Here it is, the fourth of July, and international fireworks are going off in a spectacular, albeit scary display of pyrotechnics. An American president who campaigned and won as the “peace” candidate, the one who would exhibit more caution in foreign affairs, is opening up a whole new front in George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” In the “Afpak” theater, Obama is launching an unprecedented wave of military aggression on a scale not seen since Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union — although more “pro-American” commentators might want to compare it to the D-Day invasion.
In any case, by the time Obama’s war has reached its height, those 130,000 US soldiers being pulled out of Iraq’s cities will be fighting in Afghanistan and surrounding areas, a military operation with major potential for escalation, which is bound to spread the war throughout Central and Southern Asia.
And while our attention has been drawn to the Middle East, and now Central Asia, for obvious reasons, it looks like more than a few cherry bombs are going off in the Western Hemisphere, where Hugo Chavez, the Saddam/Ahmadinejad of South America, is giving US policymakers serial migraines. You have to give it to old Hugo: he may be a thug, with economic views in the same category as phrenology and alchemy, but one thing he has very clearly grasped, and that is the abiding power of nationalism, i.e. the desire of each people to preserve its independence.
Chavez is giving us migraines because, in a world where “globalization” is a buzzword beloved by Western elites, the “Bolivarian” ideal promoted by the vocal Venezuelan caudillo reminds us of that archaic, annoying little detail, the flaw in all our grandiose visions of empire: the persistence of national sovereignty as a central organizing principle of human societies.
According to our liberal (and neoconservative) elites, this is an out-dated and even dangerous concept, an obstacle to their ongoing project of making the world safe for corporate interests and the politically-connected “entrepreneurs” who profit from the policy of imperialism. Of course, it’s not nice to call it imperialism, and our Deep Thinkers have invented a high-sounding euphemism: they call it “globalization.” What they mean, in reality, is the global scope of their own ambitions: what one pair of neoconservative theorists dubbed “benevolent global hegemony,” i.e. US military and economic dominance over the entire earth. This, announced Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, is the proper goal of America’s foreign policy: not the defense of the nation, and its people, but the creation of a world empire on which the sun never sets.
And, of course, it isn’t just the neocons who have promoted this idea: indeed, they stole it from the liberals — Woodrow Wilson comes to mind — and from the left generally, which is always palavering about the alleged virtues of “internationalism.” It was Wilson, you’ll recall, whose internationalist “idealism” gave birth to the League of Nations, which the US Senate wisely voted to stay well out of, and it is contemporary liberals who tout “multilateralism” and the evolution of international institutions, such as the United Nations, as the wave of an ever-more-enlightened future.
Division, separateness, particularity — all are perceived by Western elites as primitive remnants, evils of the past, to be discarded before the glory and majesty of what the First Bush called a “New World Order.” Oh, but only rubes, reactionaries, and radicalized rednecks believe any of this has much significance — right?
Well, no: the radical left, which lionizes Chavez, is rediscovering the advantages — indeed, the necessity — of national sovereignty, abandoning the old Marxist “internationalist” trope in the face of a wholesale assault on the concept by Washington and its allies in Western capitals. On the other hand, nationalism is alive and well on the right, where the flag has always played an iconic role, and particularity is celebrated — this in spite of the neoconservative effort to displace it with the false god of “America, the universal nation.”
They thought they were building a new world, one in which we’d all be under one big Universal Government — or, as the Euro-socialist philosopher and civil servant Alexandre Kojève characterized it, a “universal homogeneous state.” History, it was announced, had ended.
Hey, wait a minute — not so fast.
A rising tide of nationalism threatens to overwhelm the overblown fantasies of our internationalist elites. We saw it in the recent elections to the European parliament — itself a project beloved by the Euro-elite — with the victories of “far right” parties that oppose the whole idea of the European Union. We are seeing it in South America, where Chavez and his theatrics have taken center stage and his “Bolvarian” movement has regional appeal. We see it in the Middle East, where the Palestinians are fighting to recover their nation from an occupying army, and the Persians are determined that they’ll never have to fight such a battle.
As we celebrate our own Independence Day, we would be wise to realize the concept doesn’t only apply to us: every nation on earth makes a very big deal out of one day in the year, set aside for touting the virtues of their particular land, its history, its heroes, and its subtle beauties. Each time Washington announces this or that nation has violated “international norms,” and threatens to exercise its imperial prerogatives, the world’s hackles rise. Every presumption of our own superior ability to decide what is best for the world at large — no matter how “enlightened” and representative of “modernity” — is deeply resented by the targets of our self-righteousness.
That’s why every declaration of support for the Iranian protesters has a boomerang effect, one amplified skillfully by the hard-line regime in order to generate enough support to stay in power — in spite of their brutality and incompetence. It seems as though the Obama administration has understood this, which is why their much stronger statements in regard to yet another coup — the one ongoing in Honduras — raise suspicions, to my mind at least.
By denouncing the military coup that packed off Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica in his nightshirt, and in much stronger terms than in the Iranian case, Obama is accomplishing the exact opposite of his ostensible intention — which is to restore Zelaya to the presidency. I say ostensible because, before this is over, I’ll bet we find some kind of US involvement in this whole affair. There have been reports the Americans tried to dissuade Honduran military officers — trained, for the most part, in the US — from ousting Zelaya: what a great cover to explain away our prior knowledge of the event.
Zelaya’s growing ties to Chavez, and especially the entry of Honduras into ALBA — the “Bolivarian” trade alliance of South and Central American nations, founded to rival the US-sponsored Free Trade Alliance of the Americas — has Washington irked. This displeasure was doubtless communicated to their Honduran lieutenants. Are we supposed to believe that, in their eagerness to carry out their task, the Honduran generals went a bit overboard — or did they do just what they were supposed to do?
It’s your call, but, in any case, remember how Ayn Rand put it in The Fountainhead: “Don’t bother to examine a folly — ask yourself only what it accomplishes.”
Oh, but wait: isn’t this a “conspiracy theory”? Surely we all know those are bad, kooky, and perhaps even dangerous. Which is why they must be avoided — by “respectable” commentators — at all costs. Yes, even at the cost of the truth, or, at least, any effort to discover it.
It seems perversely counterintuitive, in the post-9/11 era, to deny the existence of conspiracies: the signal event that has shaped US foreign policy since 2001 occurred on account of a criminal conspiracy, and it seems particularly dull-witted to ignore that, but there’s a larger point to be made. As Murray Rothbard, the founder of modern libertarianism, explained:
“Suppose we find that Congress has passed a law raising the steel tariff or imposing import quotas on steel? Surely only a moron will fail to realize that the tariff or quota was passed at the behest of lobbyists from the domestic steel industry, anxious to keep out efficient foreign competitors. No one would level a charge of “conspiracy theorist” against such a conclusion. But what the conspiracy theorist is doing is simply to extend his analysis to more complex measures of government: say, to public works projects, the establishment of the ICC, the creation of the Federal Reserve System, or the entry of the United States into a war. In each of these cases, the conspiracy theorist asks himself the question cui bono? Who benefits from this measure? If he finds that Measure A benefits X and Y, his next step is to investigate the hypothesis: did X and Y in fact lobby or exert pressure for the passage of Measure A? In short, did X and Y realize that they would benefit and act accordingly?
“Far from being a paranoid or a determinist, the conspiracy analyst is a praxeologist; that is, he believes that people act purposively, that they make conscious choices to employ means in order to arrive at goals. Hence, if a steel tariff is passed, he assumes that the steel industry lobbied for it; if a public works project is created, he hypothesizes that it was promoted by an alliance of construction firms and unions who enjoyed public works contracts, and bureaucrats who expanded their jobs and incomes. It is the opponents of “conspiracy” analysis who profess to believe that all events — at least in government — are random and unplanned, and that therefore people do not engage in purposive choice and planning.”
Of course, as Rothbard goes on to say, “there are good conspiracy theorists and bad conspiracy theorists.” The bad ones stop with cui bono, and fail to carry out any substantive investigation into specifics. Evidence, as such, is not required: or, at least, very little. In this category belong allegations from some anti-interventionists that the Iranian protest movement is a creature of the CIA. They cite numerous US government programs and grants to Iranian opposition groups, but don’t explain why all this support should go to Mir Hossein Mousavi — who, after all, was directly responsible for the 1983 bombing at our Beirut embassy. Nor do they establish any direct links between what is happening on the ground in Iran and US government actions or directives.
We don’t as yet have any evidence of US involvement in the Honduran coup — aside from Washington’s apparent prior knowledge — but would anybody be shocked if we had our fingers in this particular pie? Indeed, it is far from unlikely, given the historic ties between the US and the Honduran military, not to mention the traditional US policy of keeping a tight rein on its hemispheric client states. There’s also the intriguing question: if we had enough time to try to talk the generals out of ousting Zelaya, then why didn’t we warn him?
Yes, Obama is denouncing the coup, but the intimate ties between the US military and intelligence communities and the Honduran high command predate his presidency by four decades. Our President stands atop an imperial system gargantuan by any measure, and if we are involved, it wouldn’t be the first time the head didn’t know what the hands were doing.
As we celebrate our independence, and the birth of a nation born in the struggle against a rapacious imperial power, let us remember to respect the independence of others. Every time we have forgotten it, the consequences have exploded in our faces — like a firecracker going off unexpectedly.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I haven’t twittered — well, maybe once. Please don’t be disappointed, those who are “following” me: just think of this two-thousand word column as a whole lot of interconnected twitters….