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Eating Dirt for Lunch in Haiti

At about 8:25 Wednesday morning, US Eastern time, AOL’s internet welcome screen juxtaposed two AP news stories: “He (McCain) Jumps Ahead in Republican Race: What Will Rudy Giuliani Do Now?” and “Desperate Haitians Eat Dirt: ‘One Day I’ll Have Enough Food.'”

(“Hungry people in the slums of Haiti are giving new meaning to the phrase ‘dirt poor.’ As food prices soar, many desperate people are eating mud cookies to stave off their hunger pangs … ;” Jonathan M. Katz, AP, January 29, 2008, quote from AP photo gallery by Ariana Cubillos).

One thing Rudy Giuliani did after losing the Florida primary was give a speech with the line “The best way to achieve peace is through overwhelming strength.”

That could have been said by the rulers of colonial France as they tore the gold from Haiti’s mountains, or by Thomas Jefferson as he warned against tolerating Haiti’s slave uprising. Or by the US rulers of the ’50s through ’80s as they backed the Duvaliers as Haiti’s dictators, or of the ’90s as they backed the FRAPH death squad and imposed a World Bank/IMF plan on Haiti that — a decade before Wednesday’s dirt-consumption update — began making Haitians hungrier.

(Re. FRAPH and the World Bank/ IMF, respectively, see my “Our Man in FRAPH: Behind Haiti’s Paramilitaries,” October 24, 1994, “He’s Our S.O.B.,” October 31, 1994, and “Haiti Under the Gun,” January 8 / 15, 1996, all in The Nation [US], and “Aristide Banks on Austerity,” Multinational Monitor, July/August, 1994).

It might be true, in theory, that overwhelming strength could achieve peace, but only if wielded by a figure like, say, God, and the Bible, Torah, and Koran all agree that even that scenario makes massacres.

The US founders may not have followed their own stated principles — few do — but they were cynically insightful about people in general, so as rich men, some of them slave holders (like Jefferson), they sought to contain the popular “mob” but also to structurally, constitutionally constrain future rulers like themselves.

In stated principle, at least, the US founders feared overwhelming strength in the hands of humans.

But today, the stated principle has reversed.

Giuliani’s statement was not peculiar. McCain says things like that all the time, and it was the Clinton administration, where Hillary worked, that produced the 20-year Pentagon plan for “Full-spectrum Dominance,” i.e. the ability “to defeat any adversary and control any situation,” anywhere, anytime (Jim Garamore, American Forces Press Service [US Department of Defense], “Joint Vision 2020 Emphasizes Full-spectrum Dominance,” June 2, 2000).

But if you fully dominate the world, who’s going to stop you if you murder, or if you cause people to hunger because of the way you move and concentrate scarce wealth?

Those are the murder and preventable death problems that Americans are free to raise in politics — but usually don’t, but there’s also another, straight-power problem that may eventually have to get discussed.

The problem is that though militarily, in some senses, the US still overwhelms, economically the US is becoming one power-center among several.

In his State of the Union President Bush said he’d “make sure America remains the most dynamic nation on earth.”

That was possible to do after World War II with the rest of the rich world ravaged, but with nodes of capitalism now having dispersed worldwide it is no longer possible.

The fastest growth will inevitably happen elsewhere and, before long, a number of others will equal the US as centers of capital, exchange, and even innovation (and, on the latter, sooner than later if the US sustains its anti-immigrant hysteria).

What then? Elected US rulers always talk in supremacist, nationalist terms (though they personally and professionally invest globally). If they truly want the US to have/keep overwhelming dominance, their comparative advantage will have to be in gunpowder.

The sensible answer by non-rulers should be: who cares about attaining/keeping dominance? As a means of achieving peace it is discredited. As a means of feeding people, it hasn’t produced.

It’s more reasonable to search for other means, means toward good ends like ceasing death squad sponsorship, and shifting enough wealth so that people can sustain their strength by eating real food instead of dirt.

ALLAN NAIRN can be reached through his blog.