It goes without saying that what happens in the
Itâ€™s quite important to remember how much the world has changed since then â€“ as almost always, not as a result of gifts from benevolent leaders, but through deeply committed popular struggle, far too late in developing, but ultimately effective. One consequence was that the
The Reagan administration â€“ the current administration or their immediate mentors -- assumed that the problem of an independent aroused population had been overcome, and apparently planned to follow the Kennedy model of the early 1960s in
State managers cannot fail to pay attention to such matters. Routinely, a newly elected President requests an intelligence evaluation of the world situation. In 1989, when Bush I took office, a part was leaked. It warned that when attacking â€œmuch weaker enemiesâ€ â€“ the only sensible target â€“ the
The world is pretty awful today, but it is far better than yesterday, not only with regard to unwillingness to tolerate aggression, but also in many other ways, which we now tend to take for granted. There are very important lessons here, which should always be uppermost in our minds â€“ for the same reason they are suppressed in the elite culture.
We might tarry for a moment to recall
The diplomatic historians who have explored the Canadian archives have not reported any misgivings about the attack against
Without forgetting the very significant progress towards more civilized societies in past years, and the reasons for it, letâ€™s focus nevertheless on the present, and on the notions of imperial sovereignty now being crafted. It is not surprising that as the population becomes more civilized, power systems become more extreme in their efforts to control the â€œgreat beastâ€ (as the Founding Fathers called the people). And the great beast is indeed frightening: Iâ€™ll return to majority views on major issues, which are so far to the left of the spectrum of elite commentary and the electoral arena that they cannot even be reported â€“ another fact that teaches important lessons to those who do not like what is being done in their names.
The conception of presidential sovereignty crafted by the radical statist reactionaries of the Bush administration is so extreme that it has drawn unprecedented criticism in the most sober and respected establishment circles. These ideas were transmitted to the President by the newly appointed Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales â€“ who is depicted as a moderate in the press. They are discussed by the respected constitutional law professor Sanford Levinson in the current issue of the journal of the
One rarely hears such words from the heart of the establishment.
The same issue of the journal carries an article by two prominent strategic analysts on the â€œtransformation of the military,â€ a central component of the new doctrines of imperial sovereignty: the rapid expansion of offensive weaponry, including militarization of space â€“ joined apparently by Canada -- and other measures designed to place the entire world at risk of instant annihilation. These have already elicited the anticipated reactions by
Going back to Gonzales, he transmitted to the President the conclusions of the Justice Dept that the President has the authority to rescind the Geneva Conventions -- the supreme law of the land, the foundation of modern international humanitarian law. And Gonzales, who was then Bushâ€™s legal counsel, advised him that this would be a good idea, because rescinding the Conventions â€œsubstantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution [of administration officials] under the War Crimes Actâ€ of 1996, which carries the death penalty for â€œgrave breachesâ€ of Geneva Conventions.
We can see right on todayâ€™s front pages why the Justice Department was right to be concerned that the President and his advisers might be subject to death penalty under the laws passed by the Republican Congress in 1996 â€“ and of course under the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, if anyone took them seriously.
Two weeks ago, the NY Times featured a front-page story reporting the conquest of the
Letâ€™s go back to the picture and story about the closing of the â€œpropaganda weapon.â€ There are some relevant documents, including the Geneva Conventions, which state: â€œFixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.â€ So page one of the worldâ€™s leading newspaper is cheerfully depicting war crimes for which the political leadership could be sentenced to death under US law. No wonder the new moderate Attorney-General warned the President that he should use the constitutional authority concocted by the Justice Department to rescind the supreme law of the land, adopting the concept of presidential sovereignty devised by Hitlerâ€™s primary legal adviser, â€œthe true Ã©minence grise of the Bush administration,â€ according to a distinguished conservative authority on constitutional law, writing in perhaps the most respectable and sober journal in the country.
The worldâ€™s greatest newspaper also tells us that the
The front-page account quotes a Marine commander who says that â€œIt ought to go down in the history books.â€ Perhaps it should. If so, we know on just what page of history it will go down, and who will be right beside it, along with those who praise or for that matter even tolerate it. At least, we know that if we are capable of honesty.
One might mention at least some of the recent counterparts that immediately come to mind, like the Russian destruction of
It could be argued that all this is irrelevant. The Nuremberg Tribunal, spelling out the UN Charter, declared that initiation of a war of aggression is â€œthe supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the wholeâ€ â€“ hence the war crimes in Falluja and Abu Ghraib, the doubling of acute malnutrition among children since the invasion (now at the level of Burundi, far higher than Haiti or Uganda), and all the rest of the atrocities. Those judged to have played any role in the supreme crime -- for example, the German Foreign Minister â€“ were sentenced to death by hanging. The Tokyo Tribunal was far more severe. There is a very important book on the topic by Canadian international lawyer Michael Mandel, who reviews in convincing detail how the powerful are self-immunized from international law.
In fact, the Nuremberg Tribunal itself established this principle. To bring the Nazi criminals to justice, it was necessary to devise definitions of â€œwar crimeâ€ and â€œcrime against humanity.â€ How this was done is explained by Telford Taylor, chief counsel for the prosecution and a distinguished international lawyer and historian:
Since both sides in World War II had played the terrible game of urban destruction â€“ the Allies far more successfully â€“ there was no basis for criminal charges against Germans or Japanese, and in fact no such charges were brought... Aerial bombardment had been used so extensively and ruthlessly on the Allied side as well as the Axis side that neither at
The operative definition of â€œcrimeâ€ is: â€œCrime that you carried out but we did not.â€ To underscore the fact, Nazi war criminals were absolved if the defense could show that their
In an outraged comment on the efforts of Justice Department lawyers to demonstrate that the President has the right to authorize torture, Yale Law School Dean Howard Koh said that "The notion that the president has the constitutional power to permit torture is like saying he has the constitutional power to commit genocide." The Presidentâ€™s legal advisers, and the new Attorney-General, should have little difficulty arguing that the President does indeed have that right â€“ if the second superpower permits him to exercise it.
The sacred doctrine of self-immunization is sure to hold of the trial of Saddam Hussein, if it is ever held. We see that every time that Bush, Blair, and other worthies in government and commentary lament over the terrible crimes of Saddam Hussein, always bravely omitting the words: â€œwith our help, because we did not care.â€ Surely no tribunal will be permitted to address the fact that US presidents from Kennedy until today, along with French presidents and British Prime Ministers, and Western business, have been complicit in Saddamâ€™s crimes, sometimes in horrendous ways, including current incumbents and their mentors. In setting up the Saddam tribunal, the State Department consulted US legal expert Prof. Charif Bassiouni, recently quoted as saying: "All efforts are being made to have a tribunal whose judiciary is not independent but controlled, and by controlled I mean that the political manipulators of the tribunal have to make sure the US and other western powers are not brought in cause. This makes it look like victor's vengeance: it makes it seem targeted, selected, unfair. It's a subterfuge." We hardly need to be told.
The pretext for US-UK aggression in
Albright knew, of course, that
Henry Kissinger described the Bush doctrine as â€œrevolutionary,â€ pointing out that it undermines the 17th century Westphalian system of international order, and of course the UN Charter and international law. He approved of the doctrine but with reservations about style and tactics, and with a crucial qualification: it cannot be â€œa universal principle available to every nation.â€ Rather, the right of aggression must be reserved to the
His understanding of his audience was illustrated again, rather dramatically, last May, when Kissinger-Nixon tapes were released, over Kissingerâ€™s strong objections. There was a report in the worldâ€™s leading newspaper. It mentioned in passing the orders to bomb
Imagine the reaction if the prosecutors at the Milosevic Tribunal could find anything remotely similar. They would be overjoyed, the trial would be over, Milosevic would receive several life sentences, the death penalty if the Tribunal adhered to
The principle of universality is the most elementary of moral truisms. It is the foundation of â€œJust War theoryâ€ and in fact of every system of morality deserving of anything but contempt. Rejection of such moral truisms is so deeply rooted in the intellectual culture as to be invisible. To illustrate again how deeply entrenched it is, letâ€™s return to the principle of â€œanticipatory self-defense,â€ adopted as legitimate by both political organizations in the
There are still more outrageous ones. No one, for example, celebrates
Fortunately, we are once again protected from such politically incorrect conclusions by the principled rejection of elementary moral truisms.
Examples can be enumerated virtually at random. To add one last one, consider the most recent act of NATO aggression prior to the US-UK invasion of
As for diplomatic options, when the bombing began, there were two proposals on the table, a NATO and a Serbian proposal, and after 78 days of bombing a compromise was reached between them â€“ formally at least: it was immediately undermined by NATO. All of this quickly vanished into the mists of unacceptable history, to the limited extent that it was ever reported.
What about ongoing genocide â€“ to use the term that appeared hundreds of times in the press as NATO geared up for war? That is unusually easy to investigate. There are two major documentary studies by the State Department, offered to justify the bombing, along with extensive documentary records from the OSCE, NATO, and other Western sources, and a detailed British Parliamentary Inquiry All agree on the basic facts: the atrocities followed the bombing; they were not its cause. Furthermore, that was predicted by the NATO command, as General Wesley Clark informed the press right away, and confirmed in more detail in his memoirs. The Milosevic indictment, issued during the bombing -- surely as a propaganda weapon, despite implausible denials -- and relying on US-UK intelligence as announced at once, yields the same conclusion: virtually all the charges are post-bombing. Such annoyances are handled quite easily: the Western documentation is commonly expunged in the media and even scholarship. And the chronology is regularly reversed, so that the anticipated consequences of the bombing are transmuted into its cause. I have reviewed the sordid tale in detail elsewhere, and will skip it here.
There were indeed pre-bombing atrocities, about 2000 killed in the year before the March 1999 bombing, according to Western sources. The British, the most hawkish element of the coalition, make the astonishing claim â€“ hard to believe just on the basis of the balance of forces â€“ that until January 1999, most of the killings were by the Albanian KLA guerrillas, attacking civilians and soldiers in cross-border raids in the hope of eliciting a harsh Serbian response that could be used for propaganda purposes in the West, as they candidly reported, apparently with CIA support in the last months. Western sources indicate no substantial change until the bombing was announced and the monitors withdrawn a few days before the March bombing. In one of the few works of scholarship that even mentions the unusually rich documentary record, Nicholas Wheeler concludes that 500 of the 2000 were killed by Serbs. He supports the bombing on the grounds that there would have been worse Serbian atrocities had NATO not bombed, eliciting the anticipated crimes. Thatâ€™s the most serious scholarly work. The press, and much of scholarship, choose the easier path of ignoring Western documentation and reversing the chronology. Itâ€™s an impressive performance, instructive too, at least for those who care about their countries.
It is all too easy to continue. But the â€“ unpleasantly consistent -- record leaves open a crucial question: how does the â€œgreat beastâ€ react, the domestic
The conventional answer is that the population approves of all of this, as just shown again by election of George Bush. But as is often the case, a closer look is helpful.
Each candidate received about 30% of the electoral vote, Bush a bit more, Kerry a bit less. General voting patterns â€“ details are not yet available -- were close to the 2000 elections; almost the same â€œredâ€ and â€œblueâ€ states, in the conventional metaphor. A few percent shift in vote would have meant that Kerry would be in the White House. Neither outcome could tell us much of any significance about the mood of the country, even of voters. Issues of substance were as usual kept out of the campaign, or presented so obscurely that few could understand.
It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars. Their professional concern in their regular vocation is not to provide information. Their goal, rather, is deceit. Their task is to undermine the concept of markets that we are taught to revere, with informed consumers making rational choices (the tales about â€œentrepreneurial initiativeâ€ are no less fanciful). Rather, consumers are to be deceived by imagery. It has hardly surprising that the same dedication to deceit and similar techniques should prevail when they are assigned the task of selling candidates, so as to undermine democracy.
Thatâ€™s hardly a secret. Corporations do not spend hundreds of billions of dollars in advertising every year to inform the public of the facts â€“ say, listing the properties of next yearâ€™s cars, as would happen in an unimaginable market society based on rational choice by informed consumers. Observing that doctrine of the faith would be simple and cheap. But deceit is quite expensive: complex graphics showing the car with a sexy actress, or a sports hero, or climbing a sheer cliff, or some other device to project an image that might deceive the consumer into buying this car instead of the virtually identical one produced by a competitor. The same is true of elections, run by the same Public Relations industry. The goal is to project images, and deceive the public into accepting them, while sidelining issues â€“ for good reasons, to which Iâ€™ll return.
The population seems to grasp the nature of the performance. Right before the 2000 elections, about 75% regarded it as virtually meaningless, some game involving rich contributors, party managers, and candidates who are trained to project images that conceal issues but might pick up some votes â€“ probably the reason why the â€œstolen electionâ€ was an elite concern that did not seem to arouse much public interest; if elections have about as much significance as flipping a coin to pick the King, who cares if the coin was biased? Right before the 2004 election, about 10% of voters said their choice would based on the candidate's "agendas/ideas/platforms/goals"; 6% for Bush voters, 13% for Kerry voters. For the rest, the choice would be based on what the industry calls â€œqualitiesâ€ and â€œvalues.â€ Does the candidate project the image of a strong leader, the kind of guy youâ€™d like to meet in a bar, someone who really cares about you and is just like you? It wouldnâ€™t be surprising to learn that Bush is carefully trained to say â€œnucularâ€ and â€œmisunderestimateâ€ and the other silliness that intellectuals like to ridicule. Thatâ€™s probably about as real as the ranch constructed for him, and the rest of the folksy manner. After all, it wouldnâ€™t do to present him as a spoiled frat boy from Yale who became rich and powerful thanks to his rich and powerful connections. Rather, the imagery has to be an ordinary guy just like us, whoâ€™ll protect us, and who shares our â€œmoral values,â€ more so than the windsurfing goose-hunter who can be accused of faking his medals.
Bush received a large majority among voters who said they were concerned primarily with â€œmoral valuesâ€ and â€œterrorism.â€ We learn all we have to know about the moral values of the administration by reading the pages of the business press the day after the election, describing the â€œeuphoriaâ€ in board rooms â€“ not because CEOs are opposed to gay marriage. Or by observing the principle, hardly concealed, that the very serious costs incurred by the Bush planners, in their dedicated service to power and wealth, are to be transferred to our children and grandchildren, including fiscal costs, environmental destruction, and perhaps â€œultimate doom.â€ These are the moral values, loud and clear.
The commitment of Bush planners to â€œdefense against terrorismâ€ is illustrated most dramatically, perhaps, by their decision to escalate the threat of terror, as had been predicted even by their own intelligence agencies, not because they enjoy terrorist attacks against Americans, but because it is, plainly, a low priority for them -- surely as compared with such goals as establishing secure military bases in a dependent client state at the heart of the worldâ€™s energy resources, recognized since World War II as the â€œmost strategically important area of the world,â€ â€œa stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.â€ It is critically important to ensure that â€œprofits beyond the dreams of avariceâ€ â€“ to quote a leading history of the oil industry â€“ flow in the right directions: to US energy corporations, the Treasury Department, US high tech (militarized) industry and huge construction firms, and so on. And even more important is the stupendous strategic power. Having a firm hand on the spigot guarantees â€œveto powerâ€ over rivals, as George Kennan pointed out over 50 years ago. In the same vein, Zbigniew Brzezinski recently wrote that control over
Rivals are to keep to their â€œregional responsibilitiesâ€ within the â€œoverall framework of orderâ€ managed by the
Notice that the crucial issue with regard to
There are plenty of other illustrations of the same ranking of priorities. To mention one, the Treasury Department has a bureau (OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control) that is assigned the task of investigating suspicious financial transfers, a crucial component of the â€œwar on terror.â€ OFAC has 120 employees. Last April, the White House informed Congress that four are assigned to tracking the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, while almost two dozen are dedicated to enforcing the embargo against
Why should the Treasury Department devote vastly more energy to strangling
Recall the concern of Canadian â€œneutral observersâ€ in the ICC over the possible precedent of Vietnamese aggression in Vietnam, traceable to similar roots, we learn in the US documentary record. And quite a common feature of aggression, subversion, and state-sponsored international terrorism masked in Cold War rhetoric when those pretexts were available.
Successful defiance remains intolerable, ranked far higher as a priority than combating terror, just another illustration of principles that are well-established, internally rational, clear enough to the victims, but not perceptible among the agents who describe the events and debate the reasons. The clamor about revelations of Bush administration priorities by insiders (Clarke, Oâ€™Neil), and the extensive 9-11 hearings in Washington, are just further illustrations of this curious inability to perceive the obvious, even to entertain it as a possibility.
Letâ€™s return to the great beast.
In brief, those who bothered to vote mostly accepted the imagery concocted by the PR industry, which had only the vaguest resemblance to reality. Thatâ€™s apart from the more wealthy, who tend to vote their class interests. Though details are not yet available, it is a reasonable surmise that the wealthy may have expressed their gratitude to their benefactors in the White House with even higher votes for them in 2004 than in 2000, possibly accounting for much of the small differences.
What about actual public attitudes? Again, right before the election, major studies were released reporting them â€“ and when we look at the results, barely reported, we see right away why it is a good idea to base elections on deceit, very much as in the fake markets of the doctrinal system. Here are a few examples.
A considerable majority believe that the US should accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; sign the Kyoto protocols; allow the UN to take the lead in international crises (including security, reconstruction, and political transition in Iraq); rely on diplomatic and economic measures more than military ones in the â€œwar on terrorâ€; and use force only if there is â€œstrong evidence that the country is in imminent danger of being attacked,â€ thus rejecting the bipartisan consensus on â€œpre-emptive warâ€ and adopting a rather conventional interpretation of the UN Charter. A majority even favor giving up the Security Council veto. Overwhelming majorities favor expansion of purely domestic programs: primarily health care (80%), but also aid to education and Social Security. Similar results have long been found in these studies, carried out by the most reputable organizations that monitor public opinion.
In other mainstream polls, about 80% favor guaranteed health care even if it would raise taxes â€“ a national health care system is likely to reduce expenses considerably, avoiding the heavy costs of bureaucracy, supervision, paperwork, etc., some of the factors that render the
It is notable that these views are held by people in virtual isolation. They rarely hear them, and though the question is not asked in the published polls, it is likely that respondents regard their own views as idiosyncratic. Their preferences do not enter into the political campaigns, and only marginally into articulate opinion in media and journals. The same extends to other domains, and raises important questions about a â€œdemocratic deficitâ€ in the worldâ€™s most important state, to adopt the phrase we use for others.
What would the results of the election have been if the parties, either of them, had been willing to articulate people's concerns on the issues they regard as vitally important? Or if these issues could enter into public discussion within the mainstream? We can only speculate about that, but we do know that it does not happen, and that the facts are scarcely even reported. It seems reasonable to suppose that fear of the great beast is rather deep.
The operative concept of democracy is revealed very clearly in other ways as well. Perhaps the most extraordinary was the distinction between Old and New Europe in the run-up to the
In other ways too, the operative concept of democracy is scarcely concealed. The lead think-piece in the NY Times on the death of Yasser Arafat opened by saying that â€œthe post-Arafat era will be the latest test of a quintessentially American article of faith: that elections provide legitimacy even to the frailest institutions.â€ In the final paragraph, on the continuation page, we read that
In other words, democracy is fine if the results come out the right way; otherwise, to the flames. That is â€œthe quintessential faith.â€ The evidence is so overwhelming it is pointless even to review it â€“ at least, for those who care about such matters as historical fact, or even what is conceded publicly.
To take just one crucial current example of the same doctrines, a year ago, after other pretexts for invasding
The interesting fact is that it was presupposed uncritically across the spectrum that the messianic vision must be the goal of the invasion, not this silly business about WMD and al-Qaeda, no longer credible to elite opinion. What is the evidence that the US and
There is one sector of opinion that had a different view: Iraqis. Just as the messianic vision was unveiled in
Actually, their views were more nuanced. Though 1% believed that the goal of the invasion was to bring democracy, about half felt that the
It is not unusual for those at the wrong end of the club to have a clearer picture of reality than those who wield it.
At the outset I mentioned the notable successes of popular struggles in the past decades, very clear if we think about it a little, but rarely discussed, for reasons that are not hard to discern. Both recent history and public attitudes suggest some pretty straightforward and quite conservative strategies for short-term activism on the part of those who donâ€™t want to wait for
These are hardly radical ideas. They were articulated clearly, for example, by the leading twentieth century social philosopher in the US, John Dewey, who pointed out that until â€œindustrial feudalismâ€ is replaced by â€œindustrial democracy,â€ politics will remain â€œthe shadow cast by big business over society.â€ Dewey was as â€œAmerican as apple pie,â€ in the familiar phrase. He was in fact drawing from a long tradition of thought and action that had developed independently in working class culture from the origins of the industrial revolution -- right where I live, near