Monday, April 26, 2004

The New American Empire: Perpetual War & Organized Deception

"But in maintaining armed men there in place of colonies one spends much more, having to consume on the garrison all the income from the state, so that the acquisition turns into a loss, and many more are exasperated, because the whole state is injured; through the shifting of the garrison up and down all become acquainted with hardship, and all become hostile, and they are enemies who, whilst beaten on their own ground, are yet able to do hurt. For every reason, therefore, such guards are as useless as a colony is useful."
Machiavelli, "The Prince"

If only the Bush Administration had read more Machiavelli and less Leo Strauss, perhaps Iraqi soil wouldn't be covered in so much blood. Dr. Shadia Drury is a professor at the University of Regina in Political Science and has written some interesting material concerning American Neoconservative ideology and it's philosophical basis. She was recently interviewed by Danny Postel at Open and discussed the influence of Strauss's texts on contemporary American policy.

Leo Strauss was a an early 20th century writer who believed that Platonic philosophy could be used to justify rule of the weak by the strong. He was a renowned Atheist and had no qualms about morality because he didn't believe that it existed. He advocated the use of lies and deception to accomplish the aims of the ruling elite, no matter what the consequences, as long as the status quo was maintained and the masses were kept docile and powerless. As Dr. Drury pointed out in the interview,

"The effect of Strauss's teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite and the persecuted few. And it does not take much intelligence for them to surmise that they are in a situation of great danger, especially in a world devoted to the modern ideas of equal rights and freedoms. Now more than ever, the wise few must proceed cautiously and with circumspection. So, they come to the conclusion that they have a moral justification to lie in order to avoid persecution. Strauss goes so far as to say that dissembling and deception--in effect, a culture of lies--is the peculiar justice of the wise."
According to Dr. Drury, Irving Kristol, the self-admitted "godfather" of modern neoconservative thought, was a devoted follower of Straussian political theory. George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 as a reward for his tireless service to the neo-con cause.

Kristol believes that patriotic fervour should be encouraged because this "is a natural and healthy sentiment". Of course, patriotism means always cheering for the Home team, ensuring that any dissenters who reject expansion of the American Empire will labelled as "unpatriotic". This almost sounds like the McCarthyist environment that dominated America during the Fifties at the height of the Cold War. During those dark years, either you loved your country or you were a "pinko", a "commie" in bed with Stalin.

Kristol also fears a "World Government" which he equates with tyranny. For this reason, he frowns upon international institutions and doesn't feel that America should adhere to their standards or demands. Could this be why the Bush Administration has proven to be solidly against international efforts again and again? (Rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, and the worldwide ban on land mines; ignoring the will of the United Nations consistently since 2001; invading two nations despite the illegality of occupying a nation without declaring war; the list goes on)

In an essay published on the American Enterprise Institute's website, he warns that "statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies." This is a fairly simplistic viewpoint, tantamount to Bush's famous statement that "You're either with us, or against us." This primitive, cops vs. robbers mentality has no basis in the real world. Wasn't Iraq a trusted friend of America during the 1980's? Saddam Hussein was in power during that time and he has already had lunch with Donald Rumsfeld (sent by Bush Sr. as an envoy) but now he's considered a brutal tyrant. Why the change? Political expediency? Obviously, for the modern neoconservative, it isn't so easy to tell apart your friends from your foes.

Perhaps the most frightening thing that Irving Kristol has to say is his analysis of "national interest".

"(F)or a great power, the "national interest" is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests."
Based on this analysis, one can assume that since America is a fairly large nation, it must remain in "offensive mode" if it is to retain it's influence over global events. Kristol is giving an ideological basis to the notion of "perpetual war", because if you are always on the offensive, there are only two options: either you continue to expand your reach, or you retreat into defensive mode and decline like "Old Europe". He also states a "fact": America's military might is unrivalled and must be wielded on a global scale.
"With power come responsibilities, whether sought or not, whether welcome or not. And it is a fact that if you have the kind of power we now have, either you will find opportunities to use it or the world will discover them for you."
It would seem that the Bush Administration has taken the teachings of Strauss and Kristol to heart. In his definition of neoconservativism, Kristol charges that neo-cons "tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology". Their main goal is to make history, and anyone who's ever read a history book knows that this is achieved by conquest. The War on Terror will never end because once they've roped and hog-tied the last Al-Qaeda operative, the American Empire have to begin sorting the rest of us out. Will they decide that we're friendly? One can only hope so.

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