Like many U.S. citizens I’ve been appalled and disconcerted about the current Bush administration’s foreign policy. What I initially found most distressing is that it appeared that Bush, like a middle ages alchemist, fabricated a sudden immanent need for a war against Iraq. In July there was no appreciable mention of Iraq in any of the news. By September the headline in all US newspapers was Bush ranting that Iraq with it’s weapons of mass destruction is suddenly an immediate threat to our national security. Therefore, I turned to writing to clarify my thoughts on the matter. Here they are.
With the UN and virtually all of our allies except Britain disagreeing, with even our own intelligence sources disagreeing and Bush’s rhetoric about the need to act unilaterally, it was easy - too easy - to align with the rapidly developing protest against this fabricated need to wage war with Iraq and assume that Bush and his administration were a collection of war mongering madmen. The very day that I was e-mailing Senator Graham to vote against the resolution giving Bush a free hand to go to war with Iraq, Graham was submitting an amendment to the resolution to allow Bush to not only go after Iraq, but also Iran, Lybia, North Korea, and a few other “evil axis” states. What’s going on here? Can it really be that Bush, his cabinet and all these elected officials in congress are simply crazy or is that too simple an answer?
I decided therefore to do a bit of research on our foreign policy since the end of WWII. To that end I turned to some recent publications by rather well known critics of our foreign policy; Noam Chomsky, William Blum, Wendell Berry and a few others. Talk about opening Pandora’s box! What I discovered is most alarming! The U.S. has broken international law many, many time since the end of WWII. We have ignored the findings of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the World Court (International Court of Justice) the UN Charter and its resolutions and agreements. Bush’s behavior is entirely consistent with our international behavior over the last fifty years!
The term rogue state has two uses: as propaganda rhetoric denouncing the behavior of states we don’t like, and a literal definition that applies to states that have chosen not to regard themselves as bound by international norms. These norms are partially codified by the UN Charter, International Court of Justice decisions and various conventions and treaties. By this literal definition it is clear that we have indeed chosen to be a rogue state!
In 1963 respected statesman Dean Acheson flatly stated that “the US is not bound by international law”. Our forty year blockade of Cuba has been universally condemned by the UN, the European Union, the Organization of American States (OAS) the Inter-American Juridical Committee, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Here is a direct quote from the memoirs (1978) of UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “The United States wished things to turn out as they did (in regard to Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor), and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”
In response to Nicaragua’s (1986) charges against the US, the World Court condemned us for our “unlawful use of force” and demanded that we desist and pay substantial reparations and ruled that all aid to the mercenary forces attacking Nicaragua was military, not humanitarian. US Secretary of State George Shultz derided those who advocate “utopian legalistic means like outside mediation, the United Nations, and the World Court, while ignoring the power element of the equation.” The Court was dismissed as a “hostile forum” and the US escalated the war and summarily ignored the call for reparations. We then vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law and voted in virtual isolation against a similar General Assembly resolution.
In 1993 President Clinton informed the UN that “the US will act multilaterally when possible, but unilaterally when necessary.” This position was reiterated in 1994 by UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright. And in 1999 Secretary of Defense William Cohen, declared that the US is committed to “unilateral use of military power” to defend vital interests, which include “ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources”.
In 1999 the American Society of International Law (ASIL) said that “international law is today probably less highly regarded in our country than at any time in this century”and warned of the “alarming exacerbation” of Washington’s dismissal of treaty obligations.
And I now see in the October 31 to November 6, 2002 edition of the Guardian Weekly, a lead article pointing out “US has secret bio-weapons programme. Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic warned this week that the United States is developing a new generation of weapons that undermine and possibly violate international treaties on biological and chemical warfare.” (Note the Dec. 12, 1984 UN resolution #39/65B below.)
Clearly we have publically stated that we will ignore international norms as codified by the UN Charter and unilaterally go our own way unless we can manage to elicit compliance from our allies. It’s also clear that over the last 35 or more years we have routinely acted to render the UN “utterly ineffective”.
I rank among the many U.S. citizens who have been naively putting our faith in the United Nations steadily becoming stronger and more internationally assertive in it’s peace keeping role throughout the world. Yet a bit of investigating discloses that the US is the principle saboteur of UN efforts. As is rather well known, thanks to Jesse Helms, we’ve gone over 25 years without paying our dues and now owe the organization millions of dollars in back dues. Meanwhile we choose to call ourselves the leaders of the free world. My recollections from playing follow the leader as a child tells me that without followers there’s no game. If we are the leaders, where are our followers?
To enlist support for our wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia, and now Iraq again we have had to resort to bribery, threats and chicanery such as the resolution Bush recently pushed for and got in Congress. The administration openly stated that the resolution was intending to put pressure on the UN to join us in attacking Iraq for it’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. Yet with noteworthy regularity we have found ourselves - often alone, sometimes joined by one or two other countries - standing in opposition to General Assembly and Security Council resolutions aimed at furthering human rights, peace, nuclear, chemical and biological disarmament, and economic justice. We are far in the lead in Security Council vetoes, with Britain second and France a distant third. In his book Rogue State, William Blum lists nearly 150 times between 1978 and 1987 when the US found itself standing alone or with one or two others in casting a ‘no’ vote against such resolutions. Here are just a handful of rather outstanding examples from that list.
Well, there’s my handful from the nearly 150 in which the US stood alone or with just one or two others during the ten years spanning 1978 to 1987. I chose to put several in bold italics because of what’s going on now with the US and terrorism and Iraq. In light of 9/11, how do you like the last one on the list?
Coupled with that information about our behavior in the UN, I learned that we currently have US troops in over 100 states in every part of the world. And take a look at the number of global interventions in which we have engaged in since the end of WWII.
Here is a listing of American interventions into the life of other nations:(For sources see Rogue State and Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II both by William Blum).
|China, 1945-51.||Iran, 1953.||Cambodia, 1955-73.||France, 1947.|
|Guatemala, 1953-1990s.||Laos, 1957-73.||Marshall Islands, 1946-58.||Costa Rica, mid 1950s-1970-71.|
|Thailand, 1965-73.||Italy, 1947-70s.||Middle East, 1956-58.||Ecuador, 1960-63.|
|Greece, 1947-49.||Indonesia, 1957-58.||The Congo/Zaire, 1960-65, 77-78.||Philippines, 1945-53.|
|Haiti, 1959.||France/Algeria, 1960s.||Korea, 1945-53.||Western Europe, 1950s-1960s.|
|Brazil, 1961-64.||Albania, 1949-53.||British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64.||Peru, 1965.|
|Eastern Europe, 1948-56||Iraq, 1958-63.||Dominican Republic 1963-65.||Germany, 1950s.|
|Soviet Union, 1942-1960s.||Indonesia, 1965.||Cuba, 1959 to present.||Vietnam, 1945-73.|
|Ghana, 1966.||Uruguay, 1969-72.||Honduras, 1980s.||Panama, 1989.|
|Chile, 1964-73.||Nicaragua, 1978-90.||Afghanistan, 1979-92.||Greece, 1967-74.|
|Philippines, 1970s-1990s.||El Salvador, 1980-92.||South Africa, 1960s-1980s.||Seychelles, 1979-81.|
|Haiti, 1987-94.||Bolivia, 1964-75.||South Yemen, 1979-84.||Bulgaria, 1990-92.|
|Australia, 1972-75.||South Korea, 1980.||Albania, 1991-92.||Iraq, 1972-75.|
|Chad, 1981-82.||Somalia, 1993.||Portugal, 1974-76.||Grenada, 1979-83.|
|Iraq 1990s.||East Timor, 1975-99.||Suriname, 1982-84.||Peru, 1990s-present.|
|Angola, 1975-1980s.||Libya, 1981-89.||Mexico, 1990s-present.||Jamaica, 1976.|
|Fiji, 1987.||Columbia, 1990s-present.||Yugoslavia, 1995-99.|
No doubt competent spinmasters from the State Department, Defense Department, Pentagon and White House could come up with some fairly convincing arguments (such as the current weapons of mass destruction rhetoric) to justify the necessity of any one of these interventions which took place during their time in office. However, when I look at the big picture (67 interventions are listed here, more interventions than there are years between the end of WWII and today) its pretty tough not to conclude that there’s a very consistent pattern of behavior going on here.. No other nation has ever even come close to intervening in the internal machinations of so many sovereign states in such a short period of time. And we talked about the danger of the “domino effect” of communism.
Here is a complete list of all the presidents since 1945 who have not sent US soldiers into war:
Just what is going on in this picture? A quote from Arnold Toynbee in 1961:
"America is today the leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in the defense of vested interests. She now stands for what Rome stood for. Rome consistently supported the rich against the poor in all foreign communities that fell under her sway; and, since the poor, so far, have always and everywhere been far more numerous than the rich, Rome’s policy made for inequality, for injustice, and for the least happiness of the greatest number."
That’s a rather heavy indictment, and it was said over forty years ago. Since that time we seem to have embarked on a campaign to verify it’s accuracy. As mentioned above, a rogue state is one that does not consider itself bound by international norms. By that definition we indeed qualify as a rogue state.
Have we shortened Ambrose Bierce’s famous maxim “My country right or wrong; support it when it’s right and correct it when it’s wrong.” to simply "My country right or wrong?"
We claim to represent, model, and foster democracy throughout the world. Our voting record in the UN belies that claim (check the Nov. 9,1981and Nov. 22, 1983 resolutions above) and the 2000 presidential election stands as an indelible smear on the face of the democratic process. The Supreme Court with its 5 to 4 decision perverted the election from a democratic process to a political decision.
At best we are a limited democracy. The voting public gets no input into what our government does about corporate globalization or foreign policy or health care or any of our public institutions. There is overwhelming evidence corporate lobbying and ‘soft money’ fund raising pretty much control the political structure. We now have enormous numbers of minority citizens who aren’t registered to vote, and only about 50% of those of us who are registered voters actually exercising that right. In this past off year election 37% of the registered voting population turned out to vote. That would set what the media describes as “Bush’s mandate” at about 19% of the voting population. In Bush’s rhetoric, “We’ll go to war with Iraq, unilaterally if necessary, initiate a regime change, install a democracy and maintain U.S. forces in the country for a few years to “manage” things until the new regime is stable.” Is this the brand of democracy which we purport to export to the world, forcibly if necessary?
And here’s a reminder of the power of the underlying capitalistic global economy stance that drives our foreign policy. In 1996 at a United Nations-sponsored World Food Summit, the US took issue with an affirmation by the summit of the “right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food”. The US insisted that it does not recognize a “right to food”. We instead championed free trade as the key to ending the poverty at the root of hunger. The old ‘trickle down’ approach!
Wendell Berry in the excellent three essay book In the Presence of Fear says: “It is a mistake - as events since Sept. 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.”
So, as citizens, what do we do? Those of us who are concerned and dismayed about our country actually being a rogue state? Those of us who don’t like our aggressive international bullying jingoistic approach to foreign policy? Those of us who recognize that our behavior in the world and in the UN belies our stated values as a democratic peace loving nation. Hypocrites are those who apply to others the standards that they refuse to accept for themselves. In order for us, the USA, to rise to this absolutely minimal moral level we have to agree, in fact insist, that if some act is right for us then it’s right for others, and if it’s wrong when others do it then it’s wrong when we do it. Like many others, I do periodically write and/or e-mail my congressmen, but I must confess it feels something like pissing on a forest fire - the result is a tiny burst of steam that has no effect whatever on the raging conflagration. And it appears that demonstrations, like the one in DC against war with Iraq on October 26th are equally ineffective. Just what can you and I as citizens do about all this? It seems we must do more than just shrug our shoulders and be silent. Our government is acting on our behalf, representing us, speaking for us. And as the saying goes; if you’re not part of the mop you’re part of the dirt. How do we begin to influence and change the basic direction of our international behavior? How do we get heard?
From my perspective, two essential missing ingredients are needed to make our democratic system work more efficiently and better represent the true will of the people! One is that Congress needs to be far more answerable to the full voting population and not just the moneyed lobby system. The second is that Congress and the White House need regular comprehensive widespread feedback from the people - not just a handful of polls at election time or after an issue has been in the headlines for a week or two, but clear feedback from all of us.
My suggestion for a fix that will get and retain the full attention of Congress which represents us and make our system markedly more democratic is twofold:
Voting is currently compulsory in a number of countries throughout the world. Australia is one example. Hearing from the public at large on a regular basis would radically change what politicians pay attention to and actually respond to. It would go a long way toward emasculating the currently moneyed lobby system and it would change how politicians conduct their campaigns and run for office. Our present system is heavily dependent on poor voter turnout, on millions of citizens, especially minority groups, feeling apathetic and helpless and staying away from the polls. A resounding 37% turned out to vote in this past off year election. Compulsory voting would change all that. Perhaps we should combine strong penalties such as loss of driver’s license for not voting with a positive reward, such as $10.00 in cash when you actually show up and cast your vote. (If you think that would cost too much, check it against the defense budget.)
And as for conducting national surveys and referendums, all the necessary technology to do that with published results within 24 hours is currently available. We all have sufficient faith in our ATM cards to amble about the world popping them into machines will full confidence that we can get our money whenever we want and that no one else can get it. I want an ATM like electronic device attached to every television set and have every voter issued a card allowing them to vote on referendum questions right from their home. The Survey and Referendum questions would appear on public television a couple of weeks before the date of the vote. On that date people would use their card to vote and we’d have clear results announced as part of the news on the following day. This would radically modify how politicians voted on legislative issues. It is, for example, common knowledge that at least 2/3rds of our population wants much stronger gun control. However, the population is not organized like the NRA is to put pressure on Congress to influence their voting, the population at large has no platform and therefore no voice and thus stronger gun control legislation is all but impossible to get through Congress. This suggestion would give us such a platform and a voice. And, because the voting public would have a reading on the the national stance on any given issue, it would also reduce single issue voting.
I am not suggesting that national referendums carry any ‘majority rule’ legislative weight. I believe that our elected legislative officials should vote their conscience. I do, however, want them to know exactly where the public stands, what the will of the people is on major national/international issues and I want the public at large to know how their legislators vote while having full knowledge of the public’s stance on the issue at hand.
These two changes, compulsory voting and frequent national referendums, will also serve to educate the voting public and bring their attention to national political issues and their own civic responsibility to participate in the system strongly into their awareness.
Needless to say, Congress and the corporate structure would entrench and fight to the death to avoid such a change in the system. It’s a fight just to get to where voters are allowed to register while at the registry of motor vehicles. It’s far easier to leave the system as it is and accuse indigent minorities who don’t vote of apathy. And initially there would be some logistical problems to overcome. For example, voting ATM like devices would have to be available in all public malls, schools and post offices at least while television sets equipped with such ‘voting slots’ were being developed. I do, however, believe that these two changes would do more to “clean up our system” than any other approach that comes to mind. I would dearly like to see a national debate on these changes in our system develop. And, I’d like to hear responses from any of you who read this and wish to respond.
Copyright 2005 The Trouser Rollers. All Rights Reserved.