Editors’ Note: This is the second of a three part interview SAUL LANDAU conducted in Havana last month with Ricardo Alarcon Quesada Cuba’s Vice President and President of its National Assembly. Click here to read part one.
Landau: How do you compare Bush’s discourse with that of past presidents? And how do you compare them with his deeds?
Alarcon: Words are not his strongest quality. I think that there are discrepancies in his second inaugural address. He talked about carrying the fire of freedom throughout the world. Without sounding rude, I’d say this is, at the very least, an over-statement. He isn’t going to carry anything much further. He’s already having difficulty in maintaining this fire in Iraq. If he wants to do that around the world he will not succeed. Indeed, he’s not succeeding in Iraq.
Cuba is one of the places mentioned, not by him but by [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice the day before. I advise them not to try. It will cost a lot of lives if the Americans would attack us, more than those dying in Iraq, because this is not a divided country or society that has been suffering under a dictatorial regime. The opposite is true. You will find here a free society, finally emancipated from half a century of oppression and corruption imposed by the US. We attainted our independence in 1959 — from US domination. That is a fact of history. From an ethnic or cultural point of view we are a unified country, an island on which a common culture and common identity has evolved. We are prepared to make life impossible for an invader.
But more important, what is the meaning of this policy? It is not just irrational, a product of arrogance or impulse, not just the product of a person that doesn’t read many books. That explains only his strange selection of words.
Consider Bush’s simplistic view of the world; or better, take the more analytical and conscious way the CIA views it. A CIA document published a couple months ago and another in December 2000, forecasts based on research and analysis, consider scenarios of war, peace, turmoil and catastrophes. But there is a common denominator expressed in one sentence: "US influence will continue to decline." By the way the CIA does not call for a change of policy, but simply states as a fact that US influence is less today than 20 or 40 years ago.
The US is not going to rise above the rest of the world. It is the sole superpower in cold war terms. But the US cannot exercise complete power over the rest of the world. Russia continues to have nuclear weapons. Economically, for example, China has emerged as a power. Recently the Chinese president toured Latin America and discussed granting Argentina a credit line of $20 billion. 40 years ago, at time of the Alliance for Progress, Kennedy offered the entire continent $20 billion — over ten year period. Cuba criticized this modest offer at the time because it was too little.
Remember, at that time this little island had established relations with that big country China. The other countries in the Latin America followed the US line and refused to recognize the existence of China. Now, 40 years later, that once non-recognized country’s head of state travels throughout the region and offers much more than the US could when it was at its peak. And the US must accept that China plays that role in the world. The Vice President of China was doing a similar same thing in Africa.
Although the US remains the biggest military power, it has trouble controlling a rather small country like Iraq, which it almost destroyed by bombing and an economic embargo before the war. The reality is that US is only the most powerful entity in one area: information and communication.
It was the only dominant force at end of the Second World War, the only nuclear power. Nagasaki and Hiroshima, by the way, are the only cases in which nuclear power has been used destructively. They were not employed by a terrorist state, but by the US democracy — allegedly to defeat Japan. At that time and later, during the Marshall Plan, the US was at the top. Since then it has been declining. That does not mean it is a country in disarray, but it is going downward.
To answer this downhill slide, in my opinion, came the neo-cons who believe that by using the United States’ comparatively limited economic and large military resources, but especially by exploiting their advantage in terms of communication technology and near monopoly of information media, they can reverse the trend. That is impossible. The US cannot turn the world back to 1945 and reappear as the only power in the world. The US needs to learn to live in a diverse world with different players, different ideologies and interests and not to pretend to be the owner of the planet.
Those times are gone forever. That is the way history moves. But the new conservative trend departs form traditional conservatism and tries to reverse the world’s movement by being interventionist, by sending troops here and there. It is an irrational approach. It’s obvious that they will not succeed but their missionary and mythological approach could lead to mistakes even more grave than Iraq.
Landau: In 1945, the US wrote the Nuremburg laws prohibiting aggressive war and also drafted the UN and OAS charters that prohibit intervention. How do you explain US behavior, initiating those laws and then violating them?
Alarcon: The US wrote all those important documents that became the foundation of the international order when it was the most important power in the world. Now that the world has been undergoing change those documents have become obstacles to US interests. At the same time, US officials try to manipulate these documents, like the Human Rights Covenants. If you listen to US officials, they are fulfilling a mission of spreading human rights throughout the world. The ideals of freedom and democracy are in the UN charter, but together with the principle of nonintervention, prohibition of war.
The only thing the UN Charter recognizes as a legitimate reason for war is self defense, a nation subjected to external aggression. Even in those circumstances you have to ask the UN to intervene. Nobody else can intervene. It’s a peaceful ideal. The Charter lacks some important points. It doesn’t mention colonialism, nor recognize the right of colonial people to self-determination and independence. But the UN was transformed because after WW II, no one could stop the emancipation of those countries. People became independent and then UN members. It was one of the factors that helped transform the world. How to explain how the US changed its mind after essentially drafting these documents?
Those exercising power were not happy with what happened. The reality problem is a serious one. Psychiatrists help those who have trouble dealing with reality. If you do not acknowledge reality you may be suffering from a serious disturbance. I sometimes feel that some American politicians need professional help to remember that they conceived the UN and its structure. Some American politicians now refer to the UN as something to ignore or despise. Do they forget that it was a US creation? To weaken or break this organization, which is what Bush did, was a terrible thing. The UN does not exist any more because of what happened in Iraq. This is a very serious problem. It is not true that it will reconstruct itself on new bases.
I don’t want to sound rude, but that is exactly what Hitler did. He was angry with the League of Nations, with reality, after WWI. During the period between the two world wars, Germany became the European superpower, economically, technologically, militarily.
When Hitler set the goal of conquering Europe in the mid 1930s, his dream matched the reality of Europe more than who Bush seeks to conquer the entire world with the current level of US power. Hitler’s irrational dream was more rational than the discourse you hear now from American leaders. Hitler made a very big mistake, trying to conquer the USSR. Stalin committed many crimes. He was a dictator, but the Soviet people stopped Hitler. It was the same mistake that Napoleon made, to try to conquer the East. If he had remained the master of western and central Europe maybe he would have continued to hold power. But he overextended himself.
But fascism was rejected by most people. And resistance to Nazism arose in many places. Our Yugoslav brothers and sisters offered heroic resistance in that period. The Nazis never conquered that country. Later on it was made to explode, not by the Nazis but by western democracies.
Landau: You use history as a guide.
Alarcon: History is important. Those who believe they can turn history back should remember the origin of previous wars. The Germans didn’t accept Versailles and that was the origin of Fascism.
SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University, where he is the director of Digital Media Programs and International Outreach, and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His new book is The Business of America.