Dreams and desires

Published : Oct 08, 2004 00:00 IST

As the American elections draw closer, the people demand a radical redirection of the U.S. state, while behind the scenes the establishment revives organisations such as the Committee on the Present Danger with a view to providing the winner a strategy to perpetuate U.S. domination of the world.

ALL talk, all prose, all communication is about the elections. Some have called this the most significant election in a generation, if not more. Conventions that nominate their candidates have become purely symbolic affairs. Little of substance is decided on the floor of the convention, the quadrennial party congress, since most of the major decisions are taken prior to the meeting. The party's high command becomes subservient to the campaign staff of the anointed candidate, who write the party's platform for the election campaign. Ideology still drives the parties, but it is generally an ideological vision that has been focus-tested and governed by the tyranny of the polling data. To win is important, perhaps as much as to remain true to one's principles.

That this election is far more heated became apparent when half a million people gathered at the doorstep of the Republican convention in late August on the streets of New York city. Whereas the Republicans had come to bask in the shadow of the events of 9/11, and to glorify their war President, the streets filled with a week-long carnival of dissent. To start off the protests, a group of activists demanding more funds for the global crisis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) bared their bodies in Madison Square Garden, the venue of the convention. The police arrested nine of the nude protesters, whose act bore witness to the appalling anti-health policy of the Bush administration. The dissatisfaction with Bush's health policy resonated as about 20,000 people crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in the March for Women's Lives. That women should control their own bodies and that the government should fund reproductive services formed the main demand for these protesters. Several thousand people from about 50 community organisations that represent the working class of the city held a march on New York to demand an end to poverty and to the collapse of the social welfare network. Five thousand bicyclists took to the streets for a Critical Mass ride to reclaim public space, in these times itself an act of resistance. But the New York police sent in low-flying helicopters to harass them and then began to arrest them in droves. By the end of the week, the police had arrested 1,000 protesters, many held for days without recourse to the courts.

By far the largest demonstration took place on August 29, when about half a million people gathered to fill the streets of this generally anti-Republican city. The protest march remained peaceful, and the tenor of it was almost playful. The Clown Bloc harassed the police and entertained the crowd, while the Billionaires for Bush drank champagne and chanted, "Four More Wars" and "Privatise Everything". Trade unionists, feminists, environmentalists, socialists - everyone with an axe to grind with the Republicans - walked down Seventh Avenue. The media threatened violence, and warned the city against the anarchists, although most of the "anarchists" were very idealistic young people who have an animus against capitalism and who see the future in the Zapatista experiments in southern Mexico and in the protests of the Piqueteros of Argentina. The tactic of violence, for them, is less important than the search for an alternative way to live in a world that seems to be enervated by corporate power.

Few of the people who protested came with banners in favour of the Democratic candidate John Kerry. Indeed, most people seemed to be as nauseated by Kerry as by Bush. To them, Bush and Kerry have the same basic goal: to ensure the United States' domination of the planet long into this century, if not permanently. Where there is disagreement is in the strategy and tactics. Bush is a creature of the neo-conservative movement, which believes that the U.S. state should dominate the world and it should use the military as its means to do so. Kerry's party, and a large section of the Republican Party as well, believe in the neo-liberal model. For them, corporations should govern the world with the ethos of "business democracy", and the market should be the instrument to subjugate the planet (using military force as a tonic when it is only absolutely necessary). The difference is in the urgency for change, where the Bush crew are impatient while the Kerry-Clinton approach is far more gradualist. For the protestors in the streets, this amounts to a paisa's worth of difference.

Nonetheless, the general sentiment is Anyone But Bush. The question of urgency becomes central, because the long-term gradualist approach can at least be fought by a social and political movement, which is now energised to struggle. With Bush back in power, the military might be further deployed in adventures without any time for debate and protest. And furthermore, as many activists have now said, it is simply useful to shake up the consensus in the U.S. ruling circles, and to drive a wedge between the otherwise unshakable unity of the financial, industrial, cultural and political elites in the country.

In a widely discussed article, the writer William Rivers Pitt argued that in this election, he would vote for a baloney sandwich if it ran against Bush. The bar for someone to vote for Kerry is very low. One group called Don't Just Vote offers an elegant slogan for the dilemmas of those dissatisfied with the political opportunities in the U.S., "Our dreams will not fit in their ballot boxes." If the people declared their intentions in the open, another group gathered in the shadows. Its emergence should have been predictable. A group of conservative Democrats and Republicans revived the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), now in its third incarnation to push whoever wins to persist in the violent strategy to subdue any opposition to the U.S. It is fitting that the new CPD adopts its name from the Cold War, because the general approach it takes is almost identical to that of its predecessors. All the previous CPDs used international conflict to build up the U.S. military as a pretext for either U.S. or corporate domination. The difference between the neo-conservative and neoliberal positions is not so important to the new CPD. Its main goal is to use the fear engendered by 9/11 and every act of terror around the world, whatever its discrete origin, to bolster U.S. power.

The CPD first emerged in 1950 to move the country far more aggressively against Soviet Communism. The CPD's staff lobbied Congress and the White House to enjoin the nation to war against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in particular and Communism in general. The ideology of detente scuttled the pugnacious CPD who wanted a more active Third World War against an adversary that it understood to be weaker than the capitalist pole: it portrayed the USSR as a threat despite its own clear understanding that the socialist pole had been devastated by the Second World War and would not recover unscarred from the forced industrialisation that followed. The CPD could not move the establishment leaders to adopt its radical agenda partly because they knew that the U.S. had a far more resilient economy than the USSR, and that nuclear war, even with a weaker adversary, would mean incomprehensible devastation. The first CPD simply withered away, although its main protagonists continued to hold influential positions in government. In 1976, those who would later be called neo-conservatives, re-formed the CPD. CPD II emerged in an era when the USSR had been weakened by the open dissension within the Communist bloc (as China's foreign policy began to tally with that of the U.S.). Hawks within the U.S. saw this as an opportunity, and despite the electoral failure of their line in the 1964 campaign of Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, they wanted to push the establishment to their opinion. An arms build-up at a rate not attempted thus far, an open call for the use of nuclear arms (either in the battlefield or against civilian centres), and a demonstration of contempt for multinational institutions (such as the United Nations General Assembly) would put immense pressure on the USSR.

Since both the Soviets and the U.S. had accepted the rules of nuclear deterrence, any increase in arms and in war talk by one would have to be matched by the other. If the U.S. increased its military expenditure, it would behove the USSR to cannibalise its own economic resources at or near the same pace as the much more economically secure U.S. The Reagan administration adopted CPD II's strategy, and many of CPD II's personnel joined the White House in its forward policy against the USSR. When Gorbachev came to the table to sit with Reagan, CPD II claimed that its strategy had been vindicated, and it hoisted belligerence over negotiation as an end in itself. That the USSR had a more complex history for its collapse became irrelevant to the cabal intent upon the promotion of a muscular, macho, violent approach to world affairs.

THE new CPD in 2004 comes not to urge a government toward a policy like its two previous incarnations, but to provide strategic direction to an administration that is already at war with the world. After 9/11, the Bush administration unearthed earlier strategic approaches written by veterans of CPD II to begin an assault on the planet. These political analysts developed the concepts and policies for the Bush administration's main document on foreign policy, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002), which promised: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in the hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the United States." CPD III will not have to convince the Bush administration toward pre-emptive aggressive actions against those state and non-state actors who challenge U.S. hegemony. Bush is ahead of CPD III, and if he wins, they will be reduced to cheerleaders from the sidelines. If he loses and Kerry wins, then CPD III will give courage to an elite whose consensus on U.S. global strategy has been shattered by the "mishandling" of the Iraq war. The new CPD, led by Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman and Republican Senator Jon Kyl, wants to darn the rip in the consensus through the presentation of a coherent plan for world domination by the U.S. to counter "international terrorism from Islamic extremists and the outlaw states that either harbour or support them". "Our freedom is in danger," wrote the two chairmen of the new CPD in The Washington Post, "this time from Islamic terrorism." They have formed CPD III anew to "advocate strong policies" against "our enemy's worldwide designs, which include waging jihad against all Americans and re-establishing a totalitarian religious empire in the Middle East [West Asia]." Put in these stark, apocalyptic terms, the establishment will eventually find common cause once the weapon of elite distraction, Bush, is either out of the way or re-ensconced and made personally irrelevant.

CPD III's documents point to a "global jihad" that wants to set up a "pan-Islamic caliphate throughout the world." The jihad is global and it has to be met with a global, military strategy by the U.S. and its allies. Since neither CPD III nor the U.S. State Department ever clarify the contours of the enemy, they leave it to the administration to declare who must be seen as the foe. In the 1990s, Senator Lieberman championed the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group that even at the time had been seen to have ties with Al Qaeda. Whether the Abu Sayyaf group has any real ties to Al Qaeda is less important than that the beleaguered pro-U.S. government of the Philippines wants this designation. The concept "terrorist organisation and states" is as vague as an earlier concept from the State Department, "rogue states". Both concepts give the administration flexibility to use them against whomsoever it pleases.

As October unfurls, the obsessions of the election overtake us all. No one can discuss anything else but the details of who might win, and some on the Left have already begun to consider how to respond to either scenario. If Bush wins, resistance to his agenda; if Kerry, the struggle intensifies. Behind the scenes, the establishment creates organisations such as CPD III to scuttle the hopes raised by the exercise of the franchise. Their goal is to coach whoever wins to continue a policy for U.S. domination. The half-a-million on the U.S. streets came not just to oppose Bush, or even the war on Iraq, but also to demand a radical redirection of the U.S. state. At an event sponsored by Code Pink Against War, Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues said, "We know in our minds, in our bodies, in our spirits, that there is another paradigm that is desperate to emerge in the world." This is the paradigm that puts peace before domination, interaction before bellicosity. It is everything that is opposed by CPD III, which must operate in the relative shadows to hide its hideousness. Ensler's paradigm is the dream that will not fit in the ballot boxes on November 2.

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