W. Bush is either a complete idiot or the most masterful ironist since
Socrates. Like most who have observed his blank stare during press
conferences, I have always assumed the former. However, sometimes Bush makes
me wonder if he might actually be an artistic genius playing the lead role
in a real-life tragicomedy, with all of us ignorantly assuming the role of
supporting cast. For example, are initiatives with names like "Clear Skies,"
"Healthy Forests," and "No Child Left Behind" just asinine misnomers or
clever attempts at self-parody? Another such moment occurred during Bush's
recent press conference, in which he suggested his antiwar critics are
According to Bush, "[some] people don't believe Iraq can be free; that if you're Muslim, or perhaps brown-skinned, you can't be self-governing or free. I'd strongly disagree with that." Similar comments were made months ago by Condoleezza Rice. The irony of Bush's statement is that he is guilty of precisely the same racism that he charges against his critics. His rationale for staying in Iraq is simply, as Stan Goff puts it, "a dressed-up form of something that used to be called the "white man's burden:" a notion that no-one is entitled to make their own history except white Euro-Americans, with the rationalization that "those people" are incapable of self-governance."
Apparently realizing he sounds like a old-fashioned imperialist, Bush made the point of saying, "We're not an imperial power. We're a liberating power," but his denial makes his guilt even more obvious, just as people who insist "I'm not racist!" usually are the most racist people you can find. Sadly, racist imperialism is not confined to the Bush administration nowadays. In fact, John Kerry has gone ever further over the edge than Bush. In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations last December, Kerry offered the following nuggets of wisdom:
"I fear ... the Administration is considering what is tantamount to a cut and run strategy. Their sudden embrace of accelerated Iraqification and American troop withdrawal without adequate stability is an invitation to failure. The hard work of rebuilding Iraq must not be dictated by the schedule of the next American election. I have called for the Administration to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people as quickly as circumstances permit. But it would be a disaster and a disgraceful betrayal of principle to speed up the process simply to lay the groundwork for a politically expedient withdrawal of American troops. This could risk the hijacking of Iraq by terrorist groups and former Baathists."
It's the white man's burden all over again. Kerry is attempting to portray the Iraq occupation as a necessary evil, much in the same way Thomas Jefferson rationalized slavery as a necessary evil in his later years. That Kerry's ideas are imperialistic is undeniable. Compare Kerry's rhetoric to the pronouncements of politicians from the early 20th century who waged what is now generally agreed to be a brutal imperialist war against the Philippines. As a result of the Spanish-American War, the Philippines had been wrested from the control of colonial Spain. At that point the U.S. government could have either left the Filipinos to their own devices or taken Spain's place as colonizer. It predictably chose the latter course.
Albert Beveridge, a Senator from Indiana, was a leading spokesman for American imperialism at the time. He used precisely the same argument as Kerry to justify war against the Philippines, saying, "Would not the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing government of this Republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage and extortion from which we have rescued them?" His racism was overtly expressed in statements such as, "there are not 100 men among them who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon self-government even means, and there are over 5,000,000 people to be governed." President McKinley was more moderate in his tone but no different in substance. He believed the campaign in the Philippines was mandated by God:
"The truth is I didn't want the Philippines, and when they came to us as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them ... I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way ... we could not give them back to Spain-that would be cowardly and dishonorable ... we could not leave them to themselves-they were unfit for self-government-and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was ... there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them."
Replace "Philippines" with "Iraq" and "Spain" with "the Baathists" and you have essentially the same rationale that is the basis of the Bush/Kerry foreign policy doctrine. And it is the Bush/Kerry foreign policy doctrine. The only difference is that Kerry wants the effort to be "multilateral," which is a difference of no consequence. "Multilateralism" is just cooperative imperialism (war historian Gabriel Kolko even argues that a second Bush term could be the lesser evil, because he will "continue the destruction of the alliance system that is so crucial to American power.")
Notice how the rhetoric of McKinley, Beveridge, Bush and Kerry are all cloaked with good intentions. In that sense, they are comparable to George Fitzhugh, the leading apologist for the Confederate slavocracy, who claimed that the "free labor" ideology of the Republicans was racist against black people, since it treated them as tools of production. Similarly, the Southerners who supported Jim Crow claimed they did so because of their love of the Negro, arguing that forced integration would only inflame racial hostilities against black people, and therefore segregation was in their best interest. Fitzhugh was also quick to remind his readers that American slavery "relieves [the Negro] from a far more cruel slavery in Africa." The same sort of red herring is used by George W. Bush, who often responds to criticisms by pointing out that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator.
Some at the time were more honest about the underlying agenda for the war in the Philippines. Beveridge, for example, claimed the Philippines' vast natural resources and potential markets for American goods were reason enough for the war. Thomas Friedman is alone in using such candor among the pro-war crowd of today; he has openly stated that a war for oil is OK in his book. The oil factor is undeniably huge. Few people would argue that we would still be invading Iraq if their primary export was apples or bananas. Recall that the building most heavily protected by U.S. soldiers as they arrived in Baghdad was the oil ministry. Meanwhile, schools and museums were being looted and set on fire.
John Kerry's insistence on "getting the job" done in Iraq especially echo the views of Beveridge, who said, "This war is like all other wars. It needs to be finished before it is stopped. I am prepared to vote either to make our work thorough or even now to abandon it." When the Filipinos began to violently resist the recolonization of their country, politicians argued that "cutting and running" would be a disaster, and that we must "stay the course," just as everyone now says we must "stay the course" in Iraq. We "stayed the course" in the Philippines, and the result was 1.4 million dead Filipinos between the years of 1899 and 1914. The United States didn't completely pull out of the Philippines until 1992. Forty percent of the population of the Philippines currently lives below the poverty line. The country is plagued with political instability to this day.
Another Southeast Asian country which has enjoyed many comparisons to Iraq lately is Vietnam. Senator Ted Kennedy has characterized Iraq as "George Bush's Vietnam." The similarities are there. The U.S. is now facing a nationalist resistance, much like in Vietnam. The death toll in Iraq, while not yet near the levels of Vietnam, has been brutal. Untold tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, along with hundreds of American troops. When asked about the Vietnam analogy, Bush accused his opponents of aiding the enemy by saying, "I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy." The war in the Philippines faced similar domestic opposition. Mark Twain was an outspoken opponent of the war. The Anti-Imperialist League printed letters from troops on the front in which the troops admitted to committing atrocities. Beveridge, like Bush, accused dissenters of aiding the enemy:
"American opposition to the war has been the chief factor in prolonging it ... The utterances of American opponents of the war are read to the ignorant soldiers of [the Filipino resistance] and repeated in exaggerated form among the common people ... our tolerance of American assaults on the American President and the American government means to them that our President is in the minority or he would not permit what appears to them such treasonable criticism ... All this has aided the enemy more than climate, arms, and battle."
Could the parallels be any more obvious? All the right-wing has done is dropped the rhetoric about the "Anglo-Saxon race" and "Christianizing" the natives. Aside from those minor linguistic alterations the doctrine is exactly the same, but apparently changing the words is all it takes to fool American liberals. The colonial misdeeds of the American government in Southeast Asia are a historical lesson that too many liberals seemingly haven't learned. John Kerry, their dour messiah, has become the leading spokesman for the white man's burden. He has positioned himself to the right of Bush, arguing for more troops in Iraq and a prolonged war and occupation. In other words, Kerry's foreign policy is every bit as arrogant and racist as George W. Bush's, if not worse. Cheers.
Justin Felux is a writer and activist based in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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