Axis of Evil
By Edward S. Herman
|Coup d'etat president George W. Bush has designated three poor and unconnected
states as an "axis of evil," reflecting this great moralist's
sensitivity to good and evil. He has been subjected to a certain amount
of criticism for this strong language even in the mainstream press, but
nobody there has suggested that, as so common in this post-Orwellian world,
such language might better fit its author and his associates.
There IS a political axis of evil running strong in the United States that underpins the Bush regime, which includes the oil industry, military-industrial complex (MIC), other transnationals, and the Christian Right, all important contributors to the Bush electoral triumph, and each of which has high level representation in the administration including, besides Bush himself, Cheney, Rumsfeld, O'Neill and Ashcroft.
This REAL axis of evil is using 9/11 and the "war on terrorism" to carry out its foreign and domestic agenda on a truly impressive scale, and so far without much impediment at home or abroad.
What is notable about their agenda is that it flies in the face of all of the requirements for peace, global democracy, economic equity and justice, ecological and environmental protection, and global stability. It represents the choice of an overpowerful country's elite, determined to consolidate their economic and political advantage in the short run, at whatever cost to global society.
They are accelerating all the ugly trends of militarization and globalization that have led to increasing violence, income polarization, and the vigorous protests against the World Trade Organization, IMF and World Bank.
Consider the following:
1. New arms race:
Even before 9/11 the Bush government was pushing for a larger arms budget and that gigantic boondoggle and offensive military threat, the National Missile Defense.
With 9/11 and the collapse of the Democrats, they are allocating many billions to anything the MIC wants, and with their more violent behavior and threats abroad, other countries will have to follow. This takes enormous resources from the civil society, and will exacerbate conflict based on cutbacks and pain for ordinary citizens. The same will be true across the globe.
Thus, the polarization of income effects of corporate globalization will be increased by this diversion of resources to weapons. As Jim Lobe notes, "Whatever hopes existed in the late 1990s for a new era of global cooperation in combating poverty, disease, and threats to the environment seem to have evaporated" (Dawn [Pakistan], Jan. 23, 2002).
The complete irrationality and irresponsibility of this arms budget surge is reflected in the fact that almost none of it has to do with any threat from Bin Laden and his forces. Weapons designed to combat Soviet tanks are going forward, as well as advanced new aircraft and a missile defense system that are hardly answering Bin Laden, but represent instead MIC boondoggles and a rush for complete global "full spectrum" military hegemony.
2. The new violence:
The Washington Axis has found that war and wrapping themselves in the flag is just what was needed to divert the public from bread and butter issues, inducing the public to revel instead in the game of war, rooting for our side while we beat up yet another small adversary, with perhaps others to follow.
As the great political economist Thorstein Veblen wrote with irony almost a century ago, "sensational appeals to patriotic pride and animosity made by victories and defeats...[helps] direct the popular interest to other, nobler, institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comforts. Warlike and patriotic preoccupations fortify the barbarian virtues of subordination and prescriptive authority...Such is the promise held out by a strenuous national policy" (Theory of Business Enterprise ).
The Bush team is threatening to beat up anybody who "harbors terrorists" or aims to build "weapons of mass destruction" without our approval. Israel is of course exempt from this rule and has been given carte blanche to smash the Palestinian civil society.
Bush and his handlers will decide who are terrorists, who harbors them, and who can build weapons. It is easily predictable that anybody who resists the corporate globalization process and tries to pursue an independent development path, will be found to violate human rights, harbor terrorists, or otherwise threaten U.S. "national security," with dire consequences.
Because the ongoing globalization process is increasing inequality and poverty, protests and insurgencies will continue to arise. The U.S. answer is spelled out clearly in the "war on terrorism" and simultaneous push for "free trade" and cutbacks in spending for the civil society at home and abroad.
The Washington Axis is also pursuing a "war on the poor" that will merge easily into the "war on terrorism," as the poor will be driven to resist and resistance will be interpreted as terrorism.
This is in a great U.S. tradition, brought to a high level in the overthrow of the democratic government of Iran in 1953 and installation of the Shah, the assassination of Guatemalan democracy by Eisenhower and Dulles in 1954, the war against Vietnam, and the U.S.-sponsored displacement of democratic governments by National Security States throughout South America in the 1960s and 1970s. They were wars allegedly against the "Soviet Threat," but really against the poor and the populist threat to "free trade."
The Bush team obviously threatens even more violence than we witnessed in that earlier era. The military force they control is relatively stronger and without the Soviet constraint. With the help of the more centralized and commercialized media they have worked the populace into a state of war-game fervor.
They have brought back into the government some of the most fervent supporters of terrorism and death squads from the Reagan years in Otto Reich, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Negroponte, Elliott Abrams, and Lino Guterriez; men who can now work in a more killer- friendly environment.
3. Escalated support for authoritarian regimes.
The United States actively helped bring to power and supported large numbers of murderous regimes in the years 1945-1990, on the excuse of the Soviet Threat, but really because those regimes were suitably subservient to U.S. interests and willingly provided that crucial "favorable climate of investment" (especially, union-busting). With the Soviet Threat gone, for a while there was a problem finding rationalizations for the long-standing and structurally-rooted anti-populist and anti-democratic bias, but now we have the "war on terrorism," which will do quite nicely.
The Washington Axis has already leapt to the support of the military dictator of Pakistan, the ex-Stalinist boss of Uzbekistan, and it is clear that willingness to serve the "war on terrorism" will override any nasty political leadership qualities.
At the same time, as with Sharon in his escalated crackdown on the Palestinians and Putin in Chechnya, cooperation with the war will mean support for internal violence against dissidents and minorities, forms of state terrorism that will readily be interpreted as part of the "war on terrorism." Just as militarization and war do not conduce to democracy, the effects of mobilization of countries to support the Washington Axis of Evil's war will damage democracy globally.
4. Destabilization effects.
Corporate globalization has had a major destabilizing effect in the global economy, causing increased unemployment, civilian budget cuts, large-scale internal and external migrations, and environmental destruction. The more aggressive penetration of oil interests, in collusion with local governments in Nigeria, Colombia, and now Central Asia, and the new war on terrorism, should intensify destabilization trends.
5. The fight against democracy at home.
At every level the Bush team has fought against the basics of democracy and attempted to concentrate unaccountable governmental authority in its own hands. Militarization itself is anti-democratic, but the team has attempted to loosen constraints on the CIA and police, reduce public access to every kind of information, and constrain free speech.
They have put in place a secret government and are moving the country toward a more openly authoritarian government, and, if they can keep it going, their planned open-ended war on terrorism should serve this end well.
6. The Bush "vision" versus the "End of History".
This process does not comport well with Francis Fukayama's vision of the new peaceful, democratic order that would follow the death of the Soviet Union and triumph of capitalism.
Fukayama missed the boat on three counts. He failed to see that the end of the Soviet Union and termination of a socialist threat would also end the need to accommodate labor with social welfare concessions--in other words, that there could be a return to a pure capitalism such as Karl Marx described in the first volume of Capital.
Second, he failed to see that corporate globalization and greater capital mobility would make for a global "reserve army of labor" and weaken labor's bargaining power and political position.
Finally, he failed to recognize that without the Soviet Union's "containment" the United States would be freer to use force in serving its transnationals, forcing Third World countries to join the "free trade" nexus, and preventing them from serving the needs of their citizens (as opposed to the needs of the transnational corporate community).
As this entire process will involve further polarization and immiseration of large numbers, insurgencies are inevitable, justifying more militarization and an escalated war on "terrorism" in a vicious cycle.
What can be more frightening and dangerous to the world than facing the Washington Axis of Evil as the overwhelmingly dominant holder of "weapons of mass destruction," which it is seeking to improve and make more usable, with the elite's longstanding arrogance and self-righteousness at an all-time high, and with no countervailing force in sight? Bin Laden's threat is nothing by comparison.
What is more, the Bin Laden threat flows from U.S. actions, which played a crucial role in building up the Al-Qaeda network, and policies which have made a hell of the Middle East and polarized incomes and wealth across the globe. The cycle of violence will only be broken if the Washington Axis of Evil is defeated, removed from office, and replaced by a regime that aims to serve a broader constituency than oil, the MIC, the other transnationals, and the Christian Right.
Published in Z Magazine
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
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