"A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue." (Jean-Jaques Rosseau)
"'Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw; whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke- look you, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!'" (Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Chapter 36, pg. 135)Roy Antoun is a student at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and is editor of the YAL Foreign Policy Handbook. He has written a thoughful piece on Young Americans for Liberty about the necessity for American liberty activists to regain the initiative and establish a sensible US Foreign Policy.
In the light of a recent series of American atrocities this call for a dramatic chance in the American outlook on the world is very timely and very welcome. The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan revealed, more than anything, the extreme nature of American power, and its chronic tendency towards atrocity.
|“Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I'll piss on em. that's what the Statue of Bigotry says. Your poor huddled masses, let's club em to death. Get it over with and dump them on the boulevard” (Lou Reed)|
From Gitmo to Abu Ghraib, from Fallujah to the Kill Team in Afghanistan, dramatic pictures points to a serious deficit of moral in post-modern America, which is automatically transferred to its military presence abroad: Gross sexual immorality, widespread support for torture, a sense of justified vengeance over the 9-11 terrorist attack, racism and accustomization to murder.
It is more than random examples of "natural" human excesses, more than the universal cruelty of men in combat, and more than a case of a few rotten apples. People citing the proverb of "rotten apples" in defense of American atrocities are soon to forget the complete saying and its moral:
"A few rotten apple can destroy the entire barrel."Critics of the growing anti-American stance worldwide and inside USA itself claim that the US military enforces punitive sanctions against soldiers who deviate from their code, stating as a defense that the army itself is untainted by the moral shortcomings of individual soldiers.
This is not an accurate portrayal. Most conspicuously, the reported atrocities committed by contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, are neither investigated nor persecuted. In fact, the contractors, such as Blackwater security personel, have impunity.
In the case of Abu Ghraib, as well as the US "Kill Team" in Afghanistan, it was clear that tacit approval for murder, torture and gross misconduct was given by the entire command structure.
Similarly, every individual case of American extremism receives, at best, superfluous condemnation in the Western media, an relatively impassionate moral repulsion that serves, most of all, to reinforce the belief in the overall objective and the general nobility of the military campaigns.
The outrage, however sincere it may be in some cases, does not produce the momentum to change the policies that facilitates such atrocity.
Official Commitment to Atrocity
Guantanamo Bay and the practice of kidnapping and torture by US intelligence with the approval of European governments prove that illegal conduct is a matter of policy. Barack Obama promised to shut down Gitmo, but this has not taking place. The promises of change were hollow, and so is also hope, whether for the world or for USA.
Human rights organizations estimate that 70.000 individuals have been subjected to extraordinary rendition, a number that exceeds anything you can find in contemporary dictatorships or in the historical records of European inquisitions of the past.
The American path to atrocity began with the displacement and eventual extermination of the Native American tribes who inhabited the fields of North America ahead of its colonialization by European settlers.
Washington sealed the US commitment to extralegal measures on those fateful days in August 1945, when US President Harry S. Truman decided to bomb the innocent Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons.
Realists vs. Liberals
The key points in Roy Antoun's criticism of Washington's foreign policy are that USA has invested heavily in military power to the detriment of commercial and diplomatic power, often dubbed "soft power", in stark contrast to the strategy of the ascending Chinese empire.
The Founders understood that heavily investing in military “hard power” abroad would lead to the republic’s destruction. They prescribed instead free trade, pure diplomacy, and honest friendship with other nations.Introducing a realist perspective rather than an ideologically enforced position on US foreign policy is, Roy Antoun admits, quite a challenge and unlikely to be accomplished in a season. It is, however, a forced position.
It is, at this point, a measure to protect what little remains of liberty in the world, and to protect US against imperial overreach, escalation of symbolic conflicts and economic deterioration.
You may say that Roy Antoun and similar geopolitical thinkers are serving USA in the declining years of its empire by trying to counter the most extreme forms of metaphysical idealism, such as neo-conservatism. However, it is done to help USA to steer clear of miscalculation and keep its celestial position as a superpower, without acknowledgement of the depth of Washington's corruption.
Barack Obama famously stated, before his election, that "Washington is a place where good ideas go to die". He vowed to change that, but he himself became such a good idea, and upon becoming the President, his idealism was transformed into an only slightly less malignant form of Americanism.
The Limitations to Congressional Oversight
Roy Antoun correctly points to one important aspect of the problem, the Presidential role as Commander-in-Chief and the White House ability to authorize military campaigns or pseudo-wars.
A crucial political step is to restore Congress’s constitutional role in foreign policy. The legislature was never intended to be a rubber stamp for “authorizing” military adventures already embarked upon by the president. Congress is supposed to declare war.However, both the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War were authorized by Congress. That's the official side of the matter.
On the unofficial side, effectively hidden below the radar of public scrutiny, you have a vast array of geopolitical options in the hands of a rogue unit known as CIA, conducting foreign policy on par with Washington.
The School of Assassins haunted the development of Latin America to what today is reasonably stable but also, admittedly, very socially troubled democracies. They are, however, democracies and growing economies in spite of rather than because of US involvement in the region.
CIA supported a number of fascist militant groups in the region, and carried out extreme secret ops such as inducing famine by destroying crops from the air with insect attacks. It empowered the overthrowing of Allende and the first democracy of South America, Chile, just as it carried out a series of undercover operations in the Middle East, targeting especially the countries responsible for the founding of OPEC.
In Iran USA sponsored the Shah against the first democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, 1953. In Iraq Prime Minister Abd Al-Karim Qasim was overthrown by the Baath Party in 1963, supported and funded by Washington, effectively putting Saddam Hussein in charge of the country.
When the Shah was ousted in 1979 USA proceeded to instigate war between the two countries, a devastating war from 1980 to in which Saddam Hussein employed chemical agents (mustard gas) against Iran. Half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers as well as civilians are believed to have died in the war, and many more were injured.
The second measure proposed by Roy Antoun is lucid writing and the involvement of American academics in forming the future of Washington geopolitics:
The liberty movement needs more scholars to move foreign-policy debates in a more nonaggressive, noninterventionist direction. Countering neoconservatism requires academics who are keen on freedom and peace and who have an informed and reasonable assessment of global cultures.Someone once said that it is the temptation of all intellectuals to believe they have done something about a problem, because they have written about it.
In the movie Blood Diamond this idea is developed in a dialogue between the hardened mercenary and the idealistic female journalist, who criticizes him for exploiting a bloody conflict for his own gain.
"Perhaps we should all go and write articles about it", he sardonically suggests.
However, there is always more hope for change in action than in inaction, and it would be interesting to see what a careful, thorough and scholarly investigation of the principles of US foreign involvement may actually be able to produce.
Nothing, is the most likely answer, since the establishment is possessed by their vision of a world reshaped in the image of America, and the majority of the American public are under-educated and coarse, indifferent at best and at worst, belligerent and emphatically blocked to people outside their own sphere of identification.
Three Measures of Change
US foreign policy has run amok, no doubt about it. Neither congressional oversight nor academic involvement seems realistically sufficient to counter the tendency of USA to solve all problems, real or perceived - or even concocted - by way of unilateral warfare, by way of proxy wars, by way of strategic armament and by way of illicit CIA operations.
At the end of the day the much acclaimed Western freedom only means that "you can say anything you want, but we will do whatever we want."
There are two counter-measures to such arrogance, perhaps three. The third one, however, is costly and puts the entire planet at peril. It is called approved indulgence, and it suggests that Washington is permitted to carry out its atrocious plans to the point of the destruction of USA from within, primarily due to economic, demographic and socio-economic factors left unattended in the climate of war.
St. Paul wrote dispassionately about how hardened "sinners" were to be given over into the hands of "Satan" by the congregation who would no longer stand for their disorderly conduct, and as such be lost in their own passions without the guidance or the protection of the community.
Another measure is a careful stacking of geopolitical opposition by all legitimate means, namely revolving around the Sino-Russian alliance, which to this day remains the effective check/balance to further US-NATO aggression in Iran and Pakistan.
At the most profound level is the redefinition of American identity, or at the very least, a maturing of it, namely the infectious birth myth of Manifest Destiny legitimizing American Atrocity with a divine call to preach the gospel of freedom and democracy at the end of a barrel of a gun, preferably attached to an Apache helicoper or a Predator drone.
Manifest Destiny Exposed
However, considering the intransigence of the American culture, its enchantment with its own simplistic myths and the gullibility of its masses - induced on a daily basis with manipulated news, superficial entertainment and a carefully constructed mirage of a hedonistic heaven - it is unlikely that America will accept to see itself in any mirror held up to it.
Herman Melville - arguably the greatest American author ever - prophetically described how people of all tribes, nations and creeds rallied around a lunatic, the embittered Captain Ahab, to pursue the Great White Whale.
Moby Dick was published in 1851, only a couple of years after the first commercial oil drilling in America. The author had extensive experience at sea as a whaler, and understood very well the madness that possesses opportunists when they find themselves in proximity to gold, in this case "the black gold".
He had likely met several Captain Ahab's, who would chide, chastise, bribe and arouse men to blood-thirst for the sake of pride as much as profit. He had met them on the boats, and back on land where they posed as industrialists, as benign capitalist patriarchs, or as politicians.
The opening line of the novel is the most famous ever: "Call me Ishmail." In all its simplicity it reveals a complex analysis of the Judeo-Christian world view in which all phenomena of nature must be subdued to the will of man, and in which the Judeo-Christian axis is thought to hold some sort of divinely granted supremacy to all other races, namely the Arab.
Ishmail is an Arab name, and Ishmail in the Bible is the name of the first son of Abraham, who in Genesis is characterized by four prophesies: He "grew strong" in the desert, where he was cast out by Abraham at the bidding of his jealous wife. He was to become a great rebel, living "across the land of his brothers" with his fist raised against all.
Furthermore, Ishmail was to father a 12 tribe nation in the same way Abraham's grandson Jacob (also called Israel) did. And finally, it is said in the book that unifies Christian and Jew alike, and served loosely as the inspiration for Muhammed, when he composed the Quran: "God was with him."
The Hunt for White Supremacy
A more vivid analysis of the Manifest Destiny syndrome that runs through American culture, and a stronger warning against imperial hubris, is hardly possible. The novel has already been written, and its conclusions ignored by the very culture that hails it as The Great American Novel of all times.
The lessons have been ignored to the point, where USA today resembles the Pequod, with its patchwork of ethnicities toiling under a supreme vision to pursue an impractical and self-destructive vision at all costs - a vision that eventually leads to the destruction of all but one, the narrator, Ishmail.
Ishmail, to Herman Melville, represents the rebellious spirit, the disillusioned and therefore also uncompromising human, who can neither be intimidated nor bribed into compliance. He is immune to the grand visions of great masters, because of what he has seen. He is Ishmail by choice, never stating it is his actual name, but merely saying: This is what you may call me from now on.
Ishmail, in other words, is the product of harrowing experience, a hardened perspective formed by witnessing first hand the moral and intellectual failure of authority and the disastrous end of all who embraced loyalty to such corrupted authority.
Moby Dick is a novel about blasphemy in the widest sense of the word, not so much against a specific god or religion or spiritual doctrine, but against everything sacred, most of all truth. It's a about the inherent profanity of setting yourself up as a leader and driving men to their destruction for the sake of power, the most incendiary of all passionate excesses. It's a parable of pride, of imperial hubris.
No doubt the calls for war will continue to echo through America, whether justified by the common good, or in a sinister way as indulgence in power and vindictive attitudes, or as a matter of necessity and sound business practice, putting competitors out of the race.
All Aboard the Pequod
We are all aboard the good ship Pequod now, subjected to the whims of Captain Ahab. USA is the driving economy, and the economic recovery and growth of all nations rest on its leadership. USA is the Great Employer.
This dependency is the only reason we keep up the illusion that Washington is remotely sane. This is how we can look past an endless row of historical examples of American Atrocity and still justify our allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, against all reason and against any level of morality.
We will continue to imagine there is such a thing as a realist policy against the ideological charged global liberalism, and superimpose rational agendas onto the madness of Anglo-American hegemony.