I don’t understand all this talk about how US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have inspired a "democracy movement" in the Middle East. Well, actually, I do understand it. People are desperate to derive something positive from all the horror wreaked upon the region by the American interventions, something to reassure themselves that what their country has done isn’t so bad after all, that they themselves are not as gullible as they were starting to feel.
The bad news is that they’re being gullible again. The only country in the area where anything of any political significance has recently occurred is in Lebanon, with a burgeoning movement to make Syria remove its armed forces. But this movement clearly arose from the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, which has been blamed on Syria. What does this have to do with the United States? Do the people celebrating a US-inspired "democracy movement" think that the United States was behind the assassination? In any event, Lebanon has been a democracy for many years, as that word is loosely used by almost everyone; i.e., they’ve had elections on a regular basis, at least as credible as those in the United States, and a lively free press.
As to what happened in Iraq in January … Imagine if during the Cold War, Hungary had held an "election" under Soviet occupation, in which the voters did not know the names of the candidates or what they stood for, and no candidate or party called for the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The American media would have had a field day poking fun at this farce.
Even more farcical was the presidential election in Afghanistan shortly before May I have the envelope, please … The winner is Hamid Karzai, long-time resident in the United States, Washington’s hand-picked, packaged, and groomed candidate, described by the Washington Post as "a known and respected figure at the State Department and National Security Council and on Capitol Hill."1
There were also elections in Palestine in January, which occurred following the death of Yasser Arafat. Do the celebrators think that the United States was behind Arafat’s death as well? But here too, elections were held before; it’s how Arafat became president. Seumas Milne of The Guardian in London recently observed that elections would have taken place earlier than January if the US and Israel hadn’t known that Arafat was certain to win them. Milne adds: "The claim that democracy is on the march in the Middle East is a fraud. It is not democracy, but the US military, that is on the march."2
And now, class: In 25 words or less explain why the UN, the US, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, and other nations are insisting that Syria leave Lebanon without delay while saying not a word about the US withdrawing from Iraq. There are most likely many more people in Lebanon who want the Syrians to stay than people in Iraq who want the US to stay, one reason being that Lebanon borders only on Syria and Israel.
American imperialists, old and new
George F. Kennan, who is credited with formulating the basic foreign policy followed by the United States in the Cold War, died March 17 at the age of 101. He was what is commonly referred to as an elder statesman. In his years at the State Department he was recognized as the government’s leading authority on the Soviet Union, and as the founder of the policy of "containment" of the Russians, a term he coined; he was also one of the authors of the Truman Doctrine. One of his best-known pieces of writing is "Policy Planning Study 23," written for the State Department planning staff in 1948. It read in part:
"We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. … In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. … To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. … We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."
This is worth repeating not only for its intrinsic interest and its significance as a document of US foreign policy history, but as a means for making a comparison to present day policy. Those who intensely despise the leaders of the Bush administration are convinced that they are uniquely vile in American history. I would maintain, however, that there’s very little of what we’ve come to fear and loathe about the Bushgang that can’t be found in many previous administrations, and that if George W., on a purely personal level, were not such a crass, ignorant, dishonest, and insufferably religious jerk, his policies would be much more readily excused by liberals (though not by radicals) as they excused similar policies under Clinton and other Democrats going back to Truman.
What has distinguished the Bush administration’s foreign policy from that of its predecessors has been its unabashed and conspicuously overt expressions of its imperial ambitions. They flaunt it, publicly and proudly declaring their intention nay, their God-inspired right and obligation to remake the world in their own image. The utterly callous attitude toward human suffering that marks the current administration’s philosophy differs from Kennan’s cold-blooded amorality in that the Bushgang has rejected his advice and do indeed talk about human rights and democracy … ad infinitum. But so has every administration post World War II. Kennan was surprisingly out of tune with international public relations, or maybe he was just too honest to be a diplomat.
So why is the Bushgang so intent on encouraging democracy all over the world? Should that not be supported? Well, it depends on what you mean by democracy, or what the Bushgang means by it. I think that what Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. look for in a "democratic" third world country, or look to establish in that country, is that the government is corporate-friendly, that the society has the legal and financial institutions needed to remake the country so that it’s appealing to foreign investors, that it will play ball with the World Trade Organization, the IMF, and the rest of the international financial mafia, and most important, that it is a capitalist system, enterprise nice and free, none of this socialist crap. That’s what they mean by democracy. Least of all have they in mind any kind of economic democracy, the closing of the gap between the desperate poor and those for whom too much is not enough.
The United States and the women of Afghanistan
Last month Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, who commanded the 1st Marine Division in the 2003 Iraq invasion, told a conference in San Diego: "It’s fun to shoot some people. … You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."3
Some may be offended by the general’s expressed relish for killing (and, indeed, he was rebuked by the Marine Corps Commandant), but his remarks about Afghanistan can only paint him and the United States as zealous supporters of women’s rights in Afghanistan and lend credence to George W.’s claim of same. This would be rather ironic given the following slice of history that likely has never seen the light of a clear day in the mainstream media.
In the 1980s the United States played an indispensable role in the overthrow of a secular and relatively progressive Afghan government, one which endeavored to grant women much more freedom than they’ll ever have under the current government, more perhaps than ever again. Here are excerpts from a 1986 US Army manual on Afghanistan discussing the decrees and the influence of the government concerning women: "provisions of complete freedom of choice of marriage partner, and fixation of the minimum age at marriage at 16 for women"; "abolished forced marriages"; "bring [women] out of seclusion, and initiate social programs"; "extensive literacy programs, especially for women…" "putting girls and boys in the same classroom"; "concerned with changing gender roles and giving women a more active role in politics."4 Neither the awful Taliban regime, nor the Islamic fundamentalist regime which immediately preceded it, would ever have come to power if the United States had not overthrown this government. And why did the United States in its infinite wisdom choose to do such a thing? Why, simply because the Afghan government was allied with the Soviet Union and Washington wanted to draw the Russians into a hopeless military quagmire. The women of Afghanistan will never know how the campaign to raise them to the status of full human beings would have turned out, but this, some might argue, is but a small price to pay for a marvelous Cold War victory.
Monkeys still on trial
Christian fundamentalists are waging a many-pronged assault on the teaching of evolution in public schools. At the state and local level they use lawsuits and school board debates to counter evolutionary theory. The Alabama and Georgia legislatures recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolution in the classroom; other states have approved new rules allowing the same; some localities paste stickers on science textbooks saying that "Evolution is a theory, not a fact." Students are encouraged to report teachers who don’t give "the other side." Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a supporter of this campaign, recently stated: "Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy. My reading of the science is there’s a legitimate debate. My feeling is let the debate be had."5
Okay, but would they be willing to allow their tactic to be extended to political subjects? Would they permit stickers to be placed on history textbooks that say something like: "The idea that the United States has been a force for good in the world is a theory, not a fact."? Or stickers on economics texts which read: "For every free-enterprise ‘success story’ recounted in this book, there are many thousands of victims unmentioned." Let the debates be had.
The fundamentalists are not really as open-minded as they would like to sound. What they’d really rather have is just creationism being taught and have evolution ousted from the classroom, but that strategy did not fare too well some years ago because of the sticky little issue of separation of church and state.
Not too long ago, creationists seized on a tactic that was devilishly clever. They began to say that the idea of evolution was no threat to their beliefs, for it was God who had created evolution. That approach seems to have been abandoned. Evolved, one might say.
The Hugo Chavez News Service
On more than one occasion in the past 18 months, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has accused the United States of planning to assassinate him; other Venezuelan officials have made the same charge, including the Military Intelligence Directorate, which claimed to have "overwhelming evidence" of a CIA-backed plot to bring down an airplane Chavez almost used in September 2003 to visit the United States for meetings in Washington and at the UN. The flight was abruptly cancelled.6
I don’t know if the assassination story is true, but it certainly can’t be dismissed out of hand, as the American press has done by using its favorite weapon, silence. The United States has already tried a general strike, a coup, and a referendum against Chavez, all failing to unseat him; assassination or invasion are about the only arrows poor Uncle Sam has left in his quiver. It should be kept in mind as well that the United States has been involved in the assassination, or planning for same, of close to 50 prominent foreign political leaders since the end of the Second World War.7
If the story is indeed true, it’s a very smart move on the part of Chavez to publicize it in advance. "If anything happens to me, the person responsible will be President George W. Bush," Chavez has declared.8 This can’t help but make any Washington assassins think twice.
Another story the US media has ignored, which many people also had to learn about from Hugo Chavez, oddly enough has to do with Iraq. This is the story of Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli, an official at Iraq’s health ministry, who said that the US military used banned weapons during its deadly offensive in the city of Fallujah. Dr. ash-Shaykhli was assigned by the ministry to assess the health conditions in Fallujah following the November assault there. He said that research conducted by his medical team proved that American forces used internationally-prohibited substances such as mustard gas, nerve gas, and other burning chemicals in their attacks in the war-torn city. The health official announced his findings at a news conference March 1 in the health ministry building in Baghdad which was attended by more than 20 Iraqi and foreign media networks, including the Washington Post and the Knight-Ridder service from the United States.9 The Associated Press reported the story10, citing Chavez as the source, but no mainstream media appear to have found it newsworthy; this stands in sharp contrast to repeated criticisms by conservatives that the American "liberal" media report only the bad news from Iraq.
America’s report cards for a naughty world
Are the people in the State Department capable of feeling embarrassment? What do they tell their children they do for a living? The Department released its annual human rights report February 28 in which it criticized countries for a range of interrogation practices it labeled as "torture," including sleep deprivation, confining prisoners in contorted positions, stripping and blindfolding them, and threatening them with dogs … Yes, that’s right, the same methods used repeatedly by the United States on detainees at its far-flung prison empire. Moreover, the US turns over prisoners to be "interrogated" (wink, wink) to countries the State Department human rights report cites for the use of torture, a practice known as "rendition," of course making sure to first obtain a promise (chuckle, chuckle) from those countries that they will not torture the prisoner.
The State Department also puts out other annual report cards on the rest of the world, evaluating them on religious freedom, terrorism (state supporter of and uncooperative with the war on), drugs, and trafficking in persons. I’m waiting for evaluations on hypocrisy and condescension.
Our bodies, ourselves
All the hullabaloo about steroid use by baseball players inspires me to return to a question I raised in this report last summer in regard to the Olympics. Presumably steroids are banned because they give an athlete an unfair advantage over athletes who are "clean." But of all the things that athletes, and other people, put into their bodies to improve their health, fitness and performance, why are steroids singled out? Doesn’t taking vitamins give an athlete an unfair advantage over athletes who don’t take them? Shouldn’t vitamins be banned from sport competition? How about various food supplements, for the same reason? Vitamins and food supplements are often not any more "natural" than steroids, which in fact are very important in our body chemistry. Why not ban those who follow a healthy diet because of the advantage this may give them?
- Washington Post, December 22, 2001
- The Guardian (London), March 10, 2005
- CNN.com, February 4, 2005
- US Department of the Army, Afghanistan, A Country Study (Washington, DC, 1986), pp. 121, 128, 130, 223, 232
- Washington Post, March 14, 2005
- VHeadline.com (Venezuela’s Electronic News), September 21, 2003
- US Government Assassination Plots
- Associated Press, March 5, 2005
- Aljazeera.com, March 3, 2005
- Associated Press, March 5, 2005
March 24, 2005