Looking at history

This piece originated in a discussion on the redbrick.politics newsgroup. The context is a thread discussing the actual invasion of Afghanistan and the probable (now become actual) invasion of Iraq. The opposing commentators were peddling the notion that characteristics of Afghanistan and Iraq were so objectionable that in its confrontations with them the US can disregard the rule of law. I chose to examine some of the characteristics proffered in the thread as indicative of a reprehensible and diabolical regime. The text below is bulleted under such headings.

Her choices, past and present, demonstrate America's level of commitment to the principles that are universally accepted as noble. Aware of how well she has done in the past, we can analyze what she says she will do in the future.

``Look at history if you want to understand the future.'' - Winston Churchill


  1. The US is ``a country harbouring and aiding terrorists that have made attacks across the world''.


    1. Judgment of the International Court of Justice in the case of "Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua" and subsequent UN General Assembly motions.
    2. President Carter executive order 12036, 1978 preventing US federal agencies from carrying out further politically motivated assassinations.
    3. Refusal to submit US citizens to due-process who are suspected of committing or directing war-crimes/terrorist acts, most notably Kissinger (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos), George Bush Snr. (CIA, Gulf), Reagan (Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Columbia)

    What does this tell us? It tells us that the US willingly protects people who have committed serious crimes. Therefore the accusation that country X is despicable because it harbours suspected criminals does not hold water.

  2. The US has unilaterally and arbitrarily invaded other countries.


    1. Panama
    2. Greneda
    3. Vietnam

    What does this tell us? The US is a committed and proud hegemon which respects no-ones rights but its friends. Therefore the accusation that country X is despicable because it has invaded its neighbour doesn't hold water.

  3. The US has not liberated a great many countries/lands under occupation, indeed contributing to the cause of many occupiers.


    1. Palestine, under Israeli occupation since 1967
    2. Timor, previously under Indonesian occupation
    3. The Soviet bloc nations occupied after the 2nd world war
    4. Afghanistan under Soviet occupation
    5. Iran under Iraqi occupation
    6. Lebanon, invaded by Israel (US even vetoed UN criticism)
    7. Any other territory they didn't liberate. It's a big list.

    What does this tell us? That the US is not a universal force for liberation. It makes choices on who it chooses to liberate and which occupying forces it will fight. It makes these choices based on its own particular selfish (in the non-derogatory sense) interest. Proclaiming that an American led 'liberation' of country X is an act of selfless egalitarianism doesn't hold water.

  4. The US has actively subverted democratic processes in many countries.

    Topical choices:

    1. Venezuela, coup 2002; Estanga overthrows Chavez
    2. Chile, coup 1973; Pinochet overthrows Allende
    3. Panama, US-rigged 1984 elections install Noriega, followed by five coup attempts

    What does this tell us? That America is neither a respecter nor a promoter of democracy for democracy's sake. Countries that have instituted democratic processes have had the US subvert, overturn or destroy the processes or their results. Democracy is an early casualty if its results run counter to American will. The supposition that America will nurture a genuine democracy in country X because it, America, is committed to such ideals does not hold water.

  5. The US actively supports non-democratic countries to maintain dictators or hereditary monarchs or to suppress activity to institute legitimate reform.

    Topical choices:

    1. Saud royal family, Saudi Arabia, hereditary monarchy
    2. Gen. Musharraf, Pakastini dictator, seized power by military coup
    3. Saddam Hussein, Iraqi dictator, seized power by coup (recently fallen out of favour)
    4. Pinochet, Chile, military dictator, coup
    5. Amin, Uganda, military dictator, coup
    6. Successive Turkish governments
    7. Cordova, Honduras
    8. Pol Pot, Cambodia

    What does this tell us? That America does not have any high flighted goals of bringing democracy to the world because it is right or proper. America likes its friends and doesn't care all that much how they got power or how they retain it. It's laughable to suggest that America is driven to remove dictator X because he is a dictator.

( In all of the above, substitute 'country X' and 'dictator X' for a former-bosom-buddy, now-bogeyman of choice: Panama, Noriega, Libya, Khadaffi, Iraq, Hussein, ... )

The future

Now, taken all together what have we learned? The US is no more driven by noble principles of justice, freedom and equality than the nasty people it has spent billions of dollars supporting.

The US makes choices. It is not compelled to act in any given situation. That's perfectly reasonable. If, as claimed, the US makes its choices based on such admirable principles, none of the events above could have happened. I conclude, therefore, that the US does not in fact make choices based on noble principles of justice, freedom and equality. Justice, freedom and equality may be side effects of some of their more commendable choices but they are not strategic influences. The US does not pursue justice, freedom and equality when they would be contrary to America's gain, in Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Columbia, etc. The US will not hamper its own advancement regardless of the benefit to others. In such cases it exercises its free will not to intervene. No state guided by justice, freedom and equality could have supported Suharto with such enthusiasm.

Selfless principles ruled out, we're left with the selfish ones. US actions are guided by selfish choices. (Again, this is the unloaded meaning of 'selfish' here). The US aids and abets abhorrent injustice for its self interest.

In the current sphere this is an important lesson to remember. It is vital to have this in mind when one is listening to the justifications proffered for a new Gulf war. The justifications are significant for their 'selfless crusader' veneer.

Since we know the US does not make selfless choices, unless they can piggyback on selfish gain, we know they're not telling us the truth about their proposed war.

For the slow-thinkers, this is a message about America's influence in the world and the choices it has made. Because this piece is specifically about America I do not make mention of many other things such as the culpability of Hamas bombers, the wrong doings of colonial Britain or the price of tomatoes. Their absence is not significant.

URLs, ISBNs and news references for all of the above are widely available. Mail me if you'd like some pointers.

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