What's Left

February 18, 2003

Enough is enough

By Stephen Gowans

Monday morning after the largest antiwar demonstrations in history and my morning newspaper runs the headline "'Enough is enough,' U.S. says," a reference to U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice saying that Washington's trigger finger has a nasty itch her boss George II can't wait to scratch. The headline seems widely off the mark, if you expect newspapers to represent what's going on in the world, rather than what the people who run the world would like to go on in the world. Shouldn't the headline have read "'Enough is enough,' world tells U.S."? As a statement of fact, yes, but that would create the impression that the U.S. was "defying the world," a phrase held in reserve for exclusive use in connection with Saddam. Surely the U.S. would never defy the world.

Actually, it would, and does, and though this might be taken as something Americans should hang their heads in shame over, it's often taken for something quite the opposite -- something Americans should celebrate, for in the eyes of think-tank gasbags and media blowhards admirable is the government that refuses to subordinate the interests of Americans to the U.N., international law, international treaties, the will of the international community, and even less significant, the will of the people of the world, including a good part of the U.S. population. It's good to know Washington holds the interests of Americans -- "our" interests as Americans say -- in such high esteem. It's strange that living within the same borders (which, after all, are simply arbitrary geographical demarcations) should somehow make all the people within those borders have "strategic interests" they share in common; stranger still that all these interests seem to reside halfway around the world in out-of-the-way places most Americans couldn't find on a  map, let alone spell -- places like the Korean peninsula and Kazakhstan and Iraq. I wonder whether a single mother who earns minimum wage standing before a counter saying "Hi, welcome to Wendy's, can I take your order?" 897 times a day knows she has interests on the Korean peninsula? I wonder whether she knows that her strategic interests depend on regime change in Iraq, that is, replacing one dictator (out-of-favor) with another (an American military governor) who will later cede to another (a system of representative democracy and a market economy in thrall to U.S. corporations)?

To be honest (which is to expect too much of the Munchausens who invent this folderol about shared interests) America's strategic interests aren't all Americans' interests -- they're the economic and political interests of the people who own and control America's oil and other firms and who run hi-tech companies that make weapons of mass destruction and call themselves part of the "defense" industry but should call themselves part of the "war" industry because the only defense they're interested in is defense of their bottom lines, which depends on Washington, ever the biddable servant, waging a succession of wars overseas, well away from the American people who cannot be allowed to witness the crushed skulls, burning bodies, and viscera splattered across blood soaked walls that all this pursuit of "their" interests creates. It must be carried on well away from American shores so Americans can be left unharassed to enjoy the Emmies, reality-TV and Big Macs, in peace.

For some other Americans, who don't stand to gain personally from Washington's seeing to it that the Nazi tradition of waging unprovoked wars recedes into the shadows of history, offing a few hundred thousand foreigners is good for morale. As political scientist C. Douglas Lummis put it,
 

"People are fooled into believing that they are powerful when they are members of a powerful state, or when they are soldiers wielding powerful weapons or when they have real or imagined connections to people in powerful positions. Powerless boys in uniform feel powerful when they think of the empire they represent; powerless masses imagine themselves powerful when they cheer the dictator who suppresses them; powerless bootlickers feel powerful when they think of the mighty personage whose boots they lick. But democracy doesn't meaning 'feeling' powerful. It means holding real power." [Radical Democracy, Cornell University Press, 1996, p. 19].


Having just been told that "enough is enough" and Iraqis will be slaughtered, antiwar demonstrations or not, it should be clear to the powerless Americans and powerless Britons that whatever exalted name President Bush and his Vice-President Tony Blair give to their respective countries, they are not democracies. They're more like elected monarchies, whose only connection to democracy is that citizens are allowed to express their views, but policy is to be left to the big boys, ninety percent of whom somehow seem to have once had jobs as executives in big firms. Here, the monarchs and their cabinets rule on behalf of a corporate aristocracy. They could be called committees for arranging the affairs of the bourgeoisie, as two Germans transplanted to Britain once put it. As to the "elected" part of the "elected monarchies" I use the word to denote that elections were held, nothing more. George II, it will be recalled, wasn't elected, but appointed, while Prince Tony had the backing of only one-quarter of his electorate, one-half of which stayed at home on election day to clean out the lint between their toes. In either case, it wouldn't have made much difference whether their principal opponents had won. The monarchy would have remained intact. Only the names of the monarchs would have changed.

This, it might do for all those calling for the impeachment of George II to keep in mind.  "It's not enough to march against war," they remind us. "We must also impeach the President." But even marching against the war and impeaching the President isn't enough. Not that there's anything wrong with impeaching the reigning monarch. Even better, there's much to be said for bringing him up on charges of crimes against peace, what the major Nazis were hung for at Nuremberg, which isn't to say that the king should be hung, or offed in whatever way the monarch offed countless deathrow prisoners while governor of Texas. That would be immoral. And it would locate the cause of crimes against peace in George himself, not in an exploitative, inhumane system which doesn't need George to churn on. Bush isn't the problem. He's only a manifestation of a systemic problem that, left unchecked, will only thrust someone else to the fore to pick up where he left off (though probably with a good deal more PR savvy), as he picked up where King Bill left off. Sometimes the face of the monarch is gentle, sometimes not. But whether gentle and pacific or ugly and frightening, what lies behind the face is always the same: a callous, militaristic quest for hegemony that creates misery at home and slaughter abroad.

As hard as it is to believe, there are Americans who naively cling to the hope that the replacement of the monarch and his courtiers with liberal Democrats would make a difference. It would, probably, make an ounce of a difference, but only so -- that ounce coming in a gentler rhetoric that liberals could go into raptures over, but it would be the rhetoric, and the rhetoric alone, that would change. While liberals today urge George II to subordinate his Royal Court to the UN, it should be recalled that the last liberal Democrat to occupy the White House had no time for the UN when he decided that a few thousand Yugoslav civilians needed to exit this mortal coil to show Slobo who was boss, and afterward to plunk a huge US military base down in the middle of Kosovo. Liberals, it seems, have no problems with unprovoked and unjust wars so long as they're approved by the UN Security Council, or not approved by the UN, but ordered by a liberal Democrat (Kosovo), or not approved by the UN and not ordered by a liberal Democrat, but backed by mainstream America (Afghanistan).

One of the more high-profile liberals in the U.S. these days is the publicity-hound Rabbi Michael Lerner, who has taken up the "left is anti-Semitic" banner, as have a number of viciously right-wing newspapers and approved left-wing voices seeking to discredit the antiwar movement. Anti-Semitism, said one newspaper, is no longer the preserve of the far-right; it's now deeply embedded in the left. Lerner, who says the left backs the right of self-determination for every people but the Jews', shares these views. He thinks Palestinian refugees--who were driven from or fled their homes in what is now Israel, but have not been allowed to return for fear they will change the ethnic, that is, Jewish character of the country--should be paid reparations, but should not be allowed to return to their homes, which is to say, pro-Israeli liberals recognize every other people's right of return but Palestinians'. I'm thinking of pressing for atheists' right of self-determination in California (Lerner's home.) In fact, I'd probably like to live in Lerner's house. He can live elsewhere, maybe New York, which has a large Jewish population he might feel more comfortable with. Leave California to the atheists. Of course, refugees, Lerner among them, would receive full reparations. To do otherwise would be...well, illiberal.

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