The exposure of the Obama regime’s use of the National Security Agency to secretly spy on the communications of hundreds of millions of US and overseas citizens has provoked world-wide denunciations. In the United States, despite widespread mass media coverage and the opposition of civil liberties organizations, there has not been any mass protest. Congressional leaders from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as top judges, approved of the unprecedented domestic spy program. Even worse, when the pervasive spy operations were revealed, top Senate and Congressional leaders repeated their endorsement of each and every intrusion into all electronic and written communication involving American citizens. President Obama and his Attorney General Holder openly and forcefully defended the NSA’s the universal spy operations.
The issues raised by this vast secret police apparatus and its penetration into and control over civil society, infringing on the citizens freedom of expression, go far beyond mere ‘violations of privacy’, as raised by many legal experts.
Most civil libertarians focus on the violations of individual rights, constitutional guarantees and the citizen’s privacy rights. These are important legal issues and the critics are right in raising them. However, these constitutional–legal critiques do not go far enough; they fail to raise even more fundamental issues; they avoid basic political questions.
Why has such a massive police-state apparatus and universal spying become so central to the ruling regime? Why has the entire executive, legislative and judicial leadership come out in public for such a blatant repudiation of all constitutional guarantees? Why do elected leaders defend universal political espionage against the citizenry? What kind of politics requires a police state? What kind of long-term, large scale domestic and foreign policies are illegal and unconstitutional as to require the building of a vast network of domestic spies and a hundred billion dollar corporate-state techno-espionage infrastructure in a time of budget ‘austerity’ with the slashing of social programs?
The second set of questions arises from the use of the espionage data. So far most critics have questioned the existence of massive state espionage but have avoided the vital issue of what measures are taken by the spymasters once they target individuals, groups, movements? The essential question is: What reprisals and sanctions follow from the ‘information’ that is collected, classified and made operational by these massive domestic spy networks? Now that the ‘secret’ of all-encompassing, state political spying has entered public discussion, the next step should be to reveal the secret operations that follow against those targeted by the spymasters as a ‘risk to national security’.
The Politics behind the Police State
The fundamental reason for the conversion of the state into a gigantic spy apparatus is the nature of deeply destructive domestic and foreign policies which the government has so forcefully pursued. The vast expansion of the police state apparatus is not a response to the terror attack of 9/11. The geometrical growth of spies, secret police budgets, and the vast intrusion into all citizen communications coincides with the wars across the globe. The decisions to militarize US global policy requires vast budgetary re-allocation , slashing social spending to fund empire-building; shredding public health and social security to bailout Wall Street. These are policies which greatly enhance profits for bankers and corporations while imposing regressive taxes on wage and salaried workers
Prolonged and extended wars abroad have been funded at the expense of citizens’ welfare at home. This policy had led to declining living standards for many tens of millions of citizens and rising dissatisfaction. The potential of social resistance as evidenced by the brief “Occupy Wall Street” movement which was endorsed by over 80% of the population. The positive response alarmed the state and led to an escalation of police state measures. Mass spying is designed to identify the citizens who oppose both imperial wars and the destruction of domestic welfare; labeling them as ‘security threats’ is a means of controlling them through the use of arbitrary police powers. The expansion of the President’s war powers has been accompanied by the growth and scope of the state spy apparatus: the more the President orders overseas drone attacks, the greater the number of his military interventions, the greater the need for the political elite surrounding the President to increase its policing of citizens in anticipation of a popular backlash. In this context, the policy of mass spying is taken as ‘pre-emptive action’. The greater the police state operations, the greater the fear and insecurity among dissident citizens and activists.
The assault on the living standards of working and middle class Americans in order to fund the endless series of wars, and not the so-called ‘war on terror’, is the reason the state has developed massive cyber warfare against the US citizenry. The issue is not only a question of a violation of individual privacy: it is fundamentally an issue of state infringement of the collective rights of organized citizens to freely engage in public opposition to regressive socio-economic policies and question the empire. The proliferation of permanent bureaucratic institutions, with over a million security ‘data collectors’, is accompanied by tens of thousands of ‘field operators’, analysts and inquisitors acting arbitrarily to designate dissident citizens as ‘security risks’ and imposing reprisals according to the political needs of their ruling political bosses. The police state apparatus has its own rules of self-protection and self-perpetuation; it has its own linkages and may occasionally compete with the Pentagon. The police state links up with and protects the masters of Wall Street and the propagandists of the mass media – even as it (must) spy on them!
The police state is an instrument of the Executive Branch acting as a vehicle for its arbitrary prerogative powers. However on administrative matters, it possesses a degree of ‘autonomy’ to target dissident behavior. What is clear is the high degree of cohesion, vertical discipline and mutual defense, up and down the hierarchy. The fact that one whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, emerged from the hundreds of thousands of citizen spies is the exception, the lone whistle blower, which proves the rule: There are fewer defectors to be found among the million-member US spy network than in all the Mafia families in Europe and North America.
The domestic spy apparatus operates with impunity because of its network of powerful domestic and overseas allies. The entire bi-partisan Congressional leadership is privy to and complicit with its operations. Related branches of government, like the Internal Revenue Service, cooperate in providing information and pursuing targeted political groups and individuals. Israel is a key overseas ally of the National Security Agency, as has been documented in the Israeli press (Haaretz, June 8, 2013). Two Israeli high tech firms (Verint and Narus) with ties to the Israeli secret police (MOSSAD), have provided the spy software for the NSA and this, of course, has opened a window for Israeli spying in the US against Americans opposed to the Zionist state. The writer and critic, Steve Lendman points out that Israeli spymasters via their software “front companies” have long had the ability to ‘steal proprietary commercial and industrial data” with impunity. Because of the power and influence of the Presidents of the 52 Major American Jewish organizations, Justice Department officials have ordered dozens of Israeli espionage cases to be dropped. The tight Israeli ties to the US spy apparatus serves to prevent deeper scrutiny into its operation and political goals — at a very high price in terms of the security of US citizens. In recent years two incidents stand out: Israeli security ‘experts’ were contracted to advise the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security in their investigation and ‘Stasi-like’ repression of government critics and environmental activists (compared to ‘al Queda terrorists’ by the Israelis) – the discovery of which forced the resignation of OHS Director James Powers in 2010. In 2003, New Jersey governor, Jim McGreevy appointed his lover, an Israeli government operative and former IDF officer, to head that state’s ‘Homeland Security Department and later resigned, denouncing the Israeli, Golan Cipel, for blackmail in late 2004. These examples are a small sample illustrating the depth and scope of Israeli police state tactics intersecting in US domestic repression.
The Political and Economic Consequences of the Spy State
The denunciations of the mass spy operations are a positive step, as far as they go. But equally important is the question of what follows from the act of spying? We now know that hundreds of millions of Americans are being spied on by the state. We know that mass spying is official policy of the Executive and is approved by Congressional leaders. But we have only fragmented information on the repressive measures resulting from the investigations of “suspect individuals”. We can assume that there is a division of labor among data collectors, data analysts and field operatives following up “risky individuals and groups”, based on the internal criteria known only to the secret police. The key spy operatives are those who devise and apply the criteria for designating someone as a “security risk”. Individuals and groups who express critical views of domestic and foreign policy are “a risk”; those who act to protest are a “higher risk”; those who travel to conflict regions are presumed to be in the “highest risk” category, even if they have violated no law. The question of the lawfulness of a citizen’s views and actions does not enter into the spymasters’ equation; nor do any questions regarding the lawfulness of the acts committed by the spies against citizens. The criteria defining a security risk supersede any constitutional considerations and safeguards.
We know from a large number of published cases that lawful critics, illegally spied upon, have subsequently been arrested, tried and jailed – their lives and those of their friends and family members shattered. We know that hundreds of homes, workplaces and offices of suspects have been raided in ‘fishing expeditions’. We know that family members, associates, neighbors, clients, and employers of “suspects” have been interrogated, pressured and intimidated. Above all, we know that tens of millions of law abiding citizens, critical of domestic economic and overseas war policies, have been censored by the very real fear of the massive operations carried out by the police state. In this atmosphere of intimidation, any critical conversation or word spoken in any context or relayed via the media can be interpreted by nameless, faceless spies as a “security threat” – and one’s name can enter into the ever growing secret lists of “potential terrorists”. The very presence and dimensions of the police state is intimidating. There are citizens who would claim that the police state is necessary to protect them from terrorists – but how many others feel compelled to embrace their state terrorists just to fend off any suspicion, hoping to stay off the growing lists? How many critical-minded Americans now fear the state and will never voice in public what they whisper at home?
The bigger the secret police, the greater its operations. The more regressive domestic economic policy, the greater the fear and loathing of the political elite.
Even as President Obama and his Democratic and Republican partners boast and bluster about their police state and its effective “security function”, the vast majority of Americans are becoming aware that fear instilled at home serves the interest of waging imperial wars abroad; that cowardice in the face of police state threats only encourages further cuts in their living standards. When will they learn that exposing spying is only the beginning of a solution? When will they recognize that ending the police state is essential to dismantling the costly empire and creating a safe, secure and prosperous America?
President Hugo Chavez was unique in multiple areas of political, social and economic life. He made significant contributions to the advancement of humanity. The depth, scope and popularity of his accomplishments mark President Chavez as the ‘Renaissance President of the 21st Century’.
Many writers have noted one or another of his historic contributions highlighting his anti-poverty legislation, his success in winning popular elections with resounding majorities and his promotion of universal free public education and health coverage for all Venezuelans.
In this essay we will highlight the unique world-historic contributions that President Chavez made in the spheres of political economy, ethics and international law and in redefining relations between political leaders and citizens. We shall start with his enduring contribution to the development of civic culture in Venezuela and beyond.
Hugo Chavez: The Great Teacher of Civic Values
From his first days in office, Chavez was engaged in transforming the constitutional order so that political leaders and institutions would be more responsive to the popular electorate. Through his speeches Chavez clearly and carefully informed the electorate of the measures and legislation to improve their livelihood. He invited comments and criticism – his style was to engage in constant dialogue, especially with the poor, the unemployed and the workers. Chavez was so successful in teaching civic responsibilities to the Venezuelan electorate that millions of citizens from the slums of Caracas rose up spontaneously to oust the US backed business-military junta which had kidnapped their president and closed the legislature. Within seventy-two hours – record time – the civic-minded citizens restored the democratic order and the rule of law in Venezuela, thoroughly rejecting the mass media’s defense of the coup-plotters and their brief authoritarian regime.
Chavez, as all great educators, learned from this democratic intervention of the mass of citizens, that democracy’s most effective defenders were to be found among the working people – and that its worst enemies were found in the business elites and military officials linked to Miami and Washington.
Chavez civic pedagogy emphasized the importance of the historical teachings and examples of founding fathers, like Simon Bolivar, in establishing a national and Latin American identity. His speeches raised the cultural level of millions of Venezuelans who had been raised in the alienating and servile culture of imperial Washington and the consumerist obsessions of Miami shopping malls.
Chavez succeeded in instilling a culture of solidarity and mutual support among the exploited, emphasizing ‘horizontal’ ties over vertical clientelistic dependency on the rich and powerful. His success in creating collective consciousness decisively shifted the balance of political power away from the wealthy rulers and corrupt political party and trade union leaders toward new socialist movements and class oriented trade unions. More than anything else Chavez’ political education of the popular majority regarding their social rights to free health care and higher education, living wages and full employment drew the hysterical ire of the wealthy Venezuelans and their undying hatred of a president who had created a sense of autonomy, dignity and ‘class empowerment’ through public education ending centuries of elite privilege and omnipotence.
Above all Chavez speeches, drawing as much from Bolivar as from Karl Marx, created a deep, generous sense of patriotism and nationalism and a profound rejection of a prostrate elite groveling before their Washington overlord, Wall Street bankers and oil company executives. Chavez’ anti-imperial speeches resonated because he spoke in the language of the people and expanded their national consciousness to identification with Latin America, especially Cuba’s fight against imperial interventions and wars.
International Relations: The Chavez Doctrine
At the beginning of the previous decade, after 9/11/01, Washington declared a ‘War on Terror.’ This was a public declaration of unilateral military intervention and wars against sovereign nations, movements and individuals deemed as adversaries, in violation of international law.
Almost all countries submitted to this flagrant violation of the Geneva Accords, except President Chavez, who made the most profound and simple refutation against Washington: ‘You don’t fight terrorism with state terrorism’. In his defense of the sovereignty of nations and international jurisprudence, Chavez underlined the importance of political and economic solutions to social problems and conflicts – repudiating the use of bombs, torture and mayhem. The Chavez Doctrine emphasized south-south trade and investments and diplomatic over military resolution of disputes. He upheld the Geneva Accords against colonial and imperial aggression while rejecting the imperial doctrine of ‘the war on terror’, defining western state terrorism as a pernicious equivalent to Al Qaeda terrorism.
Political Theory and Practice: The Grand Synthesizer
One of the most profound and influential aspects of Chavez’ legacy is his original synthesis of three grand strands of political thought: popular Christianity, Bolivarian nationalist and regional integration and Marxist political, social and economic thought. Chavez’ Christianity informed his deep belief in justice and the equality of people, as well as his generosity and forgiveness of adversaries even as they engaged in a violent coup, a crippling lockout, or openly collaborated and received financing from enemy intelligence agencies. Whereas anywhere else in the world, armed assaults against the state and coup d’états would result in long prison sentences or even executions, under Chavez most of his violent adversaries escaped prosecution and even rejoined their subversive organizations. Chavez demonstrated a deep belief in redemption and forgiveness. Chavez’s Christianity informed his ‘option for the poor’, the depth and breadth of his commitment to eradicating poverty and his solidarity with the poor against the rich.
Chavez deep-seated aversion and effective opposition to US and European imperialism and brutal Israeli colonialism were profoundly rooted in his reading of the writings and history of Simon Bolivar, the founding father of the Venezuelan nation. Bolivarian ideas on national liberation long preceded any exposure to Marx, Lenin or more contemporary leftist writings on imperialism. His powerful and unwavering support for regional integration and internationalism was deeply influenced by Simon Bolivar’s proposed ‘United States of Latin America’ and his internationalist activity in support of anti-colonial movements.
Chavez’ incorporation of Marxist ideas into his world view was adapted to his longstanding popular Christian and Bolivarian internationalist philosophy. Chavez’ option for the poor was deepened by his recognition of the centrality of the class struggle and the reconstruction of the Bolivarian nation through the socialization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. The socialist concept of self-managed factories and popular empowerment via community councils was given moral legitimacy by Chavez’ Christian faith in an egalitarian moral order.
While Chavez was respectful and carefully listened to the views of visiting leftist academics and frequently praised their writings, many failed to recognize or, worse, deliberately ignored the President’s own more original synthesis of history, religion and Marxism. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case, some leftist academics have, in their self-indulgent posturing, presumed to be Chavez’ ‘teacher’ and advisor on all matters of ‘Marxist theory’: This represents a style of leftist cultural colonialism, which snidely criticized Chavez for not following their ready-made prescriptions, published in their political literary journals in London, New York and Paris.
Fortunately, Chavez took what was useful from the overseas academics and NGO-funded political strategists while discarding ideas that failed to take account of the cultural-historical, class and rentier specificities of Venezuela.
Chavez has bequeathed to the intellectuals and activists of the world a method of thinking which is global and specific, historical and theoretical, material and ethical and which encompasses class analysis, democracy and a spiritual transcendence resonating with the great mass of humanity in a language every person can understand. Chavez’ philosophy and practice (more than any ‘discourse’ narrated by the social forum-hopping experts) demonstrated that the art of formulating complex ideas in simple language can move millions of people to ‘make history, and not only to study it’..
Toward Practical Alternatives to Neoliberalism and Imperialism
Perhaps Chavez greatest contribution in the contemporary period was to demonstrate, through practical measures and political initiatives, that many of the most challenging contemporary political and economic problems can be successfully resolved.
Radical Reform of a Rentier State
Nothing is more difficult than changing the social structure, institutions and attitudes of a rentier petro-state, with deeply entrenched clientelistic politics, endemic party-state corruption and a deeply-rooted mass psychology based on consumerism. Yet Chavez largely succeeded where other petro-regimes failed. The Chavez Administration first began with constitutional and institutional changes to create a new political framework; then he implemented social impact programs, which deepened political commitments among an active majority, which, in turn, bravely defended the regime from a violent US backed business-military coup d’état. Mass mobilization and popular support, in turn, radicalized the Chavez government and made way for a deeper socialization of the economy and the implementation of radical agrarian reform. The petrol industry was socialized; royalty and tax payments were raised to provide funds for massively expanded social expenditures benefiting the majority of Venezuelans.
Almost every day Chavez prepared clearly understandable educational speeches on social, ethical and political topics related to his regime’s redistributive policies by emphasizing social solidarity over individualistic acquisitive consumerism. Mass organizations and community and trade union movements flourished – a new social consciousness emerged ready and willing to advance social change and confront the wealthy and powerful. Chavez’ defeat of the US-backed coup and bosses’ lockout and his affirmation of the Bolivarian tradition and sovereign identity of Venezuela created a powerful nationalist consciousness which eroded the rentier mentality and strengthened the pursuit of a diversified ‘balanced economy’. This new political will and national productive consciousness was a great leap forward, even as the main features of a rentier-oil dependent economy persist. This extremely difficult transition has begun and is an ongoing process. Overseas leftist theorists, who criticize Venezuela (‘corruption’, ‘bureaucracy’) have profoundly ignored the enormous difficulties of transitioning from a rentier state to a socialized economy and the enormous progress achieved by Chavez.
Economic Crisis Without Capitalist Austerity
Throughout the crisis-wracked capitalist world, ruling labor, social democratic, liberal and conservative regimes have imposed regressive ‘austerity programs’ involving brutal reductions of social welfare, health and education expenditures and mass layoffs of workers and employees while handing our generous state subsidies and bailouts to failing banks and capitalist enterprises. Chanting their Thacherite slogan, ‘there is no alternative’, capitalist economists justify imposing the burden of ‘capitalist recovery’ onto the working class while allowing capital to recover its profits in order to invest.
Chavez’ policy was the direct opposite: In the midst of crisis, he retained all the social programs, rejected mass firings and increased social spending. The Venezuelan economy rode out of the worldwide crisis and recovered with a healthy 5.8% growth rate in 2012. In other words, Chavez demonstrated that mass impoverishment was a product of the specific capitalist ‘formula’ for recovery. He showed another, positive alternative approach to economic crisis, which taxed the rich, promoted public investments and maintained social expenditures.
Social Transformation in a ‘Globalized Economy’
Many commentators, left, right and center, have argued that the advent of a ‘globalized economy’ ruled out a radical social transformation. Yet Venezuela, which is profoundly globalized and integrated into the world market via trade and investments, has made major advances in social reform. What really matters in relation to a globalized economy is the nature of the political economic regime and its policies, which dictate how the gains and costs of international trade and investment are distributed. In a word, what is decisive is the ‘class character of the regime’ managing its place in the world economy. Chavez certainly did not ‘de-link’ from the world economy; rather he has re-linked Venezuela in a new way. He shifted Venezuelan trade and investment toward Latin America, Asia and the Middle East — especially to countries which do not intervene or impose reactionary conditions on economic transactions.
Anti-Imperialism in a Time of an Imperialist Offensive
In a time of a virulent US—EU imperialist offensive involving ‘pre-emptive’ military invasions, mercenary interventions, torture, assassinations and drone warfare in Iraq, Mali, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan and brutal economic sanctions and sabotage against Iran; Israeli colonial expulsions of thousands of Palestinians financed by the US; US-backed coups in Honduras and Paraguay and aborted revolutions via puppets in Egypt and Tunisia, President Chavez, alone, stood as the principled defender of anti-imperialist politics. Chavez’ deep commitment to anti-imperialism stands in marked contrast to the capitulation of Western self-styled ‘Marxist’ intellectuals who mouthed crude justifications for their support of NATO bombing Yugoslavia and Libya, the French invasion of Mali and the Saudi-French (‘Monarcho-Socialist’) funding and arming of Islamist mercenaries against Syria. These same London, New York and Paris-based ‘intellectuals’ who patronized Chavez as a mere ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ and claimed he should have listened to their lectures and read their books, had crassly capitulated under the pressure of the capitalist state and mass media into supporting ‘humanitarian interventions’ (aka NATO bombing)… and justified their opportunism in the language of obscure leftists sects. Chavez confronted NATO pressures and threats, as well as the destabilizing subversion of his domestic opponents and courageously articulated the most profound and significant principles of 20th and 21st Marxism: the inviolate right to self-determination of oppressed nations and unconditional opposition to imperial wars. While Chavez spoke and acted in defense of anti-imperialist principles, many in the European and US left acquiesced in imperial wars: There were virtually no mass protests, the ‘anti-war’ movements were co-opted or moribund, the British ‘Socialist’ Workers Party defended the massive NATO bombing of Libya, the French ‘Socialists’ invaded Mali- with the support of the ‘Anti-Capitalist’ Party. Meanwhile, the ‘populist’ Chavez had articulated a far more profound and principled understanding of Marxist practice, certainly than his self-appointed overseas Marxist ‘tutors’.
No other political leader or for that matter, leftist academic, developed, deepened and extended the central tenets of anti-imperialist politics in the era of global imperialist warfare with greater acuity than Hugo Chavez.
Transition from a Failed Neo-Liberal to a Dynamic Welfare State
Chavez’ programmatic and comprehensive reconfiguration of Venezuela from a disastrous and failed neo-liberal regime to a dynamic welfare state stands as a landmark in 20th and 21st century political economy. Chavez’ successful reversal of neo-liberal institutions and policies, as well as his re-nationalization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ demolished the reigning neo-liberal dogma derived from the Thatcher-Reagan era enshrined in the slogan: ‘There is no alternative’ to brutal neo-liberal policies, or TINA.
Chavez rejected privatization – he re-nationalized key oil related industries, socialized hundreds of capitalist firms and carried out a vast agrarian reform program, including land distribution to 300,000 families. He encouraged trade union organizations and worker control of factories – even bucking public managers and even his own cabinet ministers. In Latin America, Chavez led the way in defining with greater depth and with more comprehensive social changes, the post neo-liberal era. Chavez envisioned the transition from neo-liberalism to a new socialized welfare state as an international process and provided financing and political support for new regional organizations like ALBA, PetroCaribe, and UNASUR. He rejected the idea of building a welfare state in one country and formulated a theory of post-neo-liberal transitions based on international solidarity. Chavez’ original ideas and policies regarding the post-neo-liberal transition escaped the armchair Marxists and the globetrotting Social Forum NGO pundits whose inconsequential ‘global alternatives’ succeeded primarily in securing imperial foundation funding.
Chavez demonstrated through theory and practice that neo-liberalism was indeed reversible – a major political breakthrough of the 21st century.
Beyond Social Liberalism: The Radical Definition of Post-Neo-Liberalism
The US-EU promoted neo-liberal regimes have collapsed under the weight of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Massive unemployment led to popular uprisings, new elections and the advent of center-left regimes in most of Latin America, which rejected or at least claimed to repudiate ‘neo-liberalism’. Most of these regimes promulgated legislation and executive directives to fund poverty programs, implement financial controls and make productive investments, while raising minimum wages and stimulating employment. However few lucrative enterprises were actually re-nationalized. Addressing inequalities and the concentration of wealth were not part of their agenda. They formulated their strategy of working with Wall Street investors, local agro-mineral exporters and co-opted trade unions.
Chavez posed a profoundly different alternative to this form of ‘post-neoliberalism’. He nationalized resource industries, excluded Wall Street speculators and limited the role of the agro-mineral elites. He posed a socialized welfare state as an alternative to the reigning social-liberal orthodoxy of the center-left regimes, even as he worked with these regimes in promoting Latin American integration and opposing US backed coups.
Chavez was both a leader defining a more socialized alternative to social liberation and the conscience pressuring his allies to advance further.
Socialism and Democracy
Chavez opened a new and extraordinarily original and complex path to socialism based on free elections, re-educating the military to uphold democratic and constitutional principals, and the development of mass and community media. He ended the capitalist mass media monopolies and strengthened civil society as a counter-weight to US-sponsored para-military and fifth column elites intent on destabilizing the democratic state.
No other democratic-socialist president had successfully resisted imperial destabilization campaigns – neither Jagan in Guyana, Manley in Jamaica, nor Allende in Chile. From the very outset Chavez saw the importance of creating a solid legal-political framework to facilitate executive leadership, promote popular civil society organizations and end US penetration of the state apparatus (military and police). Chavez implemented radical social impact programs that ensured the loyalty and active allegiance of popular majorities and weakened the economic levers of political power long held by the capitalist class. As a result Venezuela’s political leaders, soldiers and officers loyal to its constitution and the popular masses crushed a bloody right-wing coup, a crippling bosses’ lockout and a US-financed referendum and proceeded to implement further radical socio-economic reforms in a prolonged process of cumulative socialization.
Chavez’s originality, in part the result of trial and error, was his ‘experimental method’: His profound understanding and response to popular attitudes and behavior was deeply rooted in Venezuela’s history of racial and class injustice and popular rebelliousness. More than any previous socialist leader, Chavez traveled, spoke and listened to Venezuela’s popular classes on questions of everyday life. His ‘method’ was to translate micro based knowledge into macro programed changes. In practice he was the antithesis of the overseas and local intellectual know-it-alls who literally spoke down to the people and who saw themselves as the ‘masters of the world’ … at least, in the micro-world of left academia, ingrown socialist conferences and self-centered monologues. The death of Hugo Chavez was profoundly mourned by millions in Venezuela and hundreds of million around the world because his transition to socialism was their path; he listened to their demands and he acted upon them effectively.
Social Democracy and National Security
Chavez was a socialist president for over 13 years in the face of large-scale, long-term violent opposition and financial sabotage from Washington, the local economic elite and mass media moguls. Chavez created the political consciousness that motivated millions of workers and secured the constitutional loyalty of the military to defeat a bloody US-backed business-military coup in 2002. Chavez tempered social changes in accordance with a realistic assessment of what the political and legal order could support. First and foremost, Chavez secured the loyalty of the military by ending US ‘advisory’ missions and overseas imperial indoctrination while substituting intensive courses on Venezuelan history, civic responsibility and the critical link between the popular classes and the military in a common national mission.
Chavez’ national security policies were based on democratic principles as well as a clear recognition of the serious threats to Venezuelan sovereignty. He successfully safeguarded both national security and the democratic rights and political freedoms of its citizens, a feat which has earned Venezuela the admiration and envy of constitutional lawyers and citizens of the US and the EU.
In stark contrast, US President Obama has assumed the power to assassinate US citizens based on secret information and without trial both in and out of the US. His Administration has murdered ‘targeted’ US citizens and their children, jailed others without trial and maintains secret ‘files’ on over 40 million Americans. Chavez never assumed those powers and never assassinated or tortured a single Venezuelan. In Venezuela, the dozen or so prisoners convicted of violent acts of subversion after open trials in Venezuelan courts, stand in sharp contrast to the tens of thousands of jailed and secretly framed Muslims and Latin American immigrants in the US. Chavez rejected state terror; while Obama has special assassination teams on the ground in over 70 countries. Obama supports arbitrary police invasions of ‘suspect’ homes and workplaces based on ‘secret evidence’ while. Chavez even tolerated the activities of known foreign (CIA)-funded opposition parties. In a word, Obama uses ‘national security’ to destroy democratic freedoms while Chavez upheld democratic freedoms and imposed constitutional limits on the national security apparatus.
Chavez sought peaceful diplomatic resolution of conflicts with hostile neighbors, such as Colombia which hosts seven US military bases – potential springboards for US intervention. On the other hand, Obama has engaged in open war with at least seven countries and has been pursuing covert hostile action against dozens of others.
Chavez’s legacy is multi-faceted. His contributions are original, theoretical and practical and universally relevant. He demonstrated in ‘theory and practice’ how a small country can defend itself against imperialism, maintain democratic principles and implement advanced social programs. His pursuit of regional integration and promotion of ethical standards in the governance of a nation – provide examples profoundly relevant in a capitalist world awash in corrupt politicians slashing living standards while enriching the plutocrats.
Chavez’ rejection of the Bush-Obama doctrine of using ‘state terror to fight terror’, his affirmation that the roots of violence are social injustice, economic pillage and political oppression and his belief that resolving these underlying issues is the road to peace, stands as the ethical-political guide for humanity’s survival.
Faced with a violent world of imperial counter-revolution, and resolved to stand with the oppressed of the world, Hugo Chavez enters world history as a complete political leader, with the stature of the most humane and multi-faceted leader of our epoch: the Renaissance figure for the 21st century.
James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). Petras’ most recent book is The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Chavez is dead, but his revolution goes on (alethonews.wordpress.com)
“Legal Imperialism” and International Law: Legal Foundations for War Crimes, Debt Collection and Colonization
By now we are familiar with imperial states using their military power to attack, destroy and occupy independent countries. Boatloads of important studies have documented how imperial countries have seized and pillaged the resources of mineral-rich and agriculturally productive countries, in consort with multi-national corporations.
Financial critics have provided abundant data on the ways in which imperial creditors have extracted onerous rents, royalties and debt payments from indebted countries and their taxpayers, workers, employees and productive sectors.
What has not been examined fully is the over-arching legal architecture which informs, justifies and facilitates imperial wars, pillage and debt collection.
The Centrality of Imperial Law
While force and violence, especially through overt and covert military intervention, have always been an essential part of empire-building, it does not operate in a legal vacuum: Judicial institutions, rulings and legal precedents precede, accompany and follow the process of empire building. The legality of imperial activity is based largely on the imperial state’s judicial system and its own legal experts. Their legal theories and opinions are always presented as over-ruling international law as well as the laws of the countries targeted for imperial intervention. Imperial law supersedes international law simply because imperial law is backed by brute force; it possesses imperial/colonial air, ground and naval armed forces to ensure the supremacy of imperial law. In contrast, international law lacks an effective enforcement mechanism. Moreover, international law, to the extent that it is effective, is applied only to the weaker powers and to regimes designated by the imperial powers as ‘violators’. The very judicial processes, including the appointment of judges and prosecutors who interpret international law, investigate international crime and arrest, sentence and punish ‘guilty’ parties are under to the influence of the reigning imperial powers. In other words, the application and jurisdiction of international law is selective and subject to constraints imposed by the configurations of imperial and national power. International law, at best, can provide a ‘moral’ judgment, a not insignificant basis for strengthening the political claims of countries, regimes and people seeking redress from imperial war crimes and economic pillage. To counter the claims and judgments pertaining to international law, especially in the area of the Geneva protocols such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, imperial legal experts, scholars and judges have elaborated a legal framework to justify or exempt imperial-state activity.
The Uses of Imperial Law
Empire-building throughout history is the result of conquest – the use or threat of superior military force. The US global empire is no exception. Where compliant rulers ‘invite’ or ‘submit’ to imperial domination, such acts of treason on the part of ‘puppet’ or ‘client’ rulers usually precipitate popular rebellions, which are then suppressed by joint imperial and collaborator armies. They cite imperial legal doctrine to justify their intervention to repress a subject people in revolt. While empires arose through the direct or indirect use of unbridled force, the maintenance and consolidation of empires requires a legal framework. Legal doctrines precede, accompany and follow the expansion and consolidation of empire for several reasons.
Legality is really an extension of imperial conquest by other means. A state of constant warfare raises the cost of imperial maintenance. Force, especially in imperial democracies undermines the sense of civic virtue, which the rulers and citizens claim to uphold. Maintaining ‘law and order’ in the conquered nations requires a legal system and doctrine to uphold imperial rule, giving the facade of legitimacy to the outside world, attracting collaborator classes and individuals and providing the basis for the recruitment of local military, judicial and police officials.
Imperial legal pronouncements, whether issued directly by executive, judicial, military or administrative bodies, are deemed the ‘supreme law of the universe’, superior to international law and protocols fashioned by non-imperial authorities and legal experts. This does not imply that imperial rulers totally discard international law: they just apply it selectively to their adversaries, especially against independent nations and rulers, in order to justify imperial intervention and aggression – Hence the ‘legal bases’ for dismantling Yugoslavia or invading Iraq and assassinating its rulers.
Legal rulings are issued by the imperial judiciary to force states to comply with the economic demands of multi-national corporations, banks, creditors and speculators, even after the local or national courts have ruled such claims unlawful. Imperial law protects and provides sanctuary and financial protection to convicted former collaborator-rulers charged with human rights crimes, pillage of public treasury and destruction of democratic institutions. Imperial judicial and administrative agencies selectively investigate, prosecute and levy severe fines and even jail sentences on banks, individuals and financial institutions of their competitor imperial countries, thereby strengthening the economic position of their own ‘national’ imperial firms.
Judicial officials are not only ‘instruments’ of closely related imperial political and economic powers; they also instrumentalize and, in some cases, override officials from other branches of their own imperial government and economic sectors. Judges, with ties to particular financial sectors, may rule in favor of one group of creditors thereby prejudicing others. In a recent ruling, a New York judge ruled in favor of the demands by minority creditors that the Argentine government make ‘full payment’ on long-standing national debt in, prejudicing already agreed upon payments to the majority of creditors who had negotiated an earlier debt-restructuring arrangement.
Imperial legal doctrine has played a central role in justifying and providing a basis for the exercise of international terrorism. Executives, such as US Presidents Bush and Obama, have been provided with the legal power to undertake cross-national ‘targeted’ assassinations of opponents using predator drones and ordering military intervention, in clear violation of international law and national sovereignty. Imperial law, above all else, ‘legalizes’ aggression and economic pillage and undermines the laws of targeted countries, creating lawlessness and chaos among its victims.
Imperial law and judicial rulings form the basis for imperial subjugation on the assumption that the world legal systems are multi-tiered: Imperial-centered legal systems supersede those of less powerful states. Within each ‘tier’ there are further refinements: Competing imperial legal systems adjudicate in favor of their partisan political and economic elites. Imperial clients who obey their imperial overlords are favored by imperial laws while imperial laws are applied against their adversaries.
Clearly in a world imperial system there can be no independent judicial bodies who abide by universally accepted legal codes. Each set of judicial authorities reflect and actively promote policies favoring and extending their imperial prerogatives. There are rare exceptions where a judge will rule against a particular imperial policy but over the long run imperial law guides judicial opinions
Imperial legal doctrines and judicial decisions set the groundwork for imperial wars and economic pillage. The empire’s legal experts redefine assassinations, coercion, torture and arbitrary arrests as compatible with the ‘constitutional order’ by claiming imminent and constant threats to the security of the imperial state.
Law is not simply part of the superstructure “reflecting” the power of economic or political institutions: it also guides and directs political and economic institutions committing material resources to implement imperial doctrines.
In this sense, imperial rulers are not ‘lawless’ as some liberal critics would argue; they function in accordance with ‘imperial jurisprudence’ and are faithful to the legal doctrines of empire building. It is pointless to argue that most imperial leaders trample on constitutional guarantees and international laws. If an imperial ruler pursued a “constitutional agenda” eroding imperial prerogatives or, even worse, applied international law to prosecute those carrying out brutal imperial policy, he would be quickly condemned for dereliction of duty and/or immoral behavior and impeached or overthrown.
“You can’t exclude any hypothesis … It’s practically impossible that here in an [oil] installation like this which is fully automated everywhere and that has thousands of responsible workers night and day, civilian and military, and that there is a gas leak for 3 or 4 days and nobody responds. This is impossible.”
President Chavez responding to US media and opposition charges that the explosion and fire at the oil refinery was due to government negligence.
Only 43 days before the Venezuelan presidential election and with President Chavez leading by a persistent margin of 20 percentage points, an explosion and fire at the Amuay refinery killed at least 48 people – half of those were members of the National Guard – and destroyed oil facilities producing 645,000 barrels of oil per day.
Immediately following the explosion and fire, on script, all the mass media in the US and Great Britain, and the right wing Venezuelan opposition launched a blanket condemnation of the government as the perpetrator of the disaster accusing it of “gross negligence” and “under-investment” in safety standards.
Yet there are strong reasons to reject these self-serving accusations and to formulate a more plausible hypothesis, namely that the explosion was an act of sabotage, planned and executed by a clandestine group of terrorist specialists acting on behalf of the US government. There are powerful arguments to sustain and pursue this line of inquiry.
The Argument for Sabotage:
(1) The first question in any serious investigation is who benefits and who loses from the destruction of lives and oil production?
The US is a clear winner on several crucial fronts. Firstly, via the economic losses to the Venezuelan economy – 2.5 million barrels in the first 5 days and counting – the loss will put a dent on social spending and delay productive investments which in turn are key electoral appeals of the Chavez presidency. Secondly, on cue the US joined by its client candidate,Henrique Capriles Radonski, immediately launched a propaganda blitz aimed at discrediting the government and calling into question its capacity to ensure the security and safety of its citizens and the principle source of the country’s wealth. Thirdly, the explosion creates insecurity and fear among sectors of the electorate and could influence their voting in the October presidential election. Fourthly, the US can test the effectiveness of a wider destabilization campaign and the government’s capacity to respond to any further security threats.
(2) According to official government documents the US has Special Forces operations in over seventy-five countries, including Venezuela, which is targeted because of an adversarial relation. This means that the US has operative clandestine highly trained operatives on the ground in Venezuela. The capture of a US Marine for illegal entry in Venezuela with prior experience in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan is indicative.
(3) The US has a history of involvement in violent destabilization activity in Venezuela – backing the military coup of 2002 and the bosses’ lockout in the petroleum industry in 2003. The US targeting of the oil industry involved sabotage of the computerized system and efforts to degrade the refineries.
(4) The US has a history of sabotage and violence against incumbent adversarial regimes. In Cuba during 1960, the CIA torched a department store and sugar plantations, and planted bombs in the downtown tourist centers – aiming to undermine strategic sectors of the economy. In Chile following the election of Socialist Salvador Allende, a CIA backed right-wing group kidnapped and assassinated the military attache of Socialist President, in an effort to provoke a military coup. Similarly in Jamaica in the late 1970’s under democratic socialist President Manley, the CIA facilitated a violent destabilization campaign in the run-up to the elections. Sabotage and destabilization is a common weapon in the face of impending electoral defeats (as is the case in Venezuela) or where a popular government is firmly entrenched.
(5) Force, violence and destabilization campaigns against incumbent regimes have become common operation procedure in current US policy. The US has financed and armed terrorist groups in Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Chechnya; it is bombing Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. In other words US foreign policy is highly militarized and opposed to any negotiated diplomatic resolution of conflicts with adversarial regimes. Sabotaging Venezuela’s oil refineries is within the logic and practice of current global US foreign policy.
(6) Domestic politics in the US has taken a further turn to the far right in both domestic and foreign policy. The Republican Party has accused the Democrats of pandering to Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and Syria – of not going to war.
The Obama regime has responded by escalating its military policies – battleships, missiles are aimed at Iran. He has supported Miami’s demand for “regime change” in Cuba as a prelude to negotiations. Washington is channeling millions of dollars via NGO’s to the Venezuelan opposition – for electoral and destabilization purposes. No doubt the opposition includes employees, engineers and others with security clearance and access to the petroleum industry. Obama has consistently taken violent actions to demonstrate that he is as militarist as the Republicans. In the midst of a close election campaign, especially with a tight race in Florida, the sabotage of the Venezuelan refineries plays well for Obama.
(7) With a little more than a month left before the elections, and President Chavez is showing a 20 percentage point advantage; the economy is on track for a steady recovery; social housing and welfare programs are consolidating massive low income support or over 80%; Venezuela has been admitted into MERCOSUR the powerful Latin American integration program; Colombia signed off on a mutual defense agreement with Venezuela; Venezuela is diversifying its overseas markets and suppliers. What these facts indicate is that Washington has no chance of defeating Chavez electorally;it has no possibility of using its Latin neighbors as a springboard for territorial incursions or precipitating a war for regime change; and it has no chance of imposing an economic boycott.
Given Washington’s declared enmity and designation of Chavez as “a threat to hemispheric security” and faced with the utter failure of its other policy tools, the resort to violence and, in this specific case, sabotage of the strategic petrol sector emerges as the policy of choice. Washington, by revealing its resort to clandestine terror, represents a clear and present danger to Venezuela’s constitutional order, an immediate threat to the life blood of its economy and of the democratic electoral process. Hopefully, the Chavez government, backed by the vast majority of its citizens and constitutionalist armed forces will take the necessary comprehensive security measures to ensure that there is no repeat of the petrol sabotage in other sectors, like the electrical grid. Public weakness in the face of imperial belligerence only encourages further aggression. No doubt heightened public security in defense of the constitutional order will be denounced by the US government, media and their local clients as “authoritarian” and claim that protection of the national patrimony infringes on ‘democratic freedoms’. No doubt they prefer a weak security system to ply their violent provocations. Subsequent to their decisive electoral defeat they will claim fraud or interference. All this is predictable, but the vast majority of voters who assemble, debate and cast their ballots will feel secure and look forward to another four years of peace and prosperity, free from terror and sabotage.
One of the most significant political developments in recent US history has been the virtually unchallenged rise of the police state. Despite the vast expansion of the police powers of the Executive Branch of government, the extraordinary growth of an entire panoply of repressive agencies, with hundreds of thousands of personnel, and enormous public and secret budgets and the vast scope of police state surveillance, including the acknowledged monitoring of over 40 million US citizens and residents, no mass pro-democracy movement has emerged to confront the powers and prerogatives or even protest the investigations of the police state.
In the early fifties, when the McCarthyite purges were accompanied by restrictions on free speech, compulsory loyalty oaths and congressional ‘witch hunt’ investigations of public officials, cultural figures, intellectuals, academics and trade unionists, such police state measures provoked widespread public debate and protests and even institutional resistance. By the end of the 1950’s, mass demonstrations were held at the sites of the public hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in San Francisco (1960) and elsewhere and major civil rights movements arose to challenge the racially segregated South, the compliant Federal government and the terrorist racist death squads of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley (1964) ignited nationwide mass demonstrations against the authoritarian-style of university governance.
The police state incubated during the first years of the Cold War was challenged by mass movements pledged to retain or regain democratic freedoms and civil rights.
Key to understanding the rise of mass movements for democratic freedoms was their fusion with broader social and cultural movements: democratic freedoms were linked to the struggle for racial equality; free speech was necessary in order to organize a mass movement against the imperial US Indo-Chinese wars and widespread racial segregation; the shutting down of Congressional ‘witch hunts’ and purges opened up the cultural sphere to new and critical voices and revitalized the trade unions and professional associations. All were seen as critical to protecting hard-won workers’ rights and social advances.
In the face of mass opposition, many of the overt police state tactics of the 1950’s went ‘underground’ and were replaced by covert operations; selective state violence against individuals replaced mass purges. The popular pro-democracy movements strengthened civil society and public hearings exposed and weakened the police state apparatus, but it did not go away. However, from the early 1980’s to the present, especially over the past 20 years, the police state has expanded dramatically, penetrating all aspects of civil society while arousing no sustained or even sporadic mass opposition.
The question is why has the police state grown and even exceeded the boundaries of previous periods of repression and yet not provoked any sustained mass opposition? This is in contrast to the broad-based pro-democracy movements of the mid to late 20th century. That a massive and growing police state apparatus exists is beyond doubt: one simply has to look up the published records of personnel (both public agents and private contractors), the huge budgets and scores of agencies involved in internal spying on tens of millions of American citizens and residents. The scope and depth of arbitrary police state measures taken include arbitrary detention and interrogations, entrapment and the blacklisting of hundreds of thousands of US citizens. Presidential fiats have established the framework for the assassination of US citizens and residents, military tribunals, detention camps and the seizure of private property.
Yet as these gross violations of the constitutional order have taken place and as each police state agency has further eroded our democratic freedoms, there have been no massive “anti-Homeland Security” movements, no campus ‘Free Speech movements’. There are only the isolated and courageous voices of specialized ‘civil liberties’ and constitutional freedoms activists and organizations, which speak out and raise legal challenges to the abuse, but have virtually no mass base and no objective coverage in the mass media.
To address this issue of mass inactivity before the rise of the police state, we will approach the topic from two angles.
We will describe how the organizers and operatives have structured the police state and how that has neutralized mass responses.
We will then discuss the ‘meaning’ of non-activity, setting out several hypotheses about the underlying motives and behavior of the ‘passive mass’ of citizens.
The Concentric Circles of the Police State
While the potential reach of the police state agencies covers the entire US population, in fact, it operates on the basis of ‘concentric circles’. The police state is perceived and experienced by the US population according to the degree of their involvement in critical opposition to state policies. While the police state theoretically affects ‘everyone’, in practice it operates through a series of concentric circles. The ‘inner core’, of approximately several million citizens, is the sector of the population experiencing the brunt of the police state persecution. They include the most critical, active citizens, especially those identified by the police state as sharing religious and ethnic identities with declared foreign enemies, critics or alleged ‘terrorists’. These include immigrants and citizens of Arab, Persian, Pakistani, Afghan and Somali descent, as well as American converts to Islam.
Ethnic and religious “profiling” is rife in all transport centers (airports, bus and train stations and on the highways). Mosques, Islamic charities and foundations are under constant surveillance and subject to raids, entrapment, arrests, and even Israeli-style ‘targeted’ assassinations.
The second core group, targeted by the police state, includes African Americans, Hispanics and immigration rights activists (numbering in the millions). They are subject to massive arbitrary sweeps, round-ups and unlimited detention without trial as well as mass indiscriminate deportations.
After the ‘core groups’ is the ‘inner circle’ which includes millions of US citizens and residents, who have written or spoken critically of US and Israeli policy in the Middle East, expressed solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinian people, opposed US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or have visited countries or regions opposed to US empire building (Venezuela, Iran, South Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, etc.). Hundreds of thousands of these citizens have their telephone, e-mail and internet communications under surveillance; they have been targeted in airports, denied passports, subject to ‘visits’ and to covert and overt blacklisting at their schools and workplaces.
Activists engaged in civil liberties groups, lawyers, and professionals, leftists engaged in anti-Imperialist, pro-democracy and anti-police state activities and their publications are on ‘file’ in the massive police state labyrinth of data collecting on ‘political terrorists’. Environmental movements and their activists have been treated as potential terrorists – with their own family members subjected to police harassment and ominous ‘visits’.
The ‘outer circle’ includes, community, civic, religious and trade union leaders and activists who, in the course of their activity interact with or even express support for core and inner circle critics and victims of police state violations of due process . The ‘outer circle’ numbering a few million citizens are ‘on file’ as ‘persons of interest’, which may involve monitoring their e-mail and periodic ‘checks’ on their petition signing and defense appeals. These ‘three circles’ are the central targets of the police state, numbering upward of 40 million US citizens and immigrants – who have not committed any crime. For having exercised their constitutional rights, they have been subjected to various degrees of police state repression and harassment.
The police state, however, has ‘fluid boundaries’ about whom to spy on, whom to arrest and when – depending on whatever arouses the apparatchiks ‘suspicion’ or desire to exercise power or please their superiors at any given moment. The key to the police state operations of the US in the 21st century is to repress pro-democracy citizens and pre-empt any mass movement without undermining the electoral system, which provides political theater and legitimacy. A police state ‘boundary’ is constructed to ensure that citizens will have little option but to vote for the two pro-police state parties, legislatures and executives without reference to the conduct, conditions and demands of the core, inner and outer circle of victims, critics and activists. Frequent raids, harsh public ‘exemplary’ punishment and mass media stigmatization transmit a message to the passive mass of voters and non-voters that the victims of repression ‘must have been doing something wrong’ or else they would not be under police state repression.
The key to the police state strategy is to not allow its critics to gain a mass base, popular legitimacy or public acceptance. The state and the media constantly drum the message that the activists’ ‘causes’ are not our (American, patriotic) ‘causes’; that ‘their’ pro-democracy activities impede ‘our’ electoral activities; their lives, wisdom and experiences do not touch our workplaces, neighborhoods, sports, religious and civic associations. To the degree that the police-state has ‘fenced in’ the inner circles of the pro-democracy activists, they have attained a free hand and uncontested reach in deepening and extending the boundaries of the authoritarian state. To the degree that the police state rationale or presence has penetrated the consciousness of the mass of the US population, it has created a mighty barrier to the linking of private discontent with public action.
Hypothesis on Mass Complicity and Acquiescence with the Police State
If the police-state is now the dominant reality of US political life, why isn’t it at the center of citizen concern? Why are there no pro-democracy popular movements? How has the police state been so successful in ‘fencing off’ the activists from the vast majority of US citizens? After all, other countries at other times have faced even more repressive regimes and yet the citizens rebelled. In the past, despite the so-called ‘Soviet threat’, pro-democracy movements emerged in the US and even rolled back a burgeoning police state. Why does the evocation of an outside ‘Islamic terrorist threat’ seem to incapacitate our citizens today? Or does it?
There is no simple, single explanation for the passivity of the US citizens faced with a rising omnipotent police state. Their motives are complex and changing and it is best to examine them in some detail.
One explanation for passivity is that precisely the power and pervasiveness of the police state has created deep fear, especially among people with family obligations, vulnerable employment and with moderate commitments to democratic freedoms. This group of citizens is aware of cases where police powers have affected other citizens who were involved in critical activities, causing job loss and broad suffering and are not willing to sacrifice their security and the welfare of their families for what they believe is a ‘losing cause’ – a movement lacking a strong popular base and with little institutional support. Only when the protest against the Wall Street bailout and the ‘ Occupy Wall Street ’ movements against the ‘1%’ gained momentum, did this sector express transitory support. But as the Office of the President consummated the bailout and the police-state crushed the ‘Occupy’ encampments, fear and caution led many sympathizers to withdraw timidly back into passivity.
The second motive for ‘acquiescence’ among a substantial part of the public is because that they tend to support the police state, based on their acceptance of the anti-terror ideology and its virulent anti-Muslim-anti-Arab racism, driven in large part by influential sectors of pro-Israel opinion makers. The fear and loathing of Muslims, cultivated by the police state and mass media, was central to the post-9/11 build-up of Homeland Security and the serial wars against Israel ’s adversaries, including Iraq , Lebanon , Libya and now Syria with plans for Iran. Active support for the police state peaked during the first 5 years post- 9/11 and subsequently ebbed as the Wall Street-induced economic crisis, loss of employment and the failures of government policy propelled concerns about the economy far ahead of support for the police state. Nevertheless, at least one-third of the electorate still supports the police state, ‘right or wrong’. They firmly believe that the police state protects their ‘security’; that suspects, arrestees, and others under watch ‘must have been doing something illegal’. The most ardent backers of the police state are found among the rabid anti-immigrant groups who support arbitrary round-ups, mass deportations and the expansion of police powers at the expense of constitutional guarantees.
The third possible motive for acquiescence in the police state is ignorance: those millions of US citizens who are not aware of the size, scope and activities of the police state. Their practical behavior speaks to the notion that ‘since I am not directly affected it must not exist’. Embedded in everyday life, making a living, enjoying leisure time, entertainment, sports, family, neighborhoods and concerned only about household budgets … This mass is so embedded in their personal ‘micro-world’ that it considers the macro-economic and political issues raised by the police state as ‘distant’, outside of their experience or interest: ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I don’t know enough’, ‘It’s all ‘politics’ … The widespread apoliticism of the US public plays into its ignoring the monster that has grown in its midst.
Paradoxically as some peoples’ concerns and passive discontent over the economy has grown, it has lessened support for the police state as well as having lessened opposition to it. In other words the police state flourishes while public discontent is focused more on the economic institutions of the state and society. Few, if any, contemporary political leaders educate their constituency by connecting the rise of the police state, imperial wars and Wall Street to the everyday economic issues concerning most US citizens. The fragmentation of issues, the separation of the economic from the political and the divorce of political concerns from individual ones, allow the police state to stand ‘above and outside’ of the popular consciousness , concerns and activities.
State-sponsored fear mongering on behalf of the police state is amplified and popularized by the mass media on a daily basis via propagandistic-‘news’, ‘anti-terrorist’ detective programs, Hollywood’s decades of crass anti-Arab, Islamophobic films. The mass media portrayal of the police state’s naked violations of democratic rights as normal and necessary in a milieu infiltrated by ‘Muslim terrorists’, where feckless ‘liberals’ (defenders of due process and the Bill of Rights) threaten national security, has been effective.
Ideologically, the police state depends on identifying the expansion of police powers with ‘national security’ of the passive ‘silent’ majority, even as it creates profound insecurity for an active, critical minority. The self-serving identification of the ‘nation’ and the ‘flag’ with the police state apparatus is especially prominent during ‘mass spectacles’ where ‘rock’, schlock and ‘sports’ infuse mass entertainment with solemn Pledges of Allegiance to uphold and respect the police state and busty be-wigged young women wail nasally versions of the national anthem to thunderous applause. Wounded ‘warriors’ are trotted out and soldiers rigid in their dress uniforms salute enormous flags, while the message transmitted is that police state at home works hand in hand with our ‘men and women in uniform’ abroad. The police state is presented as a patriotic extension of the wars abroad and as such both impose ‘necessary’ constraints on citizen opposition, public criticism and any real forthright defense of freedom.
Conclusion: What is to be done?
The ascendancy of the police state has benefited enormously from the phony bi-partisan de-politicization of repressive legislation, and the fragmentation of socio-economic struggles from democratic dissent. The mass anti-war movements of the early 1990’s and 2001-2003 were undermined (sold-out) by the defection of its leaders to the Democratic Party machine and its electoral agenda. The massive popular immigration movement was taken over by Mexican-American political opportunists from the Democratic Party and decimated while the same Democratic Party, under President Barack Obama, has escalated police state repression against immigrants, expelling millions of Latino immigrant workers and their families.
Historical experience teaches us that a successful struggle against an emerging police state depends on the linking of the socio-economic struggles that engage the attention of the masses of citizens with the pro-democracy, pro-civil liberty, ‘free speech’ movements of the middle classes. The deepening economic crisis, the savage cuts in living standards and working conditions and the fight to save ‘sacred’ social programs (like Social Security and Medicare) have to be tied in with the expansion of the police state. A mass social justice movement, which brings together thousands of anti-Wall Streeters, millions of pro-Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid recipients with hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers will inevitably clash with the bloated police-state apparatus. Freedom is essential to the struggle for social justice and the mass struggle for social justice is the only basis for rolling back the police state. The hope is that mass economic pain will ignite mass activity, which, in turn, will make people aware of the dangerous growth of the police state. A mass understanding of this link will be essential to any advance in the movement for democracy and people’s welfare at home and peace abroad.
- The Great Transformation: From the Welfare State to the Imperial Police State (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama’s Media Takeover Powers: The Infrastructure of a Police State (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Intifada – Hosted and produced by Hagit Borer for the SWANA (South and West Asia and North Africa) Collective of KPFK – February 8, 2007
Hagit Borer: There is little question in anybody’s mind about the special relation between Israel and the United States. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid to the tune of more than $3 billion dollars a year, plus miscellaneous additions like surplus weaponry, debt waivers and other perks. Israel is the only country that receives its entire aid package in the beginning of the fiscal year allowing it to accrue interest on it during the year. It is the only country which is allowed to spend up to 25% of its aid outside of the United States, placing such expenditures outside US control. Apart from financial support, the United States has offered unwavering support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians, and has systematically supported Israel’s refusal to make any effective peace negotiations or peace agreements. It has vetoed countless UN resolutions seeking to bring Israel into compliance with international law. It has allowed Israel to develop nuclear weapons and not to sign the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty and most recently it strongly supported Israel’s attack on Lebanon in July of 2006. Support for Israel cuts across party lines and is extremely strong in Congress where criticism of Israel is rarely if ever heard. It also characterizes almost all American administrations from Johnson onwards, with George W. Bush being possibly the most pro-Israel ever.
What is the reason for this strong support? Opinions on this matter vary greatly. Within strong pro-Israeli circles, one often hears that the reason is primarily moral: the debt that the United States owes Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust; the nature of Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East; Israel as the moral and possible strategic ally of the United States in its War on Terror. Within circles that are less supportive of Israel and which are less inclined to view Israel and Israel’s conduct as moral, opinions vary as well. One opinion stems from the position of Israel being a strategic ally of the United States – its support is simply payment for services rendered coupled with the stable pro-American stance of the Jewish Israeli population. Noam Chomsky, among others, is a proponent of this view. According to the opposing view, US support for Israel does not advance American aims, it jeopardizes them. The explanation for the support is to be found in the activities of the Israel Lobby, also known as the Jewish Lobby, or as AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), which uses its formidable influence to shape American foreign policy in accordance with Israeli interests. The opinion has most recently been associated with an article published in the London Book Review, co-authored by Professor Merscheimer of the University of Chicago and Professor Walt of Harvard University.
This debate is the topic of our program today.
Let me introduce our guests: Norman Finkelstein is a professor of political science at De Paul University. Welcome to our program, Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: Thank you.
Hagit Borer: Professor Finkelstein is the author of several books on the history of Zionism and the role of the Holocaust in present day Israeli policies. His latest book, published in 2005 , Beyond Chutzpah, on The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
Our second guest is James Petras. James is an Emeritus Professor of sociology at SUNY Binghamton. Welcome to our program, James.
James Petras: Glad to be here, Hagit.
Hagit Borer: Professor Petras is the author of numerous books on state power and the nature of globalization in the context of the US and Latin America, and most recently in the Middle East. His latest book, published in 2006, is titled The Power of Israel in the United States. Perhaps starting with you, James, perhaps you could tell us by way of a short opening statement where you would place yourself on this issue of a debate on the source of the United States lasting and enduring support for Israel.
James Petras: Well, I think I would probably argue that the pro-Israel lobby, the Zionist Lobby, is the dominant factor in shaping US policy in the Middle East, particularly in the most recent period. And I think one has to look at this beyond AIPAC. I mean, we have to look a whole string of pro-Zionist think tanks from the American Enterprise Institute on down, and then we have to look at a whole power configuration, which not only involves AIPAC, but also the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations, which number 52. We have to look at individuals occupying crucial positions in the government, as we had recently with Elliott Abrams and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and others. We have to look at the army of op-ed writers who have access to the major newspapers. We have to look at the super-rich contributors to the Democratic Party, Media moguls etc. And I think this, together with the leverage in Congress and in the Executive, is the decisive factor in shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East. And I want to emphasize that.
Hagit Borer: James, just to stop you and maybe we can also have some kind of an opening statement from Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I would say that I situate myself on the spectrum somewhere towards the middle. I don’t think it is just the Lobby which determines the US relationship with Israel. And I don’t think it is just US interests which determine the US relationship with Israel. I think that you have to look at the broad picture and then you have to look at the local picture. On the broad picture, that is to say, US policy in the Middle East generally speaking, the historical connection between the US and Israel has been based on the useful services that Israel has performed for the United States in the region as a whole. And that became most prominent in June 1967, when Israel knocked out the main challenge, or potential challenge, to US dominance in the region, namely Abdul Nasser of Egypt. So, on the broad question of the US-Israel relationship that is the regional relationship, I think it is correct to say that the alliance has been based fundamentally on services rendered. On the other hand, it is very clear from looking at the documentary record, that the US was euphoric when Israel knocked out Egypt – or knocked out Nasser and Nasserism, it is also clear from looking at the documentary record, that the United States has never had any big stake in trying to maintain Israel’s control over the territories it conquered in the June 1967 war, that is to say, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, the Syrian Golan Heights and, at that time, the Jordanian West Bank and Jerusalem. The US clearly had no stake in it and already from July 1967, wanted to apply pressures on Israel to commit itself from fully withdrawing. It was pretty obvious, if you look at the record again, that Israel, at that point, was able to bring to bear the Lobby. In 1967-68 it meant principally the forthcoming Presidential election and the Jewish vote. It was to bring to bear the power of the Jewish vote to resist efforts to withdraw. And since ’67, the Lobby has been very effective, I think, in raising the threshold before the US is willing to act and force an Israeli withdrawal pretty much like the withdrawal it forced on Indonesia in 2000 to leave Timor. The two occupations begin in roughly the same period: in 1974, Indonesia invades Timor with the US green light and in 1967, Israel conquers the West Bank, Gaza and so forth with the US green light. And so the obvious question is: Both occupations endured for a long period. The Indonesian occupation was infinitely more destructive, killing more than one-third of the East Timorese population. But it is true to say come 2000 the US does order Indonesia to withdraw its troops. Why hasn’t it done so in the case of the Israel-Palestine occupation? And there I think its true to say, ‘It’s the Lobby’.
Hagit Borer: I have a feeling that one of the things we really need to start with when we try to address this issue is: What is it that we recognize, if we could recognize, on more or less a global level, as ‘American Interests’? Such that we can say that they have so some degree systematically characterized different US Administrations. This is because it seems to me that it would be very difficult to evaluate to what extent policies that are going on with respect to Israel aren’t compatible with American interests, if we don’t talk a little bit about what we perceive to be ‘American interests’. So James, would you like to talk about that a little bit?
James Petras: Yes, I would. As a matter of fact, on that question, we have to be clear if we are talking about the US government and corporate interests in the Middle East, in particular, or if we are talking about what should be US interests.
Hagit Borer: Let’s talk about what they are… Let’s say, what the aims of various administrations are as opposed to what is in the best interest of either the American or the Israeli people, which may be very different.
James Petras: Very good. On that count, I think it is very clear that US policy is directed toward empire-building, extending its political, economic and military control over the world as a whole and, in particular, in the Middle East. And it pursues that policy, either through military means or through market mechanisms, such as the expansion of corporations, the capture of pliant client regimes, etc. And if we look at the Middle East, in particular, the US has been very successful in securing agreements with most of the oil-producing countries, except Iraq and Iran, and even there it is mainly because of its own rejection of relations with both those countries. US oil companies have done extremely well through non-military means. They have expanded their commercial ties- Goldman Sachs has just signed a big agreement with the biggest Saudi bank. Britain is organizing a secondary market in Islamic bonds. Wall Street is very interested in that. None of the oil companies supported a war in Iraq. And it is part of the rubbish that has been peddled – that the war was about oil. The oil companies were doing fabulously before the war and were very nervous about getting involved in a war. This, I think, leads us to the whole question of ‘why then’ if it was prejudicial to the major US economic interests.
As we can see, there were many US military people who were opposed to going into Iraq because they felt it would prejudice the US overall military capacities to defend the Empire – just like the war in Viet Nam prejudiced the capacity of the US to intervene in Central America against the Sandinistas, against the overthrow of the Shah, etc. So from the point of view of global imperial interests, the war in Iraq was certainly not at the behest of the oil companies. I have looked at all the documents, I’ve done interviews with oil companies, I’ve looked at their publications for the five years in the run-up to the war and there is absolutely no evidence. On the contrary, if you pursue research on the various members of the Zionist power configuration in the United States, which I think is a conceptually more correct way of talking about this, rather than ‘the Lobby’, you will find that people of dubious loyalties, like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and Elliott Abrams – the felon, had an agenda of furthering Israel’s interests.
Hagit Borer: James, maybe we should go on with this: Basically if I understand what your are saying, your are suggesting that up to the point of getting involved militarily with Iraq, you would characterize American policies in the Middle East – you know, the Lobby notwithstanding, as extremely successful. So, I am just wondering…
James Petras: It’s what we call ‘market imperialism’.
Hagit Borer: Yes. Norman, do you want to comment on this?
Norman Finkelstein: Well. You have to look at the interests at many different levels. And unfortunately it becomes murky and complicated, where one would prefer a simple picture, I don’t think it is all that simple when you try to figure it out. Number one, you have to look at the interests in terms of who is defining them. And, I agree, I think it is fairly obvious certainly to your listeners that there are different interests that are being defined by corporate power, or are being defined democratically by the desires and choices of ordinary people in any democratic system. So, lets limit ourselves to the first – the question of the corporate interests, since obviously they are playing the dominant role in determining US policy. Or it should be obvious, not that it always is.
Hagit Borer: Let’s assume it is fairly obvious.
Norman Finkelstein: It’s playing the determinant role. Then you have to look at ‘how do they conceive the best way to preserve and expand their interests.’ Now the way they perceive it may seem to a person like you and me to be irrational. It’s that they are pursuing policies which are actually hurting them. But the fact that they may seem irrational to us, does not mean that that is the way they perceive these as the best way to preserve their interests. So you take the concrete case at hand. It may be the case that it was irrational for the US to go into Iraq because there are other ways to control the oil, or as some people have argued, that the market mechanisms are such that, on a world scale, you no longer need to control a natural resource in order to make sure you get the lowest price or make sure it is flowing at the lowest price.
Control isn’t all that important anymore in the modern world. It is not like when Lenin was writing his Imperialism. Now that may be rationally correct and maybe there is a good argument for making it. But that doesn’t mean that those in power aren’t making decisions to further their own interests, which may seem irrational to us. In the case of Iraq, if you look concretely at what happens: Number 1 – There is no evidence, whatsoever, that people like Wolfowitz or the others were trying to further an Israeli agenda.
Hagit Borer: Let me interrupt. What would be the Israeli agenda, if there was one?
Norman Finkelstein: There is an Israeli agenda, and I am not disputing it. The Israeli agenda is basically the following: Israel does not care which country you smash up in the Middle East, just so long as, every few years and, sometimes, every few months you smash up this or that Arab country to send a lesson or to transmit the message to the Middle East that we are in charge and whenever you get out of line we are going to take out the ‘big club’ and break your skull. Now, it happens that in the late 1990’s that Israel would have preferred the skull that was cracked would have been the Iranian one. There was no evidence that Iraq was upper most on the Israeli agenda. In fact, all of this talk about the famous document that was written up by these neo-cons to attack Iraq – that famous document – was handed to Netanyahu when he came to office to try convince him to put Iraq at the top of the agenda. It’s not as if Israel passed that document to the neo-cons, who then plotted to get the US government to attack Iraq. It was the opposite. Israel would have preferred to attack Iran. However, once those in our government, maybe for misguided reasons for all I know, decided to fasten on to Iraq – that is to attack Iraq – Israel was of course ‘gung ho’ because Israel is always ‘gung ho’ about smashing up this or that Arab country. That has always been its policy for the last hundred years – since the beginning of Zionism. The most common place, the cliché of Israeli power is ‘Arabs only understand the language of force’. So, when the US embarked on its campaign against Iraq, the Israelis were gleeful – but they are always gleeful. It doesn’t mean that people like Wolfowitz, let alone people like Cheney, are trying to serve an Israeli agenda. There is no evidence for claims like that. Its pure speculation based on things like ethnicity.
Lets take a simple example, that, I’ll call him James, I don’t usually call people by their first names, but Jim Petras mentioned…Let’s take the case of Elliott Abrams. These are interesting cases. Elliott Abrams is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz. And Norman Podhoretz was the first big neo-conservative supporter of Israel, the editor of Commentary , the magazine. But if you look at people like Podhoretz, you look at their history, I’ll take a book which I am sure Jim is familiar with, in 1967 Podhoretz publishes his famous memoir called Making It. It’s how he succeeded and made it in American life. He was a young man and the editor of Commentary Magazine. You read that book, his celebrated memoir written two months before the June 1967 war, there is exactly one half of one sentence in the whole book on Israel. People like Podhoretz, Midge Decter, all the neo-cons…I have gone through the whole literature on the topic and have read it quite carefully.
Before June 1967, they didn’t give a ‘hoot’ about Israel. Israel never comes up in any of their memoirs, in any of the histories of the period. They become pro-Israel when Israel is useful to them in their pursuit of power and fortune in the United States. Elliott Abrams is as committed to Israel as his father-in-law, Norman Podhoretz, was committed to Israel: When it is convenient and when it is useful. This idea of trying to serve an Israeli agenda, especially coming from somebody as sophisticated as Jim Petras, strikes me as absurd. He knows as well as I do that power…
Hagit Borer: Lets me just interrupt to let James…
James Petras: Its very strange that one says Wolfowitz was not influenced by the Israeli agenda when he was caught passing documents to Israel in the 1980’s. And Douglas Feith lost his security clearance for handing documents to Israel. Elliott Abrams has written a book calling for maintaining the ‘purity’ of the Jewish race…
Norman Finkelstein: I know. They write that crap…and you believe them? Jim, do you think they care…?
James Petras: Its not a question of believing them, it’s a question of looking at the documentary evidence of uncritical, support for Israel in all of its policies – A position that is taken by the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations. They give unconditional support!
Hagit Borer: Let me perhaps interject here a little bit. I think that there a couple of things. One is…I am wondering, for instance, I don’t know whether you would agree, James, with the particular Israeli interest that Norman had identified with respect to the invasion of Iraq. But assuming that you would agree that the Israeli interests are precisely that, namely to smash some Arab country mainly because it is a ‘good idea’…
James Petras: I think that’s very superficial…
Hagit Borer: The question is also…has it been in American interests? So we have seen America go after countries, which are sometimes, in terms of their power, are otherwise really quite negligible – just so as to make a point that anybody who dares to stand up to American power is just a bad example and needs to be smashed…
Norman Finkelstein: I totally agree with that…
James Petras: Israel was running guns to Iran as late as 1987 during the infamous Iran-Contra Scandal…To say that they weren’t interested in destroying Iraq as a challenge to Israel’s hegemony and Iraq’s support for the Palestinians, particularly funding the families of assassinated Palestinian leaders…that’s absurd. And I think …
Norman Finkelstein: Oh look…
Hagit Borer: Could I stop you at this particular point…because we need to take a station break…
James Petras: I want to answer your question…
Hagit Borer: We will come back to it…At this point I think we should try to shift the topic a little bit and…
James Petras: Let me finish my last comment. I think when the Pentagon offices are flooded, like a crowded bordello on Saturday night, with Israeli intelligence officers, crowding out even members of their own Pentagon staff – full of Mossad, full of Israeli generals, in the making of Iraq policy, I don’t think you can say that they are ‘just any old Pentagon officials’. I think you can’t dismiss the fact that Feith, Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams have a lifetime commitment to putting Israel’s interests as their prime consideration in the Middle East. I think it is absurd to think that somehow they just happen to be right-wing policy makers that happen to support a militarist policy. Wolfowitz designed the program. Feith put together the Office of Special Plans, the policy board that fabricated the information for the Iraq war. They were constantly consulting on a day-day, hour-to-hour basis with the Israeli government. This has absolutely been documented a hundred times and I think it is impossible to deny this and say ‘Well, you can’t deduce policy from ethnic affiliations.” Yes, you can! When that ethnic group puts forward a position that puts the primacy of a foreign government at the center of their foreign policy and prejudices the lives of thousands of Americans…its economic interests in the area…then it’s absurd to say, ‘These are a bunch of irrational policy-makers.’
Hagit Borer: James, let me pursue this and actually go into a slightly different point. That is: Wouldn’t it be possible, you know, it’s a question for both of you, for instance to think about whatever the neo-con group is…it’s not a group that represents Israeli interests, it’s a group which represents interests which ‘happen’ to perhaps coincide for both countries and which represent alliances of particular politicians in both countries with one another, and particular power configurations in both countries with one another – but not by any means – all Israeli politicians or the entire Israeli power structure – or all American politicians or all American power structures.
James Petras: Absolutely.
Hagit Borer: So in that case, these are not really American interests. These are just interests of a particular group of people, which is just as interested in bringing to effect in the United States as it is in Israel. Its just basically, if you wish, a wonderful symbiotic relationship. What would you say, Norman to something like that?
Norman Finkelstein: I’ve said in my remarks at the beginning that there is an overlapping of interests in a regional level for reasons for which, in part you suggested earlier. You said that the United States often goes after weak regimes as a kind of demonstration effect of its power and Israel also has a desire for demonstrating its power. Often there is an overlapping, or confluence, of interests. I think, however, its also true to say on the specific question on the occupation – there is a conflict of interests. Were there not a Lobby, its quite likely that the US would have exerted the kinds of pressures needed to force an Israeli withdrawal. On questions like Iraq and Iran, I don’t see any evidence whatsoever, of its being driven by cloak in dagger type of operations in the Pentagon. These operations, which Jim mentions, are so trivial – next to the very high level planning that goes on between the United States and Israel, conscious, legal high-level planning on a daily basis. High level planning and high level coordination. You don’t have to conjure up ‘cloak and dagger’ tales, many of them true, going on inside the Pentagon, in order to demonstrate there is collusion, planning and coordination between the United States and Israel. The question is not whether that goes on, the question is ‘whose interests are being served by it?’ There is this notion that somehow they are managing to distort and deform US policy in a crucial region, on a crucial resource, doesn’t, in my opinion, have any basis in fact. It defies any kind of reason or any kind of common sense reasoning – especially coming from, in my youth, I used to be a student of James Petras at SUNY Binghamton from 1971-74 and he used to be a Marxist and at that time he would tell you how people in power act from interests, which spring from …a basis in which they are the main beneficiaries.
Hagit Borer: Norman, let me ask you …
Norman Finkelstein: Just a second…Mr. Wolfowitz…, Mr Feith and all the others…their power springs from the American state. If Israel gets stronger, their power does not increase. If the United States gets weaker, their power decreases. So now we are having this weird phenomenon of people, due to their ethnic loyalties, are willing to strengthen another state and thereby weaken the sources of power from which their power comes…that doesn’t sound believable.
James Petras: This is a convoluted thinking. I am sure Norman didn’t take that logic from my classes. I’m afraid he has gone off the track somewhere – despite some very good books he has written on the Zionist ‘shakedowns’, on the Holocaust and the refutation of the plagiarism of Dershowitz. I am afraid that when it comes to dealing with the predominantly Jewish lobby, he has a certain blind spot, which is understandable. In many other national and ethnic groups – where they can criticize the world but when it comes to identifying the power and malfeasance of their own group…
Hagit Borer: I think maybe we should all…perhaps we can move away from this topic. OK?
James Petras: Let me finish my sentence. There is nothing ‘cloak and dagger’ about the multiplicity of pro-Israel groups, that have pressured Congress, that are involved in the executive body in shaping American policy in the Middle East. The US does not support any other colonial power, it has opposed colonial occupation/imperialism since World War II. They opposed the British occupation of the Suez in 1956/1955. They have been pushing these countries of Europe and other countries out in order to establish US hegemony through economic and military agreements. The policy with the Israelis is very different from the policies the US follows everywhere else in the world. It’s the only country that gets $3 billion dollars a year for 30 years. This is not just something that happens because of ‘cloak and dagger’. This is the result, as Norman knows – as a very brilliant analyst, from organized power, an organized power that openly admits and states very explicitly that Israel is their major concern…and ‘what’s good for Israel is good for the United States’. They say that, Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: I know that. But regardless of what they say…
Hagit Borer: Let me interrupt you. I need to do a station ID and maybe we could change the topic…
James Petras: OK. Norman was a good student of mine.
Hagit Borer: I think that at this point we can agree that you guys have a lot of mutual respect for each other. But obviously you do not agree on some topics. I wanted to move on to the question of whether there are in fact cases that show that when there are conflicts of interests, say between the US and Israel, that there are instances where the United States does in fact pressure Israel to at least in some cases to act in ways which are against what Israeli wishes would be. Because it seems to me that if we don’t find cases along these lines, then basically the discussion becomes one of ‘the eyes of the beholder’. We see a lot of cooperation, a lot of joint interest, but they could be coming from either side. If there are cases where perhaps there are interests, which part ways and where we can see in fact there is a discord that we can talk about. Norman, since you are the one who believes that this is a possibility, could you talk about that?
Norman Finkelstein: Well, the thing is: I don’t want to make the argument that these kinds of individual cases can prove one side or the other. You pick up a book by Steve Zunes, and he is going to demonstrate that the US government always gets its way. You pick up something by somebody on the other side, and they are going to demonstrate that it’s Israel that always gets its way when there are conflicts of interests. And each side can give a list of examples – to demonstrate his or her case. I don’t think you can prove anything by citing a handful of cases on one side – Professor Chomsky will cite the recent case where Israel was severely reprimanded by Bush for trying to sell technology to China -and then you will find cases on the other side. Even though it’s important to look at the empirical record, I don’t think the empirical record – in and of itself– resolves the question. Let me give you a couple of examples of how I think it works: Let’s take two prime examples. Let’s start with 1948. Why did President Truman recognize Israel? There are all sorts of debate about that question. One claim that is constantly made was/is the role of the Jewish lobby. Namely Truman was heading for elections and wanted in particular, the New York vote…and the Democratic Party wanted Jewish money. It was due to the Jewish lobby of its time that Truman quickly recognized Israel, even though he was bound to alienate Arab interests which were very hostile to Israel’s founding. What does the record show? I have gone through the record very carefully. The record shows: Number 1 – our main interest at that time was in Saudi oil and the US enters into discussions with the Saudis: ‘What will you allow the US government to do regarding the founding of the state of Israel?’ And the Saudis basically said the following: ‘We will let you recognize Israel, but if you supply arms then there is going to be trouble. They are referring to arms after Israel was founded when there was an imminent war. What does the US do? It recognizes Israel, that is to say, it goes the limit. Truman goes the limit, because he wants that Jewish vote and he wants Jewish money. But he immediately slaps an arms embargo on the region. And the Secretary of State, Marshall, at the time says: ‘It looks like Israel is going to lose the war.’ That is what our intelligence tells us. We were wrong, but that is what US intelligence said at the time. So they were willing to let Israel be annihilated, because that’s what our intelligence told us, if the price was losing the support of the Saudis. It is true that Truman went the limit – the limit was ‘recognizing Israel’ to get the Jewish vote, but he never went beyond the limit of alienating a prime US interest in the region, namely the Saudis. Let’s take 1956, which Jim mentioned, but I don’t think he knows what happened. In 1956, it’s true – the United States told Britain, France and Israel – they had to get out of Egypt. And its true, we looked very anti-colonial. But the only reason the United States did that was because the British, the French and the Israelis acted behind the back of the United States. The very moment the tri-partite invasion of Egypt occurred, the US was plotting to overthrow the government of Syria. And the US wanted to knock-out Nasser, but they didn’t like the timing – because the timing was not the US choosing but rather the British, French and Israelis behind our backs. Once again it was the US interests that determined US policy, not any commitment to anti-colonialism or crap like that. It was the US interest.
James Petras: He’s had five minutes already. I demand equal time. He’s been giving us long lectures. If you look at US policy toward Israel, the US alienates practically the whole world in favor of a tiny country, which has practically no economic value to the United States, which is a diplomatic albatross and has its own hegemonic, military and political interests in dominating the Middle East. We go into the United Nations and we alienate the whole of Europe and the Third World when Israel destroys Jenin, when it engages in genocidal policies in the Occupied Territories, when it violates the Geneva Agreements. The US backs it and totally discredits itself before anyone seriously concerned with international law, with the niceties of international relations. I am not just talking about Moslem opinion, Arab opinion… I am talking about world opinion. Secondly, to say that the United States has overlapping interests with Israel is totally ‘off the wall’, I mean – I don’t know where Norman’s head is. The United States gets involved in countries to set up neo-colonial regimes. They are not into occupying and setting up colonial governments. They’d prefer local clients. And they had one in Lebanon – with the President (Fouad) Sinoria – who was receiving US backing when Israel attacks Lebanon, presumably to attack Hezbollah – but totally undermines the US puppet. Is that in US interests?
Norman Finkelstein: Yes.
James Petras: And when you talk about the fact that Israel is taking measures, overlapping with US policy-makers, you are overlooking the fact that most of the US generals were opposed to the war in Iraq and the Israeli agents in the United States, and that’s what they are and they should register themselves as agents of a foreign power, were attacking them (the generals) as wimps, attacking them because they wouldn’t follow the war precepts of the Zionists in the Pentagon. There is a whole string of military officials and conservative politicians who were opposed to going into Iraq. And if you look at the data …if you look at Cheney, Cheney was getting his from Irving (Scooter) Libby – another landsman, another member of the fraternity linked to Wolfowitz. He’s a protégé of Wolfowitz.
Norman Finkelstein: I think Cheney can think for himself.
James Petras: Look, if you are trying to set up a matrix of power, dealing with US policy-making in the Middle East, to simply say that this is ‘shared interests’ without looking at the fact that the Israelis blew up a US surveillance ship, killing scores of US sailors and got away with it and continue to get US economic aid and the US officers that were wounded or murdered by the Israeli warplanes, with US flags flying over the ship, and say…that’s overlapping interests. That’s chutzpah! That is really chutzpah. And it is very revealing that you went into a detailed explanation, or purported to be explanation, about the Suez, that you leave out that in 1967 the Israelis are the only country in US history that bombs a US ship and doesn’t even have to apologize – and receives no retaliation from the United States. Now that is ‘power’ for you. That’s ‘influence’ for you. And I thank to deny these realities…and say: ‘this is just overlapping interests, the Zionists have no power in the US government or if they are Zionists then they are not tied to Israel etc..’ That’s a strange kind of Zionist that doesn’t have allegiance to the state of Israel.
Hagit Borer: We have only five minutes left. I want to ask you about a couple of things that I want to cover. Maybe the most important one has to do with the fact that this debate, about the Israel Lobby in general has broken the surface into the mainstream in the last year or so. Of course, a lot of it had to do with the Mearsheimer and Walt article, and subsequently, let’s say, by the attacks on Carter’s book. There were attacks before and reviews and debates about the role of the Lobby before. But they never made it too the mainstream and they were never reviewed by, lets say, the New York Review of Books, and they were never discussed by major outlets in the United States. In fact the Mersheimer and Walt article originally was turned down for publication by the Atlantic Magazine that had commissioned it. So maybe you can comment a little bit about why this debate is finally breaking surface and why is it that it is now a much more legitimate thing to debate within American mainstream circles.
James Petras: I’ll give your three fast reasons: One, because of the disaster in Iraq, the public is open to discussion, particularly with the prominence of Zionists in bringing about the war – so I think you have public opinion open because of the discontent with the war and their concern about who got us into the war and into this mess. Second reason is that there is an inter-elite fight in the United States, between sectors of the military, sectors of the Congress, conservatives versus the pro-Israel crowd, the pro-war crowd. And the third reason is the arrogance and bullying by the Zionists, in particular, their organizations that go around trying to prevent this discussion has backfired and I think people are fed up with the Zionist banning (the play about Rachel) Corie in New York and elsewhere – so I think these are the reasons.
Hagit Borer: James, we have to move on. We have only a few minutes. We have only a minute and a half. So Norman, could you say some final words?
Norman Finkelstein: Well, I agree with the reasons…maybe I wouldn’t state them the same way as Jim does. Its clear that the debacle in Iraq forms the overall framework for the opening up of discussion. In my opinion, that’s probably not the most positive result because its going to end up with, I think, creating a ‘scapegoat’ for disastrous war by the US. I think the second reason is that the Israeli approach which seemed to have been successful since 1967, the approach of simply applying force to every break in conformity with US policy, of applying overwhelming force, plainly is not working. And so there are questions about the ‘usefulness’ of Israel’s guidance and instruction in how to control the Middle East. It has not worked in Iraq and it proved to be a disaster in Lebanon this summer (July-August 2006). So there is a question about the ‘effectiveness’ of the Israeli approach, in addition to the effectiveness of Israel itself as a ‘strategic asset’, which is very different than it was in 1967. And the third reason, it seems to me is that, Israel is becoming more and more what you might call a ‘bloated banana republic’ with scandals daily and this kind of squandering of resources and that being the case – it has alienated large sectors of American ‘liberal’ Jewish opinion.
Hagit Borer: I thank you very much, James and Norman. I think on this point of accord between you, we need to end. Thank you so very much for being here.
- AIPAC 101 – What Every American Should Know – Revisited (veteransnewsnow.com)
- Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby (Full Version) (undergrounddocumentaries.com)