by Liam Scheff
Boston’s Weekly Dig, April 2003
[ed – written in 2003, before the fun really started. Some predictions proven quite wrong (see election 2004); But I think the analysis of the Democratic leadership stands. In any case, it’s something to remember – did we have a choice about the middle eastern war, or was it always an inevitability? – September 2005]
The leadership crisis of the Left was summed up in an e-mail I received from a friend last week. He wrote, “The politicians who I’ve admired in the past have become so attached to their positions of power that they can’t see the immorality and illegality of what they’re supporting. Like the Roman senators who gradually ceded every one of their powers to the Caesars and placed the Republic’s legions in the hands of Imperial dictators, so our current crop of national leaders are, for fear of risking their own necks, ceding the Republic to the neo-fascists running and hoping to run the country.”
The Roman Empire has disappeared beneath the McDonalds and Gaps lining the blessed vias of Rome, but our empire is just birthing itself. While the Right yells “Saddam!” the Imperial Left is convincing itself of the validity of empire. Senators are secretly toying with mental maps of the Middle East, counting oil barrels and acquisitions. “We’ll do better with it than the Iraqis,” they tell themselves.
This sort of racist lie is not new to us or to the world.
African slavery, Native American genocide, Palestinian suicide bombers and the international “free trade” slave-labor market all exist because of empire building. Colonial expansion is always propelled by desire for acquisition.
While some Americans dream of a sunny, liberated 51st state, “Iraqifornia,” the reality of an American-occupied Middle East would likely be to galvanize anti-American sentiment into heart-breaking violence inside the US and throughout the vulnerable world.
Six months before 9/11, the plan to invade Iraq was already on the table. “The world is currently precariously close to utilizing all of its available global oil production capacity, raising the chances of an oil-supply crisis with more substantial consequences than seen in three decades,” stated the March 2001 report from Reagan and Bush adviser James Baker’s Policy Analysis Group at Rice University. The report concluded, “The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments. … In some measure, concessions will have to be made that will impinge on certain local environmental goals, states’ rights, Middle East policy, economic sanctions policy, Russia policy, and hemispheric and international trade policy.”
In other words, we’re going to invent a new set of rules so we remain solvent and in power.
Bush’s cabinet members understand what the Middle East means to the American oil economy (and are willing to entertain Bush Jr.’s delusions of religious grandeur in order to achieve their goals). So why aren’t the Democrats voting “no” at every turn?
Why? Because they secretly like the idea of empire. They’re turned on by the prospect of running the world, and they’re telling themselves they can do it better than the locals. And a great many Americans are inclined to agree. We’re envisioning a uniform world built on the invisible girders of the World Bank and its visible buds, Raytheon, GE and Wal-Mart. Americans are living up to their reputations as bad travelers. We don’t like to go anywhere that doesn’t look like home: McDonalds, McDonnell Douglas and shopping malls. “If we take over, it’ll be better for them,” we say, like the co-opted zombies we are. “And for us.”
Ted Kennedy is one of a pittance of senators who aren’t signing away their rights and duties in exchange for a seat at the oil feast. “Could war with Iraq ignite even greater terrorism against America?” he asked a deaf Congress. “What does it mean to win the war if we lose the peace because the Arab world turns against us and our troops are mired in Iraq for years?” He’s joined by Robert Byrd, who’s emerged from a misspent Southern Klan youth as the implacable voice of grandfatherly wisdom on the Senate floor. Byrd admonished, “In only the space of two short years, this reckless and arrogant administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years … We are truly sleepwalking through history. In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.”
But regardless of what wisdom and experience tell us, American arrogance is in. No longer ashamed of being the world’s police, we’re reveling in it. “If you can’t take care of your own country, we’ll take care of it for you,” is the motto in post-9/11 America. Even First Amendment strumpet Howard Stern is proclaiming the glories of the upcoming war. “Oil will be sooo cheap,” he’s been saying, “it’ll be a paradise on earth.” Stern, publicly Jewish when it serves him, is revealing the stink of anti-Arab racism. When he noted that oil companies were already readying their moveable drills for Iraq, he admitted it didn’t look good, but quickly added, “Well, it’s our oil anyway.”
And who’s to say we can’t rule Iraq better than the Iraqis? After all, where would America be if Europe had respected the land rights of Native Americans? “It was a war, and they lost,” say the Imperialists. True, they’d never met a virus like “manifest destiny.” Chief Seattle put it best, “Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when all the buffalo are slaughtered? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? The end of living and the beginning of survival.”
We like talking wires, say the Imperialists. And we hate the mountains.
Certainly the many hundred thousand victims of CIA tinkering in East Timor and Chile would argue against Imperial America – that is, if they could speak from their mass graves.
In a splendid reply to decades of US destabilization, Brazil has just undertaken the most socially progressive elections in world history. Lula, the new president, is recreating the state with as much citizen participation as the citizens can muster. The Brazilian city Belo Horizonte recently declared food as a basic right for all its 2.4 million citizens. (How un-American!) But how long until the World Bank re-cripples Brazil’s economy for defying its place in the hierarchy?
In October our most visible Democratic senators (Kerry, Clinton, Biden, Lieberman, Feinstein, et al) voted for Bush’s pro-war push after a false labor of logorrhea on the Senate floor. Massachusetts Senator Kerry has made such virulent anti-Bush speeches that you do a double-take when you examine his actual voting record.
The Imperialist always trips the progressive with the war-as-humanitarianism argument:
Progressive: We’re a democracy, not an empire, and a pre-emptive war is against everything we stand for.
Imperialist: Hussein is a dictator who’s killed thousands of people. He’s the next Hitler, and we’ve got to do the right thing and stop him.
This is Tony Blair’s argument. Britain’s nearly ex-prime minister (playing Bush’s lapdog has earned him Nixon-like unpopularity) is fond of describing Saddam’s badness as justification for invasion. Said Blair, “In the past 15 years over 150,000 Shia Muslims in Southern Iraq and Muslim Kurds in Northern Iraq have been butchered [by Hussein].” We must stop the killing, ergo, we must go kill.
Hussein is a murderous dictator, but quoting a figure like that only makes you ask, why didn’t we care when he’d killed 50,000 or 20,000? Or one?
If we’re going to count numbers, let’s count them all. The US government gave Hussein $500 million in subsidized American farm products in 1988, the same year he razed Kurdish settlements in Northern Iraq. The following year, when he finished the genocide, the US rewarded him with a billion dollars in subsidies. Our government should know what Hussein has in his arsenal. We provided him with helicopters, raw materials for the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons and high quality germ seed for anthrax.
As comedian and social critic Eddie Izzard points out, “We don’t care if you kill your own people in numbers. Just don’t kill ours.” We didn’t run to save the Rwandans or Yugoslavians until the mass graves were full. And we certainly didn’t invade. Genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot was, like Hussein, on the US payroll. Then there’s East Timor and Chile, CIA-assisted coups that left hundreds of thousands dead, tortured, raped and terrorized. “Hitler’s big mistake was killing somebody else’s people,” said Izzard. “You Americans sure won’t stand for that … after a few years.”
If Hussein is indeed a Hitler, then the best protocol for the US to follow would be to publicly condemn him as a war criminal, enlist progressive members of his government to force him into exile while offering them covert military back-up and invite them into the world market to trade their oil under the condition that they stop torturing their people. A dictator is never a popular figure when a better option is offered.
Bush & Co. aren’t doing this for one reason: These men have a sustained and irresistable urge for power. What good is diplomacy if all you get out of it is peace and justice? We want oil, and we want it now. Solar? Wind power? Conservation? Vegetarianism! You’ve got to be kidding. Not as long as we’re in the saddle, say the oligarchy of oil and weapons investors.
The hunt for bin Laden has been strategically replaced by an Old Testament vendetta over Papa Bush’s crowning failure. Saddam must pay, according to Bush Jr., for making America suffer.
This confused logic is okay with the Imperial Left, who doesn’t care about Bush’s whacked-out religious and personal ideologies. They’re too busy imagining a Middle East governed from Washington and what that will mean for our economy.
But this dream is pure delusion. Managing a warring scattering of unconfederated tribes will keep military on the ground and dying interminably. Even if the US manages to forge a Middle Eastern empire, we’ll still lose (and lose more than we have already). Oil is a finite resource. The global pollution and land abuse that accompany the Western economic model are undermining developing countries’ ability to exist. Not just prosper, but exist. McDonalds and McDonnell Douglas are daily turning international forests into deserts and clean waterways into sludge canals. As the US hoards the world’s remaining oil, the starving eyes of exploited nations will again turn on us, and no building will be too low, no public space too sacred to avoid the aching, deranged resentment of individuals whose lives and sovereignty have been sacrificed to feed the American Empire.
I have a feeling the American public will need to experience either the effects of a prolonged Middle Eastern war or the privations of a cracked and broken economy before they start wringing their hands about the wisdom of empire-building. Ironically, the Republicans may not wait so long. Dissent is growing among the well-invested moneyed elite about George Jr., this propped-up momma’s boy who believes he’s the Second Coming and doesn’t know how to handle a back-room deal. Even the Romans didn’t put up with Caligula for long. Americans may understand precious little about the Bushes, bin Ladens and the World Bank by November 2004, but perhaps they’ll be fed up enough to vote one zombie out of office.