avatar
First We Must Help Ourselves
A Response to Brecher’s ‘Open Letter to the World’


Though an enormous admirer of Jeremy Brecher’s work in the fields of labor issues and global economics, I was quite troubled by his recent ZNet Commentary, “Open Letter from an American to the World: HELP!” (12/28/01).

I am afraid Jeremy has vastly underestimated and perhaps undercut the potential of the US Left by pleading with progressive-minded folks around the world to take over where we are unable to succeed.

His thesis, that the Bush Administration is a runaway train which no internal force can presently control, is not without merit. Policies are charging in horrible directions and impediments are barely operative. But that doesn’t mean policies are literally without limit, nor that obstacles can’t be established.

The main party whose weakness is highlighted in Brecher’s entreaty happens to be the US Congress. Indeed, the House and Senate may be effectively unable to truly rein in the State Department — but that’s impossible to know, since they have no interest in making an attempt.

(And such paralysis is unlikely, because the structures of our government have not been changed in the wake of 9/11, so checks and balances are still in place on parchment.)

There’s little evidence that Congress is anything but an eager participant in the present course of foreign and domestic policy initiatives. Congress has room to feign hesitancy, but it is barely contriving even the pretense of interest in dissent or resistance.

This is different from demonstrating an emasculation of Congress. Even the modest outcry against military tribunals yielded (equally modest) changes in that call, and such modifications are likely to be enacted in any other elements of policy around which visible opposition rises.

So let’s face it, our entire government is actively complicit in pushing our nation and the world on a collision course with untold catastrophe. But this isn’t some new phenomenon of the post-9/11 era.

Congress and the White House have since the Cold War been disposed to aim for these types of foreign and domstic policies. What has changed is the political viability of overtly pursuing such aims, cherished by Democrats and Republicans alike, now made practical by a docile population’s willingness to be led somewhere. But that can change again.

Nevertheless, I wonder how Brecher proposes other countries curb the hell-bent course of crazed unilateralism the US is currently on (…let alone why he thinks a letter from any American leftist is a contribution in this regard). Brecher’s brief suggestions seemed insufficient to me.

Are we really supposed to believe that the force which can even theoretically halt the lone, renegade superpower lies outside of its borders? During the Cold War (upon which none of us harken fondly), that was very much the case.

But now? Without concrete suggestions for how a global “just say no” policy would stop the American war machine, it’s difficult to find comfort in such a proposal.

Brecher suggests, “The U.N. can serve as an arena for challenging and providing alternatives to superpower supremacy. At the least, the U.S. can be forced to isolate itself by vetoing resolutions that run counter to its unilateralism.”

Then he goes on to cite a very recent example, the 12-1 Security Council vote for UN monitors in Israel/Palestine, pointing out that in vetoing, the US “isolat[ed] itself from many of its own ‘coalition partners’.”

I see this example as proof that the Bush Administration doesn’t give a rat’s ass about such isolation. If the result of that vote was isolation, then isolation doesn’t seem like much of a deterrent at all — unless it actually reflects an effective pariah status that might lead to dissent at home, not just among the population but also powerful economic institutions that would suffer in such a scenario.

Still, I for one don’t think Bush is bluffing when he looks the camera in the eye and insists, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”

I believe that’s the message he will deliver to any head of state or foreign population, North or South, East or West. So if true ostricization is our only hope, it is not exactly something to aspire toward as long as Bush’s ability to pursue any objective is not more significantly hampered from within.

Most important among my concerns: what kind of a cop-out is it to create a monster and then appeal for others to curtail the creature’s destructive habits? Even a guilty Dr. Frankenstein mustered the decency to personally try and manage his own alter ego-slash-nemesis.

Brecher’s letter, though written for a venue whose audience is overwhelmingly American, made no parallel appeal to the US Left. Instead, it decided to inform internationals of facts and analysis they’re already privy to and understand at least as well as do progressives in the US.

(I honestly thought the piece was going to be a satire, actually addressed to domestic movements, since clearly the people beneath whose asses a fire most needs to be lit are right here in the States!)

The strategy for ending this “new kind of war” is the same as always. We need to apply pressure on elites, from every feasible angle, until the costs to them of pursuing their agenda exceed the perceived benefits.

Certainly the loss of allies and trade partners the world over would contribute to those costs. But political leaders dedicated to winning great new victories for their real constituents — in this case, policy changes that facilitate redistribution of wealth and power upward while masquerading as a “war on terrorism” — often respond only to the most overwhelming threats.

The creation of a social movement which undermines the very fabric of powerful American institutions is the only sensible strategy at our disposal.

Rather than cowering in desperate and dangerous hopes that other societies will rescue the world from certain disaster, we should concentrate our efforts and appeals on forces within the US.

Leftists elsewhere can be relied on to know the score. Behaving like a pathetic, defeated conglomeration of would-be resisters will not inspire dissidents in other countries, but it will definitely send a message to Americans that the Left is indeed dead.

When medical professionals apply “the paddles” to a cardiac arrest patient and shock him or her “back to life,” what they are really doing is using electricity to stop the patient’s “fibrillating” (quivering) heart altogether, in hopes that it will spontaneously regain a normal, healthy rhythm.

In the momentary meantime, once a successful shock is delivered, the patient is essentially dead, with no significant cardiac activity at all.

September 11 was defibrillation for the American Left. Though the media and some pessimistic progressives have declared the Left dead, there remains a chance that it will return stronger and steadier than any time in recent decades, not least because Americans as well as others can perceive the importance of effective resistance.

We owe ourselves that opportunity. This is no time for an SOS, nor a DNR. Despair at this juncture will only guarantee our death certificate be signed prematurely.

Brian Dominick ([email protected]) lives in Syracuse, NY. He contributes to ZNet as a writer, editor, and webslinger.

Leave a comment