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Empire Builders

Almost daily, The New York Times does itself proud by printing the names of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. At a time when dead American soldiers and marines in flag covered caskets are returned in the dead of night and photographs forbidden — lest the reality of Iraq upset live Americans and politicians — the newspaper does a public service in reminding us about the pain of so needless a war. If you include the seriously wounded plus Iraqi and Afghani civilians — all hidden from mainstream media — it’s almost too much to bear.

Far too many civically obedient Americans are content to express their feelings with vacuous "support our troops" stickers and continue — in Neil Postman’s famous phrase — "amusing themselves to death," numb to the miseries of the battlefield. The steady stream of government manipulation of public opinion nonetheless confounds patriotic Americans, rightly proud of our nation and its many freedoms. Is it any wonder that they respond to an endless series of manufactured "crises" given the lack of hard news in most of the media? And surrender their kids to Washington’s fantasies of imperial grandeur and endless conflicts? Can anyone name one prominent member of our cloistered Washington prowar crowd who has a child or grandson on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan today? Or ask why only one congressman has a son there?

I’ve forgotten the source but I do remember reading a small item about a mother in New York state mourning her soldier son’s death in Iraq. What’s it about, she asked? "Is it about oil? I don’t know what this war is for. We don’t want anyone else to die in this useless, stupid war."

But die they will as the doctrine of preemptive war threatens Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and sooner or later China and anyone else who dares stand in the imperial way. Diplomacy, negotiations, compromise are discarded for a steady stream of threats and packaged news. But, argue our powerful, well funded, theoretical and thoroughly inept neoconservatives, it’s all about democracy and freedom, a mindless judgment (it’s no longer WMDs) repeated endlessly by our "opinion makers" who before the 2003 invasion overwhelmingly and unquestioningly accepted the argument that Saddam had WMDs and was somehow involved in 9/ll. Rather, democracy has little or nothing to do with Iraq, the Middle East and Central Asia. Instead, think oil, control of natural resources, and imperial expansion.

Democracy does not spring to life overnight but instead requires past experience, a large and enterprising middle class and a tradition of fairness to minorities and the poor. It requires a basic respect and tolerance among people with different backgrounds. It requires a central government that is not all-powerful and allows individuals the freedom to flourish. It is not solely associated with elections since many thugs have been "elected." It requires an abiding respect for laws that are reasonable and fair. It requires a widespread feeling among people that, despite differences, "we’re all in it together." Moreover, it is hard to imagine a genuine democracy backed by the U.S. military springing suddenly to life in the Middle East. It is a region where historic U.S. support for dictatorships and authoritarian governments have never planted the seeds of a democratic society.

Peaceable alternative policies are rarely promoted with the same vigor as those opting for war. Take Iran, for example. Threats from Washington only bring threats from Tehran. Genuine negotiations are always possible and many compromises are available, but who among the administration’s tightly closed circle of political and ideological advisors plays the role of house dissenter? Is there a George Ball or J. Kenneth Galbraith out there? Moreover, The New York Times recently reported that a "bipartisan " panel, appointed by the President, concluded that "U.S. intelligence on Iran [is] inadequate to allow firm judgments about Iran’s weapons programs." What does that tell us about U.S. assertions (generally unchallenged in the mainstream media) that an Iranian Bomb is on the way? Could this be yet another WMD scam?

In Anthony Lewis’s enlightening essay on the Pentagon Papers in the current New York Review of Books, he quotes the former RAND scholar Melvin Gurtov’s description of what the Pentagon Papers were all about.

"The crux of these documents," concludes Gurtov (in John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, eds., Inside the Pentagon Papers (University Press of Kansas, 2005), "was what they revealed about the duplicity of US leaders, who consistently lied to the American people, the Congress, and the press about many aspects of the war in the Kennedy and Johnson years. Presidents and their national security advisors knew the war was being lost…." Might historians someday reach the same conclusion about the Cheney-Bush decision to invade Iraq and expand Pax Americana throughout the world when their papers and the archives are finally released to the public?

Finally, if yet another nation is to be invaded in the name of "democracy" and "freedom" then reluctant and uninspired conscripts may have to replace the Iraq war’s depleted and exhausted volunteers, swelling the casualty lists once again. None of this seems to trouble Washington’s bellicose party itching to dominate the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. A draft, imperial dreams and war always go hand in hand.

Prowar imperialists such as Theodore Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling changed their minds once their sons were killed in World War I. Grieving, TR went to an early grave. Kipling could only assuage his grief and guilt by penning his shattering couplet:

If any question why we died Tell them, because our fathers lied.

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