national security concerns and the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

These are all negotiable issues and must be weighed against the real benefits of securing the Ukraine as a possible Western satellite that the US and EU want. Given Ukraine’s energy dependence on Russia, its financial bankruptcy, and geographic proximity, at what cost economic and military is the US and EU willing to secure Kiev’s political and military loyalty and economic integration to the West? As valuable as Ukraine’s natural resources may be, and as geopolitically important as it is, the US has playing a high stakes poker game holding few cards because it would never risk an all out war over Kiev. Just as Mexico is so far from God and so close to the US, so is Ukraine so close to Russia and praying God may provide a revelation through EU assistance. 

One the one hand, the US wants to punish Russia through sanctions so it can achieve its goal of forcing Putin into a negotiated solution over Ukraine that Washington demands on its own terms. On the other hand, Ukraine is hardly a national security issue for the US, no matter the propaganda intended to preach to the choir. US policy has backfired because US and EU business interests hurt and constantly apply pressure to find another way to “punish” Russia.

By refusing a negotiated solution that would accommodate Russia’s concerns, the US is pushing the EU economy toward recessionary mode which then hurts US-EU trade and it will become much worse in case energy becomes a foreign policy tool. At the same time, the US cannot do anything about China cutting multibillion dollar energy and raw materials deal with Russia, thus lifting some of the pressure the West is applying.  In short, the US policy toward Ukraine, while it may have weakened Russia’s oligarchs, it also hurt US and EU business and strengthened China and Iran. Was this the intended goal of US policy?

Containment and engagement toward China and toward Russia, even during the Ukraine crisis does call into question if the US has been serving business interests while trying to further military goals.  US-NATO policy of containing Russia has been complicated in the last ten years by the added dimension of an encirclement policy that Moscow deems a serious threat to its national security interests. The contradiction here is that the US, which helped to bring down the USSR and helped to reintegrate Russia into the world economy by inviting it into the G-7, pursued a parallel policy of trying to undermine it strategically by securing cordial relations with all of its neighbors. This situation has become so serious that many Americans are hardly aware that the Cold War ever ended and their current views are shaped by Cold War ideology, as though Russia is still Communist.

During the Cold War there was an ideology driving US foreign policy, at least justifying the quest for markets and raw materials, especially strategic minerals. The quest for markets and raw materials remains the same, especially when we consider China’s role in the world arena. Eurasia’s energy resources have intensified the rivalry between Russia and the US with the EU behind it pursuing not just energy and raw materials in all of the former Soviet republics, but a containment policy that would seriously limit Moscow’s influence with its neighbors.  It took the US half a century to realize its dream of ending Communist rule in Russia, and when it was done, the next step was how to undermine the new regime simply because it pursued national capitalism, resents containment, and resists encirclement.

When Truman enunciated the famous doctrine that has his name, everyone was clear on what it meant. People knew that the doctrine had historical roots; they knew the perimeters of US power, and the method of implementing policy under certain conditions. Today, there is no overarching policy defining the extent or limits of US imperial power. In the age of computer and cell phone spying, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding what the US would or would not do next and to whom when even the Pope is on the NSA spy list.

The problem here is much broader, going to the core of an incoherent and contradictory policy that backfires on the US. It is also a matter of engendering global stability or instead deliberately destabilizing various parts of the world to gain some strategic, political or economic advantage.  A realistic assessment of the strengths and weakness of the country, its ability to withstand the costs of an imperial foreign policy carved out in the late 19th century and continuing to the present is needed to prevent serious problems in the future.

The US clearly wishes to remain the world’s preeminent military power because it sees its economic power deriving from a strong military regime, rather than military strength deriving from economic preeminence. The challenge to US power is the ability to afford the costs involved in retaining a military global presence, with the ability to send troops, or airplanes to strike a target anywhere in the world. Modern technology notwithstanding, military readiness to cover the entire world in the early 21st century is simply not possible. The world has changed with military power no longer concentrated in the US which still outspends its closest rival China ten to one – of the total $1.8 trillion defense spending in the world, the US  spends 39% while China 9%.

The blatant contradiction here is that the US spends 39% of the world’s defense because China buys American debt. Of the $17.5 trillion US public debt, China owns 7.2% of the total debt and 21% of debt held abroad. China needs the US markets to sell its products, many from multinational corporations operating in China, and the US needs China to maintain the immense defense spending and the dollar’s stability as a reserve currency which would otherwise collapse.

During the Nixon administration, the US made a strategic decision to help industrialize China so that it would undermine the USSR and force it into the failure it faced in the 1980s during the Reagan presidency when defense spending was skyrocketed again to push Moscow into bankruptcy. All of this came with a price tag and it exposed more contradictions, the most glaring that the US was simply helping to strengthen a future rival – China – to defeat a current one, the USSR., not taking into account that it is not in China’s interest to have a Russian Federation so weak that the US and its EU allies determine the balance of power and have access to natural resources in the Eurasian region. Applying NSC #68 1950s ideology today when there is no Communist threat and the US is declining economically is at the heart of the contradictions in foreign policy.

Contradictions in US Policy on “Terrorism”

September 11, 2001 provided the US with new challenges and opportunities to address some of the glaring contradictions in foreign policy. Instead the Bush administration created even greater contradictions, with Obama continuing along a similar path (relying on drone warfare and air strikes) as public finances permit, given the deep recession of 2008-2012. While it is true that foreign policy consensus was forged after 9/11, it is equally true that the US has always had a strong bi-partisan foreign policy with few differences in goals, and some in modalities.

Ignoring the complexities of the very diverse and heterogeneous Muslim world, the US opted for a homogeneous approach, exempting the Saudis with deep roots inside Washington and Wall Street.  “War on terror” assumed generic dimensions. The US government labeled “terrorist” any group and anyone it wished, and even collaborated or turned a blind eye to some of those militant groups, thus losing credibility even with a segment of its own population that supported the war on terror. This generic use of the term has historical roots, it has specific meaning in different countries around the world, but the US has attempted to impose its own definition on the rest of the world.

A manufactured war with roots in the 1980s when the same jihadists were on the US side against the Soviets in Afghanistan – including Osama Bin Laden, the “war on terror” became so absurd that the US wound up supporting terrorists selectively in Libya and Syria, negotiating with them in Pakistan, and agreeing with the neo-Nazi-backed regime in Kiev that pro-Russian rebels inside Ukraine are “terrorist”. Similarly, Palestinians who live in Gaza, including children, are “terrorists” simply because Tel Aviv has baptized them so and the US agrees. Once we enter into this kind of rhetoric that lacks any basis in reality on the ground, foreign policy assumes its own absurd theoretical logic.  Just as we had a Vietnam syndrome owing to countless contradictions, we now have a “terror syndrome” about which there are scholarly publications.

Through the rhetoric about changing the image of America abroad and assuming a more realistic foreign policy with the absence of contradictions we had under Bush, Obama decided to allow the new weapons technology, especially drone warfare to replace boots on the ground. Many organizations and governments deem drones use a war crime because most of the victims are civilians. In short, the technology driving defense and foreign policy itself has added to the contradictions. Instead of winning support because of surgical strikes, this type of warfare alienates people because of collateral damage. Given that the method of implementation of US imperial policy has been viewed as a war crime by Amnesty International among many other organizations and governments, what legitimacy does the US have claiming to kill civilians in the name of democracy and freedom?

There are those who claim that US foreign policy was plagued with contradictions before Obama’s drone warfare but that is no longer the case because Washington opened new avenues to bilateral and multilateral negotiations to conflicts. There are the open diplomatic channels with high publicity, third party diplomatic channels through governments and NGO’s, and secret channels of contact in the most sensitive cases, all of which Obama has utilized in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, North Korea, and Cuba among other countries.

Nevertheless, the contradictions have increased. This is not just in obvious cases such as the US first trying rapprochement with Iran because it had no other choice but diplomatic solution to icy relations, but even Syria where Obama until recently and even today - August 2014 - is working to undermine and remove the regime, and at the same time seeking its cooperation to defeat the ISIS jihadists.

US policy on terrorism intended to foster freedom and democracy has achieved the exact opposite results. In no country the US has intervened on the pretext of fighting terrorism has the result been anything but the rise of chaos and even greater authoritarianism than existed before US intervention. One of the latest examples of the US anti-terror war is Libya. A country governed by a corrupt dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but enjoying national sovereignty and stability, has now been reduced to civil war.

Once the US led a NATO operation to topple the former dictator, the result has been ceaseless civil war, chaos and tribal divisions owing to a regime failing to unify the country, greater economic and social chaos, and loss of sovereignty. According to press reports as of 24 August 2014, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both with regimes lined up behind Washington, have been bombing Muslim militants in Libya in an effort to stabilize the regime that the US, UK and France installed in Tripoli. Given that Egypt and UAE are financing the authoritarian regime of President Sisi in Cairo, they want to make sure that neighboring Libya evolves into another Egypt solidly in the camp of the Gulf States and the West. Adding to US foreign policy absurdities, the pro-US Saudi regime and UAE had been bankrolling the rebels in Syria, among which were the current ISIS jihadists. 

If the US goal in Libya was to bring freedom and democracy by collaborating with Jihadists to topple Gaddafi, then the results three years later speak for themselves. Is Libya and it people, are Europe and the US better off after the US-led NATO invasion, given the chaos and destruction that has reigned in the last three years? If the US and NATO bombed Libya because it was using force against jihadist rebels, why has the US and its EU allies been encouraging Ukraine to use force against its separatist rebels? Is it because in both cases the US wanted greater access to Libyan energy and Ukrainian raw materials and the right to determine the balance of power, no matter if it meant siding with jihadists in Libya and with neo-Nazis in Ukraine?

The selective policy contradiction is very clear, but even more so the fact that the US was on the same side as al-Qaeda in Libya and on the same side as neo-Nazis in Ukraine, regardless of public proclamations about freedom and democracy. If we are to accept Washington’s rhetoric and its apologists in the media, it is all done for the sake of “Democracy”, no matter what critics say about defense and energy companies lobbying for such conflicts that account for contradictions in US foreign policy!      

Even more alarming, considering the immense costs and no benefits, other than to a few defense related contractors and oil companies, in Iraq and Afghanistan what goals were served by a militarist foreign policy immersed in contradictions and lack of cohesion?  One could very well argue that war stimulates economic growth and that there is no need for an overarching foreign policy rooted in a cohesive doctrine that reflects both the current strengths and weaknesses, and the values of America. One could also argue that in the age when banks and multinationals enjoy such dominance over governments, how can there be a policy free of contradictions. As in the case of the Vietnam War’s aftermath when many were arguing the lesson learned was not sufficient fire power, we now have the hawks immersed in early Cold War militarist mindset making the same argument about higher defense spending.

Disregarding the reality of the burden that parasitic defense spending places on the civilian economy and on the US public debt estimated above $17.7 trillion, the hawkish elements argued it is needed to combat the generic “terrorist threat”, whatever that may be, as the occasion warrants, of course, because the US could at any time reverse course and through backdoor channels collaborate with these same groups or governments. This is the result of a foreign policy driven by a combination of right wing ideology, opportunistic political considerations at home, the perception of short term advantages abroad vs. long term stability as a motive, big business pressures that conflict with each other and with political and strategic interests, all owing to lack of cohesion in foreign policy.

Contradictions in US-Latin American Relations

Another area of blatant contradictions pertains to US-Latin American relations where ideological, political, strategic and economic goals as well as methods are often mired in ambiguity. US foreign policy goals include thorough inter-American (Hemispheric) economic, political and strategic integration, adamant opposition to socialism and economic nationalism, alliance to the Organization of American States (OAS) and its treaties, as well as continued adoption of neoliberal policies that include lower taxes and obstacles to foreign investment and profit repatriation. From the Monroe Doctrine to the various treaties and agreements signed under the auspices of the OAS, the US regards itself as the hegemonic power whose interests cannot be compromised otherwise it reserves the right to take “appropriate action”.

There are many issues from which to choose as examples of contradictory foreign policies, including US policy toward Cuba, Venezuela, and especially debt-burdened Argentina, but the most current and controversial relates to US immigration reform where there are the conservative, the ultra-right wing xenophobic positions, and then there are the moderate liberal ones asking for leniency as though humans are animals to be pitied, simply because they come from Central America.

Impoverished children have been trying to escape the violent and destitute society in which they live, crossing into the US border for a better life. For those who have studied the history of Central America, it is no secret that local landlords and US corporations (United Fruit, the most infamous) backed by US government policies from the Spanish-American War to the present are responsible for the conditions of social injustice in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Not only has the US backed military regimes behind which are landowning elites, banks and large exporters, but the hypocrisy of US policy is that it claims to deliver “freedom and democracy” to the neighbors south of the Rio Grande where sweatshops have been making clothes for the US market.

Along with the local political, military and economic elites, the US helped to create the humanitarian crisis south of the border. The contradiction is that it wants to solve it not through economic and social policy changes, but through force, as though this is the panacea and as though it would actually stop people from crossing the border. Just as there is no other than a political and economic solution for Central America, and no good outcome in pursuing a policy of contradictions, similarly there is no military solution to the Palestinian question, unless the US has no problem with Israel gradually eliminating every Palestinian one way or another – killed in war or exiled by force.

A few months ago, I wrote an article on corporate terrorism in Colombia, a situation that has gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream press, though there have been some articles and documentaries in Europe on this issue. Colombia proves beyond any doubt that human rights, civil rights, labor laws and environmental standards have been grossly violated by US corporations and with the US government’s backing. This also proves that the US government turns a blind eye to proven cases of death squad activity whose only goal is maximizing profits for multinational corporations. At the same time, anti-government rebels (FARC and ELN) opposed to US patron role in Colombia are labeled terrorists.

How can Latin Americans and the world looking at such cases as Colombia not conclude that there are glaring contradictions in US foreign policy? Similarly, the US helps to create conditions south of the border that forces families to send their children north, only to have a US debate on those law-breaking Mexicans, Guatemalans, etc, coming to take advantage of “our schools, hospitals, and welfare services”.  

Foreign Policy Establishment and Lobbyists

The foreign policy of a country largely reflects its domestic policies in so far as the former is an extension of the latter. After all, the purpose of serving and furthering “national interests” means catering to domestic interest groups that have a real stake in foreign policy. The question is whether the sole criteria for carving out a coherent and effective foreign policy to achieve the stated goals is limited to serving only specific interest groups to the detriment of society, or is there an ideological driving force to which the elites are wedded. This brings us to the issue of foreign policy elites ranging from elected officials with foreign policy expertise, famous establishment academics, former secretaries of state, defense, and officials from National Security, as well as journalists and think tank consultants. The job of these people is to constantly propagate for a cause they have been paid to promote from their sponsor. After all, one of the goals of the Committee on the Present Danger was to mold public opinion about “the crisis facing America”.

Once the US found itself at superpower status economically, politically and militarily during the Truman presidency, largely because most of the rest of the world was in shambles, there was a need to institutionalize a foreign policy regime for the duration of the Cold War. This took place when a group of people met in 1950 calling themselves “The Committee on the Present Danger” (CPD) with Paul Nitze and Dean Acheson, both Truman hawkish Democrats trying to promote the plans in a secret document known as National Security Council NSC#68.

Analyzed in detail by Jerry Sanders in his academic works, NSC #68 was the ideological foundation of the early Cold War, only to be revived under Reagan.  Based on the premise of allowing the defense sector to absorb the surplus capital in the postwar US economy (Keynesian militarism), NSC #68 meant containing and ultimately bringing down the Soviet bloc in part through the costly arms race that forced Russia to divert precious resources from the civilian to the defense sector. Needless to say, the US diversion of such resources also took its toll on the US economy, thus the contradiction between goals and methods. Propagating fear of Communism was method the Committee on the Present Danger used to prevail at the core of the foreign policy establishment.

A group known as managerialists, funded largely by the Rockefeller family, was the counterweight to the militarist Committee on the Present Danger was a groups made up of intellectuals, prominent businessmen, and statesmen, all backed by think tanks and journalists. The goals of sustaining and even expanding Pax Americana were the same, but there was a difference on methods, with the managerialists suggesting their way of peaceful coexistence and businesslike approach to foreign policy had fewer contradictions and even less costs. As Jerry Sanders notes in Managerialism Elites, Public Opinion, and Empire: On Lions, Foxes and Mass Politics in the Post-Vietnam Era, the group represented US elites with a different view about how to contain America’s enemies and how to keep the country’s global status expanding.

The CPD and the managerialists remained in competitive roles during the transition from the Cold War to the era of the “war on terror”, with the Committee applying some of the same arguments it used against Communism in the 1950s against Islamic militants in the early 21st century. In short, old medicine for new illnesses, old contradictions for new foreign problems. Added to the competing schools of thought CPD and managerialism, are the endless lobbying offices in Washington, complicating matters and only adding to inherent foreign policy contradictions.

Lobbying groups, from ethnic lobbies like the very powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, to defense industry lobbies are the key to financing congressional and presidential campaigns. These lobbies do not see eye to eye on foreign policy issues, but one thing is always certain in the last 60 years, and that is that the Israeli lobby always prevails over all others. The question is whether US foreign policy is captive to this lobby that usually allies with right wing lobbies and defense industries to influence US Middle East policy. It is impossible not to find the Israeli lobby behind all decisions in US-Middle East relations in the last six decades and it is impossible not to find this lobby behind all the contradictions facing the US in the region. This is not to argue that Saudi Arabia and the conservative Gulf states with enormous investments in the US economy do not enjoy influence. After all, from 9/11 to the present we see that the US never touches Saudi Arabia which is the source of “jihadist” activity, but strikes at countries where it wants regime change.

Besides the Israeli lobby, there are other “ethnic lobbies” pressing for their cause in “motherland”, often contradicting one another. In addition, everyone from corn exporters to chewing gum makers lobbies so that its products can become more readily available in foreign markets, while at the same time other lobbies push for weapons sales in areas where an ethnic lobby may oppose. Catering to a variety of lobbies with divergent interests is one source of the contradictions that arise in foreign affairs, but it is up to the government to decide on a coherence policy free of contradictions and detriments in the long term. This does not happen because lobbies operate using the leverage of votes and money for political campaigns.  


Wilson's foreign policy had a coherent theme in so far as "Missionary Diplomacy" defined US imperialism in Latin America. True is was a foreign policy reflecting the liberal democratic values of the president while concealing US imperialist designs on US neighbors south of the Rio Grance. Missionary Diplomacy appeared to have the contradiction that Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean ought to emulate the US-style democratic institutions as Wilson and Sec of State William Jennings Bryan concenived them. However, the contradictions were at the theoretical level intended for public consumption  to justify the continuation of the Monroe Doctrine. Therefore, "Missionary Diplomacy" at the time had its own logic and it reflected American political values while mainting a commitment to maintaining hemispheric hegemony. 

FDR and Cordell Hull had the Good Neighbor Policy that was theoretically based on US respect of national savereignty in Latin Am,erica and refraining from military intervention, though this was not exactly observed in practice. This policy too has a logic to it, given the Great Depression and WWII when the US really needed cooperation from its southern neighbors to overcome economic problems and defeat the Axis Powers. The Cold War from Truman to Nixon-Ford also had its own logic, operating on a doctrine of intervention either direct military, or engagining in counterinsurgency operations to overthroww regimes Washington did not approve. When Carter came to office and announced a human rights dimension to US policy, we enter a series of contradictions, because the US had Communist countries in mind and not its own allies around the world, from Arab regimes to South Africa. It is in the mid-1970s that the US begins to have an intense debate between the managerialists that believed militarism under NSC #68 is not working, and the Committee on the Present Danger with neoconservatives insisting on an even greater commitment to militarism. This debate has been at the heart of the contradictions and it became much more complicated once the Communist bloc fell and the US opted for the "war on terror" to replace the global anti-Communist campaign.

Robert Ford, former US Ambassador to Syria, had stated that US policy of assisting anti-Assad Islamic militants would result in terrorism that could potentially touch US interests in due course. Ambassador Ford noted the example of Afghanistan in the 1980s when the US trained Jihadists that would eventually turn into al-Qaeda. Today we have a situation exactly as what Ambassador Ford described. This is because Ford along with many others has been warning that collaborating with rebels in Syria would only strengthen Islamic militants who would then turn against the West. If this isolated incident were the only contradiction in US foreign policy, all would be well. The problem is much larger.

Unlike many partisan critics of the Obama administration seeking political advantage or trying to propagate for the Republican side, the intent of this article is not to attack this particular president. This is not about personalities, or political parties, considering that there has always been a bipartisan foreign policy consensus rarely broken as in the case of Woodrow Wilson who paid for his mistakes in the Republican-dominated Senate.  Nor is this a populist attempt to appeal to the reader at some base emotional level, like conservatives in the US and UK arguing that Islamic terrorism must be stopped otherwise we will encounter it in the streets of London and San Francisco . On the contrary, this is an analytical essay intended to raise some of the most glaring contradictions from a synoptic perspective and to draw attention to the need for some modicum of logic in foreign affairs rather than randomness.  

This issue before us is the continuity in foreign policy contradictions to which the Obama administration has added even more. The apparent relaxed attitude about going down this reckless piecemeal a la carte approach to foreign policy imbued with inherent contradictions can only lead to even greater problems for which the American people will pay dearly. US foreign policy of contradictions does not advance Democracy and freedom, any more than it contributes to a stable economic environment for the country(ies) on the receiving end of US policy or for the US as a whole. However, a select segment of the corporate sector, namely defense and intelligence and anything related to them including endless armies of consultants do benefit along with select sectors like energy that profit from geopolitical instability.

If the goal is to serve the select interests of these industries, then by all means let us never change course. The price is very high and it is paid by the downward socioeconomic mobility of the American middle class in the last three decades. In addition, because I do not see the US changing course in the next few decades, it is inevitable that China will become the world’s number one economic power, leaving the US with a huge stockpile of weapons, including nuclear as the legacy of Pax Americana.

Like Bismarck who was after all a Prussian conservative with deep roots in militarism as a dimension of foreign affairs, there must be a realization that defense is but one dimension of last resort in foreign policy, always the last resort, and always utilized in a prudent manner for maximum benefits. This is an issue of a vision for the future, the direction the country is headed and whether this reflects its democratic principles and values, at least in theory.

Friday, 22 August 2014


Creativity defines human beings collectively and individually. It encompases everything from cooking recipes and personal grooming (glitter art, body art, etc.), to every scientific and artistic endeavor conceivable. From medicine and astronomy to poetry and art, creative affairs, are humanity’s mirror, and creativity is a reflection of societal values. In the absence of creativity, society merely subsists like hunter- gatherers before the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago. With the advent of significant creative endeavors during the new Stone Age when tool making coincided with farming and animal husbandry in different parts of the earth, the condition of humans changed significantly.

In the early 21st century, the mainstream or institutional definition of creativity is limited to cash-value results rooted in a culture of materialism and atomism for the purpose of self aggrandizement instead of the collective good that is only an implied derivative goal. The social, political, and business elite, together with a large segment of educators and media simply assume that the cash-value definition of creativity is the only formula for success and “happiness”. Studies conducted in the last four decades prove that materialism is not a catalyst to happiness. By contrast, people engaged in creative affairs are much happier than the rest of those pursuing accumulation of wealth. Needless to say, opinion polls show that people in poverty are not happy, nor can they be as creative as those who have life’s necessities.

Throughout civilization the poor could not make creative contributions because of their struggle to survive and institutional barriers. With few exceptions, the rich have always devoted their lives to self pampering and idleness, leaving the middle groups as the core of society’s creative nucleus. From the European Renaissance in the 14th century until the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the core of the creative contributions from art to math and physics came from individuals in the middle class. This trend continued with the expansion of the middle class and its access to higher education after the American and French Revolutions.

Taking into account individual talent – creative potential - creativity is class based as a social phenomenon and a reflection of the individual’s relationship with the larger community. However, it is hardly the exclusive domain of the middle class, as some have contended. Considering that music, dance, art, etc. coming from the lower classes in all societies, and subsequently commercialized and becoming mainstream, the lower classes definitely make a contribution to mainstream culture. Nevertheless, I would agree with Montesquieu that the “commercial spirit” dictates taste and the arts, and would argue that the dominant culture and value system determined what counts as creativity.

The contemporary value system aside, creativity is of the essence for the human race to make progress but also to live a life where the individual’s creative potential is actualized. Besides the necessity of perpetuating the species, people apply creativity to understand and appreciate their environment and the cosmos, to manipulate their world and to transcend it through various endeavors. The restlessness of the human mind and its desire to find creative expression can be detected from the earliest nomads carving objects in caves, thus discovering a way to express themselves and communicate with posterity through pictography.

 The very limited definition of creativity is confined to geniuses as in the case of Homer, Avicenna (or ibn Sina, 10th century Persian philosopher and physician),Su Song (11th century Chinese pharmacologist), Mozart, Darwin, Einstein, and a few thousand select others throughout history.  A definition a bit broadened beyond the few geniuses in history, but still narrow encompasses original or prototype ideas expressed in anything from poetry and art to the invention of a machine to solving a problem whether in mathematics or in politics. Clearly, there is nothing creative about routine repetition of tasks, ideas or other works expressed through any means.  The robotic long hours of work that Kafka describes as mind-numbing are hardly creative, while his writings constitute creative expression. On the other hand, is creativity limited to the conventional definition of what is useful and entertaining, to what is transformed from idea into some form of a tangible reality? 

More significant, is creativity really limited to the rational part of the brain, or is the irrational or emotional/passionate side more at work? In Critique of Judgment I. Kant argues that there is a link between human creativity and nature. As with Plato, Kant and other philosophers recognize that the source of all creativity is the human mind, and the object merely the product of the idea. Is an idea never actualized creative, or must it be transformed into a product/service and preferably useful or entertaining so that it can earn the title of creative?  

An artist may claim that she has no choice but to paint because there is a powerful innate tendency demanding to find expression and communicate with the world. This does not mean however that the object on canvas is communicating anything of broader aesthetic or social significance edifying to the community. After all, mental patients paint and engage in all kinds of creative endeavors as part of their therapy (expressive or creative arts therapy), but this does not mean that the object of their creation necessarily has significance beyond their therapy. However, that the process of creativity contributes to psychotherapy is in itself significant. 

If virtue rests in self-actualization as many humanists claim, realizing one’s potential, as Aristotle argued then all humans are potentially creative and ought to be according to the classical Greek philosopher so that they may be happy. However, as we will see in this essay, there are such people we commonly call “evil genius” because they devote their creative efforts not for the good of humanity or for their personal goals without impacting others in any way, but in order to cause harm to others. Such harm through creative efforts can come through a fraudulent business/investment scheme, building a new weapon of mass destruction, etc. Therefore, virtue may rest in self actualization as Aristotle argued, but with the caveat that only as long as the means and goal is not intended to harm humanity, and preferably to benefit it.

Does the narrow definition found in dictionaries and encyclopedias reflect the varieties of creativity? Is creativity limited to unique and useful inventions such as the internet, aspirin, etc., or can it include simple arts and crafts peasants created out of necessity to survive and improve their lives? Can an individual living in a culture that does not stress creativity, like that of the Dark Ages in Europe be creative, or does the culture have to be immersed in a creative ethos as fifth century Athens, 15th century Italy, 18th century France to inspire the individual?  Creativity is only bound by the existence of the species itself, otherwise there are no limits. This is indeed the magic of the human potential to create that some scholars like Walter Otto equate with the divinity in human beings.

Is the aesthetic aspect of human nature the one responsible for creativity, or do practical considerations like the will to survive compel humans to become creative out of necessity? Other than the need for aesthetic expression and novel ways to survive, there are other reasons people find to be creative. No doubt, the human mind needs stimulation for variety in life, and a need to solve problems and communicate ideas and images.

What is creativity, but the ability to unleash a new synthesis from existing models? This does not mean just mere invention of something, anything from a new machine to a new style of music, or wardrobe, but also altering an existing paradigm by viewing it from a perspective never before seen.  Activating both sides (hemispheres) of the brain activates creativity brought on by the environment, DNA, and/or by tragedy or other unusual circumstances. 

The Dionysian Cult and Creativity
The son of Zeus, father of deities in Mount Olympus, and Semele who was a mortal, the deity of nature Dionysus traveled the world teaching humans about wine associated with carnal pleasures. Mistaken for an animal, he was slain by his mother, but became the symbol of wine, sex, celebration of the aesthetic, and creativity arising from festivals carried out in his name.

The ancient Thracians created Dionysus and introduced him (8th century B.C.) to the people inhabiting Greece, some of the southern Balkan areas, and Asia Minor.  An expression of the irrational proclivities in humans and of chaos in the world, Dionysus won worshippers who celebrated in festivals with music, dancing, tearing animals to pieces and eating them, drinking wine and drugs, and engaging in carnal pleasures of all sorts with the goal of liberating the mind of its burdens and of the routine mediocrities and allowing it to travel into the creative imagination. The Dionysian cult was introduced to Rome known as Liber (the free one) from the Greeks, and together with the equally celebrated Orphic cult (mystery religion), had a profound influence on literature, poetry, theater, and philosophy.

Celebrating human creativity and the contributions pre-Socratics made to Western Civilization, F. Nietzsche declared Dionysus the deity of creativity. Theater, poetry, literature, music, and dance allowed the human spirit to roam free (something Romans also believed) and experience a higher state of consciousness through the celebration of the eccentric rather than the norm. The intense love for life, experiencing all senses without inhibitions unleashed whatever creative potential the individual had to offer. Besides celebrating love of life, the cult of the mad deity Dionysus was also the god of chaos and destruction from where renewal sprang, given that the view of life was not linear as in the case of Christians, but cyclical like the four seasons. One of the most significant contributions was in the domain of tragedy, the goat’s song. In F. Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, Or: Hellenism and Pessimism we see a detailed philosophical analysis that tragedy was a means to make sense of life and go past pessimism through the cultivation of the creative that recognized life’s absurdity but transcended it.  

The creative contributions of the Dionysian cult emanate from the realization that life lived in the “golden mean” represents dullness and simply existing until death, an ideal of the post-Socratic thinkers. Interestingly, Plato did not favor Dionysian cult, despite his claim that Socrates was a Dionysian, a point with which Nietzsche strongly disagreed. Life can be lived in the extremes by testing the limits of human nature and thus manifesting one’s creative endeavors by freeing the aesthetic rather than repressing it.

The Athenian government under the benevolent ruler Peisistratos in the 6th century B.C. tried to give the city-state a creative environment by promoting cultural activities including religious festivals, arts and letters. Celebrating the god of the irrational and human passion, but at the same time of Apollo who represented religious law, order, harmony, and beauty, the ancient Greeks recognized the complex tendencies in human nature needing expression in the transcendence religion provides as an expression of divinity that is a part of this life and not afterlife. Seeking to shake people from the mundane, the uncreative existence where absurdity reigns in pettiness and misery, Dionysus awakened them to the realities of both chaos and carnal bliss.

Ambiguity in human existence not present in the theology of monotheistic religions accounts for the unleashing of creativity. It must be stressed however, that there was in ancient Greece, as in all societies throughout history a very important link between creativity and life of leisure enjoyed by those with a certain level of material comfort. In other words, a poor peasant working the fields in Attica away from the Parthenon and Agora, no matter what talent nature endowed could not possibly cultivate it because of lack of opportunity. Most scholars today would agree that regardless of what the Dionysian cult offered, in the absence of leisure in a society, there cannot possibly be much cultural development. (see Culture, Leisure, and Creativity: Anthropological and Comparative Perspectives Garry Chick In Creativity and Leisure: An Intercultural and Cross-disciplinary Journal (CLICJ) Volume 1 Number 2 (2012) 

Although Athens was by far the most liberal of all city-states, this does not mean that it was less religious (by the contemporary sense of the term) than any other, as evidenced by the incredible temples and statues dedicated to the gods. Not just the Athenians, but all pagans at the time believed that all creative endeavors are possible because of man’s ability to experience transcendence. The world cannot possibly exist in the absence of its divine character and creativity rests therein.

In Dionysus: Myth and Cult Walter Otto explains that the testimony of the creative phenomenon which is its own witness has only one meaning, namely, “that the human mind cannot become creative by itself, even under the most favorable circumstances, but that it needs to be touched and inspired by a wonderful Otherness; that the efficacy of the Otherness forms the most important part of the creative process, no matter how gifted men are thought to be.”  The architect of a temple in ancient Greece was as much a part of the transcendent experience as part of his inspiration as the poet writing about the beauty of Athena’s temple. The same holds true of architects throughout the centuries, as Michael Benedikt shows in Divinity, Creativity and Complexity. Whether architecture, music, sculpture, dance, poetry or any other creative endeavor, it is a reflection of the divinity humans experience within the context of a cultural environment and in reaction as a reflection of a given environment.

Unlike Athens, Sparta, for example, was a closed society that feared non-Spartans and did not encourage creative endeavors that were the result of cultural diffusion. An open and multi-dimensional society, Athens benefited from the contributions of non-Athenians (metics) who made creative contributions in many domains, bringing to the Golden Age their influences from all around the Eastern Mediterranean world. More than any other ancient society, Athens especially in the fifth century recognized that the catalyst to its cultural achievements rested with cultural diffusion and not isolation that Sparta pursued. Athenian emphasis on cultural diffusion was the legacy left to the Romans, but it would not reemerge until the Renaissance when northern Italians and later northwest Europeans realized the benefits of contact with other cultures.

It is true that creativity may appear to come out of the blue, especially when one child plays Mozart pieces flawlessly at the age of twelve and another of the same age enters college on a math scholarship.  Setting aside the very small category of such prodigies, the creative endeavors of the rest of the population take many months, and actually years of hard work to achieve the desired goal. However, in both the small percentage of prodigies and the larger creative group, nothing can take place if there is no government and institutional reception to creativity. 

Dominant Culture and Creativity
From classical Persian and Athenian to classical Chinese and Indian civilizations have thrived, only to eventually decline and collapse in eras of 'dark ages'. This is not because people became less intelligent, but because governments followed policies that accounted for the decline and fall of civilizations, thus sinking the entire population into darkness - regression after periods of immense accomplishments.

Because the concept of creativity has changed throughout history with every society, we need to quickly see some highlights of definitions and the role of the state in the process which remains a constant. Plato correctly argues that there is a difference between imitating, and making (creating). Although Greeks placed great value in poetry, they also appreciated sculptors, writers of tragedy and comedy, architects, musicians, and even weapons.  A lame deity of metal works and weapons maker, Hephaestus is deemed as one of the most creative gods. This is an indication thatAthenian culture did not demean artisans, and the lame deity is ample proof that physical imperfections are not an impediment to creativity in an open society like Athens.

On the other hand, Athenians did not value the creative contributions of artisans as much as Egyptians, but much more so than any other city-state. One feature of the arts common among most ancient societies from the Eastern Mediterranean to East Asia, rules were to be followed, and there was a clear separation between arts (creative innovation) and crafts (imitation of the original), a concern that remained true even among Christians in the Byzantium and the Barbarian West. It is not until the Renaissance that the concept of freedom if linked to creativity and experimentation begins largely owing to cultural influences from the Arabs, Byzantium (Greeks), and from the Orient.

All species, including little ants, are endowed with a modicum of creativity as part of a built-in survival code, and no doubt the genius of Amadeus Mozart, Leonardo Da Vinci Newton, etc. cannot be questioned. However, the family environment and the broader environment in society are essential to the cultivation of creativity.  The idea that the environment shapes the human mind and behavior is as old as the 17th century, crystallizing by the Age of Reason when thinkers believed very strongly that the environment providing opportunities, support and cooperation shapes the individual, thus institutional change can bring about change in the individual.

This thinking discovered by the West during the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment was evident in China as far back as the fifth century B.C. when Confucius emphasized a culture of creativity in a collectivist setting.  Developing a culture of creativity in the Orient also entailed a much higher level of failure tolerance than many Western societies would permit, owing largely to the emphasis on individualism and ego rooted in success.  One reason for China’s rich history of creative endeavors from which the rest of the world benefited is the cultural emphasis and value system rooted in creativity in a collectivist environment.

 Are institutional pressures a motivator or a hindrance in creative endeavors? As a historian who takes the 'long view', I believe that in times of societal crises, like the Black Death, the French Revolution followed by the Napoleonic Wars, WWI, Bolshevik Revolution, Great Depression, WWII, Third World de-colonization movements, all tragedies in many respects unleashed enormous creative energies manifested in art, literature, music and other areas. It is no accident that one of the most creative eras in human history was the Renaissance that coincided with the Black Death.

The Crusades that brought Europeans closer to Arab and Byzantine civilizations, eventually to China after the voyages of Marco Polo that open the Orient’s creative gates to northern Italy and from there to the rest of Europe.  The contact with Oriental and Middle Eastern civilizations are the end of European isolation and the beginning of cultural, scientific, commercial, intellectual, and industrial revolutions that propelled Europe to a hegemonic  global role. Behind all of this were waves of creativity from different civilizations that inspired Europeans.

The culture of an epoch profoundly influences individuals toward creative endeavors or toward nihilism, pessimism and mere survival. Despite the vast availability of technology today, it cannot be argued that people are more intelligent because of it. In some respects technology actually inhibits creativity, as the individual is not forced to think and create for her/him self, allowing the machine to carry out the process.  Machines facilitate in the process of creativity, but it also creates a distance between the creator and the object to be created. This does not mean that creativity necessarily hinders creativity, but for the general user they are a substitute for the human brain.

Government and Creativity
Governments support and usually reward inventions and celebrate their achievements if they serve a political, ideological, economic, military or socio-cultural goal within the institutional framework. The institutional route through which government promotes creativity is education, research and development for scientific and cultural programs, and other social venues, religious and secular. Because government is the instrument of the dominant socioeconomic class, efforts toward creative endeavors are geared to further the interests of that class. Even the open-minded Athenians would never do anything to promote any group below the middle classes of the fifth century (slaves, peasants and workers), any more than European Kings in the 18th century would propose policy to promote culture among slaves in the colonies, peasants, and workers.  At the very least, the best governments can do is not to hinder the creative efforts of those in society not belonging to the elites.

However, there have been cases of governments punishing creative people, in some cases by death. Roman Emperors punished inventors of labor saving devices because the empire had so many surplus slaves posing a potential threat to social and economic stability as far as the nobility was concerned.  In Barbarian Europe where lords and bishops enjoyed powers over the community, there was no emphasis on creativity, and we have few examples of such owing to the culture of otherworldliness that mainly kept the nobility and upper clergy liberally enjoying the fruits of this world.  Some could draw parallels with modern day inventions that would reduce air pollution, if it were not for both government and business pressures against such devices known for decades but not utilized because they would cut into corporate profits.

Presumably, education is the catalyst to creativity and a benevolent government is supposed to support education with the goal of helping all people actualize their potential for the welfare of society. But does formal education contribute or hinder creativity? It all depends, but for the most part creativity is only an incidental symptom of formal education and not the ultimate goal. I believe that not allowing school to get in the way of one's education (a quote attributed to Mark TWAIN but in reality offered by novelist Grant Allen) may be useful to all who believe that formal education teaches creativity, instead of institutional conformity intended to prepare the pupil for the marketplace.

Institutional and ideological constrictions deeply imbedded in the consciousness of the people in Western 
Christendom in Medieval Europe prevented it from making much progress in comparison with the Eastern Christian world of Byzantium, the Arabs that flourished during the years that Europeans had sunk into darkness, as well as the Chinese, Indians, and Persians. Church and state, feudal lord and bishop wanted a docile, obedient population that never questioned the social order and his/her place in society, but merely lived for eternal bliss in the afterlife. 

Even if one wanted to express creative endeavors within the dominant culture, the ideological, religious dogmatic conditions placed severe limitations because the world view was one based on the good and evil dichotomy, and creativity dealing with anything of this world, anything from medical science to astronomy ran counter to church authority’s views. Unlike the pagans who had a multidimensional view of human nature, good, evil, and a great deal more, Medieval Christians were held back by the simple dogmatic concept of absolutes rooted in the division of the world into good and evil, and that defined as the lords spiritual and lords temporal dictated. If the dominant culture has convinced the individual that God meant for him/her to be an obedient serf, blacksmith, tavern owner or undertaker, and to obey the church because the rewards for my docile life will be Paradise after death, then why bother with creativity in this life? 

Creativity and “Cash-value culture”
Modern free market society values anything that yields a profits, anything that makes money, no matter what anyone say about a family-owned bookstore with a backroom for green tea and bran muffins. US government and private researchers backed by businesses in the 1990s and the early 2000s propagated the concept of the “creative class” that would be the engine of the post-industrial revolution “new economy” of cell phones, video games and computers. This narrowly defined cash-value “creative class” refers to corporate executives, computer engineers and programmers, social media, video game wizards, and other high tech types linked to the “new economy”. The “creative class” was a dream because the meltdown of the high tech bubble and the deep recession that followed in 2008 proved that the cash-value definition of “creativity” had no legs on which to stand.

While I do not want to suggest that contemporary cash-value culture is anything like that of Medieval Europe, there is something seriously disturbing with the values of a society when Madonna, Oprah, and Jerry Seinfeld are deemed among the top creative people of the century, individuals whose contributions to creativity are limited to pop music, talk-TV for soccer moms, and one-liners in standup comedy. “Trendy creativity” ought to apply to music and kitchen cabinets; meritorious within their boundaries, but anything broader must be questioned.

Regardless of whether ”cash-value” of creativity pertains to popular entertainment, the high tech sector,  a new business model of an investment firm in Tokyo, or an English novel about warlocks and wizards made into motion pictures and t-shirts, the goal is never the edification of the human spirit and the broader good of society as a whole, nor is it the creative process as a manifestation of the human mind.  One dimension of creativity as healing arts may not be Euclid’s geometry or Einstein’s theory of relativity, but it does offer hope for those engaged in the process, and therein is its justification.

If the goal is profit as the single determining criterion for creativity it does not mean that the process and product lacks in creative merit. On the contrary, the goal of pharmaceutical companies is to discover new drugs to cure diseases so they can make lots of money, and often they succeed, thus benefiting society, at a price of course. The problem rests when the goal of cash and creativity are on a collision course, and when the cash-value goal marginalizes everything that does not have the potential for top dollar.

The phenomenon we encounter in the private sector is also evident in colleges and universities where curriculum reflects the cash-value system instead of creativity-oriented goal. For example, the arts and humanities rank very low in value in every respect, while business ranks the highest.  This is not only reflected in how college administration treats business vs. the arts, but in grants and the pay scales of MBA faculty earning up to six times more than someone teaching philosophy or poetry, fields marginalized by what the dominant cash-value culture deems “creative” .

Two years before the US economy began to go into the deepest recession since the 1930s, there was an international conference in Rio de Janeiro (November 2006) with the theme of “culture and creativity economy and its contribution to sustainable development”. At this conference in Brazil, the emphasis was on marketing what they labeled as “the new creativity-based economic sector, barely defined as yet, includes handicrafts, artistic output of all kinds, and new technologies such as computer software. Culture, therefore, plays a key role in its expansion.”The essential point here was that all emphasis was on how to market creativity and culture and convert it into a cash-value commodity no different than crude oil.

Even the concept of cultural diffusion that scholars use to explain how societies develop and evolve, why they have peaks and valleys in their creative domain, has been coopted by business/academia and economists to see how they can make more money.  If cultural diffusion is how a multinational corporation can take the traditional wearing apparel styles from across the globe, or how a giant music corporation is able to coopt the dance and music from inner city slums, then the commercial value of cultural diffusion is the only thing that matters and not creativity at its source. 

One could argue that there is not much difference between the contemporary multinational corporation bringing goods and services across the globe and homogenizing culture, on the one hand, and the famous Silk Road that was a catalyst to cultural diffusion and creativity, on the other. For 2000 years the Silk Road transferred not just goods, but ides from one continent to the other, benefiting those on the receiving end. Why can we not look upon globalization today as the new Silk Road crossing the globe and spreading creativity? 

Let us distinguish, as I tried to indicate before, between commercial creativity, which does indeed fall into the domain of "shallow and abyss of nothingness", and cultural creativity where relativism enters into the picture. For example, a cultural anthropologist would have the scientific training to appreciate arts and crafts of a tribe in central Asia, and not fall into the trap of dismissing it as superficial because the criteria is based on a "Western model of creativity" I want to caution readers here to be very careful about the dangers of looking at creativity in historical and anthropological terms free of a Western-centered prism, something that a critic from the non-Western World would argue is prejudiced if not guilty of cultural imperialism. 

Creativity and Destruction
From the early empires of Mesopotamia until the early 21st century, human beings have demonstrated the ability to invent everything from cures to diseases to inspiring music. At the same time, however, humans have also demonstrated the capacity for creating ways to destroy on a massive scale, even holding the potential to destroy earth several times over with thermonuclear weapons. Destruction does not have to come in the form of weapons but in social injustice. 

Besides the cut and cry cases of creativity applied toward destruction, there are more ambiguous cases of creative projects where the process was itself destructive. This was certainly with the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China where people died for their construction that we rightly consider creative and grand. The same holds true for any large scale creative projects from ancient to modern times. Because the goal was the creative project and fatalities were only the consequences, even if the designers knew of the calculated risks, one can argue that there is no moral responsibility. On the other hand, torture devices as well as medications tested on humans knowing they would suffer or die does raise very unambiguous moral issues. If society values the creative project so much that it is willing to accept sacrifices in the process, then that is a reflection of society.    

Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller were colleagues working on the Manhattan Project. Both very creative in their field, the former was the “father of the atomic bomb” and the latter the “father of the hydrogen bomb”. The value system and ethics of the individual would determine if the creative genius of these two people contributed to the edification of mankind, or simply added to its fear and terror of living with the prospect of thermonuclear war someday.

The genius of both in theoretical, nuclear, and molecular physics is widely recognized and undisputed by any criteria. Both men changed the world in the mid-20th century with their creative contributions. Only Oppenheimer paused to reflect on the nature of his creative contribution to the world. Quoting from the Hindu scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita, he said: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." The nuclear physicist was able to separate himself from his creative project and reevaluate what exactly was the contribution to humanity by the atom bomb. 

By contrast, Teller believed in techno fixes to political and military problems, without taking into account the human cost, as though society were populated by robots. Teller remained unapologetic and became one of the arch defenders of the military industrial complex, the arms race, and military solutions to political problems. Betraying his colleague Oppenheimer during security hearings that were in essence a witch hunt against anyone questioning the wisdom of nuclear weapons and the race just unleashed was the least of Teller’s contributions to the early Cold War and the escalating arms race that Oppenheimer opposed. After the Red scare of 1954, the ostracized Oppenheimer devoted his time to lecturing and writing, while Teller became an even bigger influence in government, so much so that Kubrick’s motion picture Dr. Strangelove was inspired by Teller’s mad and destructive genius. The madness of Teller’s destructive genius found political support among warmonger politicians in Washington of both political parties, and in the 1980s Teller made a return to the scene. 

Unrepentant about the use of thermonucclear weapons, Teller strongly believed that all of society’s problems merited technological solutions. This obsession extended to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that was extremely costly, destabilizing in the arms race, and reckless as far as the US rivals as well as allies were concerned. However, the neoconservative militarist culture of the 1980s regarded Teller as a genius whose creativity strengthened Pax Americana, though at a huge cost. The teller phenomenon reveals the obsession of people with human will manipulating the natural world through science and technology to secure a given result as part of social engineering. This is clearly a case of creativity but with the ultimate goal of harming rather than benefiting humanity, destroying rather than building.

The pursuit of wealth and power because of love for them can be strong motives for creativity, but if the end result is counter to the best interest of the people, then creativity is destructive. Ironically, the state that must protect its citizens from such destructive creativity is often the driving force behind it, as in the Edward Teller case. The convergence of Teller’s domination values and those of the state made Teller’s creative projects (hydrogen bomb) meritorious. However, the domain of business presents even greater dangers on a daily basis than Teller’s hydrogen bomb and SDI program. The question of scientific creativity and morality rooted in human welfare rather than destruction are inseparable. Contrary to the popular and political myth that science is neutral, nothing could be farther from the truth. While a groups of scientists may be very creative with biological warfare research, the ethics of their endeavors must always be above their enthusiasm for their creativity. The same ethical principles that pertain to science also hold true for business and economics.   
The nature of economic/financial destruction is far more common in people’s lives than war. Economic and social inequality account for a daily dose of destruction on billions of people around the world and the very few people responsible for the plight of the many are deemed creative because they amass wealth. There are of course the creative geniuses bent on making money on the misery of the many through illegal means. For example, New York prosecutors recently charged an MIT Dean and his son of using a complex and innovative math model to scam defrauding investors of $500 million. This example is nothing in comparison to the hundreds of billions amassed by banks and corporations through legal means and the legally approved method of appropriation – stealing legally from the many to benefit the few.  

Government policies, as well as businesses have the capacity to destroy the lives of people and have proved capable for as long as civilization has existed, something often carried out with as much human creative as can possibly imagine. When governments including bankrupt Greece paid millions to Goldman Sachs to covert, on paper of course, debt into surplus that can be considered creative accounting for the benefit of very few that eventually ruined a country. The nature of creativity extends to numerous products under hedge fund management that provide huge profits for very few but ruin national economies, as was the case in Argentina, among other debtor nations.

In conducting research for this article, I was not surprised that commercial media articles define and analyze creativity within the very narrow range of the socioeconomic and political structure, and always following a current trend, such as social media and the accompanying technology of the early 21st century, for example.  l was a bit more surprised that even college courses offer courses on creativity but they do not differ in their theme from the mainstream definition, although they do a much better job at analyzing creativity from a sociological/anthropological perspective and they do take into account what psychologists and philosophers have to say.  It is evident that society defines the norm and the entire institutional structure follows blindly, which is exactly what creativity is not. 

In May 2012, the Council of the European Union drafted a proposal intended to foster creative and innovative youth amid very high unemployment across Europe. The problem the EU tried to solve was youth unemployment amid the global financial and economic crisis, relying on what it called “creative and innovative” market-oriented solution that would integrate young people into the mainstream. In short, this institutional definition of creativity is exactly what prevails, and it is what high school and colleges respond to because grants follow the established trends. There are several problems here. First and most significant, can creativity and innovation assume a top-down dictated for a cash-value goal?  Second, is creativity possible when there are prescribed perimeters? 3. Can the institutional structure solve the problem it created in the first place, given the priorities and goals of the institution?  

Can humans in contemporary civilized society make any discoveries outside the institutional confines that both reward and limit creativity, mostly geared for the consuption and benefit of elites in any case? Is it not true that most people identify discovery with a 'cash-value' mindset and not independently from it?  If there is an incentive to discover a new video game, a new cancer drug, a 'creative' way of trading securities to maximize profits, etc., people will be operating within that framework. On the other hand, creativity is as infinite as the universe, but if they are overcome with fear of "absolute freedom", as Jean-Paul Sartre has argued, they will not realize their creative potential. 

Jean-Paul Sartre may have been right in part that one motive of artistic creation is the creator’s need to feel as a subject and not an object, essential transcending time and space through the creation communicated with the world. The relationship between the creator and the world is what matters. Human beings enjoying freedom of choice entails that the individual engages in self-creation, thus in this manner chooses or not to be creative. This is a rejection of the determinist view and despite the Existentialist philosopher’s leftist commitment, the view is very much in line with mainstream bourgeois thought that Sartre represented in his philosophy.

A product of a bourgeois society highly structured with ideological foundations in the rationalism of the Enlightenment and Christianity that Sartre rejected, Sartre was a witness to the horrors of the Second World War and the destructive creativity it unleashed against humanity. Sartre like the rest of us lived in a highly structured society and not before civilization, not in the state of nature in collectivist communal or nomadic settings. In the early 21st century, we are confronting a world where destruction matters more than harmonious coexistence, amassing wealth beyond any capacity to spend it matters far more than social justice; power and greed at the core of the value system that penetrates the creative imagination of the youth.

Can there be hope for humankind to reach all of its potential when its freedom, thus its creative potential is hampered by institutional confines geared toward atomism and materialism at the expense of the rest of humanity? In the existing world of our timews that are better than those of Sartre in the 1930s and 1940s, the best we can hope is for a benevolent political regime and institutional structure that has the fewest obstacles to creativity, with the greatest rewards for those whose contributions yield the most benefits (intellectual, material, aesthetic, medical, etc.) to as many human beings as possible.