Sunday, June 3, 2007

Chalmers Johnson/American Empire

I have just finished reading Johnson's Sorrows of Empire and enough of Nemesis to know where he is going with it. They are both quite good and make a number of points that we would be wise to remember.

President Bush said that the 9/11 attacks happened because the "terrorists" envied our freedom, our wealth and our democracy. It is almost as if Bush has historical amnesia. We have a long and, for the most part, dubious history in the Middle East. We have done many things there that would incite justifiable anger, not envy. Why are the Iranians so difficult to deal with? Well, does anyone remember 1953? The CIA engineered the overthrow of an elected government, reinstalled the Shah, and then supported his brutal (but pro-American) regime for the next 36 years. Does anyone remember that we supported Saddam Hussein in his brutal war against Iran? He ultimately lost that war but decided to use his excess American supplied weaponry to settle his long standing and contested claim to Kuwait.

To say that the attack happened because "they" envy "us" is to forget everything that went before in a long and sordid history. That isn't to say that the victims, the individual victims, of 9/11 deserved what they got. They didn't. Unfortunately, they bore the direct brunt of the anger directed at our government because they were what al Qaida could reach.

One of Robert Heinlein's characters (I think it was Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love) misquoted Lincoln "In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people--DON'T TELL THE PEOPLE." That is a principle our government has been following faithfully for a very, very long time. However, if we aren't informed can the officials who govern us truly claim to have our consent? That would be like a physician claiming that his patient consented to treatment he was never informed of or, worse, was deliberately misinformed about. Like describing chemotherapy as a vitamin regimen? Supposedly, our representatives stand in for us in the process of giving consent. However, if those representatives are given misleading and false information, they can't give any more meaningful consent in our names than we can on our own. There is a lot of evidence surfacing that the administration cherry picked data, chose to believe unreliable sources because they supplied the information the administration wanted to hear, presented overly optimistic assessments of the consequences of its actions, and generally blew a lot of smoke to obscure any information that countered its chosen gospel. That completely undercuts the fundamental premises of democratic society and government.

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