11 July 2003
By Tapani Lausti
Phyllis Bennis, Before & After : US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis. Foreword by Noam Chomsky. Oliver Branch Press 2003.
In the context of the US-led attack against Iraq, there has been a lot of tut-tutting about what people call anti-Americanism or hatred of America. This way of attacking critics of US foreign policy is intellectually pretty weak. When people criticised the Soviet Union, they were not accused of anti-Russian sentiments. Actually, the more knowledgeable critics of the Kremlin were deeply interested in Russian culture. The same can be said of many people who criticise the US. There is no conflict here. To claim otherwise is all hot air.
Even the Finnish ex-Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen recently complained about the Finns' "traumatic attitude towards the Western superpower". All one can say is: look at the history of US foreign policy. Not to understand the terrible legacy of US foreign policy means that your ability to take in compelling evidence is poor or you opt for wilful ignorance.
Even if this book was published before the March attack against Iraq, Phyllis Bennis's analysis is a good and recent beginner's guide to US foreign policy. It emphasises the continuity of US foreign policy whereas much of mainstream media writing treats George W. Bush's policies as a major new opening. Those critical of Bush quite rightly point to the extremist crowd around him. At the same time it is forgotten that many of these dangerous people already worked with Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
Much has been written also about Bush's unilateral tendencies and his contempt for collective international endeavours. Bennis points out that the "multilateral gloss of the Clinton years had captured part of the public imagination, however, so the shift under Bush seemed more significant than it really was". (p. 2) And going further back in history, Bennis notes that "the three pillars of US strategy in the Middle East (...) have remained unchanged since the mid-60s: oil, Israel and stability". (p. 21)
With these three pillars in mind, Bennis analyses the historical background to help understand the post-September 11 flaunting of American power. What happened after September 11, she describes like this: "It was a thoroughly militarized unilateralism. one that legitimized, even glorified, the use of US military force anywhere in the world, with the unchallengable expectation that the world would join the crusade." (p. 83)
The US stepped openly outside the UN Charter by declaring the new concept of preemptive self-defence. Those not approving of Washington's dictates would be considered to be outside the bounds of civilisation. Bennis sums up this attitude thus: "While the US demands that other countries strictly abide by UN resolutions and international law, and threatens or imposes sanctions or even military assault in response to violations, it holds itself accountable only to a separate law of empire which applies to the US alone." (p. 104)
With this arrogance, the US pretends to be making the world a safer place. In reality, in its search for self-serving stability, Washington is destabilising much of the world. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US interests, not human rights considerations, are the driving factor which bodes ill for any road maps towards peace. In its push to control world oil supplies, it is redrawing the political map in Central Asia, again with no respect for human rights.
Bennis quotes an American commentator who reacted to the attack against Afghanistan by writing: "I never knew until tonight that the world is gone daft with this nonsense."
Indeed, Bush and Blair have been imposing a kind of madness upon the world. Right now they are in the middle of a self-made quagmire about the reasons for going to war in Iraq. But a worrying sign of the times is that they are allowed to say almost any daft thing without people demanding their immediate resignation.
However, in the long run, the world cannot be run by narrow imperial interests and by people who cannot understand the real consequences of their policies.
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