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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.

A) Until the end of the cold war, the US military support of Israel could be seen as necessary to counterbalance Soviet military aid to some of its Arab neighbours. Now that threat has disappeared but the gift of more than three billion dollars of aid each year and the sale to Israel of the world's most sophisticated armament is causing a huge imbalance of power at the expense of the Palestinians. Palestinians have been terrorised and killed every day for several decades by American weapons. American aid guarantees Israel that there be no "level playing field" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That commitment and continued support cannot fail to identify America as the enemy of the Palestinian people in the eyes of millions of their Muslim brethren.

America has become the declared ally of Israel. The comparison of the US positions, votes and vetoes in the United Nations compared to those of the majority of UN countries, shows a persistently strong bias in favour of Israel against the Palestinian nation. The voice of the Palestinians is not heard in Washington where it is drowned out by the blaring Israeli lobby. Money talks real loud in American politics. It is difficult not to see that the American foreign policy for the Middle East would be no different if were drafted in Tel Aviv.

The majority of the American people has been manipulated into furthering the objectives of the Israeli lobby that has acquired control of the US foreign policy for the Middle East. (I wrote "the Israeli lobby" and not "the Jewish minority" because all of its members do not agree with what is going on in Palestine.) The most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, is so careful with his choice of words when he mentions Israel in his public speeches that everyone in the world can see that he is quaking in his boots while thinking of the next elections. Maybe Bush thinks that he is manipulating the Jewish minority into putting their financial resources and their influence in the media on his side during the next elections. Playing the manipulation game is however very tricky, especially if you are playing with experts! I don't claim to know exactly who is manipulating who but it is every day more obvious that Sharon has got Bush by the tender parts. He only had to keep screaming that Arafat must go for Bush to transmit his mentor's wish to the Palestinians. That's frightening! I certainly would not want our southern neighbour to start telling us who we should choose to lead Canada.

B) America loves to play the role of champion of human rights and democracy when it suits its purpose. It is fair game to belittle China (the next world hegemony), and any other country not sufficiently subservient to US interests. That role is highly palatable for domestic consumption as it reinforces the "we the virtuous" self image that the average American citizen enjoys so naively. I say naively because the average American citizen is quite unaware of what is going on outside America. And he couldn't care less anyway.

To be fair, I must add that it is not entirely the fault of the American public for it has been brainwashed into believing in that self righteous image by a succession of republican and democrat administrations that know full well that flattery does work. That's not surprising for it's in any government's short term interest to lie about the less popular aspects of their management. That's why there are supposed to be checks and balances. The sad fact is that the US has an unenviable record of having repeatedly condoned, encouraged and even participated in human rights violations whenever it served its interests. Sadder yet is the "patriotism" of the American media who elegantly sweep all that dirt under the carpet. Personally, I tend to think that most well meaning Americans would be shocked to learn the raw undisguised truth about the support their governments have given to corrupt and bloodstained dictatorships in Central and South America, the Caribbean and Asia.

More specifically with respect to September 11th, no one with a minimum sense of justice can fail to see the hypocrisy of America's vociferous condemnation of human rights violations in some countries while it actively supports Israel's excesses against the Palestinians and condones the incredibly repressive monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula. Injustice, compounded with hypocritical self-righteousness breeds hate. Personally I am of the opinion that the average American does not deserve that hate because the responsibility lies elsewhere. In this paper I have charged Bush, the individual, but I don't think that he is completely responsible either. It was not very smart to allow himself to become compromised with the Israeli lobby but now he has no choice but to dance to Sharon's flute.

As I see it, America has become the target of terrorists because Americans have collectively allowed the Israeli lobby to dictate the US foreign policy for the Middle East, the same way that they have allowed the Cuban exiles lobby dictate the US foreign policy for Cuba. The real culprit of the disastrous situation in which we are is the American electoral system that makes the financing of parties and candidates so important that all of the elected are more or less compromised by their debt to the various lobbies that have financed their victory. (There is material here for a whole new paper on the contradictions between the rituals of democracy and its real meaning. Canada is no better, the discipline that forces members of parliament to vote according to their party's choice is also a contrivance that reduces the weight of the voter's voice in favour of the political machine.)

Support for Israel might well have been in the interest of all Americans during the cold war but that is no longer the case since the demise of the soviet empire more than a decade ago. Now it's too late. The Israeli strategic planners have seen that the power of lobbies was a weakness in the American armour and they have successfully exploited it to involve all of America into a world wide conflict that originally did not concern the average non-Jewish American any more than the plight of the countryless Kurds or that of the Mayas surviving in Guatemala and southern Mexico or that of many other unfortunate people. The average American doesn't seem to realise how easily he has been manipulated. Maybe he never will realise it, but if he does, there will be a terrible backlash.

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:

Albert Michael & Shalon Steven - FAQ :
Chomsky Noam:
Clark Ramsey:
Herman Edward:
Zinn Howard:

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