Simón Bolívar saw it coming. In 1829 the Great Liberator of Latin American colonies warned that the United States “appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.”
Now, in the 21st century, we witness the global spread of that plague as Washington, obsessed with being a unipolar power in a multipolar world, demands that each and every nation adhere to its dictate of “democracy” and “freedom.” Powerful words have become shibboleths in the service of imperialism.
In an alternate history, things could have been different after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But this is a history of imperialism, with its ineluctable imperatives.
As flames, smoke, and ashes billowed from the wreckage of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the first country to express sympathy and offer aid was Cuba. President Fidel Castro expressed his government’s profound “grief and sadness” about the “violent surprise attacks carried out this morning” and offered Cuba’s medical aid.
On 9/11 the entire world seemed in sympathy with the United States. But the U.S. response was unilateral and imperial. On September 20, in a televised address before a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror.” He simply announced war, without asking Congress to declare war as required by the U.S. Constitution. He called it “our” war because it already belonged to all U.S. citizens, like it or not: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there.”
Bush was looking beyond the war in Afghanistan, which would begin the following month. “Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.” For his international audience, he warned, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” For his domestic audience, he announced the creation of the Office of Homeland Security, kicking off an era that would leave U.S. constitutional rights crumbling amid the destruction.
A few months later Bush’s commencement address to the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was an order to transform U.S. armed forces into a “military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. We must,” he commanded, “uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries.”
Bush’s “war on terror” created a new paradigm in which U.S. imperialism wages a forever war against “the bad guys” as if the world is a “Call of Duty” video game. Perhaps the first iconic manifestation of the war’s nature was the creation—on occupied territory in Cuba at the Guantánamo Naval Base—of a prison that quickly became notorious around the world for torture, serving as a 21st-century model for the infamous Abu Ghraib in Iraq as well as prisons in other countries, including Afghanistan, Jordan, Poland, Romania, and Thailand.
The plan for this imperial crusade had appeared years before the 9/11 attacks as neoconservatives from the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), like Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, developed their strategy for a “global Pax Americana.” In September 2000, just before the presidential election, PNAC published “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century.” The report outlined a slow transformation to total global hegemony unless there were “some catalyzing and catastrophic event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Elections, U.S. Style
How did those neoconservatives place themselves into position to take advantage of their “new Pearl Harbor” on 9/11? They did it by systematically hijacking the first presidential election of the 21st century in the key battleground state of Florida. After the Civil War, Florida (like the other former slave states) passed laws designed to criminalize ex-slaves and then disenfranchise them—because they were “criminals.” The Jeb Bush Administration actually used the 1868 Florida law that disenfranchised ex-slaves to disenfranchise former felons. At the time of that crucial 2000 election, disenfranchised former felons in Florida totaled 600,000. Of those, 256,392 were African-Americans. With a devious vote count, Texas Governor Bush defeated Vice-President Al Gore in Florida by only 537 votes. If those African-Americans had been allowed to vote, on 9/11 the president would have been Al Gore.
As it was, the vote was so close that it triggered an automatic recount. Legal battles between the Bush and Gore campaigns raged for weeks. When the Florida State Supreme Court ruled that recounts could continue, Miami’s Radio Mambí broadcast appeals by Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Díaz-Balart—both Cuban-American members of Congress—calling for Cuban-Americans to stop the vote count for Miami-Dade County taking place at the Government Center in Miami. Consequently, the rest of the country caught a glimpse of the kind of “democracy” these Cuban-Americans would like to impose in Cuba. According to the New York Times, “several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections.” When it was over, the shock troops had achieved what they wanted: the Canvassing Board shut down the Miami-Dade recount.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party was operating a machine driven by higher powers than Republican protesters in the street: Republicans in high places. Florida’s Republican Secretary of State certified the election results as a 537-vote victory. Florida’s Republican Governor Jeb Bush signed forms to declare that all 25 of Florida’s electors were pledged to his brother George, thus tipping the national electoral votes to Bush, even though Gore won the popular vote. Then, when the Florida State Supreme Court ruled for a statewide partial recount, five U.S. Supreme Court judges overruled the State Court with a 5 to 4 vote to shut down all recounts. Those five “justices”—nominated by Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and H.W. Bush—decided that Bush would be president.
The battle for Florida in 2000 showed how