Sunday, January 14, 2007

The War at Home and the War(s) Abroad

This is a talk that I gave April 16, 2004 at the Pacific Sociological Association meeting. The issues I discuss below dovetail with my last posting on the identity/unity of opposites between anti-state and state terrorism. There is an intimate connection between our government's far-flung empire - we spend more on our military than all of the rest of the world combined - and their clampdown at home.

They cannot continue down the road they have embarked upon without also destroying long-standing principles and laws because what they are doing and plan to do are diametrically opposed to humanity's interests. Any adherence to previously vaunted ideals such as due process, habeas corpus, personal privacy, advise and consent, freedom of assembly and speech, humane treatment, the right to see the evidence presented against you and to confront your accusers, all these and more are being systematically ground into bits the way, well, much of the Twin Towers were oddly rendered into small particles.

Those of us who do not accept the Democratic Party's injunction - that we make common ground with torturers and war criminals - should remember this essential truth: this regime that appears now so powerful and fearsome has feet of clay. The people who run things now can only get away with this if people shrink before the smoke and mirrors this Wizard of Oz blandishes. This country needs - more than ever - to be shaken to its roots by a powerful, popular movement. Let's stop wondering why the Democrats insist on protecting tyrants. Let's stop being puzzled why the Democrats don't seem to "get it" and seem bent upon doing things that any ordinary person would consider foolhardy and clearly wrong. The Democrats are not the answer and they are not going to be our saviours. The only road forward consists of the people acting independently. An entirely different political atmosphere must be created. What else will avail? Who among us seriously believe that the awful crimes and wrongs that this regime has been committing and continues to commit, the terrible travesties that they are responsible for in an ongoing way, can be reversed through seeking to work with these criminals in a "bipartisan" manner? When the political institutions themselves have been complicit in this process, and announced explicitly that they intend to continue in this way, what else will have a chance of success other than a dramatic change in the political atmosphere through the autonomous actions of the people? The inchoate feelings that so very many people feel today need to be acted upon by the people. It needs to be organized and it needs to find its voice. The world awaits. The future beckons. Who will answer the call?

* * *

“Inextricably Connected: the War at Home and the War(s) Abroad”
Presented April 16, 2004 at the PSA by Dennis Loo

The reason why our civil liberties are under attack is because, ironically, given their comments about al-Qaeda, the Bush administration hates freedom. We [all] speak, of course, with different senses or understandings about what freedoms we most treasure. To Bush and Co., freedom means the right to invade other countries without provocation, to pursue profits unfettered by international treaties or, in Condi Rice’s words, the “fiction” of an international community, the freedom to grab other people’s resources outright or at unjust prices, to hold people indefinitely without charges or on grounds of “suspicion,” to fire on peaceful, unarmed demonstrators, to bomb mosques, to peek at people’s mail, track their political activities, harass and deport “Muslim” looking people, to have freedom from accountability for their actions, freedom to lie shamelessly to the public in order to do what they want… These are the freedoms that Bush Inc. specifically and imperialism more generally treasure.

They love these “freedoms” and are attacking civil liberties by choice, but even more than that, out of necessity. This is because their war(s) abroad require the consent or cooperation of Americans. This has always been true of wars, but it’s been even truer since the collapse of the Soviet Union [and China] and the disappearance of the socialist camp. They don’t anymore have to take into decisive account other nation’s opinions. They are, as they showed last year, perfectly willing to move unilaterally – even if they would rather not - and even though doing so exposes their plots as naked aggression to most of the world.

This government recognizes that they must stifle dissent as much as possible in order to give them the freedom to pursue these policies. The PATRIOT ACT, and its successors which are the cutting edge of their assault on civil liberties and civil rights, come about from the need by our government to gear up the mechanisms of repressive social control here at home as they pursue empire expansion abroad. [See this as well. Note the exceptions to the bill that Bush specifies in his signing statement.]

That empire expansion isn’t being pursued only through war. Since the 1980s, when globalization began in earnest, and when the socialist bloc collapsed opening up literally more than a billion people to the capitalist world, thus rendering a whole swath of the American working class and a good section of the middle-class superfluous from the perspective of capital, globalization means hard times for many, many Americans.

Neoliberal policies (mainly known [and not entirely accurately] in the US as neocon policies), which are the political manifestation of globalization, mean privatization and privation for all but the very rich. We’re in the midst of the complete dismantling of the New Deal aka the Keynesian Welfare State, and its replacement with the security or neoliberal state. This dismantling has been spearheaded by the GOP, whose ugly, mean-spirited, ruthless, go-for-the-jugular [style of] politics is well known. But what is not so well understood is how the Democrats are fully involved and implicated in this. Clinton, e.g., presided over the end of welfare as we know it, fully embraced the death penalty, put more cops on the streets, and pursued American imperialist interests abroad, albeit mainly under the guise of international cooperation.

The spinelessness that so much of Democratic politics has consisted of for several decades now is not basically a product of their lack of courage. It is a product of their agreement with the GOP that capitalism/imperialism is not to be challenged, with globalization the marching orders of the day.

When I speak of privation I mean not only the loss of millions of jobs, the withdrawals of state support for community services such as welfare, medical care and education and other infrastructure. I also mean the life and death dangers that globalization means to both the Third World and the First World. For the Third World it means especially savage exploitation, early deaths and uneven development. For the First World it includes all of us as targets for what Chalmers Johnson calls blowback. Al Qaeda is merely the inevitable reaping of what imperialism has sowed. [It is the bastard child of the arrogance and predations of empire.]

This is why in a certain specific sense [Condi] Rice was telling the truth, rare and odd as that is, when she said that there was no silver bullet to prevent 911. Not that they couldn’t have done something to possibly prevent 911, because they clearly could have. You don’t need Mohammed Atta’s itinerary before you can act on the wealth of information that they had. But where she’s telling the truth in a sense is: you cannot stop all terrorist attacks. Indeed, one of the things that the Presidential Daily Brief of August 6, 2001 reveals is that the missile attacks that Clinton launched against Bin Laden’s Afghan bases in 1998 led to Bin Laden telling his followers that he wanted to retaliate on D.C. Gratifying as it was to hear Richard Clark apologize for being unable to prevent 911, his proposals, and that of liberal hawks like [Sen.] Bob Kerrey, consist of trying to enlist American support for a blank check to attack anyone and anywhere. These attacks by Clinton wouldn’t have and didn’t stop 911. In fact, they made it far worse.

What our government could do, and what our government won’t do, is take the steps that would undercut the wide popular social base for al-Qaeda and turn al-Qaeda into a fringe group without significant social support. They could begin by withdrawing their support for the reactionary and deeply unpopular regimes in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Israel, and so on. They could pull out the military bases that ring the region in the Middle East. When this government speaks of bringing democracy to the region what others hear, and see, rightly so, is “democracy, hypocrisy, might makes right.”

The most important news of last Thursday [April 8, 2004] was actually not Rice’s testi-lying before the 911 Commission. It was the news that Iraqi insurgents had seized control over three Iraqi cities, because the resistance will only grow and the schemes of our government will not succeed. The Sunnis have united with the Shiites in opposition to the US. [A situation that in some respects obviously has evolved with internecine violence spawned since this talk was given]. Iraqis who were initially favorable towards the US for helping overthrow Hussein are now largely deeply angry at the US occupation.

My most important point tonight is that in times like these, when things seem and are terrible - for wars are terrible things - when governments must mobilize their armies and mobilize the citizenry, these governments SEEM more powerful than ever, but they are actually more vulnerable than in ordinary times. They are more vulnerable for several reasons. Among these: the fact that it is not business as usual and they are calling upon people to make unusual sacrifices for them. This includes not only the fact that they are sending troops abroad and these troops are both killing and being killed. It also includes the need for the citizens to support these war efforts, to be even more patriotic than usual. The government is more stretched out and more dependent on cooperation than in ordinary times.

This is why they are trying to clamp down on us by undercutting civil liberties and rights. They need very desperately to squelch dissent and intimidate people from exercising their rights to think and act and advocate and expose. For one thing, they are [of course] world-class liars. We who oppose them, on the other hand, have truth on our side. We also have the best interests of the vast majority of the world’s people on our side. We just don’t have the mass media on our side!

Last year at this time I argued that there was an unintentional symmetry in the notion of Asymmetrical Warfare – that the savage acts of imperialism would certainly provoke their equal and opposite reaction, resistance, insurrection and revolution. Rumsfeld continues to tell us that the insurrection in Iraq consists of remnants of Hussein loyalists, terrorists and criminal elements, and are a mere handful [quaint words viewed from 2007’s perspective!]. They think that they can just shock and awe those they oppress and they/we will just say, ok massa, we won’t resist no mo.’ Our rulers have a blind spot the size of the Milky Way when it comes to recognizing that people will rise up against their oppressors, no matter how sophisticated the weapons, how hi-tech the weapons, how terrible the savagery the imperialists brandish and use against the people.

When wars are waged, innocents are killed and property and persons are destroyed. Wars expose the actual inner workings and fundamental nature of regimes. They uncover what governments are willing to do to further their ends. This, it should be said, is one of war’s virtues, that it [at least] nakedly exposes the true nature of regimes. [Natural disasters also expose the same things about governments. Witness Katrina.]

This brings me to my second point: instead of retreating in the face of all of this, activists must act boldly and resolutely, and not accept half-steps in the name of “realism.” There are no better opportunities for us than in times such as these. There are no better conditions for us to agitate and expose the actual nature of the system and its world-class lying, hypocritical rulers.

Why should we put energy into, e.g., supporting another war candidate (John Kerry) against the current war candidate? I say this not because I want to see another four years of Bush, but because we should not be taken in by the delusion that a Democrat in office will fundamentally change anything. The work we should be doing is in the streets, building the movement to expose the truth about their schemes, to agitate among the people, to bring people into political life in a multitude of ways, to expose the true and full nature of imperialism and what needs to be done to get rid of it, but we should emphatically not be funneling all that energy into backing John Kerry or any other candidate for office because that’s a dead end.

Wars and invasions aren’t pretty things. Most Americans have a very sheltered, na├»ve, and Pollyannish view of what the US’s role in the world is and has been. This is a product of our history and geography, separated by two oceans from the great wars, able to dominate and use as our backyard warren all of Latin American and the Caribbean. Many Americans believe that whatever we do in the world, we must be on the side of the angels, that we foster democracy, protect the innocent, punish the evil, that our bombs are all smart, and we never do anything without full justification.

The reason they must lie to the people about this is because the majority of Americans aren’t pleased to plunder (even if all too many are thoughtless about driving around in behemoths, gas guzzling, global warming machines!). Consider how most Americans reacted when they saw the videotape of Rodney King’s beating? Or when wartime atrocities manage to make it into the news, rare as this is now days?

Our rulers know this and know that most people will spontaneously adopt the position of nationalism and patriotism, to see the world not as fellow citizens of the planet, but as Americans first and foremost. They count on this, they rely on this, and they absolutely need this. That is why they got an initial flurry of greater support when they actually launched the war on Iraq last year, even though a majority polled just before that were saying they wanted the UN to sponsor it. But it hasn’t proven to be smooth sailing for them. And small wonder!

My own take on this is that I live here, was born and raised here, and have citizenship here, but that doesn’t make me an American. I’m a citizen of this planet before I’m anything else. Isn’t this the truth when you get down to it? Aren’t we [all] just that? Can this planet continue if everyone were to adopt the American middle class standard of living/style of living?

Consent given can also be consent denied. How successful we end up in that, however, well, therein lies the rub… But one thing’s for sure, they will continue to try to cobble together that coalition of the domestic willing, and it’s our job to destroy that coalition.

1 comment:

Jacob said...

Dennis, thank you for your tireless work and your wonderful eloquence. I've just put a quote from your entry onto my website.

A growing number of us feel that something more dramatic than signing petitions and writing letters is necessary. We're putting out a call for a MASSIVE nationwide convergence on Washington (with simultaneous local events around the country) to demand that that Congress impeach him NOW.

This wouldn't be part of an antiwar march or any other political demonstration. It would be a unqiue event calling solely for his impeachment.

A website has been set up at as an initial place to start exchanging ideas.

We would very much welcome your help.