What's Left

January 2, 2003

Bullies, hypocrites, conservative-authoritarians, fascists: Anything but champions of human rights

By Stephen Gowans

Commenting on the detention of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, a US official told the Washington Post, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job," (Washington Post, December 27, 2002.) US officials also said that in the heat of the moment "our guys may kick them [the captives] around a little bit." Of captives transferred to other countries for interrogation: "We don't kick the shit out of them; we send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them."

The United States is the world's human rights champion, right?

Documents declassified after 30 years reveal that the British government of then prime minister Edward Heath planned to engage in a program of ethnic cleansing by forcibly removing Roman Catholics from Northern Ireland, but backed off for fear "the government would [not] be able to obtain the support of public opinion," (National Post, January 2, 2003.)

Three decades later, the UK joined the United States and other NATO countries in bombing Yugoslavia for 78 days, to stop, what it said, was a program of ethnic cleansing carried out by the government of Slobodan Milosevic, though it was never clear how many of the ethnic Albanians who fled the Serb province were fleeing the bombing and a civil war, and how many were forcibly evicted. What is clear, however, is that the bulk of refugees fled the province after the bombing started, which would suggest that a systematic program of ethnic cleansing wasn't being carried out.

When the bombing stopped, the KLA, a ethnic Albanian guerilla army, trained and funded by NATO, ethnically cleansed Kosovo of its Serb, Roma and Jewish populations. With public opinion not an issue -- few knew outside Serbia -- the UK finally had an ethnic cleansing program it could support.

Today, a dismembered Yugoslavia is right where the West wants it to be -- in the clutches of the IMF, its territory supporting US military bases, and its previously collectively-owned assets up for grabs to the highest bidder.

George W. Bush: Weapon of mass deception

"One of the more than 100 inspectors inside Iraq told the Los Angeles Times that he and his colleagues have not found 'one iota' of evidence suggesting Iraq possesses chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or the long-range weapons needed to deploy them," (Globe and Mail, January 1, 2003.) Clutching at straws, Bush appealed to Americans' pocketbooks. "An attack from Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy." And if George's mother had balls, she'd be his father.

A world without weapons of mass destruction would be ideal, but where the US and its allies have no intention of abandoning any of their weapons, it's difficult to regard as defensible the view that says Iraq and North Korea, along with assorted other "rogue" countries, must disarm, so they can be easy pickings for the world's premier bully.

"Among my toughest moments in Baghdad were when the Iraqis demanded that I explain why they should be hounded for their weapons of mass destruction when, just down the road, Israel was not, even though it was known to possess some 200 nuclear weapons," recalled former chief UN arms inspector, Richard Butler (Sunday Morning Herald, Oct. 3, 2002).

Butler went on to say that Americans were unable to perceive the hypocrisy in their having the world's vastest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, while demanding Iraq get rid of its (by comparison) puny collection (most of which was supplied by the Americans to begin with.)

The problem with bullies (or their weakness, depending on how you look at it) is that they're wary of picking on anyone who's going to put up a fight. So they prey on the weak and defenseless, like Grenada and Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq, and then crow about their military prowess and how they kicked butt. It reminds you of a Mussolini-led Italy bombing Ethiopia.

But countries that do have weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, (as opposed to being said to have them, as in the case of Iraq), find themselves treated with more respect. Which means, it's in everyone's interest to bulk up on weapons. That hardly makes the world a safer or better place in which to live, but a safer and better place in which to live has never been Washington's aim. Fatter profits for investors is.

Return of the Red Scare

"Eighty-three years ago, on the evening of Jan. 2, 1920," writes Allan Levine, a Canadian historian, "hundreds of agents from the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (it became the FBI in 1935), assisted by local police and volunteers from the American Legion, swarmed across much of the United States to arrest nearly 4,000 suspected radicals, Communists, Bolsheviks, anarchists and 'aliens.' Without proper arrest or search warrants in their possession, the agents invaded political party headquarters, private homes, even bowling alleys. Many of those arrested were beaten, herded into crowded, unsanitary detention centres, and not allowed to communicate with their families or lawyers for weeks," (The Globe and Mail, January 2, 2003.)

"The Red Scare in a different form is alive today," says Levine. "In the name of protecting American citizens, President George W. Bush and his chief lieutenants, Attorney-General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, have waged an all-out war...that has caught thousands of innocent people in its wide net."

More than 1,000 people, some US citizens, have been held in detention, without charge, prohibited from communicating with their families, and in many instances, with a lawyer.

Two American citizens (are there more?) are being held indefinitely in military brigs, without charge, in a flagrant violation of the US Constitution no one seems willing, or able, to do anything about.

And how many of the Administration's secret military tribunals have been carried out?

Meanwhile, Washington has approved the design of the Total Information Awareness program, a Big Brother-style surveillance program which will collect reams of information on every American.

"Despite what most Americans and Canadians believe," Levine says, "the jump from a democracy to a dictatorship has never been that great."

It can't happen here

Sinclair Lewis, the American novelist renowned for "Main Street", "Babbit" and "Elmer Gantry", wrote a lesser-known book in 1935 titled "It Can't Happen Here". The title was a sarcastic swipe at Americans who believed that fascism could never happen in the United States. Most still don't. But why would they?

Seventy years ago, the word "fascism" conjured up different images and called forth different emotions for large parts of the Western world than it does today. Fascism wasn't then on the losing side, and was yet to buckle under the weight of the world's revulsion. Many wore the label "fascist" proudly, and saw fascism as desirable and admirable.

Nowadays, few would willingly call themselves fascist or promote anything called fascism, this being the reserve of vile racists and those who delight in shocking others with Nazi regalia and forms. Self-declared fascists are like self-admitted Satanists or corporphages; they've willingly and conspicuously taken up residence on the margins of society by embracing hated and repulsive behavior. Indeed, fascism has largely been reduced to a synonym for some of our society's most hated taboos -- dictatorship and violent race-hatred.

Fascists then (the real ones, not the play acting ones who goose step) don't call themselves fascists, and would almost certainly bristle at the suggestion their views bear any kinship to the vile and hated ideology. What's more, it's highly unlikely anyone who embraced fascism would even know that's what they're embracing, and it can be assured that sober, intelligent people, would pooh-pooh the application of the word "fascism" to contemporary political movements and regimes as irresponsible name-calling. It can't happen here, right?

Twenty years ago, the socialist political scientist, Ralph Miliband, presciently sketched out how a "conservative-authoritarian" regime might arise in Britain. But for the details, he could have been talking about the United States after Sept. 11.

"Soldiers would play much bigger roles in all areas of national life than hitherto, but the regime would not necessarily be a military one. There would be plenty of civilians, of the most respectable hue, available to run the state, in partnership with military men and police chiefs. Police forces would be given much more of a free hand to act as they thought fit. Nor, in the climate engendered by the regime and its propagandists, would they be disposed to ask anyone's permission to do so.

"Nevertheless, much of the state would function more or less normally. A dismal aspect of such conservative authoritarianism is precisely the normality which endures, and which provides reassurance to many people who want a quiet life that things are not all that different, really, of course, for activists and others in gaol or rehabilitation centers of one sort or another ('concentration camp' evokes the wrong memories). There would be cricket on the green, and at Lord's; Derby Day at Ascot; the football season and the FA Cup; comedy on television; the same announcers blandly reading the news; the Queen's Christmas Broadcast; even the House of Commons, minus some unpatriotic MPs, temporarily detained," (Capitalist Democracy in Great Britain.)

Miliband called this conservative-authoritarianism, not fascism -- it lacked the nationalism strongly present in Nazism. Significantly, he made the point in connection with the tendency of the state in capitalist democracies to exploit crises to arrogate near-dictatorial power onto itself. And his depiction is startlingly similar to what prevails in the United States today, and his explanation for why the idea that the country is in the grips of fascism or something approximating it, is seen to be over the top, is significant; it's the normality which endures, which provides reassurance to many people...that things are not all that different," that makes references to fascism and authoritarianism hard to swallow. (This, of course, is not true for anyone born in the countless number of countries Washington calls "breeding grounds for terrorism." For these individuals, many of whom are harassed by US officials or have been detained without charge, normality does not endure.)

There is an undeniable racist element in Washington's conservative-authoritarianism, directed against Arabs, and there has always been a quasi-nationalist character to American "patriotism," based not on membership in the best ethnic group, (which owing to its superiority, must be rule others), but membership in the best country, (which owing to its superiority, must take a leadership role in the world.)

Conservative-authoritarianism doesn't sound as bad as fascism, but what separates the two, but the element of identification on ethnic lines? Dictatorship does, but in the United States, with electoral politics dominated by two virtually identical political parties, both in the thrall of an investor class, the distinction between the dictatorship of an individual and the dictatorship of identical parties with a single master is largely academic. It's still a dictatorship, and one that increasingly is getting away with breaching checks and balances on its power. The framers of the American Constitution assumed one branch of government would constrain the other. They didn't count on two of the branches -- as well as the American people -- rolling over.


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