Has America Gone Commie?
America, they say, is a democratic country where civil liberties are respected; it is also a capitalistic nation that values free market economies. And, since it proclaims itself to be the world's guardian of these values, America's government must surely exemplify them in practice.
However, under the current administration, the US has seen the dramatic acceleration of a long-evident process of ideological decay. Since September 11th especially, the country has suffered draconian restrictions on civil liberties and the rapid erosion of judicial and governmental transparency. At the same time, the increasing expenditure of taxpayer dollars has been conducted at variance with traditional ideals of free market competition and avoidance of embedded government cronyism.
Now, with the invasion of Iraq, the nadir has been reached: long-suppressed desires for empire have come out into the open and are leading America in a direction completely unknown in the country's history. Iraq is on the verge of becoming the 51st state, as a man who did not win the popular vote presides over the nation, surrounded by a coterie of oligarchs who have nothing in common with the majority of their subjects.
The Drug of Choice
If this all sounds suspiciously like another, allegedly defeated form of government, we might also consider another thing. The America that is today has also received a powerful injection of three toxic substances. The first is relentless paranoia of the outside world. According to this, all kinds of civilian restrictions and pre-emptive foreign wars become justified for the sake of "national security." Second is the all-pervasive cronyism between government oligarchs and corporations, which retard the practice of a free market economy. Finally, there is a belief in the ineluctable nature of "progress," i.e., a teleological narrative that describes America's political system as supreme, and destined to supercede and convert those of all other nations.
In short, America's new incarnation as an empire is turning out to be quite a lot like another, vanquished experiment of the past. The only thing missing, it seems, is the dictator.
Official Uses for Paranoia
Today's American leaders seem to have learned something from the enigmatic Enver Hoxha, the Stalinist dictator who riddled Albania with foxholes and bunkers out of an unflagging paranoia of imminent invasion. Overtly since 9/11, and tacitly even before, the US Government has consistently tried to terrify its citizens into meek compliance, creating threats where they haven't existed, and blowing potential threats out of all proportion. The price of paranoia is part psychological (increased jingoism, xenophobia and irrational suspicion of fellow Americans), part juridical (restricted freedoms of speech and depleted legal rights) and part economic (the ever-increasing siphoning of taxpayer money for military and security purposes).
Running in an endless, vicious circle, government-spread paranoia feeds the first, and is made to justify the second and third, magically transforming real, deleterious civil losses into noble sacrifices. When these three (exclusionary "patriotism," voluntary captivity, and "noble sacrifice") are consummated, the birth of fascism is never far off.
That said, the world's onetime harshest Communist state is not really comparable with America, after all: Hoxha banned the ownership of television sets, fearing that his all-important propaganda might be undermined if people could (virtually) see the outside world. Not so in the States.
Ironically, the American oligarchs have gone the exact opposite way, but for the same purpose: in today's American faux-democracy, the masses are most easily controlled by television and their submissive, accepting compliance with the virtual reality of sanitized state propaganda.
Retarding the Free Market Economy
When elected more than three years ago, George W. Bush pledged to cut taxes and reduce the number of troops stationed abroad. Now that he has reneged on these promises, the president is banking on war-driven patriotism to help him win the 2004 campaign. Despite inheriting a record budget surplus, Bush has led the country deep into the red – and is now seeking to bleed taxpayers dry, pushing through huge increases in military spending.
In other words, the money that private citizens could be channeling into setting up competitive, private enterprises is instead being poured into a bottomless pit of non-competitive companies held snug in the protective arms of a fatherly oligarchy. This has been justified by recourse to the "urgent" nature of national security, for example with PR giant The Rendon Group, which won a lucrative government contract on a no-bid basis in the aftermath of September 11th. Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, was recently awarded an Iraq contract for putting out oil well fires – again, on a no-bid basis. And this is not even to mention the ongoing furor over Richard Perle's conflicts of interest, which perfectly exemplify the idea that war is the health of the state.
War: the Death of Economy is the Economy of Death
However, war is not salutary for the people. The huge corporations and institutions that make up the military-industrial complex are neither inherently sustainable nor profit-driven. Although they may have originally emerged from a climate of free enterprise, they can no longer be classed in this category.
This is not without irony. To stay in business, these companies require the state make constant interventions and war; the need for new bombs, after all, depends on the depletion of old ones. However, since the state's need for war cannot be achieved without the contributions of such corporations, it coddles them in a subsidized, protectionist world where exist neither open bidding nor accountability, a gray zone between the governmental and non-governmental, plagued by corrupt kickbacks and stuffed with pork. The production of military-industrial companies is geared towards anticipation of fat subsidies rather than towards the risky, uncharted open market. Although it's easier to get away with procurement corruption and outright theft overseas, such companies have no qualms about doing it at home, too. As employees often say, the point is not to make a profit – but to spend as much money as possible.
Indeed, we should not confuse a profit-making business with personal enrichment. In its classic sense, the free market rewards the most innovative and hard-working entrepreneurs. If their business is sound and provides a needed service, its value is affirmed by profit, which in turn brings it the opportunity for growth, improvement and further innovation.
However, even as the world grows less safe by the day for most of us, the security blanket of government spending insulates the worlds of a very few. Money is circulated, not within the economy as a whole, but rather within a closed circle of politicians and corporate cronies. To be sure, a few not inconsiderable scraps are thrown further down the corporate ladder to keep the minions satisfied (i.e., opportunities for financial gain through corruption); nevertheless, the vast majority of the "profit" is controlled by the oligarchs.
Unsurprisingly, the Iraq war has come during a period of economic decline in the US. Since the homeland offers little incentive, the rest of the world must be made available to these behemoths. A certain parasitism therefore infests the very being of companies dependent on war. Unless specific political policies (i.e., war threats) so dictate, they rapidly reach their productivity limit. At a certain point, after adequate measures have been taken for the defense of their homeland, it no longer becomes possible to replicate life-negating products on an increasing scale. Producing war thus becomes a cyclical race to artificially shore up these industries, industries that are not sustainable without continual murder and maiming. In its essential conception, however, economy is diametrically opposed to this, being directed by and for humans, for the sustenance and continuation of human life.
For over 50 years, American leaders have used political intimidation, economic pressure and even war to combat "dictators" who would dare trample on the rights of their citizens. Often, the name has been correctly applied (though this still does not confer legitimacy to a "liberating" intervention). In all of the modern cases, the US has hidden its real intentions, professing huge sympathy for the world's oppressed. This has resulted in extremes of bullying and even military intervention. However, Milosevic was not Hitler, and Lukashenko is not Stalin. Saddam, in fact, may not even turn out to be the Saddam we all know so well.
America's demonizing of world leaders, while often having some basis in fact, is selective (in that it overlooks other worthy candidates) and over-complimentary (in that it alleges they have an almost super-human ability to control events).
The Stifling of Dissent and the Rise of Fascism
Along with this childishly simple conception of leaders, the chronic oversimplification of complex situations is ideally suited to crushing dissent and enabling fascism. For instance, those who refuse to go along with the war in Iraq are branded as supporters of Saddam. Those who don't want the troops to "win" – because they'd rather see them come home alive, immediately – are branded as "traitors." Yet the real traitors are the ones who sent them off to die, in order for a truly un-American economic model to be artificially sustained.
In the aftermath of September 11th, after all, the Bush Administration laid down the gauntlet with the sweeping statement that, "you're either with us or against us." As with the equally black-and-white propaganda of the Soviets, such stark distinctions make the average citizen either too terrified to disagree, or else pleasantly reassured that his thinking has been done for him and all that need be done is to root for the home team. The end result of such witch-hunt propaganda is the kind of forced, fascistic obedience that America claims to be combating the world over.
Make Mine a Fuehrer Burger, Please!
Americans' current ability to tritely vilify whole peoples is astounding. After Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle declared France to be the root of all evil, fascist constructs like "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" quickly spread. Of course, French fries and French toast have little to do with France. The "patriotic" renaming of pieces of bread and sliced potatoes came merely as an expression of fear and powerlessness – nothing like putting an American flag pin on one's lapel.
Nor was this linguistic cleansing very well thought out. After all, had the rabble stopped to think about it, America's political formation was heavily influenced by the values of the French Enlightenment. And, if that's not enough, the country's very existence was made possible by French military assistance.
Then there's the small matter of that statue stuck out there in front of New York City. Ya think they should send it back?
Democracy Building and 'Liberation'
The grand myth about "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is that it will liberate the country, rather than occupy it. By returning the country to the rule of the citizens, the logic goes, the black cloud of Saddam will be lifted, once all of his Ba'athist henchmen have been taken out. The logistical problems of the power transfer are clear. The Ba'ath Party comprises at least 2 million people – some of them presumably skilled and experienced in running a country.
However, the Americans have better plans for personnel redundancy. Among the other "democratic" diaspora opposition groups to be enabled, meet the "Women for a Free Iraq" – a grim bunch advocating Stalin-esque party purges, with executions on a major scale.
The heartening image of American tanks rolling through the streets of Baghdad this week did much to lift the hearts of the audience back home. That this exciting footage did not conjure up images of Soviet tanks rolling through the streets of Prague or Kabul shows the depths of indoctrination in America. However, the Iraqi people, reduced to scavenging and looting whatever there is left amongst the rubble, are not helping. Bombed into submission, they will perpetuate the charade of jubilation, if only it might keep them from being killed.
Stumbling in a Narcotic, Teleological Haze: the Neocons
As the Neocon pseudo-intelligentsia is now showing, it was not only Karl Marx who had a thing for social engineering and progress. Yet whereas his disciples killed off religion and sought to achieve social happiness through eliminating economic disparity, Neocon-controlled America has married evangelical Christianity with Zionism, while urging social happiness through imposing "democracy" worldwide.
The end result, however, is pretty much the same: mass indoctrination, cultural chauvinism and intolerance of other societies, and a fatal, hubristic blindness that cannot accurately place one's position in the broader scope of human history. Many empires have constructed a narrative whereby their own self-acknowledged cultural superiority heralded a final, unsurpassable phase for humanity. Without exception, they have been proven wrong. Far from marching triumphantly on to a world of unfettered human potential, the US is actually taking the world backwards by three hundred years.
In the current case, the errors borne of hubris have resulted from a failure to properly assess time. The whole Neocon ideology is based on the unproven belief that the future Arab world will be better off under "democratic" regimes. When confronted with scenes of civilian carnage from Iraq, the warmongers merely aver that, "someday, they'll thank us for bringing them democracy." They forget that when human relationships are brutally, irrevocably destroyed, political "improvements" mean absolutely nothing.
The Oligarchy: a Collective Dictatorship
While we cannot say that the Neocon intelligentsia represents a Communist dictatorship in its classic sense, it is important to note one very troubling similarity: a shared lack of accountability.
Like the emperors of old, dictators enjoy self-proclaimed infallibility, and are thus not forced to account for bad policies. Conversely, the American oligarchs enjoy real invisibility. Shielded as they are in the ranks of special committees, think tanks and institutes whose deliberations are often conducted secretly, many of the leading hawks have no office, no responsibility to voters, and no responsibility for the success or failure of policy. Richard Perle's recent resignation from the Defense Policy Board was hailed as a victory for popular dissent; in reality, it was about as significant as the victory over French toast. In the end, nothing had changed. Perle still retains both his ability to shape policy and to evade accounting for it.
A political investment, therefore, is being made in the future of the Middle East. But so what? Just as with the military-industrial giants who can count on endless free money from the government, those who ordered this war will never have to account for it, should the desired goals not be achieved. Always, it seems, problems are "unanticipated" or "unforeseen." We are expected to believe that the most well-informed and well-supplied individuals in the government lack the capacity to understand simple cause-and-effect scenarios. Since being an imbecile is not a crime, jaundiced leaders prefer to suffer the impotent mockery of the public than to admit to operating under devious and destructive intentions. As for the non-elected oligarchs, they are free to flit away from controversy like ghosts, pale, malignant and deadly.
Kosovo: Whereas the Past is Cloudy….
For instance, take the tragedy of Kosovo – where almost all of the non-Albanian minorities were killed or expelled, and over 110 Serbian Orthodox churches destroyed – and that after NATO's "peacekeepers" arrived in June 1999.
Almost four years later, the province is still a xenophobic, backwards international protectorate. There is little chance that it can ever function as an economically or politically viable entity without direct international control (which is why it will someday be absorbed into a "Greater Albania"). Kosovo is rife with terrorist groups and organized crime, and boasts a healthy murder rate.
That said, it was truly incredible to hear UNMIK provincial overlord Michael Steiner declare the other day that the "Kosovo model" should be replicated in Iraq. According to Steiner, it will be necessary "…to enforce order and democracy right from the beginning," and, "in order to achieve that, it is necessary to set up a sort of protectorate."
Given the West's abysmal record at installing "order and democracy" in the much more manageable little protectorate of Kosovo, it is impossible that anything of the sort can happen in Iraq, a California-sized nation of dueling ethnicities, 22 million strong and utterly impoverished.
…the Future is Bright, Young Pioneers!
Steiner, at least, has some right to opine. After all, he has stuck around to deal with the mess Kosovo's "liberators" made. That's more than can be said for the main executors of the Kosovo war – Clinton, Albright, et al – who are happily going about their business, safe from anything more than the harmless censure of critics.
Since the media has a hard enough time keeping up with America's constant production of new wars, it quickly loses heart with investigating the previous ones. I'm sure if any one of the Kosovo collaborators were to be confronted about the issue now, he would just reply, "dreadful sorry, but we couldn't have known things would turn out that way." And that would be that.
After all, you can never turn back time; however, you can always look optimistically into a brave, untroubled future, one that calls for the people of today to rise to the occasion, sacrificing their money, their minds and their civil rights to unflinchingly follow wherever their stern – but benevolent – leaders command.
It is good, comrade, is it not?
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a freelance writer and Balkan correspondent for Antiwar.com, UPI, and private European analysis firms. He has lived and traveled widely in the Balkans, southeastern Europe and Turkey, and holds a master's degree with distinction in Byzantine Studies from Oxford University. In the past year, he has reported from many countries, including Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Greece, the Republic of Georgia and the Turkey-Iraq border. Mr. Deliso currently lives in Macedonia, and is involved with projects to generate international interest and tourism there.
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