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A New American Dream

by William Pfaff:
May 16, 2004 by The Observer

Now the Most Powerful Nation, the US Feels Destiny has Chosen It to Remake the World

[Commentary] on excerpts 31 May 2007

The United States and Britain have an Iraq crisis on their hands, but the US has something worse, a crisis of thought and assumption in the mainstream intellectual community over foreign policy.

The second crisis involves much more than the derailment of US policy in Iraq. It concerns what has been done and said to redefine America's place in global society and, by implication, in contemporary history, since 11 September - after which, as Americans said, nothing could ever be the same.

[We are in crises alright. First order. While Pfaff is right on and contemporary, we must look beneath, deeper, to find the insight needed to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Most fundamentally, and all in positions of power know well this, knowledge is control. But knowledge of what? Religion for starters. All three monotheisms are controlled by those who know the verses and use them to control others. Arrayed against this conservative, static, world view are the legions of technologists who have learned about nature to the point of alleviating suffering as well as unleashing the essentially infinite power of nature itself. So the real crisis is in the mirror, the one we are looking at. Whether in naiveté or denial, we delude ourselves if all we can think of is Iraq and the above very-real crises. It is far too easy to look away and find the good life, ignoring the mountains of debt both moral and monetary that we add to every day we stay in Iraq. Nevertheless, until we can address our own roles in the violence equation, we will be doomed to repeat history, and go the way of Rome, sooner if not later.]

A 'new America' was said to have emerged, but it would be better to say an old one found new empowerment. It was recently described by former US ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn as 'more radical and more committed than ever to the need for unchallenged military dominance. It is more individualistic than Europe, more religious, conservative and patriotic ... [These factors] will influence everything America does from now on, both in its foreign and its domestic policies.'

[Indeed! Rohatyn at least called it like it is.]

This is undoubtedly true, but this 'new' America amazingly resembles the isolationist and xenophobic America between 1920 and 1941. What is new is that it has become the most heavily-armed nation on Earth and believes it is, and should remain, number one. Like pre-1941 America, it includes a strong streak of populist anti-European sentiment. What's new is that many political intellectuals and political leaders are anti-European too, annoyed by Europe's pretension to offer a valid alternative to what America considers its manifest destiny, and preoccupied by the threat that the EU might become a serious international rival.

[The number one in its Manifest Destiny became number one by conscious effort in countering Communism that had the same goal. The unintended result was that the secular American public would assume that that result was manifest destiny in action, while the Religious assumed that God favors America. The rest followed naturally, however immorally and illogically. We are not so different from pack animals who reign over the tundra or in the jungle.]

Despite everything some Americans say today about their future being tied to a dynamic new Asia, Europe remains the society against which the US measures itself. Americans know Europe as the society against which the US rebelled and, in the American mind, superseded. A comparison with Britain reassures it; one with continental Europe upsets it. (It was the opposite in pre-1941 America; popular sentiment then was probably more anti-British than anti-continental.) Tony Blair has played the reassurance role with intuition and success, although the benefits to Britain remain in doubt.

[Europe is indeed America's alter ego, a very similar personality. We are mostly European in ethnic origin--how else could we relate? We should be working hard to improve relationships with our European partners, not alienating them over a misguided and disastrous war.]

The persistent note of denigration and condescension in talk about Europe (most recently, as a waning 'Venus' to an American 'Mars'), has to be understood as expression of an anxiety two centuries old and too deep to be acknowledged.

[Pfaff accurately diagnoses America as having a hang-up brought on by father and/or mother! Freud may have been off on his oedipus complex, but the dynamic applies here, unfortunately.]

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans produced several theories about their new position as sole superpower. The most popular one said that history had come to an end in the American political and economic system, all other possibilities exhausted or discredited. The US was history's culmination, the system the rest of the world had to adopt. The rest was detail.

[The rest was also disaster. Thinking akin to this brought on what we feared in Iraq. We went to war thinking Iraq was a threat when it was not, thinking Muslims would discard millennia of conflict, would embrace across three ethnicities, would enjoy seeing their oil being devoured by an invader. Now, Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists, is seeing internecine warfare like never before, is producing ever less oil in a mire of anarchy. All with no end in sight. In spite of all this negative evidence, the Neocons and their lackeys hold on.]

Tactics that win elections
cannot substitute for statesmanship.

This was an American Marxism, a dialectical interpretation of history as having been a march from the Neolithic cave to US military and moral superpower - and inevitable hegemony. The 'realistic' version of this progressive dialectic, the one favored by Republicans, said that the US should use power as well as persuasion to hustle the others along for their own good. This was held essential in the case of those who found the idea of an Americanized destiny less alluring than it seems to Americans. The Iraqis currently benefit from such attention.

[Well, some in Iraq do. Peripheral perhaps, but nevertheless a million or so Iraqis are now dead that otherwise would not have been. More than that have elected the diaspora in other countries, and these were the "middle classes," those who staffed the infrastructure needed to make a country functional, whatever its form of governance. Bremer got this one going almost immediately upon arrival in Iraq. Where is Bremer today?]

In 2001, the main reason the New York and Washington attacks produced so traumatic an effect in the US was that they defied the notion of America as the morally righteous fulfillment of history. Americans were abruptly made to see themselves as victims of what they interpreted as the hate and envy of people who obstinately refused to acknowledge (as George Bush angrily complained) 'how good we are'.

[This is sickening, and all too true. Many might find other pre-conceptions, but most would include moral rightness and destiny manifest high on any list. We do.]

Americans were under attack by enemies who not only were multiple and elusive, malevolent and inventive, but who asserted their own outrageous claim to moral superiority over Americans, as well as a divine mandate of their own. The war on terror, with its adjunct war in Iraq, was meant to reconfirm this pre-eminence. Both, of course, have done the opposite. They have demonstrated the inability of badly overextended military power even to impose stability on the two countries in the developing world which the US has invaded.

[More good stuff. Well bad stuff really. But excellent perception and deep insight are on display here. Making our armed services lean-and-mean was OK for fighting limited wars against other nations with boundaries. But it is the wrong weapon against a diffuse, ill-defined enemy that can wield modern technology as well as we can.]

The prospect of stabilizing and reforming what Washington now calls the 'Greater Middle East' seems slight, to put it politely. Terror has multiplied, rather than been disarmed. Now an American moral disaster has been revealed, composed of torture, secret prisons and international illegality. No one in Washington anticipated this. Certainly not the neo-conservatives, the most aggressive promoters of a 'righteous' imperialism, who drove the march to war in Iraq. They have dropped from sight.

[Slight chance of stabilizing, terror multiplied, moral disaster, international illegality. These are only four issues among several others, but each one individually is grounds for impeaching the current sitting president.]

The mainstream commentators and foreign policy experts never imagined defeat in Iraq. The latest American election-year books on foreign policy are entirely concerned with managing the challenges of success and hegemony.

[True to the American spirit, we charge ahead; Manifest Destiny and America First resonate with the Caesars in Washington. It is hard to believe otherwise with so many Democrats caving in to Bush's mindless agenda. Bush with his surge, is looking vainly for a way out, buying time while Iraq bleeds away in chaos. Iraq has already lost all possibility of becoming a stable country. It has no one left to run the infrastructure that even a dictatorship or theocracy needs to maintain public order in a modern world.]

Nearly all express a calm confidence that America has entered a new stage in its relations with the rest of the world, produced by the singularity of American power and the superiority of its conceptions of how the world should be ordered (not to speak of the mandate confided to America, and particularly to the present administration, by the English-speaking deity).

[Pfaff is right on here. "English-speaking deity" captures the mood and belief system of too many Americans. To reiterate, it is not just the White House that is self-centered in its "born again" righteousness. Neither is it just America. Bin Laden declared religious war. He knows, perhaps better then we do, that religion and oil essentially ignites each other. With local resources nearing exhaustion, we look for justification for being in the Middle East. Hearing the trumpets of fear blaring out against terror, we look to religion for salvation and blessing for war. We no longer remember Abe Lincoln's sage advice: Upon hearing someone say God is on our side, he replied: "Let us hope we are on God's side."]

A year ago, when these books were drafted, few in the policy community and the corps of commentators, and no one in the Bush government, expressed any doubt that American military power was invincible; that it rested on moral foundations that are beyond serious reproach; that pacification, control and reform of Iraq and the Greater Middle East by the US and its allies was both feasible and desirable; and that 'the war on terror' was finite, intellectually and morally coherent - and winnable. War in Iraq was even expected to turn a profit since, as Paul Wolfowitz noted, the country was 'floating on oil'.

Writing these comments led us to the thought that Bush has not only emulated Hitler in propaganda, like Hitler, he actually believes propaganda will win. The hugeness of this problem comes when one realizes that the only people fooled are his own, and a few allies!

Deceit deceives only the deceiver.


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