The Warlords of America: Most of the US's Recent Wars Were Launched by Democratic Presidents. Why Expect Better of Kerry? the Debate between US Liberals and Conservatives Is a Fake; Bush May Be the Lesser Evil. from John Pilger in Washington

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), August 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Warlords of America: Most of the US's Recent Wars Were Launched by Democratic Presidents. Why Expect Better of Kerry? the Debate between US Liberals and Conservatives Is a Fake; Bush May Be the Lesser Evil. from John Pilger in Washington


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


On 6 May last, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution which, in effect, authorised a "pre-emptive" attack on Iran. The vote was 376-3. Undeterred by the accelerating disaster in Iraq, Republicans and Democrats, wrote one commentator, "once again joined hands to assert the responsibilities of American power".

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The joining of hands across America's illusory political divide has a long history. The native Americans were slaughtered, the Philippines laid to waste and Cuba and much of Latin America brought to heel with "bipartisan" backing. Wading through the blood, a new breed of popular historian, the journalist in the pay of rich newspaper owners, spun the heroic myths of a supersect called Americanism, which advertising and public relations in the 20th century formalised as an ideology, embracing both conservatism and liberalism.

In the modern era, most of America's wars have been launched by liberal Democratic presidents--Harry Truman in Korea, John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson in Vietnam, Jimmy Carter in Afghanistan. The fictitious "missile gap" was invented by Kennedy's liberal New Frontiersmen as a rationale for keeping the cold war going. In 1964, a Democrat-dominated Congress gave President Johnson authority to attack Vietnam, a defenceless peasant nation offering no threat to the United States. Like the non-existent WMDs in Iraq, the justification was a nonexistent "incident" in which, it was said, two North Vietnamese patrol boats had attacked an American warship. More than three million deaths and the ruin of a once bountiful land followed.

During the past 60 years, only once has Congress voted to limit the president's "right" to terrorise other countries. This aberration, the Clark Amendment 1975, a product of the great anti-Vietnam war movement, was repealed in 1985 by Ronald Reagan.

During Reagan's assaults on central America in the 1980s, liberal voices such as Tom Wicker of the New York Times, doyen of the "doves", seriously debated whether or not tiny, impoverished Nicaragua was a threat to the United States. These days, terrorism having replaced the red menace, another fake debate is under way. This is lesser evilism. Although few liberalminded voters seem to have illusions about John Kerry, their need to get rid of the "rogue" Bush administration is all-consuming. Representing them in Britain, the Guardian says that the coming presidential election is "exceptional". "Mr Kerry's flaws and limitations are evident," says the paper, "but they are put in the shade by the neoconservative agenda and catastrophic war-making of Mr Bush. This is an election in which almost the whole world will breathe a sigh of relief if the incumbent is defeated."

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The whole world may well breathe a sigh of relief: the Bush regime is both dangerous and universally loathed; but that is not the point. We have debated lesser evilism so often on both sides of the Atlantic that it is surely time to stop gesturing at the obvious and to examine critically a system that produces the Bushes and their Democratic shadows. For those of us who marvel at our luck in reaching mature years without having been blown to bits by the warlords of Americanism, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, and for the millions all over the world who now reject the American contagion in political life, the true issue is clear.

It is the continuation of a project that began more than 500 years ago. The privileges of "discovery and conquest" granted to Christopher Columbus in 1492, in a world the pope considered "his property to be disposed according to his will", have been replaced by another piracy transformed into the divine will of Americanism and sustained by technological progress, notably that of the media. "The threat to independence in the late 20th century from the new electronics," wrote EdwardSaid in Culture and Imperialism, "could be greater than was colonialism itself. …

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