Z Magazine, March 2007
By Edward S. Herman
The U.S. establishment takes a “pragmatic” view of the merits of elections, with approval or disapproval depending on how well it “works,” as perceived by the dominant interests. Call it “establishment relativism.” We know that the rightwing hates relativism, but there are some relativisms that they can accept, mainly by playing dumb. When the good guys win--and “good” means serviceable to U.S. interests as seen by the corporate/political establishment--there is endless generosity and looking-the-other-way in evaluating that win. In Mexico, for example, when Salinas won by a fraudulent recount in 1988, and Calderon won by probable fraud in 2006, there were no serious complaints here; and when Yeltsin won a true laugher in 1996, helping consolidate the triumph of the looting oligarchs and death of any possible meaningful democracy in Russia, there was positive enthusiasm in this country. But when a Chavez or Hamas wins, pragmatism calls for doubts about the honesty of the election (Chavez) and/or questions about the threat to peace in a victory of “terrorists” (Hamas).
In the Chavez case, the doubts and threats of his electoral legitimacy were so severe that the United States colluded in a coup in 2002, that was quickly reversed but demonstrated the extremely obvious fact that U.S. leaders are not about to respect election results when the wrong party wins. Much fault was found with Chavez’s further electoral victories, but it became very difficult to claim unfairness with his solid majorities, no evidence of tampering, and with the bulk of the Venezuelan media furiously anti-Chavez. (Of course, for the U.S. establishment Chavez is showing his true colors by possibly refusing to renew the license of a TV station that openly supported the 2002 coup--an action for which a station in the United States in an analogous situation would almost surely have been closed down immediately and its top officers prosecuted for treason.)
The Hamas case is equally interesting. Instead of respecting what seems to have been a quite honest vote, with the wrong party winning Israel began a brutal military assault on the Palestinians, arrested Hamas legislators, and cut off funds owed the Palestinians. These and other actions were designed to beat and starve the Palestinians into ousting Hamas, but the Israelis were also using Hamas as an excuse to crush any resistance to ethnic cleansing and to induce a greater “voluntary” exit from the territory. The United States and EU cooperated in this brutal process, the former along with Israel also giving financial support and arms to Fatah in order to strengthen the opposition to Hamas, and possibly encourage a civil war--recall the U.S. and Israeli encouragement and support of the Iraq-Iran war, with occasional explicit mention of the merit of mutual killing between these problematic states.
In this same time frame Israel was committing major war crimes in a genocidal process in Gaza that violated Western “enlightenment values” as well as all kinds of international laws, and steadily advanced their ethnic cleansing on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. Despite this, in a historically unique action the EU actually imposed sanctions on the victims of the occupation for voting the wrong way. Hamas’s terrorist record and refusal to recognize Israel is the rationale here; Israel’s vastly greater state terror and steady law violations produce no negative actions—and Israel’s voting Ariel Sharon in as president in 2001, the butcher of Sabra-Shatila and Qibya, whose terroristic killings exceeded that of Hamas by a wide margin, and were greater than those of Carlos the Jackal by better than 10-1, again elicited no complaints or penalties.
It is also of interest that in Palestine, Hamas opponent and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is calling for new elections, which Israel and the United States support as they rush money as well as arms to Abbas. There is no legal basis for such a call, but because the election produced the wrong result a new election is pressed. On the other hand, in Lebanon, where with Hezbollah representatives leaving the government there is solid legal grounds for the calling of a new election, here the United States and its allies demur and oppose the idea. It would very likely give Hezbollah more political power and reduce that of a Western-supported client, so the attitude toward an election to ascertain the people’s will is different from the Palestine case.
Another interesting case of election pragmatics is the way the 2006 mid-term U.S. election is working out. Bush was free to escalate the Iraq war after the 2004 election because he won and thus had an election go-ahead. The Democrats and media put up little opposition. In the 2006 election the Republicans lost heavily, and both direct verbal evidence of voter sentiment and poll results show that a strong majority of the public want the United States out of Iraq in two years or less. But the corporate/political establishment does not want a quick exit. The same lobby that has produced the Western support for Israel’s violent response to the Hamas electoral victory and that gives its imprimatur to Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing, wants the United States to stay and even to broaden the war to Iran. The result is that Bush, having just suffered a crushing election loss, and with a popularity rating in the 28-31 percent range, is still able to “decide” and escalate the Iraq war. The last election had a “bad” result from the elite viewpoint, and it will therefore have little effect on policy in the Middle East. After all, this is a democracy constrained to work for the “national interest.”
Principle of Non-Intervention
U.S. intervention in elections in Palestine, Venezuela, Russia, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, Nicaragua (etc.) has been massive, and so has intervention in the forms of military and economic aid and direct military attack. There are almost no holds barred, and almost nothing in the way of subversion and military attack that the mainstream media won’t normalize. After all we are WE, the good and necessary policeman in service to global interests. It’s revealing that although the invasion-occupation of Iraq was not only based on lies but was a classic case of aggression in violation of the UN Charter, this is unmentionable in the media--WE have aggression rights, by patriotic premise.
Of course we still believe in the principle of non-intervention, but as in the case of elections, with that special pragmatic-relativistic touch. Thus the United States joined with seven Middle Eastern states (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the U.A.E.) in January to issue a statement which affirmed, among other things, that "disputes among states should be settled peacefully and in accordance with international norms, and that relations among all countries should be based on mutual respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, and on the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations." ("Gulf Cooperation Council - Plus Two's Ministerial Statement," U.S. Department of State, January 16, 2007). It is obvious that this accolade to the principles of sovereignty and noninterference was directed not against the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq or a possible U.S.-Israeli military attack on Iran, but rather against Iran and Syria, which have faced the U.S. charge that they are interfering in the internal affairs of the newly liberated Iraq. Their interventions in a struggle in a next door neighbor destabilized by an aggression from across the ocean are illicit—the big and ongoing one from a distant power is not only licit, it isn’t even intervention.
Bush and his associates are now warning Iran on a daily basis against intervening in Iraq. They ignore that Iraq is now supposedly a sovereign state whose leaders are supposedly in charge of deciding who can and who cannot intervene and do business in Iraq territory.
This is not hypocrisy: it reflects that internalized belief that the Global Godfather has an inherent right to straighten out the world’s unruly children. His interventions are in a separate class. When Paul Wolfowitz stated that “I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq” (NYT, July 22, 2003), he just took for granted the Global Godfather’s right to be at home anywhere within his domains.
Rule of Law
The same point holds for the rule of law. We believe in the rule of law, and our leaders refer to it regularly as something that we want to provide, along with “stability.” But as with non-intervention, the rule of law doesn’t apply to us, by our self-designated rights as the most powerful, implicitly good, and self-appointed global policeman. It might interfere with our bringing peace and stability everywhere. The new classic is of course the invasion-occupation of Iraq, 2003-2007, where we ran roughshod over the UN charter and hence over U.S. law as well, given that the Charter is an international agreement that becomes part of U.S. law. The same is true of the violations of the international conventions against torture. The Military Commissions Act tries to exempt U.S. officials from the reach of the international laws on torture, but it remains a constitutional issue as to whether this can be done even in its application at home.
Of course, if you are strong enough and your elite supports you, the rule of law can be ignored simply by virtue of superior force. Thus when the International Court found against the United States in a case brought by Nicaragua in 1986, and called for reparations for the “unlawful use of force,” the United States paid no attention to the court ruling. And, importantly, the U.S. establishment didn’t complain, but implicitly or explicitly sanctioned this brazen refusal to abide by the rule of law. In a dramatic illustration, the New York Times supported this refusal editorially, declaring the International Court a “hostile forum” ("America's Guilt - or Default," July 1, 1986) --a lie, and its editorial larded with errors of fact and silly chauvinistic bias, but demonstrating the paper’s own integration into the imperial enterprise and resultant willingness to disregard mere matters of law (repeated in 2002-2003 when the editors never mentioned the problem of UN Charter prohibitions against aggression).
The international community--that is, governments and international institutions, as opposed to the world’s people--also accepts and even supports the U.S. refusal to abide by the rule of law. Not only did it do nothing to stop the Iraq aggression in 2003, or to punish the aggressors, the Security Council soon gave its sanction to the U.S. occupation in a classic case of rewarding the villain. The Security Council also cooperates with the United States in supporting Israel’s illegal occupation and massive ethnic cleansing. And now it is helping prepare the ground for an Israeli-U.S. attack on Iran by imposing sanctions and Chapter VII demands on Iran (see "Hegemony and Appeasement: Setting Up the Next U.S.-Israeli Target (Iran) For Another 'Supreme International Crime'," Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, ZNet, January 27, 2007 ). The rule of law internationally is dead in the water.
It is also highly relevant that the Bush administration has been replacing the rule of law at home with the superior rights of the executive, attacking a string of constitutional protections of individual rights as well as the rights of legislatures and courts. This is not a case of blowback from the disregard of international law abroad; instead, the enhanced disregard abroad goes hand-in-hand with the shrinking adherence to law at home. They are mutually supportive and reinforcing. But the United States remains committed to the rule of law--when protesters at home violate local statutes, or black ghetto residents are caught using marijuana, or Iran does not abide by some intrusive ruling of the pathetic Security Council caving in to the U.S. program setting Iran up for a fresh U.S. aggression (see “Hegemony and Appeasement,” supra).
China’s Flexing Its Muscles
In the nuthouse, any action by the United States in the way of enhancing its military superiority is treated by the mainstream media with great objectivity. There might be a hint that it may cost a lot of money and doubts may be raised about its urgency and even whether it will work (if it is a new weapon). But it will not be treated as a possible serious threat to other countries, destabilizing and promising a renewed arms race, making war more likely, unaffordable in a world with much poverty and major problems that call for large resources--in short, insane. No. The media are objective, which means deeply irresponsible and contributing to lunacy. (Years ago the New York Times had an almost regular annual column by Seymour Melman in which he would list the foregone civil functions that were sacrificed by a comparable list of weapons, with price tags noted. This apparently was too painful--and enlightening--for the establishment to bear, and was terminated some years back.)
Even when the Bush administration announced an intent to make nuclear weapons part of the regular war arsenal and improve them, and an intent to prevent any challenges to U.S. military superiority by the possible use of force, and even naming countries, including China, as potential threats to U.S. dominance, the media barely reported these lunatic plans. They certainly never portray them as they should--as in a class with Mein Kampf and suffering from comparable lunacy.
On the other hand, as China has substantially increased its military budget in recent years, although from a very low initial level, this has aroused concern in the U.S. military and political establishment. China’s military budget has risen to one-seventh of that of the United States (in 2006, 66 versus 441 billion), so obviously this is a worrisome matter given that, as Donald Rumsfeld pointed out back in June 2005, “Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: ‘Why this growing investment…these continuing robust deployments?’” Rumsfeld also mentioned that China seemed to be preparing to “project power” in its neighborhood.
Of course, China has no bases in North America, no fleets of warships around the North American coasts, and no military alliances with any country in North or South America. The United States has bases all around China, fleets of warships off the Chinese coast, has regular military exercises in that area, and has military alliances with many countries in Asia. In February 2005 it formalized new security ties with Japan that even announced a joint U.S.-Japanese call for a solution to issues in the Taiwan straits.
We are reaching here the limits of hypocrisy and the double standard. China is a threat because it is getting armed to the point where it might project power in its neighborhood, and maybe even defend itself sufficiently from some Global Godfather projecting power everywhere, allowing it to constrain the Godfather a bit. China is a threat to the Godfather only because of those possibilities--it cannot threaten the Godfather directly. On the other hand, the Godfather openly threatens China, has even listed it as a potential challenger who will not be permitted to rise to an effective challenging level, by implication through the use of force. The Godfather also threatens China by its military deployments and alliances. This is only a non-threat on the ludicrous ultra-chauvinist assumption that the Godfather is good, generous, peace-loving and without any seriously conflicting interests that might cause it to exercise force against China.
It is well-known to even casual observers that the rapid growth of China has forced it to look aggressively for independent oil supplies to meet its escalating needs, and it is clear that it will be competing with the United States in obtaining such supplies. In that competition the possession of overwhelming force on one side and serious weakness on the other could be costly to the weak. And in that competition the use of force might be helpful in obtaining privileged access to limited oil resources.
The China threat is an on-and-off-again phenomenon that has been on the upswing in recent years, clearly not based on any real security threat, but consistent with the imperial project of absolute domination. It is also a windfall for the military-industrial complex, and may be cultivated in substantial measure to provide it with growing and profitable markets and a raison-d’etre for its continued massive absorption of budget resources. Actual violence is constrained by the huge mutual dependence of the two economies, but who knows what the future holds if China keeps growing and arming itself, and if the rulers of the nuthouse need a diversion to mobilize the population and give them continued power to rule and loot?
Of course this all depends on whether the New York Times, its media associates, the intellectual class, and the Democrats, will go along with this Kafkasque pretence that the Chinese threaten us rather than that we threaten them, and allow the MIC and Pentagon to continue to absorb vast resources to kill on false pretenses—that is, to continue to make the United States a genuine global menace and nuthouse. It also depends on whether the U.S. public can finally arouse itself to fight for its own and global interests--and sanity. Given the ready mobilization against that not very dire Iran threat that we see moving forward today it is not easy to be optimistic.