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Monday, September 30, 2002

Bush's War – So What’s New?

Part 1, Unilateralism and pre-emptive strikes

By Cliff Hawkins

I have been in real agony in the last few weeks, reading the daily press about Bush's bipartisan and popular policy of unilateral and pre-emptive war against Iraq and everyone else. But the other day, while at Pt. Reyes, basking in the sun and reflecting, I realized that I have been over-reacting. Bush's policy is neither new nor particularly horrendous. I thought I would share my observations with people who might be interested in them. Comments and criticism are very welcome.

I will make four arguments:

1. The Bush doctrine of unilateralism is the standard policy of the American and all other empires.

2. Bush's advocacy of pre-emptive strikes is likewise "business as usual" for the American empire and all others.

3. War with Iraq, while spectacular and obvious, will in statistical terms hardly add to the tens of millions of victims of American atrocities

4. By Bush's own criteria, the United States, with its peoples and culture, deserves total annihilation.

Bush's foreign policy of unilateralism and pre-emptive strikes is not nearly as new as the mainstream press and dissident members of the foreign policy establishment are claiming. Bush's policy of "I will kill anyone I want, anywhere I want, for any or no reason, without asking leave of anyone, unless it suits my temporary convenience" has in fact been the universal policy of the American and all other white European empires since at least 1492 (my knowledge of previous centuries is somewhat sketchy). Moreover, although an attack on Iraq may indeed have catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and the rest of the world (and might even start World War III), such gratuitous violence will differ in neither motivation nor justification from traditional U.S. policy, including the murder-by-torture of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children by the U.S. under Bush I and Clinton.


As we all know, the United States was founded on genocide and slavery, which continued for hundreds of years and were celebrated as essential underpinnings of American civilization (as indeed they were and are). White Europeans exterminated more than 95% of the people of three continents, and did this repeatedly over a period of centuries - the populations were decimated again and again. Europeans enslaved the population of Africa under the most brutal conditions conceivable, and, after chattel slavery was abolished, conquered "the dark continent" (as they called it), exterminating and enslaving its inhabitants in situ. (The Belgians alone exterminated at least ten million people in the Congo). Europeans also conquered and exploited most of Asia, at a cost, over centuries, of tens of millions of lives. (Europeans simultaneously waged genocidal wars of aggression against other white nations. They also made war against their own peoples, torturing their fellow nationals for their religious beliefs, for supposedly practicing witchcraft, for being ill, and for other reasons imaginable and not.)

The United States has continued exterminating and enslaving people all over the world, and is now doing so on a scale unimaginable in previous centuries. The clothes we wear are often manufactured by the torture-to-death of teenage girls (predominantly perpetrated "offshore," but increasingly in sweatshops within the home country itself). The oranges we eat are harvested (and planted and tended) by a racialized group whose life expectancy is 20 years less than ours. The oil we burn is not only procured by mass murdering and torturing people abroad; the United States also disproportionately contributes to global warming, which might wipe out a significant portion of life on earth. (The United States, by far the largest polluter, is almost the only country that has repudiated the Kyoto protocol limiting greenhouse gases).

All this is done in the name of "free trade" and "free markets," the blessings of which supposedly accrue to everybody, especially the victims. In the twentieth century the United States invaded, destroyed, destabilized, or overthrew the governments of dozens of countries, at the cost of tens of millions of lives. Through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other institutions, it has repeatedly and literally tortured millions of men, women, and children to death by the stroke of a pen, by imposing so-called "austerity programs," trade and debt policies, and other atrocities, upon weak and defenseless peoples. The toll in Brazil alone has been in the tens of millions of lives - a fact acknowledged, if in somewhat oblique and coded language, in reptile publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal All the white European empires, without exception, justified their practice of genocide and slavery by a variety of arguments: frank appeals to naked self-interest, by ur-Nazi assertions of racial superiority, and by claiming that their depredations actually benefited the victims. Europeans were bringing civilization, Christianity, and enlightenment to their benighted brown brothers, who were simultaneously condemned as uncivilizable untermenschen and described as merely backward peoples who might assimilate part of Western civilization if properly guided.

This is no exaggeration. It might seem incredible that the genocide practiced in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, and Africa, could possibly be legitimated by alleged benefits to the victims; but Europeans often, and over a period of centuries, asserted just this. The United States also used a fourth justification: denial of the very existence of its victims in the "vast, empty spaces of the West." I do not know whether Europeans similarly denied even the existence of people in the areas they conquered.

The American empire, like that of the Spanish, Belgians, Dutch, English, French, German, and others, killed whomever it wanted when it had the power and interest. However, obviously, empires often act in concert with other empires (and with local subject populations or elites) when they can. They act "multilaterally" when convenient, and "unilaterally" when necessary. This has been documented for the United States in literally hundreds of academic books on U.S. foreign policy. Hitler was no different from Bush: although Hitler often simply crushed foreign nations, he treated his allies (Spain, Romania, Hungary, Italy) as subordinate, yet sovereign, nations that were pressured and cajoled by normal diplomatic processes rather than raped. The Nazis claimed that they led a coalition of "all Europe" against the Asiatic, Jewish, and Bolshevik hordes. Hitler sometimes consulted allies, not because he was a nice guy. He did it when, and only when, the costs (in men, material, and hostile responses from other allies and neutrals) of outright violence exceeded the benefits, in material and in propaganda, of forging alliances. Like the U.S., he broke treaties and betrayed allies whenever it suited his convenience, although to my knowledge the United States has been involved in  more killings of heads of state than Hitler ever dreamed of being. Diem, a U.S. "friend," and Allende, an "enemy," are only two of many examples.

As for unilateralism: Did Clinton "consult" American clients or allies before he wantonly destroyed the pharmaceutical factory that produced one-third of the Sudan's medicines? Did he act "multilaterally" when he squashed all efforts to mount an international investigation? Did he ever even admit that the building he destroyed was a pharmaceutical and not a weapons factory?

How would the United States respond if someone did this to us?

Although the "liberal" part of the mainstream press which we all read has wrung its collective hands over Bush's supposedly new resort to unilateralism, it is possible, even by reading the mainstream press bemoaning this "change," to recognize that the United States always seeks the cloak and justification of multilateral action when it can, but acts alone when it cannot bend its mostly puppet alliances and international agencies to its will. (At times, of course, the U.S., like any other empire, including Hitler's, refrains from the use of force when overt violence will achieve relatively little and provoke outrage from its allies.)

At the high tide of Nazism, Hitler's officials debated the most efficient means of exploiting the occupied territories. Some wanted extermination of the "lesser races," as Europeans and Americans had done for centuries; others wanted enslavement of these peoples (also a widespread, traditional European and American practice); still others wanted expulsion of "undesirables" onto reservations (also old-hat); a few even advocated treating German subjects with some slight degree of humanity, so that they would more eagerly participate in the "crusade against Bolshevism" and for "Western civilization" and "traditional family values." This was a purely practical disagreement among powerful and vicious thugs. In practice, the Nazis pursued all four policies, depending on time, place, Nazi racial ideology, and other circumstances.

The United States, like all empires, has similarly adopted a variety of strategies in its relentless quest for world conquest.  Which policy is adopted is not a matter of indifference to the victimized peoples; it is arguably better to be treated as a subordinate, yet in some senses valued, means to the end of master-race profits and/or domination, than simply exterminated. However, exploiting the enslaved on a sustained-yield basis (usually with the help of compradors or kapos) is sometimes preferable for the conquerors, and more stabilizing for their regime, and thus in the long run detrimental to the victims. (Extermination consumes time and resources, and garners no workers or markets). In this sense, Bush's more honest and outright policy of destroying his victims could actually help destroy the American empire.

Notice how segments of the press are whining that the U.S. is "inexplicably" committing the same "mistakes" in Afghanistan as it did during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations - i.e., openly countenancing mass murder, rape, starvation, and international drug trafficking, while imposing a brutal regime largely of its own making and abandoning even the pretext of economic assistance and development. Again, this is "business as usual," and is no "mistake." The United States, like other empires, often claims that it is helping those it exterminates and enslaves. Favoring U.S. intervention abroad while demanding that America oppose rather than foster genocide, slavery, and rape, is on a moral and intellectual plane with thinking that Nazi Germany should have had an Office of Jewish Affairs, only (minor difference) that such an agency should have promoted multicultural harmony and understanding. Or believing that if only the IMF and the World Bank would help the starving billions, these institutions could be good and useful agencies.

One recent example of the fatuity and viciousness of the American ruling-class intelligentsia: Samantha Power has harshly condemned repeated American complicity in genocide while also advocating a new U.S. world-imperialism by ostensibly criticizing American foreign-policy atrocities. Ignoring the dozens of instances of American fostered mass murder and genocide since 1945, Power focuses on cases where the U.S. allegedly failed to intervene, and then argues for energetic U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military intervention to prevent future abuses everywhere and anywhere. Her approach is indicative of the usual patriotic mush: while she counts Rwanda as a case of U.S. inaction, she simultaneously admits that Clinton actively ensured that no one else stopped the genocide. Further, she admits that the American policymakers' genocide-fostering policy was justified not in the name of national interest, but in that of "protecting human life."


As unilateralism is "business as usual," and multilateralism a fraud, so pre-emptive aggression is the standard policy of the American and all other empires. Only the rhetoric differs. All the empires I know of routinely attack peoples and countries that have done nothing whatsoever to the aggressor, and indeed lack the capacity to inflict any such harm. Europeans and Americans usually branded the indigenous peoples they exterminated and enslaved as "bloodthirsty savages" who fully deserved their fate. Of course, whoever fired the first shot in any particular colonial or Indian war or "rebellion," the imperialist, occupying power was the true aggressor. There is absolutely no moral or other difference between the Indians wars that were "started" by white Americans and those immediately precipitated by Native Americans who, while suffering from wholesale expropriation and extermination, had not, within the previous half hour, been directly assaulted by the whites.

In the twentieth century, the United States directly exterminated untold millions all over the world - in Central and South America, Africa, Asia - by direct invasion, economic policies, overthrow of governments, arming mass-murdering dictators, and other means. American invasions of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Vietnam, Cambodia, Colombia, and countless other countries were not verbally justified as pre-emptive; the American government claimed that it had been attacked or was endangered. But such rhetoric was, and is, fatuous even on its own terms.

Take Theodore Roosevelt's notorious "corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine - which was itself only a rhetorical change from traditional imperial policy. Roosevelt said:

indentChronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power....

We would interfere with [other nations] only in the last resort, and then only if it became evident that their inability or unwillingness to do justice and home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations..... [more here, ad nauseam]end indent

This is rhetorically much different from the Bushite doctrine of pre-emptive strikes. It requires that a nation have actually committed, rather than merely contemplating, "chronic wrongdoing." Yet in fact, because the United States itself defined "wrongdoing," and appointed itself judge, jury, and executioner of "wrongdoers," the Roosevelt Corollary (which itself, as I said, merely codified and expressed the traditional policy of the United States and all other empires, not only in the Western Hemisphere but everywhere), was itself a carte blanche for American imperialism wherever and whenever war, invasion, or other forms of mass murder suited the United States. It was not only "pre-emptive" with a vengeance, but did not actually require that the "enemy" have done anything to anyone. The U.S. forced Japan at gunpoint to trade with it (1850s, long before Roosevelt). It also helped in the torture and massacre of the Boxer "rebels" in China (1900) - but then the "Boxers" had "rebelled" against European and foreign aggression in their own country. And of course we all know that Colombia, and Panama, attacked the United States in 1903, as did Nicaragua, Haiti, and other mighty nations during this same period.

I am somewhat surprised that so many well-intentioned people miss these facts, and genuinely believe that Bush's policy departs from traditional American (or Churchillian or Hitlerite) policy. (By the way, Sven Lindqvist's new The History of Bombing, part of which appeared in Harper's, demonstrates that the first terror bombings of civilian populations from airplanes included those committed by the British Empire - in, of all places, Afghanistan, starting in 1915.)

Suppose I, Cliff Hawkins, proclaim to the world that I will kill anyone:

indent- who participated in the assassinations of both Julius Caesar and Charlemagne (the latter lived about eight centuries after the former, and died peacefully in bed)

- who drives one mile per hour above the speed limit

- who does anything I don't like

- who in my sovereign opinion might be contemplating, or might in the future contemplate, doing something I don't likeendindent

On the surface, these seem like far different policies or threats. But in fact, if I am the only one who decides who meets any of these criteria, there are no operational or practical differences between them at all. Under the first and most seemingly "lenient" policy I merely accuse people I want to kill with participating in the assassinations of Caesar and Charlemagne, and then kill them.

The United States and all other white European empires have routinely charged peoples and governments they were intent on killing, enslaving, or overthrowing, with committing crimes as ludicrously impossible as assassinating both Caesar and Charlemagne. When Hitler accused "international Jewry" of starting World War II, this was no more insane or vile than accusing "the Jews" of crucifying Christ or of butchering Christian children to use their blood for Passover wafers - which most Christians for many centuries charged, and, in many cases, still assert. (The Catholic Church only "absolved" the Jews for crucifying Christ in 1965. Better late than never, I suppose). The policy of all empires I know of is: "We will kill and enslave whoever we want, whenever and wherever we want, without consulting anyone, unless limited consultation is in our perceived self-interest."

[To be continued.]

Cliff Hawkins (cchawkins@earthlink.net) received his Ph.D. in history (United States) from the University of California at Davis in June 2000. His dissertation was "Race First versus Class First: An Intellectual History of Afro-American Radicalism, 1911-1928.”