We began by considering four critical issues that should rank high on the agenda of those concerned with the prospects for a decent future. Two of them are literally matters of survival: nuclear war and environmental disaster. The first danger is ever-present, beyond imagination, and in principle avoidable; practical ways to proceed are understood. The second is longer-term, and there is much uncertainty about how a serious crisis can be averted, or at least mitigated, though it is clear enough that the longer the delay in confronting the tasks, they harder they will be. And again, sensible measures to proceed are well known. The third major crisis is that the government of the global superpower is acting in ways that enhance these threats, and others as well, such as the threat of terrorism by enemies. That conclusion, unfortunately all too credible, brings to prominence a fourth critical issue: the growing democratic deficit, the gap between public will and public policy, a sign of the increasing failure of formal democratic institutions to function as they would in a democratic culture with vitality and substance. This last issue is both threatening and hopeful. It is threatening because it increases the dangers posed by the first three imminent crises, apart from being intolerable in itself. It is hopeful because it can be overcome, and again, practical ways to proceed are well understood, and have often been implemented under far more difficult circumstances than those faced in the industrial societies today.
No one familiar with history should be surprised that the growing democratic deficit at home is accompanied by declaration of messianic missions to bring democracy to a suffering world. Declarations of noble intent by systems of power are rarely complete fabrication, and the same is true in this case. Under some conditions, forms of democracy are acceptable. Abroad, as the leading scholar-advocate of “democracy promotion” concludes from his inquiries, we find a “strong line of continuity,” extending to the present moment: democracy is sometimes acceptable, but if and only if it is consistent with strategic and economic interests (Thomas Carothers). Much the same holds at home, where democracy is valued by power and privilege insofar as it “protects the opulent minority from the majority,” as Madison held.
As the strong line of continuity illustrates, the policy planning spectrum is narrow. The basic dilemma facing policy makers is sometimes candidly recognized at its dovish liberal extreme, for example, by Robert Pastor, President Carterâ€™s national security advisor for Latin America. He explained why the administration had to support the murderous and corrupt Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and when that proved impossible, to try at least to maintain the US-trained National Guard even as it was massacring the population “with a brutality a nation usually reserves for its enemy,” killing some 40,000 people. The reason was the familiar one: “The United States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations of the region, but it also did not want developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely.” The Cold War was scarcely relevant, but once again we find the dominant operative principle, illustrated copiously throughout history.
Similar dilemmas faced Bush administration planners after their invasion of Iraq. They want Iraqis “to act independently, except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely.” Iraq must therefore be sovereign and democratic, but within limits. It must somehow be constructed as an obedient client state, much in the manner of the traditional order in Central America, where the experiences that shape foreign policy planners are the richest and most instructive. These experiences are particularly alive for the current administration, with its firm roots in the cruel and savage Reagan years, when “democracy enhancement” programs were able to restore “the basic order of….quite undemocratic societies,” tolerating only “limited, top-down forms of democratic change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied” (Carothers) â€“ by means of mass slaughter, torture, and barbarism At a very general level, the pattern is not unfamiliar throughout history, reaching to the opposite extreme of modern institutional structures. The Kremlin was able to maintain satellites that were run by domestic political and military forces, with the iron fist poised if needed. Germany was able to do much the same in occupied Europe even while it was at war, as did fascist Japan in Manchuria (its Manchukuo). Fascist Italy achieved similar results in North Africa while carrying out virtual genocide that in no way harmed its favorable image in the West and possibly inspired Hitler: for example in Libya from 1929-1933, a campaign waged with unspeakable brutality and ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. Traditional imperial and neo-colonial systems illustrate many variations on similar themes.
To achieve the traditional goals in Iraq has proven to be surprisingly difficult, despite unusually favorable circumstances, as already reviewed. The dilemma of combining a measure of independence with firm control arose in a stark form not long after the invasion, as mass non-violent resistance compelled the invaders to accept far more Iraqi initiative than they had anticipated, or desired. The outcome even began to evoke the nightmarish prospect of a more or less democratic and sovereign Iraq taking its place in a loose Shiite alliance comprising Iran, Shiite Iraq, and possibly the nearby Shiite-dominated regions of Saudi Arabia, controlling most of the worldâ€™s oil and independent of Washington. Even the thought of such an outcome evokes memories of the near hysteria over Nasser-led secular nationalism in 1958, particularly when Iraq broke free of Anglo-American domination of the vast energy resources of the Middle East. It was feared that the “contagion” might spread even to Saudi Arabia, where the extremist fundamentalist regime has the task of ensuring that this “stupendous source of strategic power,” “one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” remains firmly in US hands. It still performs this role, but with increasing uncertainty.
It could become even worse. Washingtonâ€™s dedicated efforts to punish Iran for overthrowing the tyranny of the Shah in 1979 might backfire. Iran does have options. Iran might give up on hopes that Europe could become independent of the US, and turn eastward. If that happens, Iran will have reasons, which have rarely been discussed in Western commentary on the confrontation over Iranian uranium enrichment programs. In a rare break from the silence, the reasons are discussed by Selig Harrison, a leading specialist on these topics. “The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the European Union were based on a bargain that the EU, held back by the US, has failed to honour,” Harrison observes:
Iran agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment efforts temporarily pending the outcome of discussions on a permanent enrichment ban. The EU promised to put forward proposals for economic incentives and security guarantees in return for a permanent ban but subsequently refused to discuss security issues. The language of the joint declaration that launched the negotiations on November 14 2004, was unambiguous. “A mutually acceptable agreement,” it said, would not only provide “objective guarantees” that Iran’s nuclear programme is “exclusively for peaceful purposes” but would “equally provide firm commitments on security issues.”
The phrase “security issues” is a thinly veiled reference to the threats by the US and Israel to bomb Iran, and the well-publicized preparations to carry out such an attack. The model regularly adduced is Israelâ€™s bombing of Iraqâ€™s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, which appears to have initiated Saddamâ€™s nuclear weapons programs, another demonstration that violence tends to elicit violence in reaction. Any attempt to execute similar plans against Iran could lead to immediate violence, as is surely understood in Washington. During a visit to Teheran, the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr warned that his militia would defend Iran in the case of any attack, “one of the strongest signs yet,” the Washington Post reported, “that Iraq could become a battleground in any Western conflict with Iran, raising the specter of Iraqi Shiite militias — or perhaps even the U.S.-trained Shiite-dominated military — taking on American troops here in sympathy with Iran.” The Sadrist bloc, which registered substantial gains in the December 2005 elections, may soon become the most powerful single political force in Iraq. It is consciously pursuing the model of other successful Islamist groups, such as Hamas in Palestine, combining strong resistance to military occupation with grassroots social organizing and service to the poor.
Washingtonâ€™s unwillingness to allow regional security issues to be considered, tolerated by Europe, is nothing new, not just in the case of Iran. It has arisen repeatedly in the confrontation with Iraq as well, with serious consequences, ever since Saddam became an enemy in 1990. In the background, raising very serious security concerns, is the matter of Israeli nuclear weapons, a topic that Washington bars from international consideration in violation of firm agreements and Security Council resolutions. Beyond that lurks what Harrison rightly describes as “the central problem facing the global non-proliferation regime”: the failure of the nuclear states to live up to their NPT obligation “to phase out their own nuclear weapons” — and in Washingtonâ€™s case, formal rejection of the obligation.
Unlike Europe, China refuses to be intimidated by Washington, a primary reason for the growing fear of China on the part of US planners, which also poses a dilemma: steps toward confrontation are inhibited by US corporate reliance on China as an export platform and growing market, as well as Chinaâ€™s financial reserves, reported to be approaching Japanâ€™s in scale. Much of Iranâ€™s oil already goes to China, and China is providing Iran with weapons that both states presumably regard as a deterrent to US designs. Still more uncomfortable for Washington is the fact that “the Sino-Saudi relationship has developed dramatically,” the Financial Times reports, including Chinese military aid to Saudi Arabia and gas exploration rights for China. By 2005, Saudi Arabia provided about 17 percent of Chinaâ€™s oil imports. Chinese and Saudi oil companies have signed deals for drilling and construction of a huge refinery (with Exxon Mobil as a partner). A January 2006 visit by Saudi King Abdullah to Beijing was expected to lead to a Sino-Saudi memorandum of understanding calling for “increased cooperation and investment between the two countries in oil, natural gas, and investment,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Indian analyst Aijaz Ahmad observes that Iran could “emerge as the virtual lynchpin in the making, over the next decade or so, of what China and Russia have come to regard as an absolutely indispensable Asian Energy Security Grid, for breaking Western control of the world’s energy supplies and securing the great industrial revolution of Asia.” South Korea and Southeast Asian countries are likely to join, possibly Japan as well. A crucial question is how India will react. It rejected US pressures to withdraw from an oil pipeline deal with Iran, though it is still vacillating on grounds of security within Pakistani Baluchistan. Meanwhile Pakistan has pledged to build the pipeline whatever India decides (and presumably against US wishes). On the other hand, India joined the US and EU in voting for an anti-Iranian resolution at the IAEA, joining also in their hypocrisy, since India rejects the NPT regime to which Iran, so far, appears to be largely conforming. Ahmad reports that India may have secretly reversed its stand at the IAEA after Iran briefly threatened to terminate a $20 billion gas deal. Washington later “warned India that Delhiâ€™s own nuclear deal with the US could be ditched if the Indian government did not vote to refer Tehran to the United Nations Security Council,” the Financial Times reported, eliciting a sharp rejoinder from the Indian foreign ministry and an evasive tempering of the warning by the US Embassy.
India too has options. It may choose to be a US client, or it may prefer to join a more independent Asian bloc that is taking shape, with growing ties to Middle East oil producers. In a series of informative commentaries, the deputy editor of The Hindu observes that “if the 21st century is to be an `Asian centuryâ€™, Asiaâ€™s passivity in the energy sector has to end.” Though it “hosts the world’s largest producers and fastest growing consumers of energy,” Asia still relies “on institutions, trading frameworks and armed forces from outside the region in order to trade with itself,” a debilitating heritage from the imperial era. The key is India-China cooperation. In 2005, he points out, “India and China have managed to confound analysts around the world by turning their much-vaunted rivalry for the acquisition of oil and gas assets in third countries into a nascent partnership that could alter the basic dynamics of the global energy market.” A January 2006 agreement signed in Beijing “cleared the way for India and China to collaborate not only in technology but also in hydrocarbon exploration and production, a partnership that eventually could alter fundamental equations in the world’s oil and natural gas sector.” At a meeting in New Delhi of Asian energy producers and consumers a few months earlier, India had “unveiled an ambitious $22.4 billion pan-Asian gas grid and oil security pipeline system” extending throughout all of Asia, from Siberian fields through Central Asia and to the Middle East energy giants, also integrating the consumer states. Furthermore, Asian countries “hold more than two trillion dollars worth of foreign reserves,” overwhelmingly denominated in dollars, though prudence suggests diversification. A first step, already being contemplated, is an Asian oil market trading in euros. The impact on the international financial system and the balance of global power could be significant. The US “sees India as the weakest link in the emerging Asian chain,” he continues, and is “trying actively to divert New Delhi away from the task of creating new regional architecture by dangling the nuclear carrot and the promise of world power status in alliance with itself.” If the Asian project is to succeed, he warns, “India will have to resist these allurements.” Similar questions arise with regard to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization formed in 2001 as a Russia-China-based counterweight to the expansion of US power into former Soviet Central Asia, now evolving “rapidly toward a regional security bloc [that] could soon induct new members such as India, Pakistan, and Iran,” long-time Moscow correspondent Fred Weir reports, perhaps becoming a “Eurasian military confederacy to rival NATO.”
The prospect that Europe and Asia might move towards greater independence has seriously troubled US planners since World War II, and concerns have significantly increased as the “tripolar order” has continued to evolve, along with new and important south-south interactions (Brazil, South Africa, India, and others), and rapidly growing EU engagement with China â€“ perhaps now, or soon, each otherâ€™s largest trading partners.
US intelligence has projected that the US, while controlling Middle East oil for the traditional reasons, will itself rely mainly on more stable Atlantic Basin resources (West Africa, Western hemisphere). Control of Middle East oil is now far from a sure thing, and these expectations are also threatened by developments in the Western hemisphere, accelerated by Bush administration policies that have left the US remarkably isolated in the global arena. The Bush administration has even succeeded in alienating Canada, an impressive feat. Canadaâ€™s relations with the US are more “strained and combative” than ever before as a result of Washingtonâ€™s rejection of Nafta decisions favoring Canada, Joel Brinkley reports. “Partly as a result, Canada is working hard to build up its relationship with China [and] some officials are saying Canada may shift a significant portion of its trade, particularly oil, from the United States to China.” Canadaâ€™s minister of natural resources said that within a few years one-quarter of the oil that Canada now sends to the US may go to China instead. In a further blow to Washingtonâ€™s energy policies, the leading oil exporter in the hemisphere, Venezuela, has forged probably the closest relations with China of any Latin American country, and is planning to sell increasing amounts of oil to China as part of its effort to reduce dependence on the openly hostile US government. Latin America as a whole is increasing trade and other relations with China, with some setbacks, but likely expansion, in particular for raw materials exporters like Brazil and Chile.
Meanwhile Cuba-Venezuela relations are becoming very close, each relying on its comparative advantage. Venezuela is providing low-cost oil while in return Cuba organizes literacy and health programs, sending thousands of highly skilled professionals, teachers and doctors, who work in the poorest and most neglected areas, as they do elsewhere in the third world. Joint Cuba-Venezuela projects are also having a considerable impact in the Caribbean countries, where Cuban doctors are providing health care to thousands of people who had no hope of receiving it, with Venezuelan funding. Operation Miracle, as it is called, is described by Jamaicaâ€™s ambassador to Cuba as “an example of integration and south-south co-operation,” and is generating great enthusiasm among the poor majority. The US and Mexico apparently toyed with the idea of an oil subsidy to counter Venezuelan petro-diplomacy, but do not seem to have pursued it. Cuban medical assistance is also being welcomed elsewhere. One of the most horrendous tragedies of recent years was the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. In addition to the huge toll, unknown numbers of survivors have to face brutal winter weather with little shelter, food or medical assistance. There has been extensive coverage of Western aid, but one has to turn to the South Asian press to read that “Cuba has provided the largest contingent of doctors and paramedics to Pakistan,” paying all the costs (perhaps with Venezuelan funding), and that President Musharraf of Pakistan expressed his “deep gratitude” to Fidel Castro for the “spirit and compassion” of the Cuban medical teams. These are reported to comprise more than 1000 trained personnel, 44 percent of them women, who remained to work in remote mountain villages, “living in tents in freezing weather and in an alien culture” after the Western aid teams had been withdrawn, setting up 19 field hospitals and working 12-hour shifts.
Some analysts have suggested that Cuba and Venezuela might even unite, a step towards further integration of Latin America in a bloc that is more independent from the US. Venezuela has joined Mercosur, the South American customs union, a move described by Argentine President NÃ©stor Kirchner as “a milestone” in the development of this trading bloc, and welcomed as opening “a new chapter in our integration” by Brazilian President Luiz InÃ¡cio Lula da Silva. Independent experts say that “adding Venezuela to the bloc furthers its geopolitical vision of eventually spreading Mercosur to the rest of the region.” At a meeting in Uruguay convened to mark Venezuelaâ€™s formal entry into Mercosur, Venezuelan president ChÃ¡vez said that the organization must be “politicized”: “We cannot allow this to be purely an economic project, one for the elites and for the transnational companies,” a not very oblique reference to the US-sponsored “Free Trade Agreement for the Americas,” which has aroused strong public opposition. Venezuela also supplied Argentina with fuel oil to help stave off an energy crisis, and bought almost a third of Argentine debt issued in 2005, one element of a region-wide effort to free the countries from the controls of the IMF after two decades of disastrous effects of conformity to the rules imposed by the US-dominated international financial institutions. The IMF has “acted towards our country as a promoter and a vehicle of policies that caused poverty and pain among the Argentine people,” President Kirchner said in announcing his decision to pay almost $1 trillion to rid itself of the IMF forever. Radically violated IMF rules, Argentina enjoyed a substantial economic recovery from the disaster left by IMF policies.
Steps toward independent regional integration advanced further with the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia in December 2005. He became the first indigenous president in Bolivia, where a majority identify themselves with indigenous groups. Morales moved quickly to reach a series of energy accords with Venezuela. The Financial Times reported that these “are expected to underpin forthcoming radical reforms to Boliviaâ€™s economy and energy sector” with its huge gas reserves, second only to Venezuelaâ€™s in South America. Morales too committed himself to reverse the neoliberal policies that Bolivia had pursued rigorously for 25 years, leaving the country with lower per capita income than at the outset. Adherence to the neoliberal programs was interrupted during this period only when popular discontent compelled the government to abandon them, as when it followed World Bank advice to privatize water supply and “get prices right” — incidentally, to deprive the poor of access to water.
Venezuelan “subversion,” as it is described in Washington, is extending to the US as well. Perhaps that calls for expansion of the policies of “containment” of Venezuela ordered by Bush in March 2005. In November 2005, the Washington Post reported, a group of Senators sent a letter “to nine big oil companies: With huge increases in winter heating bills expected, the letter read, we want you to donate some of your record profits to help low-income people cover those costs.” They received one response: from CITGO, the Venezuelan-controlled company. CITGO offered to provide low-cost oil to low-income residents of Boston, later to the Bronx and elsewhere. ChÃ¡vez is only doing it “for political gain,” the State Department responded; it is “somewhat akin to the government of Cuba offering scholarships to medical school in Cuba to disadvantaged American youth.” Quite unlike aid from the US and other countries, which is pure-hearted altruism. It is not clear that these subtleties will be appreciated by the recipients of the “12 million gallons of discounted home-heating oil [provided by CITGO] to local charities and 45,000 low-income families in Massachusetts.” The oil is distributed to poor people facing a 30-50 percent rise in oil prices, with fuel assistance “woefully underfunded, so this is a major shot in the arm for people who otherwise wouldn’t get through the winter,” according to the director of MassEnergyConsumer Alliance, which will distribute low-cost oil to “homeless shelters, food banks, and low-income housing groups.” He also “said he hoped the deal would present `a friendly challengeâ€™ to US oil companies — which recently reported record quarterly profits — to use their windfall to help poor families survive the winter,” apparently in vain.
Though Central America was largely disciplined by Reaganite violence and terror, the rest of the hemisphere is falling out of control, particularly from Venezuela to Argentina, which was the poster-child of the IMF and the Treasury Department until its economy collapsed under the policies they imposed. As noted, Argentina did manage to recover, but only by defying IMF orders, which does not please international creditors or Washington. Much of the region has left-center governments. The indigenous populations have become much more active and influential, particularly in Bolivia and Ecuador, both major energy producers, where they either want oil and gas to be domestically controlled or, in some cases, oppose production altogether. Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why their lives, societies, and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so that New Yorkers can sit in their SUVs in traffic gridlock. Some are even calling for an “Indian nation” in South America. Meanwhile the internal economic integration that is underway is reversing patterns that trace back to the Spanish conquests, with Latin American elites and economies linked to the imperial powers but not to one another. Along with growing south-south interaction on a broader scale, these developments are strongly influenced by popular organizations that are coming together in the unprecedented international global justice movements, ludicrously called “anti-globalization” because they favor globalization that privileges the interests of people, not investors and financial institutions. For many reasons, the system of US global dominance is fragile, even apart from the damage inflicted to it by Bush planners.
One consequence is that the Bush administrationâ€™s pursuit of the traditional policies of deterring democracy, called “democracy promotion” in the doctrinal system, face new obstacles. It is no longer as easy as before to resort to military coups and international terrorism to overthrow democratically elected governments, as Bush planners learned ruefully in 2002 in Venezuela. The “strong line of continuity” must be pursued in other ways, for the most part. In Iraq, as we have seen, mass non-violent resistance compelled Washington and London to permit the elections they had sought to block by a series of schemes. The subsequent effort to subvert the unwanted elections by providing substantial advantages to the administrationâ€™s favorite candidate, and expelling the independent media, also failed. Problems still remain beyond those usually discussed. The Iraqi labor movement is making considerable progress despite the opposition of the occupation authorities. The situation is rather like Europe and Japan after World War II, when a primary goal of the US and UK was to undermine independent labor movements â€“ as at home, for similar reasons: organized labor contributes in essential ways to functioning democracy with popular engagement. Many of the measures adopted at that time â€“ withholding food, supporting fascist police, etc. â€“ are no longer available. Nor is it possible today to rely on the labor bureaucracy of AIFLD to help undermine unions. Today, some American unions are supporting Iraqi workers, just as they do in Colombia, where more union activists are murdered than anywhere in the world but at least now receive support from the United Steelworkers of America and others, while Washington continues to provide enormous funding for the government, which bears a large part of the responsibility.
The problem of elections arose in Palestine much in the way it did in Iraq. As already discussed, the Bush administration refused to permit elections until the death of Yasser Arafat, aware that the wrong man would win so that elections would not conform to the democratic vision that animates policy. After Arafatâ€™s death, the administration agreed to respond to the popular pressure for elections, expecting that its favored candidates in the Palestinian Authority would win. To promote this outcome, Washington resorted to much the same modes of subversion as in Iraq, and often before. The national press reported that Washington used USAID as an “invisible conduit” in an effort to “increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group Hamas,” spending “about $1.9 million of its yearly $400 million in aid to the Palestinians on dozens of quick projects before elections this week to bolster the governing Fatah faction’s image with voters and strengthen its hand in competing with the militant faction Hamas.” As is normal, the US consulate in East Jerusalem assured the press that the concealed efforts to promote Fatah were merely intended “to enhance democratic institutions and support democratic actors, not just Fatah.” In the US or any Western country, even a hint of such foreign interference would destroy a candidate, but deeply rooted imperial mentality legitimates such routine measures of subversion of elections elsewhere. However, the attempt to subvert the elections again resoundingly failed.
The US and Israeli governments now have to adjust to dealing somehow with a radical Islamic party that approaches their traditional rejectionist stance, though not entirely, at least if Hamas really does mean to agree to an indefinite truce on the international border as its leaders state. The idea is completely foreign to the US and Israel, which insist that any political outcome must include Israeli takeover of substantial parts of the West Bank (and the forgotten Golan Heights). Hamasâ€™s refusal to accept Israelâ€™s “right to exist” mirrors the refusal of Washington and Jerusalem to accept Palestineâ€™s “right to exist” â€“ a concept unknown in international affairs; Mexico accepts the existence of the US, but not its abstract “right to exist” on almost half of Mexico, acquired by conquest. Hamasâ€™s formal commitment to “destroy Israel” places it on a par with the US and Israel, which vowed formally that there could be no “additional Palestinian state” (in addition to Jordan) until they relaxed their extreme rejectionist stand partially in the past few years, in the manner already reviewed. Although Hamas has not said so, it would come as no great surprise if Hamas were to agree to allow Jews to remain in scattered cantons in the present Israel, while Palestine constructs huge settlement and infrastructure projects to take over the valuable land and resources, effectively breaking Israel up into unviable cantons, virtually separated from one another and from some small part of Jerusalem where Jews would also be allowed to remain. And they might agree to call the fragments “a state.” If such proposals were made, we would — rightly — regard them as a reversion to Nazism, a fact that might elicit some thoughts. If such proposals are made, Hamas’s position would be essentially like that of the US and Israel for the past five years. Before that, they refused to consider even this impoverished form of “statehood.” It is entirely fair to describe Hamas as radical, extremist, and violent, and as a serious threat to peace and a just political settlement. But the organization hardly is alone in this stance.
Elsewhere traditional means of undermining democracy have succeeded. In Haiti, the Bush administrationâ€™s favorite “democracy-building group, the International Republican Institute,” worked assiduously to promote the fortunes of the opposition to President Aristide. The project was helped by the withholding of desperately needed aid on grounds that were dubious at best. When it seemed that Aristide would probably win any genuine election, Washington and the opposition chose to withdraw, a standard device to discredit elections that are going to come out the wrong way: Nicaragua in 1984 and Venezuela in December 2005 are examples that should be familiar. Then followed a military coup by former state terrorists based in the Dominican Republic (which Washington claims to have known nothing about), expulsion of the President to South Africa, and a reign of horrifying terror and violence, vastly exceeding anything under the elected government that Washington helped to overthrow. The miserable fate of Haiti is traceable in no slight measure to US intervention through the past century, joined by France in 2004, perhaps because President Chirac was offended by Aristideâ€™s request for some extremely limited compensation for Franceâ€™s own hideous crimes in Haiti, which surpass anything since, a considerable claim to fame.
The persistence of the strong line of continuity to the present again reveals that the US is very much like other powerful states. It pursues the strategic and economic interests of dominant sectors of the domestic population, to the accompaniment of impressive rhetorical flourishes about its exceptional dedication to the highest values. That is practically a historical universal, and the reason why sensible people pay scant attention to declarations of noble intent by leaders, or accolades by their followers. They are predictable, therefore carry virtually no information.
One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: “They present solutions, but I donâ€™t like them.” In addition to the proposals that should be familiar about dealing with the crises that reach to the level of survival, a few simple suggestions for the US have already been mentioned: (1) accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; (2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols; (3) let the UN take the lead in international crises; (4) rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting the grave threats of terror; (5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter: the use of force is legitimate only when ordered by the Security Council or when the country is under imminent threat of attack, in accord with Article 51; (6) give up the Security Council veto, and have “a decent respect for the opinion of mankind,” as the Declaration of Independence advises, even if power centers disagree; (7) cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending: health, education, renewable energy, and so on. For people who believe in democracy, these are very conservative suggestions: they appear to be the opinions of the majority of the US population, in most cases the overwhelming majority. They are in radical opposition to public policy; in most cases, to a bipartisan consensus. To be sure, we cannot be very confident about the state of public opinion on matters such as these, because of another essential feature of the democratic deficit: the topics scarcely enter into public discussion and the basic facts are little known. In a highly atomized society, the public is therefore largely deprived of the opportunity to form considered opinions.
Another conservative and useful suggestion is that facts, logic, and elementary moral principles should matter. Those who take the trouble to adhere to that suggestion will soon be led to abandon a good part of familiar doctrine, though it us surely much easier to repeat self-serving mantras. And there are other simple truths. They do not answer every problem by any means. But they do carry us some distance toward developing more specific and detailed answers, as is constantly done. More important, they open the way to implement them, opportunities that are readily within our grasp if we can free ourselves from the shackles of doctrine and imposed illusion.
Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to seek to induce pessimism, hopelessness and despair, reality is different. There has been substantial progress in the unending question for justice and freedom in recent years, leaving a legacy that can easily be carried forward from a higher plane than before. Opportunities for education and organizing abound. As in the past, rights are not likely to be granted by benevolent authorities, or won by intermittent actions â€“ attending a few demonstrations or pushing a lever in the personalized quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as “democratic politics.” As always in the past, the tasks require dedicated day-by-day engagement to create — in part re-create — the basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining policies, not only in the political arena from which it is largely excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena, from which it is excluded in principle. There are many ways to promote democracy at home, carrying it to new dimensions. Opportunities are ample, and failure to grasp them is likely to have ominous repercussions: for the country, for the world, and for future generations.
Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous best-selling political works. His latest books are Failed States, Imperial Ambitions, and Hegemony or Survival, all in the American Empire Project series of Metropolitan Books, 9-11 (Seven Stories Press), Understanding Power (New Press), and New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind (Cambridge University Press). He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, and is a professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.