Article by Bill Christison
July 5, 2003
[Bill Christison was an analyst for the CIA from 1950 to 1979. At various times, he worked on Soviet and European affairs, on global nuclear proliferation, and later, on Asian and African affairs. He also worked for three years in Germany and two years in Vietnam. In the 1970s, he served as a National Intelligence Officer and as the Director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He now lives in Santa Fe, NM, and is active in local antiwar and peace movements. He can be reached at: email@example.com
SHOULD ANTIWAR ACTIVISTS BEGIN MORE AGGRESSIVE NON-VIOLENCE?
A FORMER CIA OFFICIAL ASSESSES THE PROS AND CONS
– AND SAYS YES!
By Bill Christison
Democracy has become little more than a hollow word. … It is the Free World’s whore. … Until quite recently, right up to the 1980s, democracy did seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a degree of real social justice. But modern democracies have been around long enough for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. … The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code. Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.
Arundhati Roy, speech in New York City at the Riverside Church,
May 13, 2003
Arundhati Roy has it exactly right. Let’s link what she says more precisely to what the U.S. has been up to lately.
The Bush propaganda machine shamelessly glorifies the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while refusing to say a word about the numbers of Iraqis killed. Few voters complain. Worse, most of our corporate-dominated media do not complain. Most Democratic candidates in next year’s election strive to outdo Republicans in praising the American military’s heroism and skill in mopping up an Iraqi army already weakened by years of sanctions. Both Democrats and Republicans never mention that the seeming invincibility of the U.S. armed forces arises, at least in part, from Washington’s penchant for unleashing its military only against quite impotent victims.
Few in the country’s major parties want to delve very deeply into the even more important factor in the U.S. military’s invincibility – its immense quantities, far more than other nations have, of high-tech (and high-profit) weapons and gear of all kinds, much of it Gee Whiz magical stuff to us ordinary laymen. Politicians and patriots can praise this superior equipment (as long as such praise in no way dilutes the alleged superior heroism and training that must always be the root of our troops’ victories), but it wouldn’t do to discuss at any length the symbiotic, servant-master relationship between our military services and the industrial-military, globalized, and corporate-capitalist establishment that Arundhati Roy talks about and that dominates U.S. politics and policies, to the detriment of ordinary people in the rest of the world and in the U.S.
The pace of militarizing the U.S. economy continues to accelerate. Congress has authorized an increase to $400 billion in the military budget for the next fiscal year. Nothing that is happening in Iraq, in Afghanistan, or in the uncertain Israel-Palestine peace negotiations gives any hope for a slowdown in this process of militarization. Nor do probable developments in future U.S. relations with Iran and North Korea, the two remaining nations in Bush’s “axis of evil.” The conquest of non-nuclear Iraq has actually encouraged both Iran and North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible.
In addition, one of U.S. industry’s important markets for arms exports has expanded with the recently approved supplemental $1 billion in grants and $9 billion in loan guarantees for Israel. Both figures are in addition to normal annual aid amounts for Israel and are mostly for military and other supposed security-enhancing purposes. The motives for providing more arms to Israel are varied, and in part obviously have to do with the intensifying contest between the Republican and Democratic parties for American-Jewish support in future elections. At a minimum, the desire of the industrial-military establishment for greater markets meshes nicely with the desire of the Sharon government and of AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., to strengthen Israel’s position in the entire Middle East and expand Israel’s colonization and domination of the occupied Palestinian territories. AIPAC is so secretive about its sources of funding that we may never know whether more explicit ties exist between AIPAC and other wealthy groupings that dominate the actions and policies of the U.S. government, especially the military-corporate-capitalist power structure.
The sheer scope of the unjust policies the Bush administration is pursuing leaves one breathless. Yet most U.S. voters presently show little desire to change these policies, and the Bush steamroller seems unstoppable. However much anyone opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, once it started the dominant opinion among those in opposition quickly snapped into line with the support-our-troops view: no one in his right mind could hope for the kind of prolonged war or high U.S. casualties that would turn public opinion against the war. And of course the main-force part of the war was not prolonged; U.S. casualties were not high. Over time, the continued killings of small numbers of U.S. soldiers may cause a shift in public opinion, but the odds are that the shift will not be large enough to force policy changes on the Bush administration.
It is also unlikely, in the short term at least, that economic strains in the U.S. will be severe enough to compel the administration to deviate significantly from its present policies. The large-scale deficit financing and cheapening of the dollar that the Bush administration has encouraged should keep the U.S. economy from any rapid deterioration. Over the longer run, however (that is, any period beyond the next couple of years), all bets are off. Further misadventures in U.S. foreign and military policies, severe imbalances in foreign trade, continuing failures of economic growth in Europe and Japan, or, God forbid, a nuclear war starting in Northeast or South Asia or the Middle East or somewhere else (yes, such things can happen!): all or any of these could make today’s economic or political predictions look foolish.
Debate Over Strategies and Tactics Within the Antiwar Movement
The critical question in the antiwar movement is whether peace groups need to come up with strategies and tactics to change current U.S. policies more quickly than now seems possible. One viewpoint heard around my town is that, in the absence of some unforeseeable event, the earliest opportunity to change U.S. policies is 16 months off, when the November 2004 election occurs, and that the antiwar movement might as well accept this. In other words, many seem to believe that the best tactic is to work on the election to the extent each person wishes, and not to do much else. The opposing viewpoint starts from the proposition that, if you believe we really must try to force the U.S. government to change its policies before then, doing nothing except electoral work for the next 16 months is no strategy at all.
If you do not think the current situation is desperate, you will be more willing to wait until the next election or even longer, until a new preemptive war or some other outside event brings about change. You might even argue that time is inevitably on the side of those who wait, and therefore it’s better to do little other than talk, or maybe occasionally stand on a street corner with a sign urging motorists to honk against George Bush, but otherwise it’s not worthwhile to stick your neck out; you’re better off keeping your powder dry.
If you believe, on the other hand, that the current situation is desperate, you’ll want faster action. To present this side’s case, it is useful to start with the argument that political apathy among ordinary people in the U.S. is the antiwar movement’s worst enemy. Apathy, induced by simple lack of interest or by a sense that ordinary Americans can have no impact on the corrupt U.S. political system, is seen by many as the main reason behind the reduced voter turnouts of recent decades in this country.
Since World War I, the argument runs, consumerism has become the dominant philosophy in the United States. Consumerism has intensified apathy among voters as advertising, the media, and cultural trends have made acquisition of goods the main goal of many people. Such concentration on possessions has led to a serious weakening of interest in governmental affairs and policies. In a trend that some have called “market populism,” the choices open to consumers seem increasingly to have become a substitute for political democracy. But the apathy also arises from other causes. For the very poor, to whom the philosophy of consumerism has never offered many choices, apathy often arises from hopelessness that political change will ever improve their condition.
Some people in the antiwar movement believe another trend, a “Roman circus” effect, has also grown stronger in the U.S. over the past century. This trend, they believe, is different from but feeds on and strengthens apathy. As nominal democracy has spread in this country and in others, this Roman circus effect is seen as vitiating the actual effectiveness of “people-power” in the U.S. and other supposed democracies as well.
How does this work? For the U.S., the explanation runs like this. Of all the groups in U.S. society giving money to the major political parties, corporations give the most. Therefore the issues of most importance to corporations, to people running them and to lobbyists paid by them, are always treated with care and attention by presidents and the Congress. Some issues (today almost anything to do with military spending, globalization, free trade or business subsidies, for example) are of maximum interest to corporations, but often do not grab the attention of average people. Other issues, such as gun control, abortion, and scandal, are of great interest to average people, while most corporations do not care much about them. Corporations and politicians in their debt are normally happy to see Americans distracted by the debates and arguments that surround these latter, usually social, issues. With political apathy arising from consumerism already present, the more distracted voters are by non-economic and non-military issues, the easier it is for corporations to slip through legislation beneficial to themselves. This is the Roman circus effect.
It is clear that a majority of voters in the U.S. today generally disagree with or, in any case, do not regard as important, any of the views just expressed. This majority does not see apathy as a meaningful issue in U.S. politics, and sees the present degree of democracy in the country as ample. It also believes life here is pretty darn good and that no need exists for major change. And finally, this majority probably believes that those who regard present U.S. policies as seriously wrong are so far out of the mainstream that they are not worth listening to.
Bolstered by these and other arguments, the Bush administration has succeeded, according to all polls, in maintaining the support for its current policies at roughly 65 percent of the people in the U.S. It is correct in believing that it has so far successfully marginalized the opposition.
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Opportunities for, and Difficulties of, Implementing More Assertive Antiwar Actions
I am one of those in the antiwar movement who think we should be doing more – considerably more – for the next 16 months than just supporting one or another candidate in the 2004 presidential election. But given the situation described above, it is clear that we have some tough decisions to face up to. This is particularly true for those of us who believe that apathy is in fact continuing to grow among U.S. voters, and that such apathy will facilitate not only a Bush win in 2004 but also a continuation of his arrogant and unjust foreign and military policies around the world. Let’s consider a few of the difficulties as well as the opportunities we may face.
Not only do many average eligible voters in the U.S. seem less interested in many political issues than they were a hundred years ago, but they also avoid expending as much energy as they once did in pressing for more small-d political democracy. We need to emphasize that these words, “political” and “democracy,” should always go together, because so many U.S. business and government spokesmen these days use the word “democracy” to mean something else. They talk instead about the democracy of the free market, a so-called democracy for consumers and businesses that allegedly arises automatically from free market capitalism and global free trade. This is market populism again, and it in no way enhances the participation of real people in real political democracy.
Developments in the global media are another factor influencing the degree of apathy toward politics that will face us in the future. As purveyors of both entertainment and information, the global radio and TV industries are the most important part of the media in influencing public opinion.
Even though multiple information sources are still available on the internet and elsewhere today, there are already signs that a relatively few global corporations will increasingly come to control media output everywhere. One danger is that this trend will reduce easy access to the varieties of information necessary for democracies to flourish. Another danger is that an increasingly privatized media will add weight to the already mentioned Roman circus effect, by providing through entertainment programs distractions that encourage people not to pay attention to whatever information and news programs are still available.
In most advanced countries today, long-term trends toward (1) more privatization of radio and TV, along with the cutting back of public stations, and (2) the concentration of the private media into an ever-diminishing number of global corporations, may be the greatest danger of all. When combined with the rising popular apathy toward politics already encouraged by consumerism, these trends in the media will make it increasingly difficult for peoples and governments to retain even the limited elements of democracy they now possess.
On the other hand, this situation provides a key argument to those of us who think we should not go into hibernation and should not avoid controversial actions until after the 2004 elections. Waiting out the next 16 months just gives apathy more opportunity to grow. There are in addition two other reasons for believing that the present situation is desperate and that the antiwar movement should immediately initiate some striking, attention-getting actions.
1. The Bush administration is gambling that the U.S. can bring about the greatest possible degree of global peace and stability by dominating the rest of the world militarily. Those who support this gamble oppose any effort to change U.S. foreign policies as a way to reduce hatred and terrorism against the U.S. and its allies. They also believe it is appropriate and correct to introduce strict domestic security measures here at home, even though such measures restrict many of the previous free speech, privacy, and legal privileges of people living in the U.S.
To many of us, these Bush policies are an absolutely horrendous gamble, and they are arousing the opposition of most ordinary people and most governments throughout the world. The war in Iraq is very likely to be the first step toward a catastrophe. By already turning its attention and its threats first toward Syria and now Iran, the Bush administration is making the situation worse. The attempt to “transform” the entire Middle East and to use military force as the best way to spread democracy throughout the area will more likely provoke more terrorism, more hatred of the United States, more wars that could easily slip beyond anyone’s control, and a more rapid spread of weapons of mass destruction. The fact that Iraq lost the main-force war so quickly was a disaster in one additional way for the world, as well for the United States, for it is likely to encourage the U.S. to embark on further aggressions. And if the U.S. does not insist on a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine issue, the hatreds against the U.S. will only become more intense.
The United States contains only five percent of the world’s population. It is entirely anti-democratic, and it is insane as well, to believe that even with all its wealth the U.S. can or should dominate the entire globe militarily. The longer we wait, while military force appears in the short run to be successful, the harder it will be to overcome popular apathy regarding policies that support the U.S. drive toward global domination.
2. Many of us also argue that there is another aspect of Bush’s foreign policies that we should work to change immediately: his policy toward the global problem of religious fundamentalism. U.S. propaganda occasionally still mouths nice words about most Muslims being good people, not dominated by fundamentalist ideology. But at the same time Bush administration policies are actually encouraging fundamentalism around the entire world.
All fundamentalism is dangerous. Islamic fundamentalism will surely be one of the factors encouraging more terrorism against the U.S., Great Britain, and Israel in the wake of the Iraq war. Judaic fundamentalism encourages terrorism by the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as state terrorism by the Israeli military. And Christian fundamentalism here in this country encourages the Bush administration to extend full support to Israel’s continued occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza.
It will be impossible to turn off religious fundamentalism anywhere with just a wave of the hand. But it would be a terribly wrong and immoral policy to try to turn it off by military action that kills people in the Islamic world while encouraging Judaic fundamentalism to flourish in the Palestinian occupied territories and encouraging Christian fundamentalism to grow stronger in the U.S. Yet that is precisely where U.S. foreign policies today are headed.
What should we be doing about religious fundamentalism? The best answer to this question is that there is really no other moral and civilized way to deal with the global problem of fundamentalism than to allow, and to encourage by exclusively peaceful means, the three major religions and their unique cultures to deal with the problem of extremists in their own way. This is not a perfect answer and this is not a perfect world, but one thing is crystal clear to those of us who argue this case. The use of military action, especially by outsiders, to solve these deeply embedded religious problems will make this world an entirely imperfect and unstable place to live in for years, and possibly decades, to come. This prospect of religious conflict could lead to such explosive and unpredictable results that we should not just wait to see what happens.
Many of us believe there is no time to lose. The risk is high that the Bush administration will move rapidly to take some form of military action against Iran, or Syria, or possibly other Muslim states. It may also use unnecessary violence to crush the remaining opposition in Iraq. Every step in this direction brings us closer to a new world war, a Judeo-Christian world war against Islam. Without wasting a single day, we should be taking any actions we can to prevent further war.