From America With Love: Democratizing the World
By Eddie J. Girdner
William Blum. America’s Deadliest Export, Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else. London: Zed Books, 2013. 355 pages.
This book follows the publication of earlier books by Blum, now near classics, in which he has brought to light long lists of the sins of US foreign policy. Earlier books include Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower and Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II.
William Blum does not get very much attention in the United States. This is not surprising. Like most who tell the truth, he is generally ignored. That has been carefully arranged for decades, at least since the l930s. This reminds me of what was said by the desert anarchist, Edward Abbey. He wrote that one can say anything they want in the United States. As long as it is true, no one will ever hear it.
This has been true for Blum, except for a few days in January 2006. In an audio tape, Osama bin Laden told Americans that it would be useful for them to read his book, Rouge State. In the introduction, Blum stated that if he was President, he “could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days.” Due to this, he was in demand by the major American media and appeared on prominent TV shows and radio programs. He was written up in the Washington Post and other newspapers. This was despite the fact that his letters to the Post were routinely ignored.
Blum told the press that while he hated religious fundamentalism and the kind of societies set up by the Taliban, he was actually glad of the endorsement simply because it gave him access to the press. It was a rare chance to put his criticism of US foreign policy to the American people. Critics like Blum are routinely denied access to the press in the US, even while the US claims to have the freest press in the world. It just isn’t so, with the press generally serving the interests of the powerful and those with money.
Those listening to the programs asked him where else in the world he could have the freedom to criticize the government. He pointed out that there were many such countries. Indeed, even in Turkey, there is plenty of vigorous criticism of Turkish foreign policy by Turkish intellectuals, even though it is on record that Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country in the world. In the US, people apparently believed that since the country was so free, Blum should appreciate that by not criticizing foreign policy at all.
Another thing that happened was that many Americans pointed to the marvelous things the US had done for the world, including the Marshall Plan. Blum then had the opportunity to deconstruct this myth. If one still believes that it is true, then they really do need to read the book.
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, US President George W. Bush announced a new program, the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI). The White House claimed that the program was aimed at bringing democracy to the countries of the Middle East. The rulers in the area, such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, were horrified by such a proposal after the wholesale destruction of Iraq. Perhaps the greatest fear of any people outside the US is that their country should be targeted for the waging of democracy, George W. Bush style.
Of course, the US intended nothing of the sort, as should have been obvious to anyone paying attention. Nevertheless, one would not know this by reading articles in the press and scholarly journals. It was mostly swallowed whole, hook, line and sinker, except for a few dissidents such as Noam Chomsky, Blum and so on. In fact, the local despots in the region were soon given to know by the US, not to worry. We are behind you all the way so never mind. It is just for public consumption. George W. has to cover his back side after he did not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That is, none other than those that he put there himself and the US had sent back in the l980s. He could not even come up with anything that could be faked. Donald Rumsfeld said he knew where they were. Here, there, east, west, north or south, or around the corner, and so on, somewhere, unspecified. Or just maybe those devils had smuggled them all out of the country just in the nick of time. Shore nuff!
Indeed, the Iraqis were already organizing themselves democratically for the purpose of defending their country from the plans of the neocons, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Bremer to deconstruct their political economy and privatize the hell out of it from one end to the other and turn it over to KBR, Halliburton, and the oil firms. Being assaulted by George W. Bush’s so-called waging of democracy had already killed about three million Iraqis. Not for the purpose of democracy, of course, but to get the economy, particularly the oil, into the private sector for international plunder by MNCs.
In the end, the Neocons were hoisted on their own petard. They had to scale back their ambitious plans for Iraq because American style neoliberalism had nothing to do with democracy in Iraq. The Iraqis wanted to do it their way and not the American way. Ironically, the attack on Iraq and the occupation, did lead to the push for democracy from below in the Arab Spring. This was just what the Americans feared most. After all, if they really wanted us to know what they were up to, why would they care so much if we read the leaked cables published by WikiLeaks?
There is really not very much that one finds surprising here, if one had followed Blum’s previous books on US foreign policy, or the writings of Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, and other critics. But Blum brings out the absurdities of the US Empire in a very entertaining way. So the book is a joy to read.
With the Arab Spring, the US saw the area spinning out of control and could do nothing about it in Egypt, except to try to salvage as much of the old regime as possible. So the US was forced to go along with it and pretend that it was just what the doctor ordered. They would make the most of it and pretend that they were on the democracy bandwagon. In fact, the upsurge was what used to be called “a crises of democracy,” meaning too much, not too little. Political scientists had warned about it decades ago in the literature. The US likes to pretend to democratize the hell out of the world but when democracy really breaks out, they have to try to do something about it. This calls for counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, counter-democracy and so on. For the US, whatever serves its interests and that of MNCs is democratic. What serves the people is a threat to democracy. One need only look at Venezuela under Hugo Chavez.
Americans could gain much understanding of the world by reading Blum rather than watching Fox and other American TV networks that are preparing the American mind for totalitarianism. I would like to see his books used in every course on US foreign policy taught in the United States. Throw in a few right wingers too. Let the students sort it out and decide who is right.
I think US foreign policy in the public mind is a lot like economics. Economists like to devise explanations that are for the purpose of confusing people. However simple it may be, an economist can devise an explanation which cannot be understood. That way, most people will not catch on to what is really happening, as that would be a disaster. Further, the people would discover that what they suspected all along is true. That is, that the system is really rigged against them. That would blow the myth about equal opportunities and so on. Keynes warned economists about teaching things which were not true in his General Theory.
It is similar with foreign policy. As Blum points out, most people want to believe and try to believe that what the US is doing is good and when it turns out badly, at least they meant well. This is what the liberal press tells them continuously. After every mistake, lessons will be learned. Things will be corrected. But the crimes carried out in the Vietnam War were recycled in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
The central fact to understand is that the US “strives to dominate the world,” and does not mean well. Once that simple fact is understood, then things pretty much fall into place. In its operations, the US has overthrown governments, rigged elections, attempted to carry out assassinations of leaders, bombed many countries, and suppressed nationalist-populist movements.
The motto of the George W. Bush government seemed to be “Let them hate so long as they fear.” But such a policy is not likely to long endure today. Indeed, it seems that the US has lost its ability to control events in other countries. One reason is that people are more alerted to and aware of the menace the US represents for them and are prepared to take measures to avoid this. To resist if need be.
Surely, the US is meeting more resistance today. Generally, what goes under the name of terrorism is simply people resisting US policies. After the end of the Soviet Union, it was easier to crush left resistance, but harder to crush religious-based resistance. People generally want to be left alone to rule themselves. They do not want to be ruled by the needs of corporate capitalism, but to decide for themselves how their country is to be governed. This is not, however, what the US wants.
In this book, Blum revisits many US foreign policy issues, which he has covered in his other books, updating them and explaining things in simple terms, in plain English, so that people can understand clearly. This is clearly dangerous to the Empire. One can get an education here that is sadly missing in so many university courses on US foreign policy. How many professors would risk their careers by using this book in their course. That could be deadly and even get them thrown out. It would not do anything to contribute to them getting tenure. If they get labeled as a radical, well, then their job is clearly in jeopardy. Most will not take the risk of using Blum or Chomsky, unless they are well settled and safe. So the students, if they learn, have to learn it on their own. They should read the book, even though it is clearly toxic to the career of their professors. Some instructors, of course, will say the hell with it. Take the risk, and hope for the best. At best they will be marginalized somewhere.
The book also covers many domestic political issues, in which it is wondered why so many Americans simply do not get it. Certainly it is partly, perhaps mostly, brainwashing by the general socialization process and the American corporate press. The old populist left has long been crushed in America. Their voices have been shut out. Young people have to go along to get a job and get ahead.
Americans are said to be politically challenged. There is an unreal quality to politics not seen in other countries. In Europe, for example. One can just read the book and be amused at this politics and in this sense the book is very enjoyable and amusing to read. I suggest that one just read and enjoy it. Sometimes one has to shake their head at the things that Americans will actually buy from their leaders.
After a US foreign policy of inflicting vast suffering on the countries least capable of resisting, Americans are supposed to wonder why they are not loved by people around the world. Why do people around the world believe that they must defend themselves against Americans who are so benevolent? No, the United States is not hated because of whatever freedoms the people there enjoy, which by the way, are now being stripped away. At the present rate, under President Obama, there will be nothing left to hate! If one still believes the government on this, then it is another indication that they need to read this book.
The latest game being played to control the world is the so-called war on terrorism. Blum takes a look at some of the absurdities of that agenda. Part of the game is to scare the living daylights out of the American population. Just like Senator Vandenberg said they would have to scare the hell of the American people about Communism way back in Harry Truman’s days. At the same time, Blum discusses how the US is a major sponsor of terrorism against Cuba. Some of the known terrorists are living and being protected in the United States. One of these is Orlando Bosch who walks around free in the US, even though it is known that he helped bomb a Cuban passenger plane in 1976. Many of the recently reported terrorist threats have turned out to be just hype. But the American people must be kept frightened.
Blum has chapters on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Yugoslavia, Libya, Latin America and Cuba. These are countries where the US has made both friends and many enemies. The people are supposed to believe the military version of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, that the US freed a country and gave their country back to them. A story appeared in the Guardian recently in which one of those Iraqis who helped pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad said that he was sorry that he had done it. It was not because he liked Saddam. He had spent years in prison and been tortured by Saddam. But rather because things were much better under Saddam than under the Americans when all the bombing and chaos began during the occupation. Well that was in the British Press. I very much doubt if the story appeared that way in an American newspaper.
Iraq was bombed back from a modern developing nation because it dared to use its resources to develop and cut the US corporations out of the profits to be made. Education, the medical system, the state oil industry, and many other sectors of the economy, all destroyed under the American occupation. This is supposed to be a big favor to the Iraqis. All the death, destruction, and exile and disruption that still goes on is supposed to be called freedom. The neocons did not know anything about Iraq and refused to learn.
In 2011, President Barack Obama called Iraq an “extraordinary achievement.” He was not wrong. It would be difficult to achieve a greater fuckup of a country. But I wouldn’t put it past the US military machine, once they get robots and inorganic morons behind them like Donald Rumsfeld to drive the operation. And the march of progress moves on to thirty-thousand pound bombs and Iran is filling the slot as the current great national security threat today.
The claim that the American war in Iraq brought freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq became a joke around the world, not less in Turkey next door. Which country wants that kind of freedom? Only the Kurds in Northern Iraq gained quite a lot, although at the possible expense of dividing a country. One cannot know how this will turn out.
The US attacked Afghanistan first to overthrow the Taliban, which they had much to do with creating. But Blum points out that the plotting for the September 11 attacks was done in Germany, Spain and the US, not in Afghanistan. So why was the US attacking Afghanistan? Was it all about the Unocal pipelines? It was certainly partly that. It is now clear that the US cannot win against the Taliban. Richard Holbrooke told the officials that they had to negotiate with them before he died. Now that they have, President Hamid Karzai has accused the Americans of making a deal with them behind his back. But it is coming out pretty much as expected. The US is being driven out of the country just as the Soviets were a few years ago.
Was the war about the repression of woman in Afghanistan? Hardly. Why did the US overthrow a government that was more progressive toward women if that was the case? And then the absurdities about Iran. Blum calls Ahmadinejad “a designer monster.” He is just what the US needs as an enemy. Blum sets the record straight about the claim by the US and Israel that Ahmadinejad supposedly said about “wiping Israel off the map.” What he actually said was that the regime in Jerusalem “must vanish from the pages of time.” (p. 89) He has not called for any attack on the country. But Israel keeps getting money are arms from the US, so the lying will go on. Ahmadinejad also wonders, reasonably, why the Palestinians are paying for the German crime of the Holocaust. He never claimed that the Holocaust never happened at all, but did question the numbers who died. Even historian can disagree on such things. So the media constantly twists his words to mean something else. What he is really saying is that Israel is not likely to survive. The way the regime is going, he could certainly be right about that.
Then the nuclear weapons charade about Iran becomes so tiresome. Whatever happened to deterrence? It is ludicrous that Iran could use a nuclear weapon if they had one. There is a great need for enemies, so Iran must be kept on the list.
Blum recalls the George W. Bush era of stupidity and weirdness in speeches, but on the other hand, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, called Bush “the most brilliant man she has ever known.” (p. 109) Condoleezza Rice is “the dragon lady.”
In a chapter on human rights, civil liberties and torture, Blum discusses the US government’s position that those who obeyed orders to carry out torture should not be investigated. It appears that the use of torture is becoming routine, accepted as normal today. The American people are being brainwashed into accepting torture as necessary as the US becomes more totalitarian and fascistic in its policies. Renditions and drone attacks around the world are outside of international law, but there is not much protest over these policies. Liberals in the US are on the bandwagon.
A resolution in the United Nations General Assembly calls for the recognition of “education, work, health care, proper nourishment, and national development” as human rights. For three successive years the single country in the General Assembly voting against the resolution was the United States. It would set a dangerous precedent to establish such rights, according to the US.
In a chapter on WikiLeaks, Blum discusses the situation of Bradley Manning, suspected of leaking the cables and the US attempts to get Julian Assange and put him on trial. One is not allowed to scorn the American Empire. Blum goes on to call the US a police state, and the “most pervasive police state ever.” Most of those who carry out war crimes go unpunished today. It was that way during the US War in Vietnam too.
Not every conspiracy theory is false. There are actually many conspiracies in history and everybody believes in them if they think about it, as Blum points out.
Blum discusses the foolish embargo on Cuba which has been going on for so many years. Almost all of the real international community votes against it in the United Nations. Only the US and Israel vote for the embargo every time it comes up. And a few other countries, such as Uzbekistan, Marshall Islands, and Palau, have voted against the resolution part of the time over a twenty year period from 1992 to 2012.
The goals of the US have been stated clearly. In l960, Lester D. Mallory, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, wrote that “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba” … and “to bring hunger, desperation.” Now that should make the Cubans love the US. The US has since waged a continuous war against the Cuban health system. It certainly tends to put the US to shame in this category.
There is also a chapter showing what the Cold War was really all about. It was not a war between the US and the Soviet Union. If one still does not know what it was really about, then again, they really need to read this book badly.
In discussing ideology and society, Blum asks what Americans really want. It is a long way from what the Tea Party wants. These people are being hoodwinked into victimizing the weak in society. Scapegoating Mexicans and Blacks and the unemployed as freeloading on government handouts. They do not have a grasp of how the system actually works. People in the US want to have a decent life, but in an increasingly totalitarian system, the truth is hidden. Al Gore wrote a book on the environment and never mentioned corporations and profits. There is the liberal sell out. One generally does not see the term “capitalism” used. Instead, it is called the “free enterprise system” or by some other name that congers up freedom and choice, a system that works the same for everybody. But in the real world, the so-called law of supply and demand does not work. The textbooks get it wrong.
There are also chapters on the media, patriotism, dissent and resistance in America, and religion. The book ends with laughing at the Empire.
If Johan Galtung is right, the American Empire will go out of business in less than ten years and then Blum will presumably have to find a new mission to occupy himself. This would be more than a welcome change. There would probably be some dancing in the streets too. It would really be a new world order. I am not as confident about this as Galtung, but I would love to see it happen in my lifetime.
Meanwhile, one can read the book and laugh at the foolishness that passes for politics in America. It is highly recommended.
June 6, 2015
Eddie J. Girdner is Author of Global Political Economy. Outskirts Press, 2015.