The American Legitimacy Crisis

by on August 28, 2008 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Election, War and Peace

Whoever wins this 2008 Presidential election will face dangerous and near insurmountable problems. The problems involve the very future and survival of humanity – nuclear weapons proliferation, festering wars and conflicts in international relations, global warming and climate change, a shaky capitalist economy, and a greatly overextended and tottering American Empire worried about controlling the world’s oil and its growing list of enemies. This 2008 election places both America and humanity at a critical historical juncture – we may not have much more time to resolve these various crises.

There is undoubtedly an ongoing crisis in American legitimacy and authority. For the last 8 years unbridled imperial arrogance, unrestricted military violence, and narcissistic stupidity have radiated from Washington in every direction. The whole world now knows that the Bush administration lied its way into Iraq. The war of destruction and occupation has been a disaster, and there is now much cynicism about the US ability to do things any better in Iran or Afghanistan, two countries where our policies have actually fed the militant Islamic cause. Just today it was in the newspapers that the UN is reporting that the latest US bombings in Afghanistan killed 90 civilians, 60 of them children. Isn’t this what the critics call “state terrorism?”

So it appears we are dropping Napalm and bombs on Afghanistan, assuming I guess that such a display of American air power will work to win the war as effectively as it did in Vietnam. This method of “winning hearts and minds” is in reality a sure failure. Could someone please tell the Democrats and Republicans that bombing civilians will only provide more recruits for anti-American violence? Do Americans believe that there will be no consequences stemming from the violence of its military actions? We asked after 9/11: “Why do they hate us?” They hate us precisely because we bomb their villages and kill their children. Is that so difficult for Americans to comprehend?

It is important to understand that the US has been an expansive imperial system for over a hundred years through numerous Federalist, Democratic, and Republican administrations. Imperial violence has deep roots in American history and its capitalist system. So much of this behavior we are seeing today is unfortunately not very new. And I’m afraid that it is so deeply rooted in our history that it can’t be voted out of office.

What is new is how openly and apologetically we talk today about being an “empire” and the dominant military power on the earth. For example, Robert Kaplan , a correspondent for the ATLANTIC MONTHLY wrote in his book IMPERIAL GRUNTS: “By the turn of the Twenty First Century the United States military had appropriated the entire earth, and was ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with its troops.”

Historians tell us that wars have always been the main harbingers of empire. The objective picture is disturbing. American troops and military bases garrison the globe, and the USA spends more than the rest of the world nurturing its ever expanding “defense budget.” To promote success in these endless wars, a vast intelligence, counterintelligence and counterinsurgency apparatus has been built, along with a Pentagon directed authority over dozens of foreign trained military establishments. Add a financial and economic empire in foreign lands, and a world-wide imperial brain drain that absorbs foreign talent from other countries, and you begin to get the picture. The pattern supported by both political parties of building unregulated and increasingly unaccountable executive authority in the American Presidency, and the correlative constitutional erosions, is also part of the historical picture.

After reading the new NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY OF THE UNITED STATES (2002) which argues for unrivaled US military dominance over the globe, US willingness to launch preemptive wars against potential enemies, and the immunity of US citizens from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, Senator Teddy Kennedy commented in the NEW YORK TIMES (October 7, 2002): “The administrations doctrine is a call for a 21st century imperialism that no nation can or should accept.”

If Obama ignores the elder Kennedy’s cautious warning and expands the war against Afghanistan and Pakistan, I’ll be the first to protest and criticize his actions. The current situation reminds me of a comment by Antonio Gramsci in his PRISON NOTEBOOKS: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

The old international system needs to die and a new international system needs to be born. The current system is unsustainable and is a threat to our human species. It needs to change. I am convinced there is a political crisis in America and that a majority of American people know that things are going seriously wrong. This has driven a lot of young people into the Obama campaign. Yet, neither party seems to have the capacity to face the fact that we have been acting like an empire, and that this fact is generating an economic crisis in the US and a legitimacy crisis around the globe. It must be very difficult for most people to listen to Bush and Rice lecture the Russians about the “territorial integrity” of other states, about the “inappropriateness of using military force to achieve political objectives in the 21st century.” Not surprisingly, in light of the recent US military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and its threats of military violence against Iran, such comments are met with both incredulity and mocking laughter around the globe. Here in the US, they are being used to win votes by the McCain campaign.

40 Years of Republican Domination of The Executive Branch

It is important to note that over the last forty years, the Republican Party has dominated the executive branch of government for 28 of those years (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2) It has significantly altered the climate of discourse during that period of rule, helped along by the tragedy of 9/11. The Mc Cain Presidential candidacy has articulated positions that are far more militaristic and hawkish than Obama’s – he will end abortion, win the war in Iraq, and win the “war on terror.”

During this period, the Republican Party has increased and consolidated a rightwing totalizing power in the USA and has supplied the ideological rationales for its privatizing march through American institutions. It has forged coalitions with fundamentalist clergy, the judiciary, and the institutional and cultural forces of militarism, law and order, and irrationalism. The response from the Democrats has been admittedly feeble, if not enabling. The Democrats ruled only 12 of those last 40 years, with Carter receiving only one term, and Clinton two terms. While the Democrats have been weaker politically, it is an indisputable fact that more often than not they have caved in to corporate neo-liberalism and imperialist policies. Still, it is clear that they are less militaristic and repressive than the Republicans.

The Hope Behind Obama

Although the two parties are not very different on foreign policy, there are significant differences that should be of concern to progressives and the left regarding the domestic front. Allowing another four years of the rightwing consolidation of power in the judiciary and the executive branches of the US government could take us to an untenable and repressive situation. So I believe that a strategic historical compromise, a “united front” if you will, with the Democrats is preferable, although I don’t have naïve expectations that this will lead to qualitative change in our society, which is what we so desperately need. Still, a dramatic repudiation of Bush’s policies would be a step in the right direction and would redeem America internationally.

In my view, it is strategically in the left’s interests that the Democrats take the White House and both Houses of Congress. I agree with Tom Hayden that the progressive constituencies (unions, youth, women, environmentalists, civil libertarians) behind the Obama campaign cannot be ignored, and that they could very well become the basis of a wider social movement, which is what happened in the 1960’s when Democratic administrations expanded the war in Vietnam. Also, I think Obama would create a more open and discursive climate in America, a better climate for organizing opposition, even if his administration is ultimately the target of the antiwar protests. The country certainly needs a wiser and more cautious leadership. And that is not McCain.

There is much discontent and instability throughout the world. The latest crisis in Georgia while everyone was focused on the Olympic Games in China is an example of how fast tensions can escalate and how dangerous and precarious our security really is. The US has been acting like an imperial Godfather throughout the former Soviet Union and has been increasingly active in the region both politically and militarily. It is placing 96 short-range Patriot missiles in Poland and this has generated legitimate Russian fears of a U.S. first-strike advantage. It provided military training with Israel to the Georgians, and engaged in joint military exercises with Georgia’s military forces this July just prior to the invasion. It has also been very involved in the whole oil pipeline project which runs through Georgia to its Black Sea port of Batumi, conveniently avoiding Russia and Iran. The US taunts and prods the Russian bear, pokes it out of its lethargy, and then wonders why it growls!

With the Iranian crisis unresolved and simmering, with two protracted counterinsurgency wars going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the entire Israeli/Palestinian conflict simmering and threatening to explode, with Russia and America brandishing their nuclear arsenals at each other, with both Presidential candidates threatening to expand the “war on terror, it appears Americans are facing a time of endless conflict and multiple wars. My fear is that the US cannot pull back from its proclaimed “manifest destiny” of bringing freedom and an unregulated capitalist economy to the entire world, that it is so addicted to its control of oil and it’s self-proclaimed role as the CEO of the Western imperial system, that it’s political leadership will inadvertently risk complete nuclear destruction rather than change.

[Go here for Richard Nadeau’s website.]

Rick Nadeau, a former director of Greenpeace Action in San Diego and a labor arbitration specialist for The California Faculty Association, now lives in Sacramento and is on the editorial board of Because People Matter.

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