I normally associate terms like “treason” and “sedition” with right-wing know-nothings like the American Legion. So it’s eye-rollingly painful, in cases like the letter to Iran from Tom Cotton and 47 other Republican senators, to hear self-described progressives seize on those terms.
By way of background, the Congressional GOP recently invited ultra-hawkish and ultra-racist Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. The invitation was extended and accepted without Obama’s approval — a big no-no in legislative-executive etiquette — in a clear bid to pressure Obama into moving closer to Netanyahu’s aggressive line on Iran. And as if that wasn’t enough, Cotton’s letter (which warned the Islamic Republic that any agreement with Obama will be a dead letter the minute his Republican successor takes the oath of office in January 2017, and maybe before then if Senate ratification is called for) was a direct attempt to sabotage any peace settlement short of war.
Since then I’ve seen a lot of squawking from party-line liberals about the Logan Act — which prohibits anyone from conducting diplomacy with a foreign power without presidential approval — and “treason.”
Now, I consider the Cotton letter an outrage — but not because of the Logan Act or “treason.” Frankly, I don’t give a rip about those things. Normally I consider treason a good thing. The actions of Cotton and the senators who co-signed that letter are despicable because, in a case where the executive is actually less militarily aggressive and imperialistic than Congress, the Congressional GOP is attempting to force Obama into a criminal war of aggression on Israel’s behalf. (Not that the attempt was successful — if anything the backlash may have actually caused the Democratic Party to extricate its collective nose from Israel’s posterior by a few microns.)
On the other hand, this is sort of a man-bites-dog story. Most of the time, we need a lot more “treason” and Logan Act violations against official U.S. foreign policy. For example, right now I’d celebrate any member of Congress who violated the Logan Act and undermined Obama’s actions against Venezuela and the US government’s broader agenda of reimposing Yanqui imperialism on South America.
And any senator who (say) attempted to undermine George Bush’s drive for war with Iraq in 2002-2003, by contacting the Iraqi government or travelling to Iraq, would have been a hero.
Quite frankly, the U.S. in 1945 replaced Germany and Japan as the world’s leading imperial and counter-insurgency power, and since then the primary purpose of U.S. foreign policy has been to make the world safe for corporate rule and to protect the global corporations and their trillions in stolen neo-colonial loot from the people of the countries they’re robbing and enslaving. The idea of “treason” against U.S. government policy, as such, evokes no more outrage in me than treason against the policies of Nazi Germany.
Here’s a (very partial) list of cases since WWII where anyone violating the Logan Act and “treasonously” undermining US foreign policy would have been a hero of humanity: overthrowing Arbenz, Mossadeq, Sukarno and Lumumba; entering the Vietnam War; the wave of US-backed fascist military coups in South America starting with Brazil under LBJ and extending to the rest of the continent under Nixon and Kissinger; Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor; the destabilization of Afghanistan under Carter; US aid to Salvadoran death squads; the first and second Gulf Wars the Bushes lied us into; the Balkan Wars Clinton lied us into… ad nauseam, ad nauseam.
And really high on that list is American backing for the Israel settler state since its illegitimate creation in 1948, and extending through its entire history of ethnic cleansing and Apartheid since then.
Treason against the American state and its policies, as such, is no crime. The policies of the American state itself usually are.
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.