[sixties-l] Its Empire Versus Democracy (fwd)

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    Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2002 13:43:53 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Its Empire Versus Democracy

    It's Empire Versus Democracy


    By Tom Hayden, AlterNet
    September 10, 2002

    In the aftermath of September 11, American conservatives launched a
    political and intellectual offensive to discredit any public questioning of
    the Bush administration's open-ended, blank-check, undefined war against
    terrorism. The conservative message, delivered through multiple media
    outlets, was that dissenters from the Bush administration's war were those
    who allegedly "blamed America first," that is, dared to explore whether Bin
    Laden's terrorism was possibly rooted in Western policies toward the
    Islamic world, the Palestinians, and the oil monarchies of the Middle East.
    The strike against domestic dissent was a preemptive one, since most
    progressives were too stunned, traumatized, and confused by the September
    11 attacks to dissent anyway. But Susan Sontag was targeted for a
    right-wing stoning for an article in the New Yorker, and Bill Maher for not
    being politically correct. Vice President Cheney's wife helped monitor
    college classrooms for dissenting voices. Rapid articles appeared in the
    New Republic. Intimidating full-page ads by William Bennett announced plans
    to expose anyone who "blamed America first." White House spokesman Ari
    Fleischer added an official warning when he crafted an "offhand" remark
    that Americans should "watch what they say." Chief Republican political
    strategist Karl Rove proposed that his party's candidates make the war on
    terrorism an election issue. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott accused
    Democratic Senator Tom Daschle of being soft on Saddam Hussein (because
    Daschle opposed Arctic oil drilling). The chairman of the Republican House
    Campaign Committee declared that all questioners were "giving aid and
    comfort to the enemy."
    Civil liberties were rapidly becoming the domestic collateral damage of the
    war on terrorism. It almost could be said they died without a fight, except
    for a brave but ineffective handful of stragglers in their progressive
    Some will ask, so what? Isn't the right to dissent a secondary concern when
    thousands of innocent Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks? A
    fair question. The truth is that Osama Bin Laden set the stage for this
    political shift to the right by his strategy of targeting civilians. And
    Bin Laden is no aberration. Radical Islamic fundamentalism has risen in the
    vacuum created by the failures of political Arab nationalism (and the end
    of the Soviet Union, which, whatever else may be said, supported
    non-religious revolutionary movements). The radical religious-based
    movements are here to stay.
    So it is understandable that the vast majority of Americans responded to
    September 11 with existential cries for public safety and a military
    response. And if Bin Laden or his successor carry out further attacks
    against American civilians, the politics of repression will deepen. The
    problem is that conservatives inside and outside the Bush administration
    are seeking to take advantage of America's understandable fears to push a
    right-wing agenda that would not otherwise be palatable. In short, they are
    playing patriot games with the nation's future.
    The Wall Street Journal gave the secret away in an October 2001 editorial
    declaring that September 11 created a unique political opportunity to
    advance the whole Republican-conservative platform. Worse, the real
    conservative agenda is to create an American empire, not simply rout out
    the al-Qaida organization. No sooner had the September 11 attacks occurred
    than the Wall Street Journal's editorial writer, Max Boot, published "The
    Case for American Empire" in the conservative organ, the Weekly Standard.
    Boot endorsed a return to nineteenth century British imperialism, this time
    under American hegemony. "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry
    out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by
    self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets" (see NYT, Mar. 31,
    2002). The orchestrated call for empire was "out of the closet," according
    to conservative columnist Charles Krautheimer, and was echoed in the works
    of historians Paul Kennedy and Robert D. Kaplan (who found nice things to
    say about Emperor Tiberius, namely that he used force to "preserve a peace
    that was favorable to Rome").
    The skilled but immoral and deceitful machinations of these would-be Romans
    have been described by David Brock in his confessional bestseller, "Blinded
    by the Right, the Conscience of an Ex-Conservative." Brock should know the
    game. He consciously distorted the facts to gun down Anita Hill and protect
    Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court. Not satisfied, he
    invented the "Troopergate" allegations against the Clintons. He admits that
    the conservative agenda was to impeach Clinton even before there was a
    Monica Lewinsky scandal. He describes in detail the "vast right-wing
    conspiracy" of investigators, muckrakers, pundits, talk show hosts, and
    hard-line Republican Congressmen who made Newt Gingrich Speaker for two
    years, instigated the Iran-Contra scandal, nearly brought down Clinton, and
    eventually mobilized the ground troops which shut down the Florida recount
    for George Bush.
    With the Cold War ended, these conservatives asked what the new enemy
    threat was that would justify the continuation of a growing military budget
    and an authoritarian emphasis on national security. The answer, brewing
    long before September 11, was the threat of "international terror"sometimes
    described as Islamic fundamentalism, sometimes as the drug cartelsbut in
    any event suitably nebulous and scary to justify the resurrection of
    priorities not seen since the Cold War.
    Let us review those Cold War priorities for those who didn't live through
    the era of the '50s and '60s, the era that shaped, indeed, finalized, the
    consciousness of the Bush family, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and many
    others fingering the military trigger today. The fundamental paradigm of
    the Cold War era was that an innocent democratic America was threatened by
    a shadowy Communist conspiracy representing two billion people in countries
    with nuclear capabilities and an amoral disregard for human life. This
    fearful paradigm justified America's first permanent military
    establishment, alliances with despotic right-wing dictators around the
    world, and a domestic politics that smeared dissenters who were charged
    with being "soft on communism."
    Those are exactly the dynamics in play again today. The difference is that
    with the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. government and our
    multinational corporations are bidding for global preeminence. According
    to interviews with White House officials by Nicholas Lemann in the New
    Yorker, the new American strategy is to transcend traditional
    balance-of-power politics by an assertion of American military dominance,
    which incidentally would lay the foundation of empire. One example of this
    imperial thinking is the leaked Pentagon strategy paper of January 2002
    which called for a new reliance on usable nuclear weapons targeted for
    possible use against China, Russia, and several other countries. The
    previous nuclear strategy of "mutual assured destruction" was dangerous
    enough, but this radical new U.S. doctrine, never publicly debated,
    introduces the ambition of nuclear dominance.
    What can be done about this journey from Afghanistan to empire? For now,
    counting on an electoral alternative seems like wishful thinking. The
    Democratic Party, whatever doubts it may harbor, will remain devoted to the
    war on terrorism, including spending for a new generation of weapons and
    reinvigorated intelligence programs, as long as it is popular. The
    framework of the war on terrorism will be accepted as the litmus test of
    political legitimacy, and partisan differences will be limited to social
    security, unemployment benefits, Enron-inspired regulatory reform, and the
    like. Those differences are not unimportant, but the truth is that spending
    alone on the war on terrorism will cause permanent underfunding of
    important social programs for many years to come. For the Democrats to
    offer themselves as simply a liberal version of the war on terrorism will
    not address the root causes nor protect programs for which earlier
    generations of liberals, unionists, and Democrats have struggled.
    The same bipartisan lockstep politics dominated the Cold War era of the
    ^A'50s. Democrats stood for civil rights and progressive domestic issues,
    but blindly accepted the doctrine that "politics ends at the water's edge"
    until the anti-Vietnam movement finally shattered the consensus. It will
    take the same popular discontent in the years ahead to shake the Democrats
    and challenge the framework of the war on terrorism. At first, that
    discontent will arise from a prophetic minority.
    How to make it a mainstream issue? Conservative crusades have a way of
    backfiring when, unchecked by effective dissent, they go too
    far. McCarthyism began to unravel when the Wisconsin senator started
    searching for Communists in the Army. The Nixon Administration, teethed on
    McCarthyism, repeated the same extremist folly with Watergate. Inevitably,
    the same fate awaits the unchecked war on terrorism. A combination of
    military quagmire abroad and neglect of priorities at home will sooner or
    later shape an opposition.
    The U.S. military is involved in more multiplying fronts of the war on
    terrorism (the Middle East, Afghanistan, the southern Philippines,
    Colombia, Georgia, Indonesia, not to mention threats of future action
    against Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) than it can sustain without eventually
    causing domestic repercussions. These interventions are being carried out,
    thus far, with little or no congressional oversight or fiscal
    accountability. The Bush defense budget augmentation request of $50
    billion, which itself is larger than the military budget of any other
    country, when combined with massive tax breaks for the wealthy will
    steadily erode funding for Social Security, health care, education, and the
    At the same time, a new human rights movement is sweeping the planet, with
    protests against corporate globalization and militarism. Before September
    11, these American protests, especially those in Seattle in December 1999,
    were more forceful than any I can recall since the 1960s. While that
    American protest energy has been drained or divided since September 11, the
    battle continues to explode globally in places like Quebec City, Genoa, and
    Porto Allegre. Corporate globalization, led by the U.S. government, has
    spawned a new globalization of conscience. For a valid comparison of the
    historic impact, one would have to revisit the global confrontations of
    1968 and, before the ^A'60s, the period of the 1840s in Europe, when the
    world order was last threatened and rearranged by revolts from below.
    The war on terrorism is simply incompatible with serious efforts to
    alleviate world poverty, just as it was impossible for President Lyndon
    Johnson to afford both "guns and butter" in the '60s. There are two billion
    people on the planet working for daily wages of less than two U.S. dollars,
    ten hours a day in degrading workplace conditions, without health benefits,
    without union protections. A recent appeal by workers in Bangladesh, a
    Muslim country that supplies most of America's apparel, pleaded for
    thirty-four cents in wages from every seventeen-dollar U.S. baseball cap,
    up from twenty-four cents. Global sweatshops are among the petri dishes in
    which anti-Western violence is grown. The conservatives strain to deny any
    connection between world poverty and terrorism. That is what their bullying
    tirades against "blaming America first" are all about. They fear the blame.
    But they cannot deny that humiliation fostered by poverty and arrogance is
    a long fuse leading to the suicide bomber.
    Take the story of Laura Blumenfeld as an example. A young reporter for the
    Washington Post, her father, a rabbi, was shot and wounded by a Palestinian
    militant in Jerusalem in 1986. The assailant simply wanted to kill a Jew,
    and Laura Blumenfeld's father was available. At first seeking revenge,
    Laura Blumenfeld concealed her identity and began a correspondence with the
    imprisoned Palestinian gunman, finally revealing herself and confronting
    him in a courtroom. She then came to know his family, ventured into a
    complicated reconciliation, and wrote a book on her experience. Reflecting
    on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she told the New York Times on April
    6, 2002:
    "I think for them [the Palestinians], humiliation is sometimes more
    important than the actual offense. Humiliation drives revenge more than
    anything . . .They feel honor and pride are very important in their
    culture, and they feel utterly humiliated, whether it's by roadblocks or
    just by the sheer wealth and success of society that's set up right next to
    them . . . I found that feelings of humiliation and shame fuel revenge more
    than anything else."
    Blumenfeld's thoughtful analysis distinguishes mere poverty from shame and
    degradation. Poverty is sometimes bearable if the poor feel respected or
    hopeful; for example, the Aristide government in Haiti has campaigned on a
    slogan of "poverty with dignity." But usually the policies that allow
    poverty to grow as if it were a natural condition of market economics are
    accompanied by a rationale that transfers blame from the rich and powerful
    to the poor and powerless. That shaming inherent in globalization is the
    triggering source of violence, as shown in numerous studies such as those
    of James Gilligan at Harvard. The syndrome we can call the will to empire
    (like Nietzche's famous will to power) is wrapped into a need to shame others.
    Instead of recognizing the reality of global interdependence, the will to
    empire seeks American independence by plunging other nations, cultures, and
    classes into dependence, which in turn triggers a spiral of resentment and
    resistance. Actually, the conservatives who condemn thinking about "root
    causes" as "blaming America" have a root cause in mind themselves, the
    belief that all terrorists and the cultures that spawn them are
    incorrigible enemies because they are "evil." American conservatives
    substitute theology for sociology, psychology, and history. Since the evil
    they seek to purge is defined as innate to human nature, and satanic, it
    arises from no causes that can be addressed politically or economically.
    The only option for Pentagon planners when confronted with evil is war,
    which is the secular equivalent of exorcism, or conversion to the American
    Way of Life.
    That this is actually a logical crutch, a rhetorical device, is shown by
    the ease with which the stamp of evil is applied and removed. Mujahideen,
    including Osama Bin Laden, were not "evil" when the U.S. government
    supplied them with weapons and funding in the 1980s, because then the
    Islamic fundamentalists were battling true "evil" in the form of the Soviet
    Union. But the label of evil has its uses. It serves to shut off rational
    debate, for example. It stimulates public fear. It justifies the killing of
    people whose annihilation might be problematic if they were classified as
    simply desperate. Fighting evil is good politics.
    A domestic analogy might be useful in understanding how this process works.
    In 1988, George Bush (senior) was battling for the presidency against
    Michael Dukakis. Bush's media consultant then was Roger Ailes, now the top
    executive at Rupert Murdoch's Fox television news. The Bush campaign
    concocted the famous "Willie Horton" ads, depicting a shadowy and menacing
    black figure, and blamed Dukakis for being soft on crime. The attack, which
    manipulated fears of black violence, served the purpose of the Bush
    campaign. Taking advantage of the formula, the Republican conservatives
    ushered in a law-and-order politics that justified the drug wars,
    disproportionate sentences for powder versus crack cocaine, and the largest
    prison build-up per capita in the world. In the process, job training and
    numerous social programs were slashed, private investment was drawn toward
    speculative mergers instead of the inner cities, and the oppression of the
    underclass became so severe that fully one-third of all African-American
    males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five were ensnared in the
    criminal justice system. As politics, the law-and-order campaign was
    successful, while the long-term consequences of worsening the racial divide
    in America were left for a future generation to sort out.
    The current war on terrorism is the internationalization of the Willie
    Horton campaign. Instead of going along with the conservative agenda out of
    fear or expediency, it is time to outline an alternative.
    The litmus test for political bravery at present is whether one questions
    the framework of the war on terrorism. Progressives might still disagree
    about whether a U.S. military response against al-Qaida was justified, but
    all can agree that while seeking to demobilize al-Qaida is one thing, using
    September 11 as a pretext for an open-ended war leading to a new empire is,
    to say the least, a policy requiring debate. Even if one supports the right
    of U.S. self-defense against al-Qaida, there should be broad consensus on
    the need for congressional hearings and oversight. Patriotism should not
    mean the restoration of the imperial presidency.
    Were there flaws or biases in U.S. intelligence gathering that made
    September 11 more likely? Have the Taliban actually been defeated, or
    simply faded into the mainstream population? Are Afghan women better off
    under warlords? Will a global glut of heroin result from greater opium
    reduction "expected to enrich tribal leaders whose support is vital to the
    American-backed government" (NYT, April 1, 2002)? Is Texas-based Unocal's
    oil pipeline across Afghanistan now "feasible once again" (NYT, April 1,
    2002)? Should Bush have appointed a former Unocal consultant the new
    American ambassador to Afghanistan? The nearly one year of silence in
    Washington on these reasonable questions is a measure of the fear that has
    eroded the democratic process already.
    Beyond Afghanistan, the political questions are whether this war should be
    conducted unilaterally by the executive branch, whether its budget should
    be unlimited, whether congressional oversight should be waived, and whether
    the battle should be conducted wherever undefined terrorists are alleged to
    be based, whatever their threat to the American people.
    Is the Bush administration, intoxicated with gladiator fantasies, trying to
    build a new Roman Empire by neutralizing the checks and balance intended by
    having a vigorous legislative branch? (It should be remembered that the
    Russell Crowe character in "Gladiator" was committed to defending the Roman
    Senate and the Republic against the imperial designs of the emperor, this
    is one case where Washington should definitely mimic Hollywood.)
    How to challenge this imperial framework cloaked, with apparent legitimacy,
    as the war on terror? My advice is: carefully, thoughtfully, but
    deliberately and for the long haul. For demonstrators interested in mass
    outreach in a time of manipulated patriotism, it may mean calling for a
    process of greater oversight, greater attention to priorities, and greater
    tolerance of dissent, instead of, for example, calls for military
    withdrawal from Afghanistan. For Democrats in the mainstream, it will mean
    provoking debate in the party over how to challenge the Bush framework,
    then nurturing and promoting a new generation of Democrats for peace.
    In either scenario, here are some fruitful issues to raise that will
    resonate with a majority of voters: First, progressives and Democrats
    should take the position that those in power have failed over the years to
    make America safer from terrorist attack. There should be full public
    disclosure of what Condoleeza Rice has called the increased "chatter" of
    intelligence cables concerning a possible al-Qaida attack before it
    happened. Questions should be asked. For example: Why did the Federal
    Aeronautics Administration (FAA) make a finding that Bin Laden was "a
    significant threat to civil aviation" in late July 2001, but do nothing
    about airline security regulations which were so lax that knives with
    four-inch blades could be carried on planes? These questions go to the
    heart of the bipartisan special-interest nature of the state that has
    strangled accountability and democracy for a very long time. Public
    questioning is urgently needed about the unprecedented U.S. strategy of
    making nuclear warfare feasible in the future. This classified military
    strategy represents the return of Dr. Strangelove to the Pentagon, and is
    certain to make Americans less safe from an uncontrolled nuclear arms race.
    Another key question that needs to be addressed concerns budget priorities.
    In concrete, easy-to-understand terms, the costs of the war on terrorism
    need to be conveyed to a public now shielded from the facts. For the Bush
    administration and the military-industrial complex, the moment has come for
    a massive increase in Pentagon spending. Non-governmental organizations
    and Democrats must make clear to the public that the daily spending on
    terrorism means less funding for everything from family farms to inner city
    Next, progressives and Democrats should question whether the massive
    intelligence failure surrounding September 11 really justifies returning to
    the Cold War policies of hiring as operatives or allies the same unsavory
    elements that brought us the Bay of Pigs and the Central American "dirty
    wars" of the '70s and '80s.
    The war on terrorism should not become pretext for undermining the Freedom
    of Information Act and preventing disclosure of presidential files from the
    first Bush era. Bush's solicitor general is arguing in court that
    government has a right to misinform and disinform the American people.
    Nor should the war be a further excuse to advance the agenda of the oil
    industry, whether drilling in Alaska, protecting Occidental pipelines in
    Colombia, enmeshing ourselves with the Saudi royal family, or launching
    joint ventures for Unocal on the old Silk Road through southern Asia.
    Before any further subsidies are granted to the Bush-Cheney friends in the
    oil industry, the government should take the lead in charting a transition
    to energy conservation and renewable resources. A modest fuel-efficiency
    increase of 2.7 miles per gallon would eliminate the need for any Persian
    Gulf oil. In the Middle East, the U.S. should promote a settlement that
    results in a viable Palestinian state, the end of Israeli occupation, and a
    military guarantee of secure Israeli borders. Instead, the war on terrorism
    is being used as the new rationale for the use of U.S. weapons in assisting
    an Israeli occupation.
    Finally, the "new world order" should be based on living wages, not
    starvation sweatshops, and the United States should lead the G-7 powers to
    meet the aspirations of the United Nations to double foreign aid by 2015.
    So-called "free trade" and "fast track" agreements now blatantly being
    justified by the war on terrorism will reinforce divisions between the rich
    minority and the poor majority. Demanding peace is not enough. What is at
    stake is a conflict in the American soul between empire and democracy that
    will shadow our lifetimes.
    Tom Hayden was elected to the California State Senate in 1992. He was a
    leader of the student, civil rights, and anti-war movements in the 1960s
    and the environmental and anti-nuclear movements in the 1970s. He is the
    author of nine books.

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