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The Empire in Denial and the Denial of Empire


George W. Bush, for all the jokes about his intellectual challenges, has established an unsurpassed level of imperial denial, while he blithely rejects notions that he runs an empire that has run into considerable trouble. Indeed, except for the comments of a few humorists and pundits, the media has failed to call the emperor on his political fiascoes. Instead, they have bought Bush’s own description of them as successes. “The Bush universe of eternal sunshine,” as NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd called it, amounts to a bubble of errors covered by holy-sounding rhetoric.

W and his tough guys have intimidated the media — and most nations of the world — with relative impunity. Bush repeatedly claims to have made the world safer from terrorism. Yet, terrorist incidents have multiplied since he announced his “war against terrorism” (Not counting Israel, just look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, Bali etc.). Critics credit his crude tactics with fostering the recruitment of new militants. Bush declared last May, almost a year ago, that the war in Iraq had ended. Last week, the US body count topped 610 and no one expects it to stop there.

Indeed, after the December 13, 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein, Bush had assured the nation that the resistance would collapse. Instead it has grown more intense. Bush insists that he will prevail in his mission to bring freedom to Iraq. The foreign terrorists responsible for the daily carnage, insist Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Colonial Governor L. Paul Bremer, operate only in the limited area of the Sunni Triangle (Baghdad-Fallujah-Tikrit). Presumably Sunnis ­Hussein is a Sunni ­ continue to resist out of loyalty. But over the April 2-4 weekend, a Shi’ite cleric organized massive and bloody demonstrations in parts of the Sunni Triangle and in other cities as well!

If freedom to Bush meant only the privatization of formerly public wealth, his claims might carry more weight. Bremer’s gang has usurped the Iraqi patrimony and offered it for sale and a buyers’ market prevails. Given the violent atmosphere insurance companies are understandably reluctant to issue policies on businesses; thus, few buyers will come forth. Essentially, Bush offers the security provided by over 100,000 members of the US armed forces and tens of thousands of hired mercenaries (Blackwater, Halliburton et. al) paid for by US taxpayers ­ just to secure Iraq for the western way of life: business.

Despite daily news and photos to the contrary, Bush persists with his “Iraqis are happier” hymn. Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the out-of-tune right wing radio chorus sing along, just as Marines begin their retaliation against the perpetrators of the killing and mutilating of four US mercenaries last week in Fallujah. Hundreds of people ­ or more — took part at some level in the deed and celebration that followed.

When I discussed with a pro-Bush colleague the difference between my pessimistic Iraqi scenario and the optimistic White House picture, he dismissed my criticism as “carping” and offered wisdom like, “you have to break eggs to make an omelet,” and “democracy doesn’t just happen.”

He believes that God intended Bush to bring democracy to the world. I got a more secular spin on that idea in grade school. My teachers told me that democracy and freedom stand as indelible US values at home and our nation sells our cultural offerings to the world ­ for them to literally buy. US culture and ideology, after all, count as our most successful exports.

The very repetition of this “selling freedom” mantra has elevated it to unquestioned status ­ despite evidence that repeatedly contradicts it. Last week, Bush again boasted of having brought freedom to the people of Iraq, seemingly oblivious to the fact that on March 28 occupation forces shut down Al-Hawza, a newspaper critical of US policies ­ because “it didn’t print the truth.”

In addition, Bush might not have read about the documents emerging from the national security classification cellar that showed the US helping to overthrow the elected Brazilian government of Joao Goulart in 1964 and supporting a military dictatorship in its place. Since Goulart’s nationalistic economic policies lacked US approval, U.S. ambassador Lincoln Gordon sent top secret cables to national security heavies in Washington pleading for “a clandestine delivery of arms” for military coup plotters.

On March 29, 1964, Ambassador Gordon recommended secretly “pre-positioning” the armaments to be used by “friendly military.” President Johnson had authorized CIA covert operations to support anti-Goulart military and political forces.

This new material also contains an audio tape of President Johnson receiving a Brazil briefing by phone at his Texas ranch, as general and admirals mobilized against Brazil’s elected government. “I’d put everybody that had any imagination or ingenuity…[CIA Director John] McCone…[Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara” on ensuring the coup’s success, Johnson instructs undersecretary of State George Ball. “We just can’t take this one,” Johnson says. “I’d get right on top of it and stick my neck out a little.”

Shocking? The nation of democracy and freedom, the place where revolution received its first justification ­ “when in the course of human events” ­ also became the bastion of counterrevolution, the exporter of dictatorship, the grand interventionist in the affairs of less powerful nations whose leaders refuse to abide by US dictates.

Few nations have borne as much US wrath over their insubordination as Cuba. Indeed, the island has become a perpetual target.

On March 31, with the false claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction still fresh in the public mind, John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, offered Congress 35 pages of written testimony that Cuba “remains a terrorist and [biological weapons] threat to the United States.”

Bolton didn’t even use discredited exile sources ­ like those who fed false information to the Administration on Iraq ­ to support his contention. Acting without fear of replicating the baseless WMD charges that became the casus belli for Bush’s war against Iraq, Bolton asserted in his fact-free belief that “the case for the existence of a developmental Cuba [biological weapons research and development] effort is strong.”

Bolton first made these charges on May 2002, but almost two years later he has still not gathered a fact to support them.

The Cuban government denied the accusation and invited US scientists to inspect the labs to which Bolton referred. Just as Bolton’s boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, has made public his unhappiness with the shoddy intelligence delivered to him on Iraq, Bolton uses imprudent charges that could become the basis for war with Cuba.

One of Powell’s more prudent subordinates, Assistant Secretary of State for
Intelligence and Research Carl Ford, told Congress on June 5, 2002 that the US had no evidence of a full-fledged biological weapons “program.” He did say that the administration was “worried” about Havana’s capabilities.

Cuba’s biotech industry produces medicines and vaccines, as the world knows, and therefore theoretically has the ability to create weapons as well. But Fidel Castro knows that such a move would amount to suicide and he has shown no tendency to self destruct during his 45 year rule.

I detect evidence, however, that Cuba may have employed some of its sophisticated biological weapons here in the United States. Observe the strange behavior of Lincoln Diaz Balart, (R-FL) ­ called “Low IQ Lincoln” by some of his colleagues. In March, Diaz Balart called on the President to assassinate Fidel Castro. Sources in the national security apparatus said they had not carried out any tests on Diaz-Balart’s cerebral cortex to determine whether he might have succumbed to some sophisticated bio-brain vapor that Cuban covert operatives had managed to slip into his breakfast cereal. His colleagues found it otherwise difficult to explain how a Member of Congress could otherwise be so oblivious to the law and to the implications of advocating such actions.

That neither the media nor Congress responded in shock to Diaz Balart’s remarks, or Bolton’s unfounded charges, attests to the state of imperial denial under Emperor Bush. On the one hand, the national security apparatus has again insinuated assassination into the foreign policy play book, thanks not only to Israel’s example of blatantly targeting Palestinians, but also because of the mystification process that has obscured the nature of the “terrorist enemy.”

Indeed, Bush’s rival, John Kerry, has not decried the policy and has tried to show he would act even more aggressively against Castro.

When declassified documents appear and show how Washington overthrew elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile etc the media and government officials act as if this material relates only to unfortunate errors of the Cold War. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a major media source simply admit: “hey, we’re the world’s biggest empire; we offer the world our version of democracy and freedom and if rogue nations reject it, we’ll shove up it up their”

The problem is that people, like Iraqis, resist conquest and occupation. Does denying the existence of empire naturally lead imperial rulers to practice denial?

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, has just been published by Pluto Press. His new film is Syria: Between Iraq and a Hard Place, now available from the Cinema Guild. He can be reached at:


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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