"We’re still spending like we weren’t at war…. We can’t have guns and butter both at the same time." Fred Thompson, campaigning in Iowa, October 2007
We all learned – again -Truth occupies a unique space in American politics: the taboo corner. I don’t refer to John McCain’s "always putting my country first," or his pious eschewing of special interests; or Barack Obama’s solemn oath to escalate the war in Afghanistan and kill Bin Laden.
During the first (September 26) Presidential debate, moderator Jim Lehrer didn’t ask: "How will either candidate find money to expand the war in Afghanistan (which both want to do), maintain US military strength everywhere (761 bases), and invade Iran and/or Pakistan, while cutting spending (McCain) or repairing broken educational systems and other infrastructure (Obama)? Do you plan to borrow more from the Chinese and Saudis as US credit ratings drop to just above junk bond levels or just print money?"
Truth? That’s painful. Ask the man McCain boasts of having as a foreign policy adviser. When Kissinger reigned as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser under Nixon he totally buffaloed the media, but couldn’t withdraw from Vietnam "with honor" in 1975. Since Kissinger’s departure from affairs of State, his legacy has taken firm root.
In the mid 1970s, the media attending K’s "background briefings" hired a psychiatrist to help them distinguish lies from truth. Disguised as a reporter, the shrink attended several sessions, called the press corps together and informed them: "When K plays with his glasses, it’s a sign of veracity. When he rubs his thighs and clasps his hands like a school buy, expect veracity. When he opens his mouth to talk, he’s lying."
Lying has become the norm. Even after the United States lost the Vietnam War and killed up to 4 million Vietnamese, while destroying large parts of their countryside with Agent Orange and bombs, some resentful hawks maintained that the victorious Vietnamese hadn’t played fair. As Vietnam struggled to count its dead and rebuild from more massive bombing than World War II on Germany and Japan, Washington whined about them not returning all the MIAs. The media and politicians didn’t ask: what did Vietnam do that caused us to invade them and bomb them to smithereens? To this day, some hard cases still whimper "they" didn’t let us win.
Two decades earlier, Eisenhower quit in Korea. Only a much decorated General could carry this off! He understood the United States could not win an Asian land war. A Big Fat Truth!
The United States cannot win in Iraq or Afghanistan. At best, it can leave an Iraqi army and police force with loyalties closer to Iran than to Washington. Iran has already gained regional prominence thanks to Bush’s demolition of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-led rule.
Look at the traditional "backyard," for a dramatic example of declining US influence. Although its official funeral has not yet taken place, several Latin American leaders treat the Monroe Doctrine as a virtual corpse. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gleefully embraced Russian military advisers and referred to the United States government as "Yankis de mierda." Washington encouraged an unsuccessful coup in 2002, but has not really punished him. Indeed, each barrel of Venezuelan oil bought by the United States enriches Chavez’ rule.
When a pseudo secessionist movement erupted in Bolivia in August, the United States predictably backed the rich and the white against the poor and dark skinned Indians. Then, under Chilean leadership, Latin American nations met and backed President Evo Morales in his effort to maintain Bolivian sovereignty and integrity. Washington was not a player.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa evicted a US military base – supposedly drug-war related. In the summer, Bush sent the Fourth Fleet sailing south to show power. Latin American editorials sneered and groaned. Finally, Bush explained that his effort related to humanitarian concerns. One of the ships had a few beds and a few doctors to treat patients – a ridiculous effort to compete with the tens of thousands of Cuban doctors that had treated vast numbers of poor Latin Americans over the decades and trains gratis their young people to become doctors.
US diplomats did no better in Asia, when ideologically rigid neo liberals failed to get North Korea to denuclearize. The giant power under Bush run by the neo cons got no settlement in the Middle East, and even intervened poisonously in the Georgian President’s military battle with Russia in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The rest of the world sees the US Empire as an overreaching and out of control colossus. But our own political leaders refuse to admit they run an empire.
As world markets shudder, most dramatically in the United States, columnists foresee the end of the American Century, which began in 1945. "Having created the conditions that produced history’s biggest bubble, America’s political leaders appear unable to grasp the magnitude of the dangers the country now faces, wrote John Gray. "Mired in their rancorous culture wars and squabbling among themselves, they seem oblivious to the fact that American global leadership is fast ebbing away. A new world is coming into being almost unnoticed, where America is only one of several great powers, facing an uncertain future it can no longer shape." (The Guardian, September 28, 2008)
Gray refers to neo liberalism’s twin pillars, absolute military power and unconditional free market economics. He reminded readers how President George "Free Market" Bush attacked other national leaders’ lack of discipline in applying neo liberal models. Bush now demands urgently that Congress authorize massive government intervention in the economy.
Of course, most third world countries had already experienced the woes of IMF free market models. Angry Americans now hurl curses at bankers, investors and brokers. They ruined the economy at home. China, whose government laughed at neo liberal models, continued to buy US paper. None of its major banks have yet collapsed. Instead, China celebrates the return of its astronauts from their space jaunt. US investment in scientific research shrinks.
Once the world’s rule and law maker, US leaders have proven unreliable in the extreme. In 1945, Washington insisted on establishing rules for starting wars at the Nuremberg trials. Having established the absolute illegality of aggressive (preemptive) wars, Washington engaged in several of these – including Vietnam and Iraq. The laws, as the rest of the world discovered, applied to them, not to the United States.
On the economic front, Washington demanded from the world its neo liberal fiscal orthodoxy. Then, countering one of the "free market" ideology’s key dictates, it began borrow staggering sums. Chinese and Saudi loans helped finance Bush’s tax cuts. Arab Petro-states and Japan contributed loans so US troops could die and kill in Afghanistan and Iraq and occupy bases everywhere.
Candidate McCain blames the financial collapse on greed. He and Obama offered sheepish support of a modified bailout plan. McCain wants to curtail government but expand its bailout role and its military operations – as does Obama. This means more borrowing from abroad.
What a plunge from greatness! Roosevelt believed a UN could steer a path that muted aggressive imperial behavior. Like Eisenhower, FDR understood that once engaged in global militarism even the strongest economy must bend. World War I irrevocably damaged England and France. Germany resurged from defeat to assert imperial ambitions – and then got destroyed, and divided for four plus decades.
The Soviet Union’s Waterloo came in Afghanistan and in the arms race when it could not outspend its rival. Bush’s wars have cost $1 trillion or more. A self-called compassionate conservative has spent the world’s largest economy into a bottomless pit of debt. Bush still pushes a dubious missile defense as authority oozes from Washington, tied down in two wars and scurrying to save its credit market. Russia demonstrated US helplessness as its troops poured into Georgia. Ironically, Bush’s still neo con military plans demand ever more money and Congress passed a military budget without debate that exceeds – with Iraq supplemental and intelligence – the previous $700 billion figure
Amazingly, given our weakened economy, no serious political figure or media pundit has yet suggested that US military commitments make no sense: Iraq, Afghanistan, plans to invade Iran and Pakistan, the maintenance of 761 bases and developing a new round of nuclear weapons.
The media still buys the myth of Bush’s successful surge; translated as bribing Sunnis and encouraging ethnic cleansing to decrease conflict in some of Iraq, not the troop increase.
The image of this nation, fostered by all official and unofficial sources, touts it as the permanent number one. Shouting USA and singing "God Bless America" with hats off at baseball games may make some of us continue to feel good, so long as truth never gets in the way.
Landau is an IPS fellow, author of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD and WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE, plus 40 other films on dvd (available at roundworldproductions)