If men use their liberty in such a way as to surrender their liberty, are they thereafter any the less slaves? If people by a plebiscite elect a man despot over them, do they remain free because the despotism was of their own making?
-- Herbert Spencer
“Freedom and fear are at war,” enunciated President George Bush. It is a preposterous piece of rhetoric: two abstractions doing battle. It is an obfuscation of the reality that humans kill each other for supposed ideals. The purported cause of freedom has served well as a violent bellwether for imperialism. Bush’s crusade has manipulated the levers of fear in the guise of protecting American freedoms. It is a galling hypocrisy to defend freedom by using its enemy.
Bush pushed a fifth freedom not identified in Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech. Bush declared, “They hate … our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” In other words “they” hate the American so-called democracy. Yet Bush represents the bathos of US democracy. The Supreme Court, after all, installed him despite his losing the popular vote in the election of 2000.
Political analyst Noam Chomsky derided the notion of the US as a democracy. The so-called Founding Fathers’ intention, Chomsky argued, was that the US be ruled by a small elite sector of the society. (1)
If this were the case, then it wouldn’t be extraordinary for electoral malaise to set in. In the film Manufacturing Consent, TV host Bill Moyers once asked Chomsky about people’s feelings of isolation from elected leaders. Chomsky responded:
I think much of the general population recognizes that the organized institutions do not reflect their concerns and interests and needs. They do not feel that they participate meaningfully in the political system. They do not feel that the media are telling them the truth or even reflect their concerns. They go outside the organized political institutions to act. The presidential elections have been almost removed from the point where the public even takes them seriously as involving a matter of choice.
This token respect paid to democracy in the homeland is exceptional compared to the ill-concealed disdain the US government harbors for the UN. The illustrious UN is far from a democratic institution. The 191 member states of the UN are all represented in the General Assembly, where nations can discuss matters and make recommendations and that is basically it. The Security Council with 15 member nations, however, wields the power and its decisions are law. The Security Council reserves permanent seats for five members: China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US. The Security Council consists of the victorious nations from WWII. One nation among the five permanent members can thwart the will of the rest of the Security Council with its veto power. This most undemocratic flaw has been abused predominantly by the US since the 1970s. (2)
In addition to excessive use of vetoes, the US, in puerile fashion, withholds its dues and browbeats smaller member states and the organization itself when its "national interest" is not served -- hardly behavior that coincides with an image as a defender of democracy.
Bush’s recent proclamation on Israel’s right to occupied territory within Palestine’s West Bank and the foreclosure on the Palestinians’ universal right of return is a rejection of international law as decided by UN Security Council Resolutions 194, 242, and 338. This US impunity for international law is reflected by the contemptuous dismissal of a 1986 International Court of Justice decision that the US had wielded an “unlawful use of force” against Nicaragua. The US now refuses to recognize the sister International Criminal Court. It is the conduct of a nation that holds itself above the law.
The ruthless US shipping magnate Vanderbilt once fulminated, “Law! What do I care about the law? Ain’t I got the power?” This mindset has pervaded the corporate government. Administration lawyers opined that the silver-spoon-in-the-mouth scion “Bush was not bound by either an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal anti-torture law because he had the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation’s security.” (3) Such illogic effectively undermines all defense treaties since the US cannot morally claim the sole right to national security. It opens the door to a torture free-for-all.
That the US and its client states are beyond legal reproach was palpably demonstrated in the aggression of Iraq, the supreme crime according to Nüremberg Law. The pretense to democratic values is risible. Observers need only consider what has become of promises of democracy for Afghanistan. The Taliban government collapsed under a US-led bombardment in late 2001. Since then there have been US-manipulated loya jirgas, which serve as a guise for traditional Afghan decision-making. The forward-shifting promise of a general election is now set for September 2004. Meanwhile selected Afghan President Hamid Karzai dutifully kowtows to the US while awaiting a dubious election. One writer railed at the notion of democracy in Afghanistan:
To even speak of democracy in these circumstances is farcical. Washington has illegally conquered one of the most impoverished and ruined countries on earth, overturned its government and joined hands with notorious butchers to repress and intimidate the population. Around 12,000 US-led combat troops remain in Afghanistan, terrorizing the population in the name of hunting down Taliban and Al Qaeda supporters. They are accompanied by 5,700 NATO “peacekeepers,” which are mainly propping up the Karzai administration in the capital. (4)
With a discredited UN, poised to capitulate again, and a manipulative US, democratic aspirations remain a pipe-dream in Iraq. Certainly the Arab people have heard enough facile western words of democracy in their region. Robert Fisk warns of the repercussions to follow repeated denials of people’s freedom to choose their own representatives.
And what is happening in the Arab world -- and it’s not aided by their dictators and leaders -- is that ordinary Arabs are no longer afraid -- they’re speaking out. And this is frightening our (the West’s) dictators in the Middle East. This frightens the Mubaraks, the Mohamed Karzi’s The Saddam Hussein’s, more than it’s frightening us -- because we set up these dictators in the first place. We put Saddam there in the first place, as we did Nasser, as we did Kaddafi, before he became a super terrorist, and now he’s a supper statesman again, but that’s how we play the game. When you put people in this situation, and you squeeze them and squeeze them and you heap injustice historically on them. 1842 Afghanistan, the first Afghan war, the second Afghan war, the RAF used mustard gas against the Kurds in the 1920s. When you realize the lies we told, to everyone in the region. I mean in the first world war, through Laurence of Arabia we promised the Arab world independence outside of Turkey. That would be kept as a separate state, the break up of the Ottoman empire was one of the reasons we fought the First World War. Then there was the secret agreement on the Jewish homeland in Palestine. Another secret agreement between British and French was to chop up the Middle East and run it thought mandates, they wouldn’t get the independence. We lied to all the people of the region. And we lied to the Jews as well, we promised them all of Palestine. Reread the Balfour declaration of 1917. When you do this to people, they will explode. (5)
The Americans are sending to Iraq, ambassador cum proconsul John Negroponte, a man sufficiently ruthless to do whatever needs to be done to secure the oil wealth of Iraq. Negroponte’s lackeys are in place. The New York Times depicted the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as having “folded” to US demands in Iraq and having basically conducted a reshuffling of the Iraqi leadership. (6) It is not surprising therefore that the newly appointed leaders are regarded with deep skepticism by Iraqis. (7)
Whether a nation is a democracy or not has little bearing on victimization by the US. Popular movements have been overthrown with Washington’s blessing in Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Korea, Nicaragua, and agitation continues against democratically elected government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Ideological obedience and an open door to corporate America are required.
Generally the overthrows of foreign governments are militarily engineered.
Butler Shaffer sees a freedom paradox in this.
How can it be seriously entertained that soldiers “fight for freedom?” They were unable to secure even their own freedom from the state. To allow one’s life to be taken over, regimented, directed, and even destroyed by the state, hardly qualifies as a working definition of “freedom.” Slavery is a word more befitting such a subjugated condition.
Furthermore, how can a person be said to be “free” when his or her life is embroiled in conflict? How can one be free when fighting others? Is a life fired by anger and hatred of others, along with a willingness to torture, maim, or kill anyone designated by state officials as your “enemy,” consistent with a life of freedom? (8)
Butler points out the contradiction in sending military personnel to liberate other nations. How can one expect the unliberated to liberate others? Bush’s favorite philosopher sagely proclaimed, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Bush might absorb some of that wisdom and apply it at home first. To liberate others, Americans first need to free themselves.
Albert Einstein once said, “I came to America because of the great, great freedom which I heard existed in this country. I made a mistake in selecting America as a land of freedom, a mistake I cannot repair in the balance of my lifetime.” It remains uncertain how many lifetimes Einstein would have required.
is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at:
(1) Interview with Noam
Chomsky, “Face to face with a polymath,” Frontline (India), 24 November - 7
Other Recent Articles by Kim Petersen
* The Progressive Paradox: Defining Viability
* The Shame
* The Wrong Direction
* The Pornography of War
* The Fairy
Tale of Liberation