[OPE] American foreign policy through the eyes of a child

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sat Mar 22 2008 - 13:02:17 EDT

Personally, I don't have children and don't intend to be a parent, but as education graduate from way back I am still interested in human development, I often think of what it is like for young people who are learning to orient themselves in world politics. I chanced upon this item about American foreign policy, which I think is quite good, insofar as it makes a whole set of contradictions very explicit. I thought I would post the link.


Noticing these contradictions, the Chinese often refer to a "cold war mentality", in other words, a lot of ideology from past generations still hangs around, even although in reality it doesn't apply (if it ever did) and therefore has become nonsensical. 

In his speeches, Mr Bush often refers to "the enemy" but he doesn't specify who the enemy is, or is vague about it (unspecified killers, terrorists, nasty people etc.) or why exactly the enemy is an enemy which threatens the United States. The implication is always that "we" have good intentions (good will), and "they" have bad intentions (bad faith), and this why they are a threat, even if nothing is happening. I think there is a very good political-ideological explanation for this behaviour, at different levels of policy analysis, but I lack the time to write that up now.

Suffice to say that, more important than the enemy per se, is the deep impulse that you have to stand up and fight, that people have to fight for their turf, it's just that it is difficult to fight, if there is no enemy, so you need one, and that enemy has to be an outsider (an Other) who by definition does not belong to your own world  - it's a bit analogous to the Zionists who have this mentality of "we are the Jews, and we are going to hit back as hard as we think we need to, until any enemy backs off, we will never be beaten, and we're going to be merciless in our own defense" (the "enemy within" consists of people you disagree with, but in a democracy you have the right to ignore them).

The problem with this "social mentality" (a concept of this kind is mooted by Goldmann and Gramsci), insofar as it does not lead to major paranoia, is that you create your own adversary, an adversary which in good part probably did not even exist before. It's a type of aggressive politics which tries to win terrain by ideologically imposing a definition of what the fight is or should be about, in advance, a priori and axiomatically, as a style of leadership. The double advantage seems to be, that one sets the terms of what the conflict is about to one's own advantage, and always has an ultimate justifying rationale for fighting. At bottom, I think the likes of Mr Bush and Mr Cheney are really deeply anxious people, they are worried about world developments, but in very large part they create their own anxieties, insofar as they end up reshaping the world after the idealized image of themselves and their own world. I can understand it, I have had that myself, but no good house is built on anxiety.

In reality, of course, the real conflict may concern quite different issues, which is just to say that there is a difference between the ideological rationalization of conflict, and what the conflict is really about, so that the real motives are obscured in different layers of meaning, in accordance with a pattern of interests. But in fact, this practice becomes a hindrance to resolving any conflict, precisely because it effectively confuses what it is really about, beyond saying e.g. that a man should be warlike and fight, whatever the war happens to be about. It is of course the complete antithesis of the socialist principle that if people co-operate that this has better results for human life, and that some competition is healthy, other competition is not.

Moreover, if, in a Manichean politics, everything is reduced to an "eternal battle of good and evil", then this implies that the battle is always there, and you should always be fighting it, the corollary of which is, that the conflict cannot be solved - there is always an "evil" enemy of some sort, against whom you have to fight, and therefore there is always a war, a permanent war. Effectively, the war is life, and of course if you are in the military, that may be perfectly true. In which case, the world does not become a safer place, all we have given is a rationale for the military, which John McCain is wellplaced to talk about. Bush's "campaign" really started after he became President after a dubious election procedure, when he called on the military "please help us win". He did not say to the American people, "what you really think about what's just happened, and why it happened?" and listen to their reactions and debates.

Recently I was pondering Joseph Schumpeter's writings on imperialism - actually his analysis is very sloppy, but there is something of value in it, to the extent that the "imperialist impulse" does have pre-capitalist historical roots, which  - extending the analysis - even reach as far back as tribal society. And indeed in Mr Bush's speechifying about America's role in the world, you can find medieval (feudal) elements - a psychic world populated with knights, vassals, knaves, serfs, slaves, damsels in distress, noblesse, princes and princesses, kings and queens, crusaders, minstrels, quests, magic, saints, priests, bishops, nightwatchmen, heraldry, the great chain of being, blood & honour & strife, and so forth. Why choose that imagery to communicate? Presumably because he derives inner certainty from Christianist faith which, he says, resolved the mistakes he made in his life previously, and because a majority of Americans still have a christian morality of some sort. In American pragmatism, everything is flexible, the absolutes which ultimately relativize everything are given by religious principles.

As for Marx, obviously an articulate but verbose European intellectual, he has this to say back in 1843:

>From this conflict of the political state with itself, therefore, it is possible everywhere to develop the social truth, just as religion is a register of the theoretical struggles of mankind, so the political state is a register of the practical struggles of mankind. Thus, the political state expresses, within the limits of its form sub specie rei publicae, all social struggles, needs and truths. Therefore, to take as the object of criticism a most specialised political question - such as the difference between a system based on social estate and one based on representation - is in no way below the hauteur des principes. For this question only expresses in a political way the difference between rule by man and rule by private property. Therefore the critic not only can, but must deal with these political questions (which according to the extreme Socialists are altogether unworthy of attention). In analysing the superiority of the representative system over the social-estate system, the critic in a practical way wins the interest of a large party. By raising the representative system from its political form to the universal form and by bringing out the true significance underlying this system, the critic at the same time compels this party to go beyond its own confines, for its victory is at the same time its defeat. Hence, nothing prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them. In that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world's own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to. The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening it out of its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09.htm


.we live in a world phony down deep
in which we participate at a slant.
Ours is a seduced world,
where we call evil good and good evil,
where we put darkness for light and light for darkness,
where we call bitter sweet and sweet bitter
where we call war peace and peace war,
so that we rarely see the truth of the matter.

(Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth - Brueggemann is an American old testament scholar, author, and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. His first book was The Prophetic Imagination in 1978)

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