The Reality of Empire and Campaign Rhetoric


Try to digest radio blasts of campaign rhetoric amidst nerve-wracking traffic jams and insistent billboards. In a massive mall parking lot, designed to divert the brain from human themes, I try to understand my country’s empire. The energy spent involved in avoiding promotional barrages leaves me with barely enough motivation to parse John Kerry’s convex sentences or George Bush’s convolutions.

Check claims against facts and maybe light will shine through? The candidates offer to “keep the faith” in Iraq and “fulfill our mission.” What faith? Islam? Bush’s faith? What mission? Before invading, Bush defined his goal as ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, which Bush’s appointed weapons inspectors did not find, and cutting Iraq’s ties to Al-Qaeda terrorists, which didn’t exist before March 2003 but now do.

Who dictated this mission? Did God, posing as a neo-con, tell Bush to invade Iraq during a prayer session? Kerry’s more historical view warns: don’t repeat the terrible mistakes in Iraq that we made in Vietnam by denying that we are making them. Thus, sending more troops to Iraq might make our original mistakes worse, but we cannot simply walk away from the terrible mistake without making worse the original mistake. So, Kerry would or wouldn’t send more troops to Iraq to support our troops there because they do or don’t need extra help. Bush would not send more because they don’t need it. Both candidates agree that shouting “support our troops” is the best support our troops can get. Have I missed something?

On Israel, one candidate declares 100% support for whatever she does. The other contender favors giving full support for all of Israel’s policies. See the difference?

The candidates don’t object to spending $400 plus billion on “defense.” Neither explains how that money actually defends our country since we have no likely attackers. Over the last decades, defense money got spent offensively. Ask the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, the former Yugoslavia or nations attacked covertly, like Chile, Cuba, Brazil, etc.

The candidates differ about imperial strategy. Bush invaded Iraq without junior partners ­ like France and Germany — because he could. Kerry would invade weak countries with allied support because it looks better. What does “ally” mean after the Soviet monster collapsed?

Kerry and Bush agree to aggressively pursue the global mission of freedom. In practice, freedom has meant Halliburton’s right to do business with scum like Saddam Hussein before the United States invaded Iraq and then make billions repairing the damage done after the invasion; plus feeding, housing and building latrines for “our troops” (Is that what “supporting our troops” means?).

Freedom also embodies Wal-Mart’s right to expand globally. The vast corporation serves as means and ends of vast empire. Monster-sized stores wage peaceful aggression, seeking to re-conquer indigenous Mexico by demanding the placement for sale of its weapons (Chinese-made wares) at the 2,000 year-old Teotihuacan ruins. The globalizing giant has challenged the Indian gods by building its new superstore under the shadows of the ancient pyramids. Ironically, the Spanish built their churches and government edifices on top of the Aztec civilization they had just conquered. Now, we visit Mexico and admire the ruins of both old cultures.

Local residents petitioned the court to stop Wal-Mart, which threatens small business, distorts the ecology and mocks the ruins. It will decimate a way of life. Wal-Mart demands freedom to sell. The State Department denies that Mexican courts have jurisdiction in questions about freedom to trade. Didn’t NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) settle that issue?

Indeed, Wal-Mart’s freedom to operate megastores defines imperial goals. Nations that reject Wal-Mart, a symbol of corporate freedom, become international human rights violators in the media, which doesn’t condemn Wal-Mart, however, for its contempt for labor rights. Instead, the press offers a “balanced picture” of Wal-Mart’s ruthless resistance to organizing attempts. Political authorities offer the language. The media accepts it, without evaluating labels given to enemies: communism, socialism, nationalism — or “terrorist regimes.” Journalists assume that these regimes ipso facto violate the human spirit.

Cuba, the media’s arch-typical rogue nation, has suffered forty-five years of distortion. Reporters have filed tens of thousands of negative stories about Cuba’s lack of freedom ­ along with a handful of “balanced” tales that praise its health care and education.

“Communist China” became just China when the ruling Communist Party switched from state to private sector economics. Ironically, in school we don’t learn that democracy and freedom mean the need to have unrestricted global access for Wal-Mart or post war contracts for Halliburton.

Likewise, the candidates don’t discuss corporate freedom. Instead, they intone on how Lincoln and Roosevelt fought for freedom, which the candidates will adapt to the war against terrorism. The public remains awash in conflicting facts and messages. The 9/11 Commission presented evidence that Iraq had no role in the 9/11 attacks. Yet, a Newsweek poll in September had 42% believing that Saddam Hussein authored the World Trade Center attacks. Vice President Cheney repeats this myth in his speeches. Fox, the privatized ministry of propaganda posing as a news organization, underscores that message.

The public receives language that conceals both imperial intentions and the logical outcome of aggression. The torture of Iraqis resulted from an imperial invasion and occupation. Bush and Rumsfeld at least tacitly approved the torture, but now blame Abu Ghraib horrors on “a few bad apples.” Yet, according to Heather Wokusch in the September 14 Common Dreams New Center, prison conditions in Texas under Governor Bush were a model for US prisons in Iraq. Wokush quotes federal Judge William Wayne Justice: “Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions.”

A September 1996 “videotaped raid on inmates at a county jail in Texas showed guards using stun guns and an attack dog on prisoners, who were later dragged face-down back to their cells.” Same apples in Iraq?

But the public, distracted by consumption and media distortions, move politically in a fog. Far right Republicans emphasize peripheral issues: abortion, guns, gay marriages and prayer in school–not war or the distribution of wealth and health.

Kerry himself appears unfocused, almost hypnotized by his own monotone. Yes, a Kerry victory means better judges and heads of agencies.

And Kerry wouldn’t prematurely ejaculate “Mission Accomplished” as Bush did after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. The pilot who flew Bush to that publicity stunt died in Iraq on August 10. Bush did not attend Lt. Commander Scott Zellem’s funeral — just one more number in the 1,000 plus Americans who perished in Iraq.

“We’ve turned the corner,” Bush instead proclaimed (lied). Did this sick joke refer to 7,000 plus wounded who will no longer turn corners on their own feet? Did he mean by corner-turning his ability to sell imperial needs as a “war against terrorism”? Bush holds the presidential record for launching two wars and occupations in two years. If elected, more military operations will likely follow since he has apparently convinced tens of thousands of poor youth on the virtues of giving their lives — not his ­ for causes like “liberating Afghanistan.”

He omits the thousands of Afghan dead, cities destroyed and the $400-billion spent on wars that have not yet produced Osama bin Laden. Foreign troops occupy “liberated Afghanistan.” That country undergoes extreme poverty, while its opium production soars and instability runs rampant. In the August 27, 2004 Baltimore Chronicle Jane Stillwater reported an eyewitness’ account: “Since the American takeover of Afghanistan, the major crops there are now opium, human organs and children.”

But reality has not pricked the “success and democracy” bubble; nor assuaged the “security” fears that guide election rhetoric. Kerry whines about “losing our allies” as if the nearly 55 year old and moribund NATO alliance served some purpose. New power realities have removed the need for junior partners (allies).

160,000 troops occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for “freedom” by killing residents who get in their way. No end in sight. The Democrats have no clear alternative. Let rhetoric ring!

The Pentagon’s new bases in Bulgaria and Romania link “America’s new imperial lifeline” to bases across Central Asia, Iraq and the Gulf. The 100,000 troops who staff those 700 plus outposts, writes Eric Margolis in the August 22 Toronto Sun, are “designed to cement Washington’s hold on the Muslim world and its natural resources.” The Pentagon outfits itself for ‘expeditionary warfare’, Margolis continues, which the British called “the `imperial mission’.”

Kerry also envisions new bases to stage operations in volatile strategic regions, but cautions against wasting money on “excess bases.”

The bi-partisan militarized foreign policy makes the United States resemble the British Empire, Margolis concludes, but most Americans “remain unaware of their government’s new imperial plans to rule oil and the Muslim world, and of the unexpected conflicts that lie in wait for America’s increasingly far-flung expeditionary forces.”

Halliburton and Wal-Mart CEOs understand. After all, it’s their profits that the new armed forces will protect ­ no matter who wins in November.

There’s an argument for John Kerry, but it comes down to terrible is better than worse.

SAUL LANDAU is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. His new book is The Business of America.


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

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