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America - Winds of Fear!

Our Mad Leaders and the War Machine


by Ronald Wright


Leaders like wars because wars remind people they
need leaders.  
- Plato, ca. 400 B.C.

The history of the United States is not the story of triumphant
anti-imperial heretics. It is the account of the power of empire
as away of life, as away of avoiding the fundamental challenge of
creating a humane and equitable community or culture.
- William Appleman Williams, 1980

What think you of Terrorism, Mr. Jefferson?
-John Adams, 1813


ROBABLY THE BEST MIND at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference had
belonged to "a very clever, rather ugly" young member of the
British team who was no team player - the economist John Maynard
Keynes., He'd foreseen that the crippling reparations imposed on
Germany would lead to further conflict, and he'd had the courage
(or arrogance) to resign when his warnings went unheeded.
Twenty-five years later, as the Great War's sequel came to an
end, Keynes was in demand. If the world didn't want more Nazis
and Bolsheviks, something had to be done to prevent mass
unemployment and poverty.

Keynes's ideas for smoothing out the boom-bust ride of free
markets had already influenced the New Deal, and his "General
Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" (1936) is still
widely regarded as the twentieth century's most important work of
economic thought. Simply put, Keynesianism argues that
governments should tax during the good times and spend during the
bad. It doesn't always work and is subject to temptations and
abuses, but no one has ever had a better idea. Even Richard Nixon
would proclaim himself a Keynesian, though with fingers
characteristically crossed behind his back.

In July 1944 Roosevelt invited Keynes to a three-week conference
at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to plan the postwar economic
order. From these meetings - and others among the Allies -
emerged the United Nations, the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund. The latter institutions were intended to act like
national treasuries at the world level: as counterweights and
stabilizers of the market cycle. Three years later the United
States and other countries agreed on the Marshall Plan for
economic reconstruction, especially in wartorn Germany and Japan.
The big mistake of 1919 was not repeated: instead of trying to
bleed the vanquished for their sins, the Allies helped them
rejoin the world economy.


In financial terms, the "Allies" meant the United States. America
had emerged from the war with no damage on its home turf, and an
industrial capacity greater than the rest of the world's put
together. The war economy had shown that planning worked, that
government provision of jobs and basic needs could eliminate the
underclass. Keynes had found a balance between capitalism and
socialism. Even Britain, bombed, broke and rationed - saw a
steady improvement in nutrition and health throughout the war and
a narrowing gap between rich and poor. Almost all western
democracies used their wartime experience to build modern welfare
states along Keynesian lines in the 1940s and 1950s.


This was the high-water mark of American prestige, the moment at
which the United States, admired for bravery in war and
generosity in peace, eclipsed Britain as world leader! In those
few charmed years between the end of the World War and the
beginning of the Cold War, America was seen to be pragmatic,
sophisticated and engaged. America did business with Russia,
allowed the Japanese emperor (shorn of empire and godhood) to
keep his throne, and installed a stable German republic on the
western side of the line across Europe which Churchill dubbed the
Iron Curtain.


The dismantling of Britain's empire soon began, the British
consoling themselves with the "special relationship" they thought
they enjoyed with their successor. This warm, hazy and one-sided
illusion (few Americans have even heard of it) would lead Tony
Blair disastrously astray half a century later.
The Bretton Woods world order was both strengthened and
undermined by the Cold War. The threat of Soviet and Chinese
communism ensured that reconstruction funds for Germany, Italy
and Japan did not dry up too soon. And within the western
democracies, capitalism was obliged to do what it does best:
compete with the rival product. So big business, especially in
Europe, learned to get along with big government-with
redistributive taxation and "socialist" programs such as national
health care, today a cornerstone of life in every advanced
country except the United States. The result was a generation of


For a while it looked as though the "developing" countries (or
Third World) would also benefit. If something like the Marshall
Plan had been extended to the poorest regions of the planet - as
seemed likely for a while - the world might be a very different
place today. But the rivalry between the power blocs soon took
the form of an arms race, as the United States and the U.S.S.R.
built arsenals of nuclear weapons vastly more powerful than those
dropped on Japan. To settle their quarrel over how life should be
lived, both sides made it clear that they were willing to destroy
all life on Earth. The standoff (compared to two men knee-deep in
gasoline, each with a lighter in his hand) was known as MAD:
Mutually Assured Destruction. Yet it doesn't really help to call
the cold warriors or even the Nazis "madmen" - for such language
suggests that these events were anomalies from which we can learn
nothing. The unsavoury truth is that they stem from common human
flaws that grew uncommonly dangerous through technology, culture
and circumstance.

Other civilizations had feared that angry gods might end their
world, but never before had men held the means to do it
themselves. The social, political and psychological costs were
incalculable: paranoia, nihilism, escapism and mysticism spread
like toadstools beneath the overcast. Charlatans, extremists and
the weapons trade thrived in the atmosphere of doom. General
Douglas MacArthur, whose long career began in the Philippines and
ended in Korea, had this to say in 1951: "Our country is now
geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially
induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant
propaganda of fear."


The most brilliant critique of the atomic age was a dark comedy,
Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove," or "How I Learned to Stop
Worrying and Love the Bomb." Non-Americans who saw the film may
have thought the script absurd: Who could credit a rogue U.S.
general setting off Armageddon because he believes that adding
fluoride to drinking water is an "international Communist
conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily
fluids"? But in truth, many American extremists of the time did
believe exactly that, as Richard Hofstadter showed in his 1963
essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Among similar
ideas touted by the likes of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the John
Birch Society were these: that the Marshall Plan had served "the
world policy of the Kremlin"; that the Supreme Court was "one of
the most important agencies of Communism"; that President
Eisenhower (a Republican and war hero) was "a dedicated,
conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy"; and that a
gun-control measure proposed after the shooting of President
Kennedy was a plot to make the United States "part of one world
socialist government."

In most countries, thinking of this sort is confined to a few
harmless cranks. The exceptions - places where the cranks are too
many to be harmless - tend to be ethnically polarized back
waters, such as Northern Ireland and apartheid South Africa, or
nations in trauma such as Germany after the First World War. Yet
such thinking is widespread in America, part of a circle of
beliefs including anti-Darwinism, anti-intellectualism and the
neo-Manichaean view that Americans are God's Chosen beset by
satanic enemies - whether heathen Indians in the seventeenth
century or an "axis of evil" in the twenty-first.


The United States has been modern history's big winner - the
culmination of the five-century Columbia Age--so why do
many Americans exhibit a mindset typical of losers? One answer is
that the frontier culture descends from the Puritans who lost the
English Civil War and from the equally beleaguered "Scots-Irish"
Presbyterians who forsook their role as British colonial pawns in
Ulster for the American colonies in the eighteenth century. In
his amusing yet serious book "Deer Hunting with Jesus," Joe
Bageant (himself a gun owner of Scots-Irish background) argues
that "Scots-Irish Calvinist values all but guarantee anger and
desire for vengeance against what is perceived as elite
authority." Isolated, unschooled, messianic in their thinking,
threatened by the Establishment's (sometimes) enlightened
policies towards Indians and blacks, the frontier folk came to
see themselves as victims. Of all white Americans, they worked
the hardest and ran the highest risks, yet the profits flowed to
the big cities in the East. Caught between the central power and
the outlying "savage," they feared the loss of their precarious
gains to the network of governance dogging their heels across the


Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate, once
said, "This country would be better off if we could just saw off
the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." Such a
statement from a major politician in any other country would be
unthinkable. It exposes not only the mental desert of the
hinterland but the rift between what we might call Backwoods
America - descended from the frontier - and Enlightenment
America, descended from the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas
Jefferson. These two subcultures interpenetrate (as they always
have), the friction between them feeding the polarity and
starving the middle ground. Backwoods America clings to its
fundamentalism and its firearms because they are touchstones of
the pioneering myth, of an autonomy that has slipped from the
small man's grasp. During the Cold War, many such Americans felt
newly empowered by righteous might against the godless Soviet
horde. They became, as it were, Afrikaners with atomic weapons -
locked in their ethnic bunker, armed with Jehovah's wrath and
with his fires. Consider these two quotations:

     Secret and systematic means have been adopted and pursued,
     with zeal and activity, by wicked and artful men, in foreign
     countries, to undermine the foundations of [our religion]
     and thus to deprive the world of its benign influence on
     society.... These impious conspirators and philosophists
     have completely effected their purposes in a large part of

     How can we account for our present situation unless we
     believe that men ... are concerting to deliver us to
     disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a
     conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous
     such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy so black
     that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be
     forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men.

One of the above was said by Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1951 as
he pursued his communist witchhunt. The other comes from a
Massachusetts sermon preached in 1798. Readers may be able to
tell which is which by the diction, but not, I think, by the
content. Backwoods America not only fears outsiders but has
always needed them to define itself, to make the parochial
central, to sustain an archaic worldview rooted in a biblical
apocalypse it both dreads and desires. This America also,
paradoxically, serves the needs of a centralized secular power,
famously called by Eisenhower the "military-industrial complex" -
the love match of capital and conquest first brokered during the
Civil War. It is no accident that the "wild" Indian of the West
is attacked soon after the rebel South is vanquished; that the
communist bogeyman appears soon after the last Indian is confined
on a reservation; that the Muslim fanatic is inflated to the
level of a worldwide conspiracy soon after the Red Menace gives
up and starts dining at the Moscow McDonald's. "Evangelicals have
substituted Islam for the Soviet Union," a leading evangelical
admitted in 2003. "The Muslims have become the modern-day
equivalent of the Evil Empire."


The Third World War has been fought in the Third World. The
hydrogen bombs haven't killed us yet, but for billions they
killed the future. The warmongers were sane enough to stop short
of bombing each other (though they came close during the Cuban
Missile Crisis), confining themselves to bombing each other's
non-white allies by conventional means, including napalm and
chemicals. Since 1950 some thirty countries have been bombed and
invaded by the United States, the U.S.S.R. or China - in that
order of activity, with the United States far ahead.

The military historian John Keegan pointed out (in 1989) that the
nations which had fought the Second World War learned "that the
costs of war exceeded its rewards" in proportion to their losses.
The United States, with fewer than three hundred thousand battle
deaths and an untouched mainland, was "the least damaged and most
amply rewarded."" The Soviet Union, which lost 7 million troops
and as many civilians, bore the brunt. America, Keegan concluded,
was the most ready among the Second War's winners to fight new
wars; Russia, for all its bluster, was one of the least.

In Korea some fifty-four thousand Americans died, and in Vietnam,
nearly sixty thousand. The number of local people killed in those
wars cannot be accurately known, but it was certainly many
millions; mid-range estimates are 2 and 3 million, respectively.

As in the frontier wars, the Philippines, and the Middle East
today, non-white life was cheap. The comedian Dick Gregory summed
it up: "What we're doing in Vietnam is using the black man to
kill the yellow man so the white man can keep the land he took
from the red man."


For most of its forty years - if we assume it ended with the
Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989--the Third World War
was a stalemate. In Indochina the Americans lost, and in Central
Asia so did the Soviets. The hidden toll was the squandering of
the world's hope and treasure and the strengthening of the worst
elements - warlords, weapon dealers, fanatics, profiteers - in
many countries, including the big two. Military budgets spun out
of control, absorbing more and more of the wealth of the postwar
boom. Funds for developing countries failed to keep up with
promises or even with population. The sideshow of the Space Race
- intended to persuade the enemy that the missiles really worked
and the public that missiles could be fun - added to the cost. In
the long run, the capitalist superpower was able to outspend the
communist one, and to do so without beggaring too large a sector
of its citizenry. But both powers, especially the United States,
lived high by exploiting an offshore "underclass" in the Third


At the start of this book, I discussed the two main types of
empire: centralized and tribute (also called territorial and
hegemonic). The ancient New World provides a textbook example of
each: the centralized Inca Empire of Peru and the, tribute
network of quasi-independent states dominated by the Aztecs of
highland Mexico. By the early twentieth century, all the European
empires had become the centralized kind, with formal systems of
law, education, health, public works and (in some cases)
citizenship extended to their colonial subjects.


When the United States took the Philippines from Spain, it
acquired this set of imperial obligations. It soon found that
unless there is a strong source of colonial revenue or good
prospects for white settlement, such an empire can be more
trouble than it's worth. This realization, alongwith the collapse
of China's "illimitable" market, influenced America's decision to
get out of the overseas empire business in the 1930s.

Much the same calculation lay behind the breakup of the European
empires after the Second World War. Some territories were let go
reluctantly, but most were freed because liabilities were growing
faster than returns. The inherent contradiction between democracy
at home and dominion abroad also ensured that the age of formal
empires was done: there could be no such thing as an "imperialism
of liberty."


Yet both Cold War superpowers needed worldwide economic empires
to pay for their military machines and home prosperity. So they
opted for the other, cruder type of imperialism, where
quasi-independent vassal states are dominated and milked of their
surplus through compliant local elites. Both Washington and
Moscow reinvented the Aztec Empire. Like the Aztecs (and earlier
hegemons such as Sparta and the Mongols), the superpowers
overthrew baulky regimes, installed puppets, exploited labour and
resources, yet shouldered no obligations for the welfare of the
people indirectly under their control. In most cases the local
ruler was a loathsome dictator, propped up on the principle that
"he may be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch." One example
of the breed was Saddam Hussein, in the days when President
Reagan's envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, was shaking his hand.
President John F. Kennedy had dressed this new imperialism in
frontier rhetoric, making it sound altruistic, complete with an
echo of Kipling: "Our frontiers today are on every continent ...
Only the United States ... bears this kind of burden." Inside the
active theatres of war, puppet regimes were pressed, as in
Vietnam or Afghanistan, to "request" military help; outside,
order was kept by coups d'etat. Of the coups engineered by
America, the most notorious - because they overthrew freely
elected governments - were those ousting Mohammad Mussadegh in
Iran (1953), Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1954) and Salvador
Allende in Chile (1973), condemning those countries to years of
state terror, torture and, in Guatemala, one of the vilest civil
wars of modern times. In the Soviet sphere, democratic
governments never had much chance to get elected in the first
place, but reformers such as Imre Nagy in Hungary (1956) and
Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia (1968) were ruthlessly

While the United States quashed freedom abroad, it remained
(unlike the Soviet Union) a relatively free society at home.
However, the American left was no more immune than the right from
the old Puritan ague of extremism. By disrupting the 1968
Democratic Convention, by the terrorism of the Weathermen and
other outrages, left-wing radicals handed the White House to
Richard Nixon in 1968, albeit by less than 1 percent of the
popular vote.


By the time Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974, a
majority of Americans said they had lost confidence in both
business and government. A Harris Poll found that "65% of
Americans oppose military aid abroad because they feel it allows
dictatorships to maintain control." Many had forsaken the view
that the fight against communism justified any means. Nixon's
successor, Jimmy Carter, the best-intentioned if not the most
effective president of recent times, edged away from the
"sonofabitch" policy, allowing a popular revolt to oust
Nicaragua's strongman Anastasio Somoza, a villain from the pages
of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Carter had the bad luck to hold office during the energy crisis
and the Iran hostage affair. Conservative ideologues such as
Irving Kristol complained that there was far too much talk
"about the need for Americans to tighten their belts ... even
resign themselves to an economic philosophy of no growth. It is
dangerous and irresponsible." The sweater-clad Carter lost the
1980 election to the B-actor Ronald Reagan, who told folks what
they wanted to hear: there was lots of oil and no need to turn
down the furnace. It was "still morning in America." (One of
Reagan's deeds was to undermine the new Sandinista regime in
Nicaragua by fomenting and arming freelance terrorists, based in
neighbouring Honduras and funded by the "IranContra Affair.")
The economic problems of the 1970s--"stagflation," falling
shares, soaring gold - were caused mainly by the Vietnam War and
Middle Eastern politics (just as a similar set of problems
has now arisen from the war in Iraq). But the right seized its
chance to blame the New Deal and the Keynesian consensus, and to
try to undo them. Conservatives wanted a return to laissezfaire
capitalism, rebranded as monetarism or "Reaganomics." Their guru
was Milton Friedman, a far-right economist at the University of
Chicago who revived the ideas of Keynes's old foe Friedrich von


Instead of subordinating business to the public good through
democratic institutions, as Keynes had argued, Friedman wanted to
let the stock market run the world. There was no need to tax and
redistribute wealth: so much money would be made that it would
"trickle down" to the poor. Greed was good. It was as if the
World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the Great Slump and the
growing ecological and energy crises had never happened. History
didn't matter anymore. What mattered was belief the world had
simply to take the preacher's hand and throw away the crutches.
What is remarkable is how easily these shopworn ideas were touted
as new. Friedman was not an original thinker but a salesman. His
recipe of deregulation, free trade and tax cuts for the wealthy
was simply a revival of the late Victorian status quo - the
laissez-faire chariot race that had ended in the wreckage of
1914-45. Predictably, the slashing of regulation brought fraud,
speculation and crisis. Half a trillion dollars disappeared on
Reagan's watch in the Savings and Loan collapse. Equally
predictable was a sharp widening of the gap between rich and
poor. "Since 1975," says the CIA's "Factbook on the United
States" (a source that can hardly be accused of leftist bias),
"practically all gains in household income have gone to the top
20% of households." While America's streets filled with beggars,
the ratio in salary between a shop-floor worker and a CEO in the
top U.S. corporations climbed from thirty-nine to one in 1970 to
more than a thousand to one by 1999.


When the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down, there was
talk of a "peace dividend." Many in America and the outside world
thought they had seen the last of the Dr. Strangelove generals.
Military budgets everywhere could be cut back, and the resources
they had wasted could be put into improving human lives and
tackling the environmental crisis.

In 1989 British prime minister Margaret Thatcher - a good friend
of Reagan and Friedman, but no fool - warned the world: "The
problem of global climate change is one that affects us all, and
action will only be effective if it is taken at the international
level. It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who
should pay." Her words are a sad measure of how much time has
been lost, how action on the environment has been derailed for
twenty years, mainly by Big Oil.


The peace dividend was squandered during the Clinton years,
partly because of pressure from Republicans - both in Congress
and through the Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan. Once
the communist alternative had given up, the full arrogance of
monopoly capitalism returned. With automation and rising
population, labour became cheap and easily replaced. Workers
could be kept docile - especially on their rights and the
environment - if they were always in debt and always worried
about losing their jobs. A constant barrage of advertising, new
gadgetry and easy credit lured the biddable consumer into
peonage. During Bill Clinton's last year as president, banking
regulations in place since the 1930s were rashl discarded -
clearing the way for the lending boom and mortgage bubble that
burst in 2007-08. 


In Jonathan Franzen's 2001 novel, "The Corrections," a character
who takes a shady job with mobsters in a post-Soviet Baltic
republic is "struck by the broad similarities between blackmarket
Lithuania and free-market America. In both countries, wealth was
concentrated into the hands of a few; any meaningful distinction
between private and public sectors had disappeared; captains of
commerce lived in a ceaseless anxiety that drove them to expand
their empires ruthlessly; ordinary citizens lived in ceaseless
fear of being fired." What made monetarism seem to work in the
United States was not so much the "free market" touted by
Friedman as de facto protectionism against foreign competitors
and, above all, "military Keynesianism"-a steep increase in
weapons spending under Reagan and both of the Bushes . Unlike
genuine Keynesianism, in which public money, stored up in good
times, is spent during bad times on education, health, housing
and other labour-intensive projects of lasting worth, military
Keynesianism pours taxpayers' money down missile silos, feeding
only the military-industrial complex.

While the United States, through the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank, has been imposing free markets and "small
government" on other nations, it has borne little resemblance to
an open market itself. In the form of servicemen's benefits and
pensions, America runs a generous welfare state. But only for the
military. The dearth of such programs in civilian life ensures a
steady supply of cannon fodder from city ghettoes and struggling
farms. So many American jobs depend on defence spending that the
military machine has a readymade constituency at election time.

Corporations such as General Motors, Chrysler and Boeing do so
much military business on easy terms that they are, in effect,
state-subsidized industries. Newer military contractors have
burgeoned since 2001, supplying U.S. forces with everything from
gasoline to mercenaries. Such firms - which include Halliburton
(run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president and in which
he retains large holdings) and Blackwater - feed so exclusively
on government money that they amount to state-owned industries,
except that their wellpaid executives and investors are entirely
unaccountable to the electorate. The citizen bears the cost but
has no control; it is the worst of both worlds. Halliburton has
even moved its headquarters to the tax haven of Dubai.

Republicans are fond of attacking "tax-and-spend" Democrats.
Recent Republican administrations should be called
"spend-and-borrow" - because they are taxing the future instead
of the rich. George W. Bush has repeated Reagan's policies even
more recklessly, pushing for colossal tax cuts in the midst of a
war now costing $150 billion a year. "Our Congress has been
hijacked by corporate America and its enforcer, the imperial
military machine," wrote the acerbic novelist Gore Vidal in 2002.
In 2003 the conservative Financial Times of London agreed: "On
the management of fiscal policy, the lunatics are now in charge
of the asylum."

It seems to be the unspoken goal of the neoconservatives to
beggar the public purse in order to wreck social spending and
leave a mess for Democratic or moderate Republican successors.
Certainly, it is a Friedmanite article of faith that the state
should spend only on law enforcement and defence. If such policy
continues, the United States will become like a Third World
dictatorship where the military is the only effective
institution. Or not even that - if the nation's right of force is
sold off to "contractors" and mercenaries.


The worldwide spread of free-trade agreements, known as
globalization, is the modern version of the nineteenth-century
World Market dominated by the British. Yet when Queen Victoria
died in 1901, the world economy - a rough index of the human load
on natural systems, on earth, air, water, fisheries, forests and
minerals - was only one-fiftieth (or 2 percent) of what it is
today. Monetarism's great fallacy is to assume that the world is
infinite and growth can therefore be endless. It takes no account
of human and environmental costs or of long-term limits.

Deregulation is just what it says it is: a free-for-all to grab
the most in the shortest time. Globalization is a feeding frenzy.
Its "efficiency" is measured only in the short term and by
criteria that ignore depletion, pollution, waste disposal, social
harmony and public health. The supposed "rights" of capital trump
those of sovereignty, ecology, labour - and future generations.

The economy has become a tyranny. Unless trade agreements include
tough environmental and labour standards (as they do to some
extent within the European Union), capital will always seek out
the dirtiest river and the most exploitable human being.

The quest for easy money is as old as money itself. But it is
hardly surprising that the delusion of endless growth and the
denial of natural limits have taken their most virulent form in
the United States - in the culture forged on the frontier. "The
very essence of the frontier experience," writes the naturalist
Tim Flannery, "is to exploit [resources] as quickly as possible,
then move on." The world is less a home in which to live than
a treasury to ransack, and the loot needn't be shared out fairly
or even used wisely, because there will always be more somewhere
else. Back in the 1830s, an American explained to Tocqueville why
Mississippi steamboats were so flimsily built: "There is a
general feeling among us about everything which prevents us
aiming at permanence.... We are always expecting an improvement."
Because the United States, alone of nations, was formed by both
the Industrial Revolution and an ever-receding frontier, the
expectation of growth and throwaway plenty has become a cultural

When John Steinbeck made a midlife road trip across America with
his dog Charley more than forty years ago, he was appalled by the
middens he saw along his way: "American cities are like badger
holes, ringed with trash," he wrote. "In this, if in no other
way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our
production ... chemical wastes in the rivers, metal wastes
everywhere, and the atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or
sunk in the sea." (Then, most evenings, Steinbeck cooked his
dinner in a throw-away aluminum frying pan to save himself the
bother of washing dishes on the road.)


There was a time when those hoping to live the American dream had
to move to America to do so. Now the dream has Americanized the
world. As Walter LaFeber wrote of the Open Door Policy of the
late nineteenth century: "Capitalism, like Christianity, was a
religion that would not keep. It had to be expanded constantly,
imposed if necessary." The new form of the old myth of unending
plenty is that everyone will be able to live like Americans if
they think like Americans. No matter where they are and how
downtrodden they may be, if they convert to the faith of market
fundamentalism they will become consumers of goods and enjoyers
of democracy. This is the Big Lie of our times. While its spell
lasts, a few will get obscenely rich, others will thrive as
middlemen, and the rest will either scrape by or starve. We can
already see this happening: after a generation of Friedmanite
trade policy, there are a thousand billionaires on Earth, yet 2
billion people - one-third of mankind - live in the deepest


China has embraced the new economics, yet shows few signs of
becoming the free society that, according to Friedman's dogma,
free markets will produce. In "The Shock Doctrine," Naomi Klein
persuasively argues that the opposite has more often been the
case: monetarism thrives in dictatorships and sweatshop
tyrannies. Despite phenomenal growth, "Communist" China now has
no universal health care, and 200 million Chinese (more than half
the population) earn less than two dollars a day. Numbers in
India, a liberal democracy, are similar. What kind of progress is
this? Did America throw off the divine right of kings only to
enthrone, worldwide, a divine right of things?

The abject poor now outnumber the whole of mankind when Queen
Victoria died. In one century, the world has become a small and
crowded place. All frontiers have long been overrun. The climate
itself is already buckling under our demand. Even if the current
economic myth were to work as advertised and enrich us all,
before 6 billion (soon to be 9 billion) human beings could become
consumers on anything like an American scale, the Earth would be
unable to support them.


But for Bill Clinton's dishonourable discharge on an intern's
dress, the 2000 election might not have been close enough for
George W. Bush to steal. The world then watched in disbelief

as the United States failed to carry out a thorough recount -
something that would have been done as a matter of course in any
other democracy.

While many people had been worrying about the planet, America's
war profiteers had been wondering how to keep the lucrative game
of militarism on the go without the Russians. They needed a new
enemy, and for a while they auditioned China for the role. A
Defense Planning Guidance document written early in 1992, while
George H. Bush was president and Dick Cheney secretary of
defence, argued that the United States should achieve such a lead
in weaponry and military capability that it would be
unassailable. This doctrine, known as "fullspectrum dominance,"
was a demand for a blank cheque. It was also life support for
Ronald Reagan's (and later George W. Bush's) unworkable Star Wars
fantasy - a "missile shield" that would allow America to shoot
without being shot at, a modern version of shooting Indians from
the train. 

In 1997 Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush (George W.'s brother), William
Kristol (son of conservative ideologue Irving) and others who
would surface in or near the future Bush regime founded what they
called the "Project for a New American Century." Their opening
statement called for "an international order friendly to our
security [and] our prosperity." In January 1998 the group sent a
letter to President Clinton, urging him to "aim, above all, at
the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power." The letter's
signatories included Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard
Perle, all of whom became leading members of Bush's staff. Most
had longstanding ties, directorships and holdings in the weapons,
military supply and oil businesses - as did Cheney (the former
CEO of Halliburton) and Condoleezza Rice (a former Chevron
executive). An oil tanker called the Condoleezza Rice had to be
quietly renamed when Rice went on the public payroll.


On September 11, 2001, a new, though not unknown, enemy took
three thousand lives on American soil. Of the nineteen hijackers,
fifteen were Saudi Arabians and most had been living and training
in the United States for years. However, there was little doubt
they had links to the Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden and that
his organization, al Qaeda, was training in Afghanistan, a
theocratic dictatorship ruled by the Taliban (at one time
fostered by the Americans as anti-Soviet "freedom fighters"). The
subsequent war on that country was therefore seen by many world
leaders as legitimate, or at least tolerable.


The war against Iraq in the spring of 2003 had no such
legitimacy. None of the September 11 terrorists was an Iraqi, nor
was there any evidence that al Qaeda ever had ties to Saddam
Hussein's regime. There was also no evidence that Iraq still held
"weapons of mass destruction" - a shorthand cliche for nuclear or
chemical weapons in the wrong hands. (Of course, the nations that
have by far the most WMD are the United States, its allies and
the former Soviet Union.) As recently as February 2001, General
Colin Powell had said that the sanctions applied since the Gulf
War against Saddam Hussein "have worked. He has not developed any
significant capability with respect to weapons of mass

Two years later, at a televised meeting of the United Nations,
Powell (then secretary of state) was obliged to argue exactly the
opposite. He did not make his case: the best evidence he pre-
sented was weak; the worst was already known to be false.
Furthermore, Hans Blix, the United Nations weapons inspector, was
already achieving real disarmament by destroying Iraq's Scud


While Washington would settle for nothing less than conquest in
Iraq, it pursued a policy of negotiation with North Korea, a far
more dangerous dictatorship with proven nuclear technology and
long-range missiles, but no oil. The lastminute argument for war
- that Saddam Hussein was a vicious tyrant - was true enough, but
so were several of America's close friends in the Middle East and


The world was dragooned to war on false pretences. Bush knew it,
Powell knew it, informed opinion around the world knew it, and so
did Bush's most pliant ally, British prime minister Tony Blair.
Millions protested in the streets of the  world's great cities,
including a large demonstration in New York, where al Qaeda had
struck only eighteen months before. Some recalled that the first
Gulf War, started by the first President Bush, had also been sold
on false pretences: an emotional report to the Human Rights
Caucus of Congress by a fifteen-year-old girl, saying that Iraqi
troops had torn hundreds of Kuwaiti babies from incubators. This
was later exposed as a lie concocted by a PR firm; the girl,
identified only as "Nayirah," turned out to be the daughter of
the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States.

Let me be clear that I do not subscribe to claims that the George
W Bush regime might somehow have known in advance about al
Qaeda's plans for September 11, 2001. (Of course, it was known
that al Qaeda and other groups posed a threat, and there are
documents to that effect, nothing more.) Nor do I belittle the
horror and suffering of that day. But there is plenty of evidence
to suggest that, like Austria/Hungary in 1914 and Germany in
1933, those in Washington seeking to advance a militarist
agenda swiftly took advantage of the terrorist outrage to do so.
This exploitation of the September 11 attacks is inexcusable. The
banners in the streets saying "No Blood for Oil" were dismissed
by Bush and Blair. We now know better. Alan Greenspan, the head
banker of the United States government throughout most of Bush's
tenure, recently confirmed what the evidence suggested and what
Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's deputy at the time) also admitted in
June 2003: the Iraq War, Greenspan said, was "largely about oil."
In short: a cabal of weapons dealers and oil profiteers who came
to power in the world's mightiest nation by dubious means took
advantage of the September 11 attacks to start an unrelated war
they had been wanting to wage for years. And Tony Blair helped
them do it. 


Blair is the one I find hardest to understand. Britain was the
former colonial power in Iraq; there were seasoned experts on
hand who understood the special dangers of the country and the
region. Why did Blair squander his political capital on backing
the most extreme policies of the Bush administration - and all
for nothing in return? Bush, whose war made oil prices triple,
would not even throw Blair a crumb on the issue of climate change
because it might "hurt the American economy."

The kindest assumption one can make is that Tony Blair thought he
was talking to the America of Franklin Roosevelt, unaware that
the heirs of Joseph McCarthy had taken charge. Perhaps, like many
Britons, he harboured the naive idea that America is not really a
foreign country-just a bigger, richer England. Clearly he
believed in the "special relationship" which he thought London
still enjoyed with Washington, and he himself with George Bush.
One theory is that he hoped he could use the American alliance to
enhance Britain's power within the European Union. Another is
that strong religious feelings played a role both in his
friendship with Bush and in the conviction that his actions were,
as he so often claimed, "the right thing to do." Both theories
reveal how deeply British politics have become Americanized in
recent years.

Whatever Tony Blair's motives may have been, they had a side
effect in which the American right rejoiced: the Iraq War split
the European Union, the world's only credible democratic
counterweight to American hegemony. If Europe had stood together
against the war, the disaster might have been avoided or at least


As everyone now knows, the experts' warnings were fulfilled: the
war was won but the peace lost, the entire region destabilized.
The consequences to world peace are still unfolding and may yet
become more serious. The suffering has far outweighed the benefit
of deposing Saddam Hussein: some four thousand Americans dead,
perhaps ten times that number of Iraqi battle deaths, more than
150,000 civilian deaths and over 2 million Iraqi refugees driven
into exile - a tenth of the country's population.


The damage to human rights and to the moral standing of the
United States has been incalculable. Ancient freedoms such as
habeas corpus, a foundation of English-speaking democracy for a
thousand years, were lightly brushed aside. Since the initial
attack on Afghanistan, the Bush regime has violated Geneva
Conventions on the treatment of war prisoners that even Nazi
Germany observed. Guantanamo Bay (in eastern Cuba, only one
hour's flight from Miami) is merely the most visible Gulag in an
archipelago of offshore prisons where men and boys have been held
without charge, trial or access to lawyers for years. The full
extent of the abuses is still unknown, but they certainly include
torture, solitary confinement and degradation of the sort that
came to light at Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison outside Baghdad.
The methods countenanced in Bush's "war on terror" have given all
repressive regimes of both right and left an excuse for their own
atrocities. Vladimir Putin sings the antiterrorist song as he
leads Russia back to autocracy. The Castro brothers savour the
irony that Washington keeps its prison camp in Cuba to escape the
reach of U.S. law. Those who stand to gain most from the war on
terror are the terrorists themselves. In this sense, writes the
cultural historian Morris Berman in "Dark Ages America," -
"Rumsfeld, Perle, Abrams, Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice [etc.]
are bin Laden's comrades in arms. Propaganda about Iraq and
terrorism became a self-fulfilling prophecy: We took a country
that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one."



Keith Hunt

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