Staff | January 26, 2002
I find two aspects of this war the most puzzling: 1) Why aren’t we being exposed to more complex arguments in support of the war? 2) Why does no one in America seem to realize that the war may look peaceful on network TV, but that newspapers paint a completely different picture?
One could argue that the first aspect influences the second: we generally have the notion that the average person either doesn’t need, or doesn’t want, complex reasons in order to support policy decisions, let alone war. The problem, of course, is that this argument presents a chicken-or-egg conundrum. Is it that almost all sources of public information and education in America seem to be presenting the war as if it were a passive spectacle that deserves to be watched and feel patriotic about (like a sporting event) but not an event that needs to be questioned the reason the average person doesn’t know what is going on in the war? As a general rule, Americans are unaware when it comes to foreign policy. Instead, we are informed more about the “unique” aspects of a billion different products than we are about the world, especially world politics.
Furthermore, this level of ignorance is reflected in our President. Before Bush was “elected” he underwent to usual late-night talk show criticisms that all major politicians are subjected to. And yet, there was something fundamentally more troubling about the criticisms levied against Bush: that he was stupid, that he didn’t know foreign policy. That these criticisms were subsequently backed up by the publishing of several books documenting the complete ignorance that Bush displays didn’t seem to worry the general public. This is in a large part due to America’s endless pursuit for a President who “is like them” instead of a President who is informed, moral and intelligent.
But the choice was made and we are now stuck with an administration that has fully embraced the militarization of the world — a type of thought much of the world had likely thought died during the Cold War. That would explain why so many countries have called one aspect of our policy or another “stupid” (At the time of this writing, the last to do it was likely Sweden on Jan. 30, 2002).
It just might be that our generation is perfectly timed to see through the superficiality of advertising driven news outlets. We have been at crucial points in the history of corporatization. We were growing up at the same time that the media and corporate mergers (especially media mergers) were gaining momentum. We were born the year that MTV was born. By the time we were young kids watching MTV, the channel had matured into the epitome of the direction that modern advertising would follow. Take for example “The Real World”: even the reason behind it captures a new way of thinking about the role of entertainment — MTV made it because they wanted to do a soap opera but realized it would cost too much money. So instead of paying actors they took “real life” volunteers who wanted to have six months of their lives edited into a dozen 30-minute segments. MTV pioneered advertising-only entertainment.
But we’ve also seen the birth of one of the most powerful companies now in existence: America Online. During the same time we were watching MTV, America Online burst into the scene and did something all of the other Internet service providers weren’t really paying attention to: it sold its product as easy to use, as something safe, that children (the children watching their ads on MTV) could use to chat with their best friends. People bought it, and AOL was born.
Nor can we forget the birth of the richest man in the world and one of the most powerful corporations: Bill Gates and Microsoft.
It’s actually surprising to think how many aspects that are fundamental to the way that the world should be understood today have actually occurred in our lifetime. I’m arguing that we should appreciate how significantly different life is right now than when it was when our parents were our age. We should try to look back on our own lives as a way to interpret the world, both because there are many truths that we will immediately understand because we lived through these important times, but also because the television, the media, and advertisements are the unifying thread for our generation: we were all exposed to them and we were all effected by them. Our parent’s generation didn’t have computers, digital media, and movies with computer graphics. More important than the fact that they didn’t have today’s products is that they didn’t have today’s corporations and today’s ad agencies.
One clear way to see the difference is to look at how the way information is presented now, and how it was presented then. Watching news broadcasts from the Vietnam war, one immediately realizes they are covering the war differently. There is no scrolling bar on the bottom of the screen purporting to announce the odd news stories of the day but really just distracting you from the news, there were no quick breaks to commercials. If you look at the screen of “CNN Headline News” and compare it with ... oh, that’s right, they didn’t even have 24-hour cable news stations.
The point is that I think we are the perfect age to understand that fundamentally the anti-corporatization argument is the same as the anti-globalization argument as it is the same as the anti-war argument. This war is a reflection of our time: America’s unequalled supremacy when it comes to conventional warfare and America’s unequalled lust for world domination. It is a fact that America can wipe out most of the undeveloped countries in the world without suffering over a few dozen reported causalities.
However, it is most productive not to interpret this war as a demonstration to the world of America’s might. This necessarily implies a level of restraint on the part of our government. As if demonstrations are just a show of power, not a real act of aggression. No, instead this war literally is America testing out whether it can not only be the worlds only superpower — capable of destroying nations that are multiple times larger than America — but whether it can also suppress all dissent directed against America.
And this is where most people on the left got confused. They forgot that terrorists don’t really hate what America “stands for” but what it actually believes in as described through its actions. Generally I would say our actions give off the impression to the world that we are unilateralist and completely willing to let parts of the world degrade as long as it doesn’t effect our immediate interests. I don’t know how to put it any more plainly. George Bush was not kidding when he said “either you are with us, or you are against us.” What he was saying was: “Either you are with America or you are a terrorist.” This means that under the guise of taking interest in terrorism, America can make it clear that the solution will lie only through America’s way. That no culture anywhere is safe from America’s expansion, whether it is cultural expansion or military expansion, is America’s new message.
This is further evidenced by America’s military spending. America spends an enormous amount of money on the military: close to 50% of the world’s total military spending and rising. Added to this America has tremendous pull and ability to limit the military advancements of other countries through control of what type of weaponry they are able to develop.
This has also allowed us to build a very strong coalition — we can give substantial military and financial aid to any country in the world. Pakistan alone was given over $1 billion in aid. We’ve also given military aid to India, and Turkey. Basically, America is able to buy a coalition.
More importantly, we can buy mercenaries to fight our wars for us. I find it surprising that no one finds the notion of using the Northern Alliance in a “proxy war” fundamentally distasteful: not because of who the Northern Alliance are but because of the very notion of “proxy war.” The Northern Alliance did not fight on our side because of some coincidental ideological similarity they shared with America: they joined us because we paid them and because they would become powerful. The warlords that America recruited drove in SUVs full to the brim with money. The troops that died looking in the Tora Bora caves were promised nothing more than “warm clothing.” Have you noticed how there has never been a report that said how many of the Northern Alliance’s or any of the armies fighting in the place of an America troop had died? Nor do we even know how many American troops are in literal combat on a daily basis.
It is important to realize that the reason America is such a rich nation has less to do with the fact that our ideology is right than with the fact that the “other” ideology “failed.” America’s explosion into the forefront of the “new economy” — manifested in many forms but probably epitomized by the Internet revolution — has given America a number of hyper-international companies: GE, Viacom, AOL/Time Warner, etc. But even worse, it has put corporations in the powerful position of being able to strongly influence the government through donations. We are seeing this now with Enron. The investigative wing of Congress is suing the vice president of America because he won’t disclose details about how Enron influenced America’s energy policy. Clearly that is not right, nor is that how a democracy should be run.
As Mussolini said: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
1) Bush at War, by Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
3) The Neoconservative Persuasion, by Irving Kristol, Weekly Standard, August 25, 2003.
5) We'll Win This War, by Michael A. Ledeen, The American Enterprise Online.
6) The Future of War and the American Military, by Stephen P. Rosen, Harvard Magazine, May-June 2002, vol 104, no 5.
7) Michael A. Ledeen, quoted by Jonah Goldberg in Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two, National Review, April 23, 2002.
8) Beware of Bolton, by Ian Williams, May 30, 2002.
9) America's Imperial Ambition, by John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs, 2002.
10) Should We Evict the UN? by Patrick Buchanan, New York Post, December 27, 1997, page 15.
11) Washington Post, January 31, 2003.
12) The Guardian, March 21, 2003.
13) Why America Still Needs the United Nations, by Shashi Tharoor, Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2003
14) The End of the American Era: US Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century, by Charles A. Kupchan, Knopf, October 29, 2002.
15) The Real Crisis Over the Atlantic, by Dominique Moisi, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2001.
16) Propaganda Isn't the Way: Soft Power, by Joseph S. Nye Jr., The International Herald Tribune, January 10, 2003.
17) Wolfowitz Stands Fast Amid the Antiwarriors, by Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, September 22, 2003.
18) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 2003.
19) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, September 17, 2002.
20) But What's the Legal Case for Preemption? by Bruce Ackerman, Washington Post, August 18, 2002.
21) The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, September 17, 2002.
22) Law unto Themselves, by Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, March 14, 2003.
23) UN Resolution 1441, The Security Council, November 8, 2002.
24) Selective Intelligence, by Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, May 5, 2003.
25) The Economist, October 4, 2003.
26) A deafening silence, by Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, October 6, 2002.
27) Bush's Unreliable Intelligence, by David Corn, The Nation, November 12, 2003.
28) Rice: Iraq trained al Qaeda in chemical weapons, CNN, September 26, 2002.
29) President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat, by George W. Bush, Cincinnati, October 7, 2002.
30) Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 Attacks, Washington Post Poll, September 6, 2003.
31) We're Taking Him Out, CNN, May 6, 2002.
32) May 9, 2003 interview of Paul Wolfowitz by Sam Tannenbaus, published in Vanity Fair, July 2003.
33) Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War, by James Risen, The New York Times, November 6, 2003. Original article.
34) Stumbling into War, by James P. Rubin, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2003.
35) Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, by George Crile, Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2003.
36) Bush's Faustian Deal With the Taliban, by Robert Scheer, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2001.
37) Iraqi Democracy Is a Pipe Dream, by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, October 19, 2002.
38) UN Resolution 1441, The Security Council, November 8, 2002.
39) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, July 7, 1991.
40) A War for Oil?, by Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, January 5, 2003.
41) US Diplomatic and Commercial Relationships with Iraq, 1980 - 2 August 1990.
42) US Support for Iraq in the 1980s, Center for Cooperative Research.
43) The Ghosts of 1991, by Peter W. Galbraith, Washington Post, Saturday, April 12, 2003.
44) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, June 2003.
45) Making of a Monster: How the US Helped Build Iraq's War Machine, by William P. Hoar, The New American, September 1992.
46) A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions, by David Cortright, The Nation, December 3, 2001.
47) Iraq surveys show 'humanitarian emergency, Unicef Information Newsline, August 12, 1999.
48) Columbia News Video, by Prof. Richard Garfield, March 03, 2000.
49) Cool War, by Joy Gordon, Harper's Magazine, November 2002.
50) Squeezed to death, by John Pilger The Guardian, Saturday March 4, 2000.
51) Cool War, by Joy Gordon, Harper's Magazine, November 2002.
52) Iraq 'smart sanctions' derailed by Russia, by Anton La Guardia, telegraph.co.uk, April 7, 2001.
53) Pew's Global Attitudes Project, June 2003.
54) Andrew Kohut's Senate Testimony, February 27, 2003.
55) Jihad: Expansion et declin de l'Islamisme, by Gilles Kepel, Gallimard, 2003.
56) Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman, Norton, 2003.
57) Jerry Falwell, September 13, 2001.
58) General William Boykin, 2002-2003.
59) State of the Union Address to Congress, by President Carter, January 21, 1980.
60) Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, May 4, 2003.
61) Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, by Niall Ferguson, Basic Books, 2003. Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice, by David Rennie, telegraph.co.uk, September 8, 2003.
62) Iraqi Democracy Is a Pipe Dream, by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, October 19, 2002.
63) Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice, by David Rennie, telegraph.co.uk, September 8, 2003.
64) A World Transformed, by Brent Scowcroft and George H. W. Bush, Knopf, September 1998.