Bush’s Speech: A Translation
by James Ostrowski by James Ostrowski
I never thought I would end up as a presidential translator since I am fluent only in one language. Yet, here I am, serving as your translator for President Bush’s speech. That speech was written in a dialect that I do not speak but can, with great effort, read: purple English. My natural dialect is plain English.
Why didn’t the President’s programmers have him speak in plain English? A couple of plain reasons. First, many pseudo-intellectuals confuse ineffability with profundity. The more obscure the meaning, the greater must be the minds that confuse us. Second, this speech is part of realpolitik. Its practitioners think you need to spend a zillion years getting a Ph.D. at a prestigious institution to understand it, but it’s a game children play all the time. Speak with forked tongue to keep your opponents off balance. Don’t say what you really mean and no one will hold you accountable.
But I believe in puncturing pretension and holding people accountable, so here is my translation of the speech from purple to plain English.
President Bush(‘s speechwriters):
"American was attacked on 9/11 because people who live in undemocratic countries resent their lack of freedom and come under the spell of ideologies that blame the United States for their plight and urge the murder of Americans as a response.
("I define freedom as being able to vote. I do not mean personal freedom: doing what you want with what you own. That freedom can be taken away by elected governments as in the United States.")
"These angry people can cross our highly defended borders and attack us.
"The only way to stop them is for their countries to become democratic.
"The United States will now pressure and/or coerce non-democratic states to become democratic. If necessary, the U. S. will invade them and force them to hold elections.
"As for Iraq, we are staying to the bitter end, regardless of the cost in American or foreign lives or dollars. I will accept no set of facts as evidence that the Iraq War has failed. I will not let a beautiful theory be killed by ugly facts.
"Americans have and will die in wars to force other countries to have elections. That’s okay since forcing foreign countries to have elections is more important than these soldiers’ lives. Lots more disposable Americans will die in this cause. Get ready.
"Now, let me talk about domestic policy. . ."
[It's me again, not the translator. I confess I cannot translate the domestic part of the speech into plain English because it's an Orwellian jumble of meaningless clichés and flatly contradictory ideas with a smattering of worn-out socialist slogans. Bottom line: instead of scrapping the liberal welfare state, Republicans will try to improve it and will end up making it even more wretched.]
THE MYTH OF DEMOCRATIC PEACE
Now that the speech, at least the foreign policy part, has been translated, its merits can be debated. Let’s think long and hard about whether any of this makes any sense. Time’s up. No, it doesn’t. Nor is it profound. It’s the old myth of democratic peace. Too bad Bush missed my Mises Scholars Conference lecture. Democracy may not make people peaceful but it sure makes them dumber. It’s frightening to compare this aristocratic-republican fellow’s thought processes to Bush’s.
THE THEORY OF DEMOCRATIC PACIFISM REFUTED GENERALLY
A myriad of domestic political concerns have led democracies into war. Modern democracies tend to extensively intervene in the free market by means of high taxes, welfare, and subsidies in order to buy the votes that keep the politicians in power. As Ludwig von Mises demonstrated, each intervention into the economy causes problems that lead to the demand for ever further interventions. Government thereby creates its own demand. Eventually, the economic problems become intractable, leading to the inevitable temptation to create a foreign policy distraction. Combine that with the fact that war, while undeniably harming the economy, gives the appearance of stimulating the economy, and we have a formula for why democratic governments would have a motive for war.
Special interest group politics is another flaw of democracy that can lead to war. By focusing their efforts, votes, and campaign contributions, small segments of the population can exercise influence on policy all out of proportion to their numbers. This is frequently seen in domestic policy. What is rarely remarked, however, is that this special interest group analysis applies to foreign policy as well. For example, there are over 150 hundred million Arabs in the Middle East, mostly Moslems, and they have one billion coreligionists around the world. Arab countries have vast oil reserves. Yet, for over fifty years, United States foreign policy has favored the tiny state of Israel, much to the chagrin of these Arab and Islamic millions. This is a foreign policy most decidedly not in the interests of the average American. This policy has dragged the United States into every aspect of the running fifty-year-old war over the Middle East. In addition to supplying massive military aide to Israel, American troops have shed blood nearby in Lebanon in a related conflict. Further, there is reason to believe that the terrorist attacks on September 11th were in part in retaliation for American support for Israel. As a result of those attacks, the United States is now at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Bush himself admitted that a major cause of the Iraq War was concern that Saddam would strike Israel.
There are other examples of countries getting into wars to advance discrete private agendas. Historian Ralph Raico has written that most Americans wanted the United States to stay out of World War I, except for the East Coast economic and social elite which had close business and social ties to England. The United States has engaged in numerous military actions at the behest of private corporations that were foolish enough to invest in countries where property rights were not secure. The United States fought a major war in Kuwait and Iraq the only apparent reason for which was to preserve an oriental despotism. Surely, the actual reason was to protect certain discrete private interests in oil in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. From any rational point of view, the dispute did not concern the average American in the slightest. They would buy their gasoline as usual at the pump, at prices set by the vagaries of the world oil market, regardless of which crooked Middle East politician sold the rights to oil (he had previously stolen) to some private company. Thus, once again, war was fought by a democracy to advance a special interest.
Democracies are vulnerable to messianic crusades. Democratic politicians have a sense of moral superiority which impels them to reform other nations just as they seek to reform their own citizens and societies. Woodrow Wilson is the foremost example of this spirit: "America is henceforth to stand for the assertion of the right of one nation to serve the other nations of the world." The temptation to add, ". . . whether they like it or not," is irresistible. Thus, the messianic impulse (or rationalization) would launch America into the disastrous World War I, and later wars such as Viet Nam, the Gulf War, and the bombing of Serbia.
Oftentimes, democracies end up in wars that were seemingly started by non-democracies. For example, the United States got involved in World War II because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The reality is more complex. What was in dispute was which nation would be the dominant power in East Asia. America had staked its imperial claim in Asia forty-three years earlier by going to war with Spain. Subsequently, in a bloody war, America seized the Philippines from the natives. Japan invaded China in 1937. America applied diplomatic and economic pressure on Japan and demanded that Japan leave China. An oil embargo was imposed. Japan responded by seizing the oil fields of Malaysia and, anticipating American opposition, struck Pearl Harbor. The genesis of the conflict, however, was America’s (democratic) imperial designs on East Asia. See, John V. Denson, "Roosevelt and the First Shot: A Study in Deception," in Reassessing the Presidency.
Democracies also have the means to fight wars. Analysts of war spend too much time thinking about why wars are fought and far too little time contemplating the means of war. The resources for war are acquired by conscription, taxation, confiscation, and inflation. Without cannon and cannon fodder, there are no wars. In modern times, politicians neither fight nor pay for the wars they start or join. With their aura of legitimacy, democracies are particularly adept at utilizing all these means. Since citizens tend to identify with the democratic state, there is usually little trouble conscripting troops and confiscating the economic resources required for war. Perhaps this is why democracies tend to win the wars they fight. War is the health of the state, but the democratic state is also the health of war.
The history and evidence of democratic bellicosity is thoroughly explained by a theoretical examination of democracies’ motives for war and means to wage them. In spite of their advantages over dictatorships, democracies in fact tend to be aggressive, imperialistic, and warlike. These tendencies provoke terrorism, which in turn provokes further foreign intervention, and more terrorism, in an endless circle of violence. While they tend to be aggressive abroad, they continually grow domestically, in power, scope and size. They ever-increase the property and liberty they confiscate. They stir up ethnic and religious hostilities by pushing towards one way of life for all groups, whether the politically weaker groups like it or not.
Two of the most important wars in modern history were fought in part for the express purpose of advancing democratic principles. President Lincoln explicitly justified the bloody Civil War as a war to save majority rule. Woodrow Wilson called World War I the war “to make the world safe for democracy.” We have heard this refrain over and over again as the rationalization for war: in Korea, Viet Nam, and the Balkans.
The modus operandi of democracies is closer to that of dictatorships than is commonly thought. Though these regimes differ in the manner leaders are selected (force v. elections), they differ little in the manner in which they relate to their subjects on a daily basis: both regimes impose their will by force! True, most democracies have in storage pieces of paper with words printed on them (constitutions) which supposedly limit the amount of force they can use. Alas, as Orwell taught us, words can mean virtually whatever we want them to mean. At the end of the day, the democratic state has the most powerful dictionary: the army.
Ultimately, the theory of democratic pacifism contains a dangerous contradiction:
- Democracies do not fight each other
- If all states were democracies, there would be no war
- War is bad; peace is good
- Not all states are democracies
- Dictatorships are resistant to internal change
- The goal of world peace requires that democracies go to war with dictatorships to make them peaceful.
Proponents of the theory, of course, will reject the last premise, but cannot deny that the last premise is an accurate description of democratic behavior in the last 100 years and currently.
Thus, the paradox is that the theory of democratic pacifism causes war as it has in Iraq and, if we take Bush at his word, may soon in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, Cuba . . .
BUSH’S VERSION REFUTED SPECIFICALLY
First, let me note the dishonest absurdity of Bush’s claim that the U. S. is vulnerable even though we have well-defended borders. While we have troops, ships and planes all over the world, our own borders are quite open to our enemies. We do have well-defended constituencies supportive of massive illegal immigration that can deliver votes on election day.
Second, Bush commits the horror of horrors sin for any neocon. By attempting to explain 9/11, isn’t he "justifying" it? After all, the folks at LewRockwell.com and Antiwar.com and elsewhere have been accused of the same transgression: justifying 9/11 because we tried to explain its antecedents.
But it’s worse than blatant hypocrisy. Bush not only "justifies" 9/11, he appears to at least partially blame the United States itself. Most of the hijackers came from states with dictatorships or authoritarian regimes that have been subsidized, supported and/or protected by the democratic United States for many years, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. To summarize Bush’s cockamamie theory: democracy is the solution to democracies being attacked by dictatorships that have been propped up by other democracies.
Now for the really bad news. Let’s juxtapose Bush’s theory of preemptive strikes with Bush’s theory of imposing democracy on dictatorships. Bush invaded Iraq even though Saddam never explicitly threatened the U. S. Bush has now strongly implied that he will attack and invade dictatorships when he deems them a threat to the U. S. Has he not then invited them to attack first under his own preemptive strike theory? Thus, instead of staying out of foreign countries’ business, as advised by Washington, he has announced aggressive intentions toward numerous states and left us all vulnerable to a preemptive strike from any of them at any time. That’s why preemption is a self-refuting theory.
Bush promises a Wilsonian-messianic crusade for democracy oblivious to how Wilson’s crusade pretty much ruined a century, and created the artificial country of Iraq that Bush is now trying to keep together by brute force.
God bless us, Mr. Bush? God help us!
January 27, 2005
James Ostrowski is an attorney in Buffalo, New York and author of Political Class Dismissed: Essays Against Politics, Including "What’s Wrong With Buffalo." See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.