America's New War
Virtue or self interest?
Since World War Two, there used to be two bullies in the school yard, each skirmishing to expand his territory at the expense of the other. For us in the West, communism was "black evil" and capitalism was "snow-white virtue". Our governments, media and opinion makers demonized all socialist regimes wherever they be. The bully on our side, America, even managed to overthrow a few that had been democratically elected like those of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in '54, of Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic in '63 and of Salvador Allende in Chile in '73, and nobody protested. Democracy was desirable only when it led to capitalist regimes amenable to American interests.
We made much ado over democracy and human rights but it was just lip service to give ourselves good conscience. In fact, when the chips were down, the western bully never had qualms about supporting the most repressive and corrupt totalitarian regimes such as those of Batista in Cuba, of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, of Somoza in Nicaragua, of Pinochet in Chile, of Marcos in the Philippines and many others. Our compliant western media turned a blind eye on the human rights violations of these dictators and praised them as staunch anti communists. We the voting public and taxpayers swallowed all of that bunk, line, hook and sinker, comforted by the simple black and white vision of a virtuous West defending the world against the evil communist empire.
That simplistic view of the world does not work anymore since the collapse of the Soviet Empire a decade ago. Since then, there has been only one big bully in the school yard Support for totalitarian regimes can no longer be camouflaged under the mantle of the fight against communism. Everyone can see that support for the retrograde totalitarian Wahabite kingdom in Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with the defense of democracy against communism. It's obvious that the real issue is the western appetite for middle east oil.
That's very embarrassing. Even ordinary people can now notice the double speak in the US rhetoric about the virtues of "democracy and human rights" that evil China should adopt but that are not required from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the Arab Emirates and a number of other docile US allies. Without another bully to demonize, America can no longer play the role of the knight in shining armour and the priority of self interest over high sounding moral platitudes has become obvious to all those who, in good faith, accept to see what is going on.
The invasion of Kuwait by Irak was a godsend for George Bush Senior. It gave him an enemy to demonize and an occasion to flex America's military might. Saddam Hussein was demonized as a totalitarian dictator responsible for terrible human rights violations but nothing was said about America's allies, the fundamentalist Arab monarchies of the region. America had a white horse to mount again and the president's poll ratings soared to new heights. After that war, Koweit's oil was once more under indirect control of America but little else had changed, Saddam Hussein was still in power and so were the repressive monarchies of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Then came the Balkan Religious Conflicts that were clearly more the concern of the nearby European Union than that of America. However, our school yard bully had to get involved and even to take a leadership role to make sure that Europe would not develop a capacity for independent action that could eventually prejudice his hegemony. "There can be only one superpower and it cannot be wrong." was the dogma spread by the western media and opinion makers in the '90s.
I have been aware of bullies since my first days in primary school so I am not shocked to see today's bully throw his weight around. Bullies are a fact of life and that is what bullies do. I am however profoundly disgusted by the hypocrisy of the western leadership and media who very artfully idealise our heroes and demonise their opponents so as to present a false black and white caricature of the world to the gullible American public.
I am also amazed to see how malleable American public opinion is in the hands of the expert manipulators that influence and sometimes control most of the US media. Actually I should not be so naive, the media would not exist without advertising and Madison Avenue is the world leader in manipulating the buying urges of consumers. Manufacturing consent for the policies favoured by big business and the military-industrial complex is only one step further on the same road. The average American is no match for such expert forces.
Americans can satisfy all of their needs without depending on any foreign country so they are naturally more inward looking than citizens of countries more vulnerable to exterior influences. Most Americans are vaguely aware of what goes on in Washington but they show little interest for what happens outside of the US. The average American will debate his government's domestic policies but he generally does not give a hoot about his country's foreign policy.
In that context, the school yard bully can make waves on the international scene without much risk of being contested at home. As the general public does not care much, the field of foreign policy is left open to the struggle for influence of special interest groups whose weight is disproportionate to their numbers. Given the enormous importance of party and candidate financing in the American electoral system, the old saw that "money speaks louder than votes" is particularly applicable to the area of foreign policy in the US. The influence of a handful of rich Cuban exiles in Miami on US policy towards Cuba is but one example. There are many other cases where the tail wags the dog in the US.
Communism is dead, thank God for Terrorism
September 11th was a godsend for Bush junior just as the gulf war had been for his father. "America's New War" sent the President's poll ratings soaring and provided America an enemy without which it seems to be at a loss. White became whiter and black became blacker as the capacity for critical judgment went out the window.
I was in a state of shock after watching, over and over on TV, the two airliners explode into great balls of fire as they struck the twin World Trade Center towers on that fateful Tuesday morning on September 11, 2001. When I saw people jumping out the windows to avoid burning alive, I thought for a moment that it was a hoax like the one Orson Welles played on his radio audience in 1938 about a Martian invasion based on H. G Well's book "War of the Worlds". As the day wore on, the horrible reality gradually became clear as the questions, "WHO", "HOW", and "WHY" screamed for answers.
Answers to "WHO" and "HOW" came quickly as the US government blamed Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network and identified the 19 terrorists who highjacked the four airliners. The unanimous reaction of outrage against those responsible for the deaths of an estimated 3 000 innocent people was immediately exploited by the administration and fanned into a rage by the media who concentrated their efforts on demonising the evil terrorists and glorifying the heroic firefighters and police forces. Very little was said about "WHY", other than because "they" were evil cowards and "we" were heroic and virtuous. The silence about "WHY" was so heavy and ominous as to make that question appear obscene and to prevent anyone from putting it on the table..
Until then, the American population had been highly divided by the republican George Bush becoming president in spite of the majority vote granted to the democrat Al Gore. Now however, the focus was on "America's New War" and everyone rallied behind the President who seized the occasion to project his "black and white" vision of the world and impose it on the international community by declaring that all countries had to choose between joining the American coalition against evil or being considered allied with the terrorists. The option of neutrality did not exist in this absolutist vision between Good and Evil, Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers. Communism is dead, thank God for Terrorism, the new enemy needed to sustain the black and white world vision Americans have become used to.
It's a convenient view that requires very little reflection or judgment. The Bush administration lost no time to hide its inadequacies behind this "Keep It Simple, Stupid" (KISS), view and to promote a heroic caricature of the president. That's not surprising, it was in its interest to make the most of the occasion but I was amazed to see how readily the western media went along with it. Seasoned analysts, who are normally capable of critical thinking, kept quiet for fear of being blasted as "unpatriotic" and the WHY question was ignored almost completely. For me the WHY question was essential to understand 9/11 so I researched all I could find in books and on the Internet about the causes of terrorism and the historical role of that form of violence.
I learned a lot. I found many definitions of terrorism. The most widely accepted ones involved the murder of noncombatants to further the political objectives of the weaker party. The murder of civilians by the stronger party also causes terror but those acts are qualified by less abhorrent terms such as pacification, repression, retribution and the like. The murder of civilians by a totalitarian state is decried as oppression but, somehow, that term does not carry as negative an emotional charge as that of terrorism. It is as if the violence of the powerful, which is never called terrorism, were more acceptable than the violence of the weak, labeled terrorism. That's strange but that's the way it is. The difference of emotional charge carried by the terms "oppression" and "terrorism" seems to imply that the weak should remain silent and submissive! Or maybe its just that we are not yet used to terrorism which is more rare and spectacular than oppression.
Terrorist acts do not happen by accident. They are caused by situations felt to be intolerable by the terrorist. A survey of acts of violence against civilians in recent times shows that terrorism is often the last recourse of people who feel that they have been treated unfairly and whose calls for justice remain unheeded. Powerless to change the situation, the terrorist aims to send a message to call attention to his despair.
Terrorism, as any other form of murder must be sanctioned but it is not sufficient to imprison or kill terrorists to stop terrorism. This was clearly expressed by General Musharaf, President of Pakistan in his November 2001 address to the United Nations. He explained that terrorists are like the leaves of a tree, for each one you pluck out, another one will grow to replace it. According to him, terrorist organizations are like branches, you may cut them off but they will grow back as long as the roots have not been eliminated. In other words, all of America's efforts to detain or kill terrorists will be in vain as long as the causes of the desperate hatred that motivates terrorists to sacrifice their lives have not been identified and eliminated.
Why has America become the target of terrorists?
Very few are asking the WHY question in America today for it might lead to answers no one would like to recognize. The WHY question is definitely not politically correct right now and anyone who would dare suggest that American foreign policy might have contributed in some way to the rise in anti-American feelings would be immediately branded "un American" and ostracised. If I were an American and not yet retired, mentioning the WHY question might cost me my job. In the "land of the free" so called "patriots" feel duty bound to harass and even threaten any "un American" maverick who might dare express his doubts. I am not inventing anything, I have seen that happen many times on TV since 9/11. Fortunately for me, I am a retired Canadian so I can risk offering the two following observations that might be a part of the answer.
Maybe INJUSTICE and HYPOCRISY are part of the roots General Musharaf was referring to in his diplomatically worded November speech. Instead of heeding the wise words of an ally in his war against terrorism, the Texan cowboy goes on twisting arms to force everyone into his so-called coalition against terror. "If you are not with us, you are against us". Does he really think this is the way to win friends and influence people? Does bully America seek only to be feared and does not give a damn about being admired and respected. Is it possible that Bush and his warlords don't realise that in displaying such arrogance they are just fanning hate and giving the Al Qaeda movement a powerful tool to accelerate recruitment in all the countries where it is now dispersed?
Is it incompetence, or fear of an electoral defeat or is it misplaced pride that prevents the American leadership from recognising that US policy for the Middle East is no longer in the real long term interest of the American people?
Frankly, I'm frightened, the American System was designed to include checks and balances to avoid excesses, but these don't seem work very well in wartime. Maybe that's why the Texan cowboy is so enthusiastic about America's New War. I am not American, but I have the right to express my concern for no one can guess how much damage that loose cannon will be able to inflict on world peace in the two years he has left. (June 2002).
Nobody knows where Bush will take us in the coming months but we can all speculate about the objectives that might be attractive to the hawks he has chosen to advise him.
More on America's New War:
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