"I know its hard on America. And in some small corner of this vast country in Nevada or Idaho, these places I’ve never been but always wanted to go, there’s a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you the political leaders of this nation: why me? Why us? Why America? And the only answer is: because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time and the task is yours to do. And our job, my nation that watched you grow, that you’ve fought alongside and now fights alongside you, that takes enormous pride in our alliance and great affection in our common bond, our job is to be there with you." Tony Blair, 7.17.03, Washington DC.
What does Tony Blair want? That question, which likely should’ve occurred to those in attendance on July 17th as he spoke to a Joint Session of the US Congress, wasn’t voiced by the cable news pundits, most of whom were happy that the US had a "friend" as steadfast as the Prime Minister. Most attention given to the speech was stylistic, dealing with elocution, word play, and all the things that make British voices [Chris Hitchens, button your shirt and call your office] irresistible to the US media establishment.
Blair’s speech was jolly good, if you buy into the post-9/11 rhetoric about Twilight Struggles for Democracy and American Values. If you feel otherwise about the US’s role in the world, however, the speech sounded like nothing so much as a sales pitch for something that will be worthless by the time it’s paid off.
Harsh indictment? Perhaps, but Blair’s address to the Congress was rich in imagery exhorting American Values in a way that would be embarrassing to even domestic politicians not involved in a stalled-out re-election campaign. As it was, Blair ‘s speech paradoxically kissed the arses of the American people while being delivered for no discernable payoff from anyone but media elites and Washington pols. It was a speech for a global audience, very explicit in its delineation of the American role in the new century. With that in mind, the question of Blair’s motives is paramount.
Blair set the tone for his remarks from the outset, claiming to "feel a most urgent sense of mission about today’s world", adding that "September 11th was not an isolated event, but a tragic prologue. Iraq; another Act; and many further struggles will be set upon this stage before it’s over." Naturally, "there never has been a time when the power of America was so necessary; or so misunderstood." Compounding such difficulty for Blair is the idea that history "provides so little instruction for our present day."
Cynics who refer to the War on Terror as a neo-colonial enterprise likely weren’t heartened by the following: "none of us expect our soldiers to fight a war on our territory. The immediate threat is not war between the world’s powerful nations. Why? Because we all have too much to lose."
And indeed we do, as our bodies, lives, and souls are worth exponentially more than those in regions in "another part of the globe, [where] there is shadow and darkness where not all the world is free, where many millions suffer under brutal dictatorship; where a third of our planet lives in a poverty beyond anything even the poorest in our societies can imagine; and where a fanatical strain of religious extremism has arisen, that is a mutation of the true and peaceful faith of Islam and because in the combination of these afflictions, a new and deadly virus has emerged."
So what? Does the panhandler on the corner, pimping out his dignity to get fifty cents for a cheeseburger, care one iota about "tyranny" in a place he will never visit? Of course not. Why would he, when his own survival is paramount to his existence, dwarfing abstract, altruistic concerns about the "blighted peoples of the world"?
And why should we care? Are we any better off than the panhandlers? Budget deficits, debauched currency, a credit bubble that’s about to pop like a cyst such conditions have made us no better than beggars. Why is it up to America to save the world? Because, as Blair puts it, "we love freedom"? Or because "the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, any time, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship."
I don’t know about you, but I’m about sick of men in two thousand dollar suits sending Americans off to foreign lands to fight no-win wars such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq. That sickness is only compounded when the war pimps are foreign rather than domestic. But who can argue with this? "The purpose of terrorism is . . . the elimination of tolerance; until societies cease to reconcile their differences but become defined by them."
The elimination of tolerance? That’s cause for bloodshed? The Revolutionary War, in part, was fought so that officious jackasses like Blair wouldn’t determine American policy. After hearing Blair feted by a docile, slack jawed Washington press and pundit corps for these and similar statements throughout the speech, you’ll pardon me for wondering if the American revolution didn’t completely work the first time around.
CLEAR CHANNEL EXONERATED?
This from Nancy Zakhary: "Clear Channel Radio stations are operated and programmed locally based on extensive audience research. Local managers make their own decisions about programming and community events including rallies to thank and support the men and women in their communities who are serving in the armed forces. At the urging of their listeners, a few (approximately 1%) of these local managers chose to have their stations participate in pro-troop rallies. The corporate offices of Clear Channel Communications are not directly involved in the Rallies for America. And other radio groups have also sponsored rallies, including: Infinity Broadcasting (owned by Viacom), Cox Radio, Federated Media and Susquehanna Media."
That response follows my column in this space from last week, "Is Iraq Hell on Earth?" Nancy wants a retraction of my claim that Clear Channel "conjured" up "pro-war rallies." She’s not getting one.
A handful of radio groups control the American airwaves. That control, especially since 1996, has coincided with an erosion of the standards of American popular music as well as public morality itself. This writer (who has written about music for myriad publications in three decades so far) believes that if these companies want to control the American airwaves, then their executives and henchmen should understand that the parent companies are responsible for all the good their stations do. Certainly, these rallies were considered contributions to the public good as they were happening, and were presented as such on radio stations throughout the country.
It is my belief that this letter wouldn’t have appeared in my mailbox if operations in Iraq were proceeding more smoothly. That belief, of course, can’t be substantiated. But I don’t seem to recall anyone with real stroke from Clear Channel distancing themselves or the company at large from these "support your troops (or else)" rallies beyond using this tired argument about the stations being "operated and programmed locally" based on "extensive audience research." We can talk about "local operation", but as anyone in the business knows, content is determined in the end by the parent company, which can change or curtail "local programming" at its leisure.
Simply, Nancy, if Clear Channel wants to have it both ways, they can do so on their own media outlets. This column stands by its original assessment, which is that Clear Channel received material benefit from helping to popularize and even glamorize military action in Iraq.