Global Policy Forum

Imperial Hypocrisy


By Saul Landau

Progreso Weekly
October 21, 2004

The Americans have a professional army in Iraq, but it is becoming frighteningly casual about the way it kills women and children in Fallujah, simply denying that its air strikes are killing the innocent, and insists that all 120 dead in their Samarra operation are all insurgents when this cannot possibly be true.

- Robert Fisk (Counterpunch October 11, 2004)

Empire has become the elephant in the collective US living room. Millions still deny (See Progreso weekly April 15, 2004) that their nation is a world colossus, not an old-fashioned republic. Pollsters don't ask if an empire and a republic can cohabit in the same political space. Do the fifty states constitute a working republic; or have they become an administrative faí§ade for the world's largest and most powerful, albeit informal empire? The imperial class campaigns for power during which their candidates maintain republican rhetoric; indeed, vigorous and very televised elections occur in which candidates differ over imperial tactics and strategy at home and abroad – like how much or little to mete out to the poor and middle class, how much environmental erosion to allow and whether to invade other countries with or without formal alliances. How would Bush or Kerry answer if asked privately to define the differences between empire and republic? Have the perpetrators of republican myth converted into the most fanatic believers in their own inventions? Who among the powerful actually retains awareness of the deception perpetuated through the political axioms? Do corporate board members cynically chuckle when they listen to Bush or Kerry mouth platitudes about freedom, democracy and liberty as US planes bomb Fallujah? Have the powerful simply adjusted to Orwellian verbiage, like Bush's oft repeated "free Iraq" rap? Does the Secretary of State enjoy sexual fantasies when the Cabinet discusses how US policy keeps peace through constant war, achieves human rights through repeated interventions and spreads democracy by fomenting coups?

In the US Senate, some Solons like West Virginia's Robert Byrd rise to remind the nation's rulers that imperialism invalidates democracy. But he's an old man and in the 21st Century youth and vigor, not experience and learning, have become the tests of wisdom. George W. Bush proudly admits he doesn't read. But the late Senator William Borah, an avid reader, pleaded to his fellow Senators not to confuse linguistic trickery with political logic. Flag-waving, he feared, would induce Americans to die in imperial wars, to "submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments." Senator J. William Fulbright added during the Vietnam War that "the price of empire is America's soul, and that price is too high." Verbal cover for expansionism, however, has always included moralistic oratory. In 1898, President McKinley informed the press that God told him to take the Philippines. Bush implies similar divine connections in relation to his decision to invade Iraq. Presidents traditionally feign respect for international law – which they discard when convenient. For almost a century, since President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany in order to "make the world safe for democracy," US presidents have led "democratic" crusades: against fascism, communism, narco-trafficking and now terror. (Other crusades include wars against poverty, crime and cancer).

To add weight to the rhetoric of support for international law, Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman backed the Nuremberg Trials, where aggressive war was outlawed and the UN, OAS and NATO Charters, affirmed non-intervention as an absolute principle. Whenever the United States decides to wage "pre-emptive" war, or intervene covertly in another nation's affairs, the President unfurls the rhetorical flag of democracy. Behind the patriotic slogans lies assumption that the American cause is quintessentially noble, whether it involves invading Mexico and Cuba in the 19th Century or Vietnam, Grenada and Iraq in the late 20th. During the four decades of Cold War, US leaders used the axiom of US goodness of heart to rationalize the overthrow of countless governments, to irradiate thousands of its own citizens in atomic tests and to affirming non-intervention as an absolute principle. Inherent goodness stood as the national security axiom to irradiate thousands of our own citizens in atomic tests and to place troops in bases around the world to protect freedom, God, democracy and justice! And the beat goes on. And the public seems hypnotized by the never ending "threats" to its security from abroad.

After the United States invaded and now occupies Iraq, a State Department spokesman had the chutzpah -- the boy who murders his parents and pleads for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan -- to complain about Cuban "troublemaking." Was he unaware that during the past 45 years, the US government launched thousands of terrorist attacks and one invasion against the island? Has it become a job requirement at State that spokespeople must learnt the most sophisticated forms of hypocrisy? Accusing others of disturbing international harmony for doing exactly what the United State routinely does. In this case, according to AP (October 8) Cuba had the audacity to train Colombian rebels and terrorists and "maintain a large presence in Venezuela. This statement echoed Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent remark – he flip-flopped on this -- that Castro has become a troublemaker in South American countries and is "causing his own people to suffer greatly." The official – State Department rules do not allow him to identify himself -- said that Cuba continues to train members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's main guerrilla organizations. The State Department identifies both groups on its list of international terrorist organizations. The official provided no evidence for his charges.

Further, the October 9 AP story claims that the unidentified official warned that Cuba's personnel in Venezuela could damage Venezuela's democracy. State has yet to explain how sending thousands of doctors and nurses to treat Venezuela's poor, who have little access to health care, threatens democracy. Washington did not comment previously on past Venezuelan presidents' refusal to use their country's vast oil wealth for education and health services for the poor. The United States did, however, back an April 2002 coup against elected President Hugo Chavez. Indeed, in the name of freedom, the US has backed or executed coups against "disobedient" governments in Guatemala (1954), Guyana (1958), the Dominican Republic (1963 and 1965), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Argentina (1974-5) and El Salvador (1979). Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez somehow undermines democracy by serving the majority's health and education needs. One certain indication of "acceptability" is the level of relations with Washington. "Good relations" with the United States has traditionally meant obedience to US dictates. Chavez has proven so disobedient that last August his opponents, encouraged by the United States, him into holding a referendum, in which the President obtained some 59% of the vote. The anti-Chavistas cried that Chavez had rigged the results, but the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, an Atlanta-based pro-democracy group led by former President Jimmy Carter, both certified the fairness of the electoral process.

The US public remains distracted. It hears confusing and repeated dogma from the White House, repeated by mainstream media. What is one to believe? Real conservatives like Pat Buchanan have labeled empire by its proper name and draw the appropriate lessons. History teaches, he warns in his book, A Republic not an Empire, that "every attempt to establish hegemony incites resentment and hostility. Weaker nations instinctively seek security in each other, creating the very combinations the hegemonists most fear. Kerry denies the existence of the empire and vies for a "toughness" image with the pugnacious Bush – who actually hasn't had to fight, except for a possible barroom brawl in his partying days that the White House has not disclosed. Buchanan and other conservatives understand that it's time to call empire by its right name and question its applicability to the principles we learn about democracy and republican form of government. After Kerry wins, serious activists should begin to address this issue in the most creative way. It's a false axiom that needs overturning before the US public can begin to involve itself with real politics. In the 1920s, a group of Western Senators led by William Borah of Idaho helped defeat President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations Treaty on the grounds that it brought the country into an imperial relationship. The United States would have to police the rest of the world. Such an arrangement, Borah argued, raised fundamental contradictions with the rules of a republic; indeed, empire and republican government are downright incompatible, he asserted. He was right then – and now.

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