The Warlords of America

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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 liberalism.

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movement, was repealed in 1985 by Ronald Reagan.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

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 together.”

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 Bush gang.

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 consequence.

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.

21, 2004

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. This article was first published in
the New Statesman.

John Pilger 2004

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