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America’s ‘Strongman Strategy’ Redux

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Jeff Berg

Once again America invades a country on the pretext of instituting democracy and once again America, at best, promises to deliver the worse kind of military terror state. In case any of you missed it, on national television, during the Vice Presidential debate Dick Cheney extolled the virtues of the strategy used to turn El Salvador into hell on earth and promised the same for Iraq. If any doubt that he means what he says remember that John Negroponte has been appointed Viceroy of Iraq. This in most ways, as horrible as it is, comes as no surprise given what we know of the Wolfowitz/Bush doctrine and the track record of the reconstituted Reaganites that today control America’s foreign policy.

What is still surprising, to me at least, is after decades of replaying the same mythology followed by the same results that American journalism has not tired of reporting the tired old shibboleth of “good intentions gone wrong” to explain the horror. Even more risible is the pathetic refrain laying claim to the problem being “American naiveté and idealism in a complex and dangerous world.” The New York Times has lately come up with a new variant on the theme by spinning the problem of the Iraq invasion as Kerry does as incompetence. Let me posit an alternative explanation.

Supposition 1: The top level planners in America are very well educated and on the whole rather intelligent.

Reasoning: What else would one expect given the most powerful society in the world? One whose power thereby allows it to offer to the ‘best and the brightest’ a chance to use their talents in ways that will meaningfully impact the world. Not to mention offering them access to the revolving door between government and corporate America which provides opportunities for making extraordinary amounts of money. Dick Cheney being the most glaring and recent example of this phenomena.

Supposition 2: American planners have access to the most extensive and well funded information gathering systems and technologies in the history of the world.

Reasoning: Again no surprise as America is the richest society in the history of mankind and has the most advanced and well staffed sciences and information gathering systems in the world.

This being said I think we can safely dispense with the fairy tale “naiveté and misplaced good intentions” explanation for America’s 200+ military interventions since the second world war and their failure to further democracy (this number does not include covert operations). For any American living in the real world the question then is not, “How can this keep happening to us?” but, “Why do we keep doing this to them?” The difference between these two questions being that the second one allows us to safely obviate having to refute the ’change of course’ mythology in favour of looking for patterns of cause and effect.

One thing that we know for sure from the historical record is that U.S. intervention and the resulting destabilization has been used unfailingly as a justification for the U.S. to back a ‘strongman’ so as to return ‘stability’ to the destabilized region. Furthermore these strongmen have invariably been more amenable to U.S. business interests than the political movements that they repressed (Branco over Goulart in Brazil, Pinochet over Allende in Chile, Reza Shah Pahlavi over Dr. Mossadeq in Iran, Suharto over Sukarno in Indonesia). The story does not end there. Here’s a further list of America’s ‘democracy exercises’ and their results (by no means complete).

Haiti, once the jewel in the crown of the Caribbean, now the poorest country in the hemisphere. Nicaragua under the Sandinistas experienced the greatest increase in literacy and health in her history thereby earning a UNESCO prize, today she is the second poorest country in the hemisphere where 50% of two year olds suffer from neurological disorders due to malnutrition. Honduras today is third poorest with El Salvador and Guatemala the slowest growing. The latter two are now, thanks to America democracies, places described by INCAP as countries “where half the population live under conditions of extreme poverty.” Not to belabour the point but countries where, “ ...even “the right to dignity” does not exist.” Then of course there is Cuba.

Cuba is the one society on this list where the U.S. strongman failed to take control. Cuba today has universal dental care, universal Medicare, universal education and housing and provides more doctors to the world than does the entire W.H.O. and 60% of Cuba’s doctors are women (though of course this achievement in no way measures up to the magnificence of Lynn Cheney and Laura Bush’s touching concern for the plight of Taliban women. Women incidentally who we haven’t heard much about lately. Mission accomplished?)

Today the way that the people of these countries remember the losers and interpret U.S. intentions differs markedly from U.S. leaders and most of the U.S. press. For example of Dr. Mossadeq it is written that, “Dr. Mossadeq remains a figure of tremendous stature in the history of modern Iran. As an individual he had a reputation for honesty, integrity, and sincerity. He strongly opposed British and, later, American influence in Iran. He was an eloquent, impassioned orator, and his speeches are still widely read in Iran.”1 It is no surprise then, given the U.S. support for Israel, the U.S. support of anti-democratic monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and U.S. support for sanctions that were called “genocidal” by Dennis Halliday & Hans Von Sponeck, the men who refused to remain in charge of them, that the Iraqi people may have some skepticism about U.S. motives and intentions. And how does the U.S. respond to a skepticism they know about far better than I (see suppositions 1 & 2) in the battle for hearts and minds?

“Bush administration officials smile when they talk about Allawi, then marvel at how aggressive he is. Allawi believes that his government has to establish its authority if it, or any future government, is to do its job."2 I also refer you to Naomi Klein’s brilliant piece of journalism, ‘Baghdad: Year Zero’, in Harpers magazine. To paraphrase her amply supported findings, “Not because there was no plan but because of the plan there was.” The plan being a reified version of Milton Friedmans theoretical ramblings - theories that practice has thoroughly discredited in every part of the world but corporate and banking boardrooms, an empirical verity that Greg Palast has very ably documented in his brilliant book ‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy’.

Just in case I am not being clear let me sum up. The reason America keeps creating military terror states and charnel houses is because the alternatives do not serve her smash and grab operations near as well. And despite what William Safire and George Will write it really doesn’t matter to the people on or under the ground by what name the geostrategists call their dictator. No, instead what matters is that the dictators will be equally hated regardless of America’s branding exercise and the carnage and inevitable blowback will be just as horrifying regardless of the labels attached to the combatants and victims. After all wasn’t it Ronald Reagan who said, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”?

Perhaps the darkest irony of this ‘shock treatment’ of Iraq is that the majority of Iraq’s people now believe that the best they can hope for within a decade is getting back to living as they did under Hussein. Which again, in case I am not making myself clear, is a completely intended consequence of America’s ‘Strongman Strategy’ redux. Intended, because it serves the overarching purpose of resource and profit extraction that motivated this group of very intelligent and well informed strategists in the first place. Intended, because anything that gets in the way of the primary aspect of the mission, like for example national self-determination for the citizens of the country, must be suppressed according to the political calculus being used by the planners. Unfortunately for us all, most especially the people of Iraq, John Kerry’s single idea seems to be to turn this from an intended plan to a UN-intended one. I say this because given the UN’s behaviour during the sanctions period we should all be less than sanguine about the end result of such a change. Contrary to popular belief, as bad as things currently are in Iraq any change is not synonymous with better. At least not sufficiently better to stop the escalation of the resource wars that this war has sparked and that peak oil will fan.

None of what I am saying of course is very controversial to anyone who lives in the real world and pays the slightest attention to Anglo-American history. Still perhaps a slight recap of the history of the region would not be completely redundant - a region that the U.S. State Department sixty years ago described as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” “probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment.”

1917, Britain ‘liberates’ Baghdad. Before and after World War Two, U.S. and Britain back Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s autocratic regimes. 1953, Iran’s Mossadeq is overthrown for the Shah and SAVAK. 1980, America arms both sides of the Iran-Iraq conflict. 1967 to today, America arms Israel to the teeth and shields her politically from World opinion with a world record in Security council vetoes, etc.

Unfortunately most Americans for the most part do not live in the real world. They live in a world created by the glitter of Madison Avenue, the fantasies of television and Hollywood and the propaganda of the right wing and mainstream media echo chambers. But whether or not they are paying attention oil and gas will reach peak production. This will have enormous ramifications for capitalism and all that entails to America’s and Europe’s conception of society, agriculture, international trade, and capital flows. For now America’s currency is absurdly advantaged by being the reserve currency of the world and the one denominated by OPEC for oil purchases. With a 7 trillion dollar national debt (13 trillion when States, municipalities and consumers are added in to the equation) America’s grotesque orgy of consumerism and energy consumption is set to trigger the greatest economic storm the world has ever seen. At the same time America’s elites are ‘leading the way’ by ensuring that it’s own citizens are misinformed and armed to the teeth both personally and as a society. And their plan for meeting the new world of resource depletion and the implosion of capitalism is to build more jails, hire more cops, and virtually guarantee that the world follows their violent example, by spending hundreds of billions on the Pentagon and using military might to control the worlds diminishing resources. This is a recipe for a return to the rule of thug and barbarism.

We need not return to barbarism. We need not allow for unlimited plunder by those who believe that might makes right and that all of life is but a zero sum game. We need not, but we are. And principle among the reasons why we are is that those who have the platform and the ability to speak out are failing in their duty. Yes I know Seymour Hersh was booted from the New York Times, and Dan Rather is being publicly flogged as an object lesson, and therefore anyone can be booted or flogged. But by the same token a black African woman environmentalist just won the Nobel Peace prize. Quite simply it is ‘stand up and be counted’ time. Or as they say in western wedding ceremonies, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” For, if we all do not start bailing with all of our collective might right now, civilization’s ship will surely capsize, and we all will remember back upon this and many other ‘I told you so’s’ with despair when we look into the questioning eyes of our children and grandchildren. And please, please, please, always remember that they are by no means omnipotent, are ludicrously short of omniscient, and that we have numbers and the power of collective rights on our side.

The task before us is as ever Camus’ famous call to arms, “It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” America’s vision of a consumerist Nirvana no longer has a future, and the future only belongs to those who have one. To paraphrase Stan Goff, “America is hurtling them and us at an ever increasing speed towards an unbreachable thermodynamic wall.” It is time that we took her foot off the accelerator. Her debt and addiction to consumerism gives the leverage that is needed to humble her ambitions, to bring her back to the understanding that we are all in this together, that we are a community of nations, and most especially to remind her that we hold this planet not in our portfolio but in trust for the future of all.


2. David Brooks, New York Times, October 6th, 2004.

Published Sunday, October 10th, 2004 - 08:53pm GMT
Article courtesy of Countercurrents
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