|The warlords of America
08/20/04 -- Most of the US's recent wars were launched by Democratic
presidents. Why expect better of Kerry? The debate between US liberals and
conservatives is a fake; Bush may be the lesser evil.
On 6 May last, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution which, in
effect, authorised a "pre-emptive" attack on Iran. The vote was 376-3.
Undeterred by the accelerating disaster in Iraq, Republicans and Democrats,
wrote one commentator, "once again joined hands to assert the
responsibilities of American power".
The joining of hands across America's illusory political divide has a long
history. The native Americans were slaughtered, the Philippines laid to
waste and Cuba and much of Latin America brought to heel with "bipartisan"
backing. Wading through the blood, a new breed of popular historian, the
journalist in the pay of rich newspaper owners, spun the heroic myths of a
supersect called Americanism, which advertising and public relations in the
20th century formalised as an ideology, embracing both conservatism and
In the modern era, most of America's wars have been launched by liberal
Democratic presidents - Harry Truman in Korea, John F Kennedy and Lyndon B
Johnson in Vietnam, Jimmy Carter in Afghanistan. The fictitious "missile
gap" was invented by Kennedy's liberal New Frontiersmen as a rationale for
keeping the cold war going. In 1964, a Democrat-dominated Congress gave
President Johnson authority to attack Vietnam, a defenceless peasant nation
offering no threat to the United States. Like the non-existent WMDs in Iraq,
the justification was a non- existent "incident" in which, it was said, two
North Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked an American warship. More than
three million deaths and the ruin of a once bountiful land followed.
During the past 60 years, only once has Congress voted to limit the
president's "right" to terrorise other countries. This aberration, the Clark
Amendment 1975, a product of the great anti- Vietnam war movement, was
repealed in 1985 by Ronald Reagan.
During Reagan's assaults on central America in the 1980s, liberal voices
such as Tom Wicker of the New York Times, doyen of the "doves", seriously
debated whether or not tiny, impoverished Nicaragua was a threat to the
United States. These days, terrorism having replaced the red menace, another
fake debate is under way. This is lesser evilism. Although few
liberal-minded voters seem to have illusions about John Kerry, their need to
get rid of the "rogue" Bush administration is all-consuming. Representing
them in Britain, the Guardian says that the coming presidential election is
"exceptional". "Mr Kerry's flaws and limitations are evident," says the
paper, "but they are put in the shade by the neoconservative agenda and
catastrophic war-making of Mr Bush. This is an election in which almost the
whole world will breathe a sigh of relief if the incumbent is defeated."
The whole world may well breathe a sigh of relief: the Bush regime is both
dangerous and universally loathed; but that is not the point. We have
debated lesser evilism so often on both sides of the Atlantic that it is
surely time to stop gesturing at the obvious and to examine critically a
system that produces the Bushes and their Democratic shadows. For those of
us who marvel at our luck in reaching mature years without having been blown
to bits by the warlords of Americanism, Republican and Democrat,
conservative and liberal, and for the millions all over the world who now
reject the American contagion in political life, the true issue is clear.
It is the continuation of a project that began more than 500 years ago. The
privileges of "discovery and conquest" granted to Christopher Columbus in
1492, in a world the pope considered "his property to be disposed according
to his will", have been replaced by another piracy transformed into the
divine will of Americanism and sustained by technological progress, notably
that of the media. "The threat to independence in the late 20th century from
the new electronics," wrote Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism, "could
be greater than was colonialism itself. We are beginning to learn that
decolonisation was not the termination of imperial relationships but merely
the extending of a geopolitical web which has been spinning since the
Renaissance. The new media have the power to penetrate more deeply into a
'receiving' culture than any previous manifestation of western technology."
Every modern president has been, in large part, a media creation. Thus, the
murderous Reagan is sanctified still; Rupert Murdoch's Fox Channel and the
post-Hutton BBC have differed only in their forms of adulation. And Bill
Clinton is regarded nostalgically by liberals as flawed but enlightened; yet
Clinton's presidential years were far more violent than Bush's and his goals
were the same: "the integration of countries into the global free- market
community", the terms of which, noted the New York Times, "require the
United States to be involved in the plumbing and wiring of nations' internal
affairs more deeply than ever before". The Pentagon's "full-spectrum
dominance" was not the product of the "neo-cons" but of the liberal Clinton,
who approved what was then the greatest war expenditure in history.
According to the Guardian, Clinton's heir, John Kerry, sends us "energising
progressive calls". It is time to stop this nonsense.
Supremacy is the essence of Americanism; only the veil changes or slips. In
1976, the Democrat Jimmy Carter announced "a foreign policy that respects
human rights". In secret, he backed Indonesia's genocide in East Timor and
established the mujahedin in Afghanistan as a terrorist organisation
designed to overthrow the Soviet Union, and from which came the Taliban and
al-Qaeda. It was the liberal Carter, not Reagan, who laid the ground for
George W Bush. In the past year, I have interviewed Carter's principal
foreign policy overlords - Zbigniew Brzezinski, his national security
adviser, and James Schlesinger, his defence secretary. No blueprint for the
new imperialism is more respected than Brzezinski's. Invested with biblical
authority by the Bush gang, his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American
primacy and its geostrategic imperatives describes American priorities as
the economic subjugation of the Soviet Union and the control of central Asia
and the Middle East.
His analysis says that "local wars" are merely the beginning of a final
conflict leading inexorably to world domination by the US. "To put it in a
terminology that harkens back to a more brutal age of ancient empires," he
writes, "the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent
collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep
tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming
It may have been easy once to dismiss this as a message from the lunar
right. But Brzezinski is mainstream. His devoted students include Madeleine
Albright, who, as secretary of state under Clinton, described the death of
half a million infants in Iraq during the US-led embargo as "a price worth
paying", and John Negroponte, the mastermind of American terror in central
America under Reagan who is currently "ambassador" in Baghdad. James Rubin,
who was Albright's enthusiastic apologist at the State Department, is being
considered as John Kerry's national security adviser. He is also a Zionist;
Israel's role as a terror state is beyond discussion.
Cast an eye over the rest of the world. As Iraq has crowded the front pages,
American moves into Africa have attracted little attention. Here, the
Clinton and Bush policies are seamless. In the 1990s, Clinton's African
Growth and Opportunity Act launched a new scramble for Africa. Humanitarian
bombers wonder why Bush and Blair have not attacked Sudan and "liberated"
Darfur, or intervened in Zimbabwe or the Congo. The answer is that they have
no interest in human distress and human rights, and are busy securing the
same riches that led to the European scramble in the late 19th century by
the traditional means of coercion and bribery, known as multilateralism.
The Congo and Zambia possess 50 per cent of world cobalt reserves; 98 per
cent of the world's chrome reserves are in Zimbabwe and South Africa. More
importantly, there is oil and natural gas in Africa from Nigeria to Angola,
and in Higleig, south-west Sudan. Under Clinton, the African Crisis Response
Initiative (Acri) was set up in secret. This has allowed the US to establish
"military assistance programmes" in Senegal, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, Benin,
Algeria, Niger, Mali and Chad. Acri is run by Colonel Nestor Pino-Marina, a
Cuban exile who took part in the 1961 Bay of Pigs landing and went on to be
a special forces officer in Vietnam and Laos, and who, under Reagan, helped
lead the Contra invasion of Nicaragua. The pedigrees never change.
None of this is discussed in a presidential campaign in which John Kerry
strains to out-Bush Bush. The multilateralism or "muscular internationalism"
that Kerry offers in contrast to Bush's unilateralism is seen as hopeful by
the terminally naive; in truth, it beckons even greater dangers. Having
given the American elite its greatest disaster since Vietnam, writes the
historian Gabriel Kolko, Bush "is much more likely to continue the
destruction of the alliance system that is so crucial to American power. One
does not have to believe the worse the better, but we have to consider
candidly the foreign policy consequences of a renewal of Bush's mandate . .
. As dangerous as it is, Bush's re-election may be a lesser evil." With Nato
back in train under President Kerry, and the French and Germans compliant,
American ambitions will proceed without the Napoleonic hindrances of the
Little of this appears even in the American papers worth reading. The
Washington Post's hand-wringing apology to its readers on 14 August for not
"pay[ing] enough attention to voices raising questions about the war
[against Iraq]" has not interrupted its silence on the danger that the
American state presents to the world. Bush's rating has risen in the polls
to more than 50 per cent, a level at this stage in the campaign at which no
incumbent has ever lost. The virtues of his "plain speaking", which the
entire media machine promoted four years ago - Fox and the Washington Post
alike - are again credited. As in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks,
Americans are denied a modicum of understanding of what Norman Mailer has
called "a pre-fascist climate". The fears of the rest of us are of no
The professional liberals on both sides of the Atlantic have played a major
part in this. The campaign against Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is
indicative. The film is not radical and makes no outlandish claims; what it
does is push past those guarding the boundaries of "respectable" dissent.
That is why the public applauds it. It breaks the collusive codes of
journalism, which it shames. It allows people to begin to deconstruct the
nightly propaganda that passes for news: in which "a sovereign Iraqi
government pursues democracy" and those fighting in Najaf and Fallujah and
Basra are always "militants" and "insurgents" or members of a "private
army", never nationalists defending their homeland and whose resistance has
probably forestalled attacks on Iran, Syria or North Korea.
The real debate is neither Bush nor Kerry, but the system they exemplify; it
is the decline of true democracy and the rise of the American "national
security state" in Britain and other countries claiming to be democracies,
in which people are sent to prison and the key thrown away and whose leaders
commit capital crimes in faraway places, unhindered, and then, like the
ruthless Blair, invite the thug they install to address the Labour Party
conference. The real debate is the subjugation of national economies to a
system which divides humanity as never before and sustains the deaths, every
day, of 24,000 hungry people. The real debate is the subversion of political
language and of debate itself and perhaps, in the end, our self-respect.
John Pilger's new book, Tell Me No Lies: investigative journalism and its
triumphs, will be published in October by Jonathan Cape.