America's Brave New World
The "war against terrorism" veils where the United States really suffers: hunger, debts and recession. Instead of putting things right, conservatives prefer planning the next war
By Martin Kilian
[This article originally published in the Swiss weekly Weltwoche 48/01 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.weltwoche.de.]
American contradictions: many bridges and streets are in a pitiful condition. The label "public" seems to automatically mean inferior. On the other hand, the best-equipped armed forces of the world is a "public" high tech troop whose striking force and range is unrivalled. The "war against terrorism", a long-term project that according to President Bush could occupy the United States for years at the same time veils where America suffers. The war serves as a convenient pretext for repressing many things needing reform and repair and for trivializing debates that could infuse new vitality into American democracy.
Little resistance appears to the intervention in Afghanistan or to the general intention to throw a monkey wrench into the works of terrorist murderers. America does not doubt the purpose of the war in Afghanistan. However the foundations of the American experiment shifted after September 11 and with them the arrogant, short-sighted dictum of the political scientist Francis Fukoyama that America does not need to worry "about strange ideas that come to people in Albania or Burkuna Faso.
Ridiculous Tax Gifts
The numerous teach-ins at American universities show that the "strange ideas" of others affect America very much. During the shock over the September events, the desire for new community was aroused in many American heads while Washington policy drags along in the same old rut. Cancellation of the ABM treaty? Let us be modern as never before! Kyoto? Still unacceptable! A ban on land mines? Without us! The Bush administration and its supporters in Congress cannot even imagine in a dream using the September attacks as an opportunity to review American energy policy, the awkward relation to the oil supplier Saudi Arabia or the never satiated American appetite for cheap energy.
Modifying or abandoning confrontational positions is scorned. Environmental conditions are hidden under the veil of war and ridiculous tax gifts are disguised as programs to stimulate business activity when the economy convulses. So future political party contributions flow more generously, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives did not simply annul the minimum tax for corporations but abolished the tax retroactively. IBM received $1.4 billion as a gift and Ford one billion.
Nevertheless the former budget surplus heaped up during the boom of the nineties will give way to deficits again in the near future. People act as though the economy will soon flourish again even though a recession was officially announced. The budgets of states are already shaken. As a consequence, many promising new initiatives in education are cut off. Schools in poor districts run the risk of having to abandon improvements gained through hard struggle. Welfare organizations in New York report an astonishing rise in hunger. Soup kitchens and food depots can hardly cope with the rush of the working poor and the suddenly unemployed. Food for Survival, the largest supplier of free food in New York, estimates that over a million New Yorkers depend on soup kitchens and food donations.
Modesty? No, thanks!
In an incredible way, these conditions contrast with the optimism of Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill who has insisted that the upswing is around the corner and the stock markets will shine more brightly than ever before. Stock prices have already advanced tremendously despite falling corporate profits. Over-rated in wondrous heights, stock prices delude investors into thinking that the next boom is approaching. Thus a false normality and yesterday's routine triumph while the nation could venture a new beginning in many areas. The breath-taking volunteer spirit of the weeks after the catastrophe survives but is chilled since giving young Americans the chance of a voluntary social year is not a priority.
Instead of a lively discussion on the state of the American republic, an explosive discourse on the desirability of displaying imperial power is encouraged by think-tanks and the media. The influential think-tank Project for a New American Century declares America should not be modest but shape the world without hesitations according to American guidelines. The moment for stepping up the pace of the "war against terrorism" was never more opportune.
A reform of the problematic American relationship to the United Nations and the question whether only the American model of modernization is fit for the Third World are not on the agenda but rather an attack on Saddam Hussein. This attack is urged almost like a prayer by the hawks. Whether America has the courage to put its stamp on the world single-handedly if necessary must be clear. America's readiness "to form the new world" will appear in the case of Iraq. This is the conviction of William Kristol, the head of the conservative weekly magazine Weekly Standard.
No wonder that the political camps find themselves in strangely reversed roles. The left-liberal America, catholic bishops, unions and a large part of the intelligentsia support President Bush's warfare. On the other hand, a choir of discontented conservatives first criticize the supposedly slack operation in Afghanistan and then stylize the immediate invasion in Bagdad as an American confession to American greatness and determination.
The loudmouths and brawlers do not need to worry that the fragile coalition against terror breaks up and the peace process in the Middle East sputters since they strive for endless campaigns - aided by the indulgence money of the allies - until a world suitable to them arises. Their hero, the deputy-secretary of Defense and super-hawk Paul Wolfowitz, tries to enforce this viewpoint but doesn't have the ear of the president. Secretary of State Colin Powell and security advisor Condoleezza Rice block the super-hawk. The president knows how great would be the present danger of an attack on Iraq. His cautious warfare in Afghanistan has paid off in a consensus that has accompanied the conflict. Frivolously risking the consensus means playing with the 2004 re-election.
The American war machine will now probably turn to Somalia and perhaps start fighting against Islamic separatists in the Philippines together with President Gloria Magapacal Arroyo - too little for the hawks but problematic for many Democrats if the campaign actually becomes a pretext to cover up actual conditions at home and the open questions of American foreign policy while persevering in an unhealthy status quo in the long run.
The hour was never more favorable for turning around from tricky political cul-de-sacs. However the temptation was also never greater to unilaterally enforce American interests in the shadow of the "war against terrorism" and quite incidentally to increase the benefices of the Republican clientele in domestic politics. "Seized by an old screenplay, we did not see the airplanes coming because we didn't think we had to look around." So the essayist Lewis Lapham described the American mindset before September 11. Now we should be on the lookout everywhere - outwardly and inwardly.