America and the rest of the world were almost certain of a John Kerry victory in the recent U.S. Presidential election. Yet President George Bush won. What does his victory mean? And what can we expect from a second Bush administration in terms of our War on Terror? To discuss these questions with us today, Frontpage Symposium welcomes:
Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C.;
Phyllis Chesler, an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies and the author of twelve books including the best-selling Women and Madness and most recently, The New Anti-Semitism. The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It (Jossey-Bass/John Wiley). She may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com.
C. G. Estabrook, a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, host of a radio show "News from Neptune", columnist for Counterpunch, and 2002 Green party candidate for Congress (15th IL CD).
Robert Jensen, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He styles himself a “critic of the U.S. empire” and is a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center.
FP: Frank Gaffney, Phyllis Chesler, C.G. Estabrook and Robert Jensen, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Mr. Gaffney, let’s begin with you. What do you think is the meaning of Bush’s election victory? Is it a positive or negative development for the war in Iraq and the terror war in general at home and abroad?
Gaffney: The President's re-election, combined with expanded Republican majorities in the Senate and House, was a necessary precondition to victory in the War on Terror and its Iraqi front - albeit not, in and of itself, a sufficient one. Had things come out differently, our Islamo-fascist enemies would certainly have perceived the outcome as evidence that their strategy of sapping our will and ultimately vanquishing us was succeeding.
This, in turn, would have led to a redoubling of their terrorist attacks, certainly abroad and probably here. It would also likely have helped the enemy's proselytizing and recruitment operations around the world, greatly compounding the already ominous threat they pose to both their fellow Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Today, Mr. Bush has a mandate to mount not only the sort of sustained and robust military operations currently underway in Fallujah -- and do so wherever appropriate to defeat the terrorists and their infrastructures. He has also been empowered to make more effective use of other tools such as: vastly expanded international broadcasting and new techniques for denying the terrorists and their sponsors critical financial flows. The latter include: U.S. investors divesting stocks of companies that do business with such enemies and finally bringing to mass markets fuel and automotive alternatives to our present, reckless reliance on foreign oil - most of which is exported by our enemies.
FP: Dr. Chesler?
Chesler: President Bush's election sends a signals to the jihadic world that America will not give in to terror, will not sacrifice Israel to the howling mobs, will not rely on the United Nations of Tyrannies, (which did nothing to stop the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, or Sudan), before it will act in the world, and that America and her allies are resolved that freedom, democracy, human rights, and women's rights are not concepts that belong to the western world only but are universal concepts that belong to everyone.
President Bush's election victory confirms that Americans are ready to fight and die to liberate Arab Muslims and Christians who are yearning to breathe free, who have been impoverished and tortured by their leaders for too long. Some say that America poses the greater jihadic danger and that democracy cannot be exported or imposed militarily. I say: Rubbish! America's critics live in a country that protects their freedom of speech and assembly--even though they've lost their moral compass and can no longer distinguish between a free society and a totalitarian one. America's critics view President Bush as the "real" Osama, hate and fear him more than they do those who attacked us on 9/11--whom they romanticize as freedom fighters.
FP: Mr. Estabrook, I take it you might not be in full agreement with Dr. Chesler and Mr. Gaffney?
Estabrook: There are some points of variance. The election of Bush means that much the same group of statist reactionaries (hardly conservatives, either neo- or otherwise) who are guilty of what the German leaders were condemned for at Nuremberg -- launching aggressive war -- are still in charge of US policy. Not that things would have been much different for Iraq, had the Democrats won. Kerry was committed (apparently) to equally murderous policies there; his foreign policy advisers seem to have taken Richard Clarke's position that the US should have killed different Arabs and killed them earlier (in spite of the fact that assassins from Oswald to Sharon hardly ever effect a change in policy).
In domestic matters there may have been some difference. Our two semi-official parties, similar as they are, respond to slightly different constituencies, and some of the Republican looting may have been lessened under a Democratic administration. Bush was as clear as he can be (that is, not too clear at all) at his first press conference, when he announced that he wanted to spend his "capital" on privatizing social security and revising the tax code. The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, which proceeded apace under the first Bush administration, will only continue in the second; in fact there may be even more emphasis on it, as the administration possibly turns away from foreign to domestic concerns.
Edward Luttwak has pointed out that the recent history of US presidencies shows that second terms often bring changes in direction. The disastrous and incompetent occupation of Iraq, and the fiscal and financial mismanagement that means that foreigners must pony up about two billion dollars every business day to keep the US economy afloat, may put serious limitations on what the second GWBush administration can do. Concentration on the interests of those that Bush famously referred to as "my base," the very wealthy, may be the order of the day -- which may have the effect of lessening somewhat the torture -- figurative and literal -- of the rest of the world.
The historian of the Vietnam War, Gabriel Kolko, argued that a Kerry victory would actually be more dangerous for the world at large, because Kerry would have lessened the isolation of the US and thereby undercut opposition to US imperial policy from the EU and the rest of the world. The Iranian government seems to have brought that reasoning, letting on that they preferred the "known quantity" of the Bush people to a possibly more diplomatic Kerry administration, which might make it more difficult for them to play off the EU and the US, as they seem successfully to be doing.
In any case, almost three out of four eligible voters did not vote for Bush, in spite of an intense campaign of fear and misinformation in the corporate media. The result was a Republican victory far closer than that of 1972 -- which was followed by the end of a criminal war, the effective impeachment of a severely limited chief magistrate, and some of the most progressive social legislation (and even more progressive proposals) of any administration in living memory. Not a bad model.
Jensen: Defenders of the U.S. empire typically assume the assertion that the United States promotes freedom and democracy is adequate to prove the claim. That is, “we are fighting for freedom and democracy because we say we are.” That’s a smart rhetorical ploy, since any minimal investigation of the facts would reveal something quite different.
Is Bush’s election a positive or negative development in the war on Iraq? It’s clear the United States has lost the war on Iraq; such a colonial war cannot be won against a population that rejects foreign occupation. The only question is when the Bush administration will come to terms with that reality. If Kerry had won, the same question would be relevant.
Is Bush’s election a positive or negative development in the war on terror? It’s hard to know what to say, since the “war on terror” is an ideological construction designed to justify the use of force to advance U.S. imperial aims. I oppose terrorism, whether it’s being committed by al Qaeda, Israel, or the United States -- all of which have used violence against civilians for political purposes. But to talk about a “war on terror” is to accept U.S. propaganda, which obfuscates rather than advances understanding.
The importance of Bush’s election in this realm is that it communicates to the world that a sizable component of the U.S. population accepts the imperial project. We can assume that will increase the likelihood of additional attacks against U.S. citizens.
Gaffney: The proposition that the United States is engaged in an imperial war is hard to credit. The fact that America sustained repeated attacks before responding effectively against those who launched them -- and those who provided safe haven, logistical, intelligence and financial support to them -- is the very essence of defensive and just war. This goes for Iraq as well as Afghanistan in light of the evidence of Saddam Hussein's ties to Osama bin Laden and his followers, among other terrorist organizations, that has come to light since the liberation of Iraq.
America has evinced absolutely no interest -- none -- in colonizing any of the places it has liberated to date. To the contrary, it has helped those who were brutally repressed by our enemies to move swiftly to establish representative and accountable governments. We know this is true not simply because it is our government's declaratory policy but because that is what we are actually doing.
We have made it clear that we will leave the countries we have liberated if and when asked to do so by such governments -- something that is not generally the practice of imperial powers. And, in contrast to our Islamofascist foes and their state sponsors, we have no ideology we seek to impose upon the world. Instead, we are striving to promote the opportunity for people to determine their destinies and governing institutions through expressions of the popular will, not at the direction of one form of tyranny or another.
Whether Mr. Bush's critics will acknowledge it or not, the practical effect of their hostility to his efforts to secure our freedom by extending it to others is to lend legitimacy to the tyrants -- and by so doing to abet their, well, "imperial" ambitions.
Chesler: Both Estabrook's and Jensen's ideological rigidities are breathtaking and their language best understood by Orwell. They are both still living in a 9/10 world or are still "embedded" in the 1960s, where they continue to see every war as America's war in Vietnam.
I disagree with Mr. Estabrook: American leaders did not launch an aggressive and Nazi-like war against Afghanistan and Iraq, America has no desire to permanently occupy either country, nor is America committing a Nazi-like genocide. That is something that Arab ethnic Muslims are currently perpetrating in the Sudan, it is what Saddam Hussein perpetrated against the Kurds as well as atrocities against his own people. Ethnic cleansing is what the Arab Muslim leader of 21 states perpetrated against their own Jewish Arab citizens when they exiled them and made the Middle East "judenrein."
American leaders certainly do not deserve a Nuremberg trial. Kofi Annan does but I do not hear Estabrook calling for it. Estabrook is also still arguing that Bush's election is not legitimate ("three our of four eligible voters did not vote for him”) and that the "corporate media" launched an "intense campaign of fear and misinformation." Excuse me? Did Estabrook not notice the unprecedented hate campaign launched by the left-liberal media against President Bush? Finally, Estabrook's inflamed metaphoric thinking equates Israeli Prime Minister Sharon--who was democratically elected in a free election in a sovereign state--to the lone Lee Harvey Oswald. who assassinated President Kennedy. It is a grossly false analogy.
I disagree with Mr. Jensen whose lack of moral clarity is dangerous. Al-Qaeda's war against the infidel West is not morally equivalent to America's or Israel's attempts to defend themselves against it. Western intellectuals are failing the rigors of reality and the challenge of jihadic war when, in Natan Sharansky's words, they fail to "distinguish between religious fundamentalists in democratic states and religious terrorists in fundamentalist states."
In my view, America is fighting a just and noble war (albeit a highly dangerous one) and Jensen's view is that of a selfish and privileged isolationist who does not care if the human, religious, and free speech rights that he enjoys in America are not made available to those living under Islamist tyranny--especially the women. My colleague Donna Hughes has been meeting regularly with dissidents from around the world and has been monitoring some Iraq-based blogs. She writes: "I find it upsetting that so many, particularly on the left and in academia, who have all the rights, freedom, and privilege of citizenship can so easily sneer at others' hopes and dreams."
Alas, Jensen's view that the "war on terror" is a mere "ideological construct" and naught but "propaganda" to permit an "imperial" war is ridiculous. Jihadic Islam's declaration of war against the infidels is all too real and has been upon us for at least two decades or more. Actually, the jihadic war against the West is at its hottest in Israel which is the stand-in scapegoat for America, and in Europe, which has become Eurabia. Finally, while one can never predict what will happen next in a war, I must note that as yet, America has suffered no further 9/11s.
FP: Prof Jensen, go ahead.
Jensen: Mr. Gaffney conflates imperialism and colonialism. Of course it’s true the United States doesn’t attempt to colonize other countries in the fashion of, say, Great Britain at the height of its empire. We live in a different world, and different control strategies are used. But it’s appropriate to speak of the United States as an imperial power, as do even many right-wing folks these days. And imperial policies have predictable effects. One need look no further than Central America to see the results of the United States’ policy. After supporting and/or creating some of the most brutal forces in the world in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua which left the region devastated, U.S. policymakers supported “democracies” in the wake of that destruction that have returned those societies to their place (their “rightful place” as those policymakers see it) of subordination to the United States.
As for Dr. Chesler’s accusation of “ideological rigidity” and “lack of moral clarity,” I am used to such empty charges, as is anyone who tries to apply moral standards uniformly, including to our own nation. The claim that I’m an isolationist is just silly; no argument is even attempted to support it. I believe the United States should be actively engaged in the world, but in a lawful and moral fashion to support people’s movements for freedom rather than pursue strategies of domination. The U.S. record on that is painfully clear, from Latin America to southern Africa to the Middle East to Southeast Asia. We can choose to ignore the brutality of U.S. policy, such as the prosecution of the war in Iraq, but in doing so I think we forfeit our own humanity.
Dr. Chesler’s argument is based on false alternatives: Either we engage in colonial wars of domination or abandon our obligation to the world. No one I know or work with on the left is sneering at the hopes and dreams of people around the world. We are trying to inhibit U.S. aggression and work toward the creation of global institutions that can provide people the space to chart their own course, something the United States has consistently tried to derail. The antiwar and global justice movements, of which I consider myself a part, have always been clear on that. To participate in such movements is not to support or excuse Al Qaeda. To critique the so-called “war on terror” is part of coming to terms with the reality of terrorism and its causes, and hence making it possible to shape policies to end it.
Estabrook: The form of the US empire is shown by the more than a dozen permanent military bases that it is building in Iraq, to join the more than seven hundred such installations throughout the world -- now notably in formerly Soviet central Asia, and, by the extension of NATO, through eastern Europe to the Russian border. The principal strategic reason for the invasion of Iraq -- at best awkwardly justified by the "War on Terror" rhetoric -- was the establishment of these bases in the heart of the world's greatest oil-producing region.
Of course, the US doesn't need Mideast oil for domestic purposes, particularly if we can count on oil in our backyard in the Americas. (That's why we have to engineer coups against that madman Chavez.) But control of it gives the US vital leverage over the economies of our two major rivals, the EU and northeast Asia, now the most dynamic economic region in the world.
At least since the Eisenhower administration, Mideast oil has been seen as the world's greatest geopolitical prize, and control of it, the cornerstone of US foreign policy. The principal threat from the US viewpoint is the unconscionable idea that it should be used for the benefit of the people of the region. To prevent this possibility, we support governments that will do our bidding. Ever since Israel removed the greatest regional threat to our control in the 1967 war, we have made Israel into our Mideast guard-dog, by massive subventions to its unviable economy and a studied ignoring of its hundreds of high-tech nuclear weapons -- to say nothing of its almost forty years of brutal, illegal, and racist occupation.
But the US occupation of Iraq, modeled as it is on our Israeli client's occupation, has been a disaster, as incompetent as it is criminal. The rest of the world knows what to think of the constant bleat of the conqueror, that we have our victims' best interests at heart. Although the notion is as specious in Iraq as it was in Vietnam, there are not too many other comparisons between the two, because Iraq is far more important to on-going US foreign policy than Vietnam ever was.
The real beneficiary of the monstrous crimes of 9/11 was of course the Bush administration. Imagine the last three years in the US without 9/11. The first Bush administration was so disliked that Karl Rove's feverish advice for the 2002 election was, "Run on the war!" War hysteria allowed the Bush administration to go from unelected usurpation to a more or less legitimate electoral victory this year. 9/11 was the new Pearl Harbor that the PNAC had looked for, to justify the extension of US control.
The War on Terror is fraudulent in the way that the war on communism was. It was the much-overrated Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who blurted out the need for new enemies after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "I'm running out of villains," he wailed. "I'm down to Castro and Kim Il Sung" (since Saddam Hussein was no threat, as he and Condoleeza Rice admitted explicitly on the eve of 9/11). Osama bin Laden's networks were the gift of the Carter administration to the neocons, in their pursuit of long-term American imperial goals.
Chesler: I agree with Mr. Gaffney that America's current attempt to fight back against Islamic jihad and, at the same time, to extend freedom to those imprisoned by it is not the usual kind of "imperial" mission or ambition. Was America's war against Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan an "imperialist" war? I think not.
But, American military forces had to prevail before America and her allies could free the surviving concentration camp prisoners and effect any lasting democratic change. I believe that this, ideally, is the scenario in Afghanistan and Iraq today. For more than sixty years, America did not confront Soviet Russia during the Cold War. Indeed, both European and American intellectuals brilliantly and soulfully romanticized Stalin even as he murdered and imprisoned millions of his own people. This is in some ways analogous to how America has treated Arab Muslim and central Asian Muslim nations. Europe, America, the United Nations, etc. have all shored up Arab and Islamist neo-Stalinist dictators not only for oil but in the misguided belief that doing so would lead to international stability. The world, not only America, but the leading humanitarian and progressive groups, were willing to sacrifice the millions of Muslims, Christians, and Jews held hostage to hatred and tyranny in the Middle East and central Asia--especially the women and the dissidents. Hopefully, that time is past. Finally, Gaffney is right: Criticizing America has become such a full-time obsession that, even if some criticism is deserved, doing so at this moment in history is not only disloyal to our fighting forces, but dangerously underestimates the nature of Islamic jihad and "legitimizes" its leaders.
I agree with Mr. Jensen that America should be supporting grassroots movements for freedom. I believe that is precisely what we are trying to do. (But Islamic tyranny has been so total that moderate and radical voices are few and far between). I also agree that America has had a terrible record in central and South America. I strongly disagree that our policy is similarly "brutal" in Iraq or that we have somehow forfeited our "humanity." The United Nations (and the antiwar and global justice movements') failure to stop the ongoing genocide in Sudan qualifies for that dishonor as does their collective failure to stop or punish the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, and failure to systematically confront China about it's grave domestic human rights abuses, and occupation of Tibet, etc. Had western progressives been less taken in by the Soviet-backed and Arab-led hate campaigns against both America and Israel, America might today be the only country brave enough to risk a military invasion to stop the genocide in Sudan. Tragically, under current circumstances, we can't. And no other country or world-body has stepped forward.
So, Mr. Jensen still believes that terrorism has a justified, rational, root cause such as poverty or oppression or the desire for justice for a dishonored people? Spare me. Terrorists have utterly failed their own people and do not represent them; they are not interested in peace, diplomatic compromises, sane negotiation. They are fundamentalist fanatics, extreme misogynists, totalitarians in Islamic garb. Terrorist leaders are multi-millionaires and billionaires, educated men, who wish to terrify, humiliate, destroy, subdue and take over the western democracies and to suppress democratic yearnings amongst their own people. They are radically evil. Jensen's western global movement fails to understand this and still believes that evil can be "understood," that it is rational, that the right social justice program can contain it. Another failing of the western global movements are their own doctrinaire, unacknowledged. non-factual, but roaring prejudice towards Jews, Israel, and America. No movement that considers itself pro-democracy, pro-freedom, and pro-justice for women can also be as pro-Arabist, as Jew-hating, as Israel-demonizing, and as anti-American as Jensen's movements really are.
As to Mr. Estabrook: As to who should control and benefit from oil revenues, Sir: The Arab leaders are not using oil revenues to better their own people. They have pocketed the wealth for themselves and consigned their citizen-subjects to lives in the tenth century. Estabrook's anti-Zionism is a representative example of the new anti-Semitism as I have written about it in my book "The New Anti-Semitism." He describes Israel as a "client" state not as the safe haven for Jews long persecuted in both Europe and in Arab Muslim lands. He castigates Israel for having nuclear weapons--suggesting that he either does not understand how grave the threat to Israel's existence has been or rather, that he does not believe Israel has a legitimate right to self-defense or survival, or to the use of such weapons as deterrence.
The fact that he describes Israel as having exerted "almost forty years of brutal, illegal, and racist occupation" is why I can no longer be part of such Jew-hating and democracy-hating global justice movements. Palestinian suffering is primarily due to the Arab League decision not to allow Palestinians citizenship in any one of 21 Arab Muslim countries; to keep UNRWA's enormous funding subsidies in the hands of terrorists and tyrants and out of the hands of the Palestinian people, etc. The true occupation is that of the hearts and minds of Palestinians (and western intellectuals) who have been indoctrinated to scapegoat Israel for the considerable crimes of terrorist leaders and Arab tyrants. Tel Aviv has long been considered the illegal occupation, not settlements on the West Bank or Gaza. If Mr. Estabrook had really studied the Oslo peace process he would understand how desperately Israel wants peace and how opposed to peace with Israel the Islamic Middle East truly is. Iran is an Islamic state that has repressed and tortured it's own people, (women especially), and has, with Syria, also co-sponsored the destruction and occupation of Christian Lebanon and the ongoing terrorist attacks against Jews in Argentina, Turkey, and Israel. Iran is near to nuclear strike capacity. Why are Mr. Jensen and Mr. Estabrook silent about this?
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