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Is it War?

 

By Edward Said

 

Hillary Clinton was right, I think, when she appeared on television a few days ago to place responsibility for the media storm over the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky cases on a right-wing conspiracy . It appears that as the century comes to an end, the confrontation between the so-called left and right wing in the United States has entered a stage of unprecedented viciousness and inflexibility, which may well negatively impact the rest of the world. It is difficult for me to use the expression conspiracy in a political context, particularly when it is used to cover the wide range of factors that make up this issue. However, if the term means a series of interrelated steps and intentions, then it is appropriate.

 

The Core of the Issue

The core of the issue at the domestic level is whether the liberal trend which has marked American politics since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt (which ended in 1945) will continue or come to an end. It was this liberal movement which gave us the policies and institutions which are currently disintegrating or at least are threatened with disintegration, such as Social Security, rising taxes, free education, labor laws, unions and the social welfare system which determines the minimum wage and supports the disabled and underprivileged.

The liberal movement fully emerged Lyndon Johnson's presidency [1963-1968], with the ratification of the Civil Rights Bill, the flourishing of the women's movement, the expansion of social services, housing and affirmative action to redress discrimination against minorities in education and work . These are the requirements of a great society , as Johnson called it. However Ronald Reagan's reign, beginning in 1980 (the Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford did not influence the trend significantly), saw a gradual withdrawal from the principles of social and economic equality and an attack on the idea of big government , an American euphemism for government controls on capitalism.

One of the many shortcomings of Jimmy Carter's administration was his concentration on cutting government expenditures, which in turn lessened the social and economic controls on the capitalist market. Then Ronald Reagan began his first term with an all-out attack on the idea of the state's responsibility to its citizens by breaking the backs of the labor unions and giving tax breaks to big business and the rich. Carter too attacked the welfare and Social Security systems and affirmative action. But perhaps the most important fact was Reagan's open alliance with the Christian conservative movement in the southern and western United States.

Abroad, Reagan's foreign policies heightened the Cold War, dramatically increased defense expenditures, continued the attack on the principle of internationalism, scaled down US cooperation with the United Nations, and, regionally, abandoned the good neighbor policy. George Bush then followed in Reagan's footsteps. Bush's foreign policy culminated in the 1991 Gulf war, in which he proved that the United States was capable of crushing military intervention in any part of the world. The United States is currently acting as it won the Cold War and is the ruler of the world , as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright never tires of repeating, with no one completely understanding the real meaning of the expression.

 

Religion

Religion in the US plays a much greater role than most foreign observers imagine, to the extent that it dwarfs so-called Islamic fundamentalism . Approximately 200 million Americans belong to one of the numerous religious sects, most of which adopt a conservative, extremist line which opposes foreigners, women, the right to an abortion, labor unions, the welfare system, and taxes. In the corporate and political worlds, followers of this movement are known as the neoconservatives , a significant proportion of whom are former liberals who changed sides.

There are numerous contradictions in US policy. However, there is a common factor linking its various components which is, as the eminent historian Richard Hofstader wrote some 40 years ago, a culture of hatred. One of the symptoms of this is suspicion of everything that is not simple, original and direct and moreover, in ideological terms, suspicion of anything that is not American that is, it rejects everything but those values which can be used easily by demagogues and unrestrained right-wingers. The key word here is freedom which for them includes the freedom to own and use firearms; freedom of trade and unrestricted use of the market, even if it leads to serious health or moral damage; and above all else freedom for the United States to impose its will on the rest of the world.

Bill Clinton, with his political savvy, has been able to use these aspects of American political life, which have always included a great deal of deception and outright lies. For example, the United States always extols the virtues of freedom of trade and pressures weaker and poorer countries to cancel any trade restrictions and allow the private sector to flourish, and to do away with price subsidies which protect the poor. But in reality, the United States fiercely protects its own economy and to this end wages trade wars with Japan and China the direct opposite of what it demands from the rest of the world.

The United States also says that it opposes the proliferation of arms. Nonetheless, the US is the largest supplier of weapons in the world. The US has signed only the biological weapons treaty; it refuses to sign the nuclear and biological weapons conventions and the agreement on the banning of land mines. The US pretends to support the United Nations, but has not paid the dues it owes the international organization and is not committed to UN resolutions and charters. All this is justified by what can be termed the American religion an unblemished faith in the uniqueness of America and the grace of God which shines on the United States alone out of all countries in the world. It comes as no surprise that in a recent opinion poll, 86 percent of Americans felt that God gives them special love.

Despite the scenes carefully crafted-for-television consumption, which show Clinton at church holding a Bible, many right-wingers see him as an impostor who does not believe in religion. [To them,] Clinton's intermittent attempts to support affirmative action; guarantee the minimum wage; support freedom of choice (in abortion, a key issue for American liberals); and refuse to lower taxes all indicate that he belongs to the extreme left. The accusation becomes even uglier when it is directed at Clinton's wife Hillary, with her acute intelligence, strong personality and political strength. These characteristics usually bring her either great admiration or the bitterest enmity.

However, there is no doubt that the investigations into Clinton's financial past which is not unclouded but which certainly can't be any worse than the behavior of Republican politicians such as Senator Alphonse D'Amato of New York or Jesse Helms of North Carolina are part of a larger plan to eliminate any stragglers from the liberal movement stretching back to the Roosevelt and Johnson eras.

Since the US media is affected first and last by commercial pressures, they can say almost anything about President Clinton now, even accusing him of murder, drug-smuggling, theft and, of course, adultery. The fiery religious fervor shining from the eyes of people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson is truly frightening, because we know that these people and their followers can be incited to acts of the most extreme stupidity and even violence.

 

An Extremely Provocative Step

Netanyahu's deliberate intervention in this domestic conflict was a bold and extremely provocative, even ridiculous, step. It also poses a threat to Clinton's domestic power. I think that, after being weakened by the Jones and Lewinsky scandals (both of which would have no real grounds if not for independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr, an far right-winger opposed to Clinton), the president will not do anything with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process but will only pretend to participate. The Arab hope which has been placed on Washington are an illusion based on a pitiful misunderstanding of American policy. Bill Clinton, who is fundamentally and ideologically biased toward Israel and Judaism, cannot risk starting an all-out war with either the Christian or Jewish right-wing over trivial issues such as the rights of the Palestinians or even the requirements of human justice. However, the danger is that Clinton is not listening to his advisors or to public opinion, except for the necessity of attacking Iraq.

The New York Times recently published two editorials, one by former editor I. M. Rosenthal, a Jewish Likud extremist, and the second by two rising stars in Republican right-wing circles, William Krystol and Robert Kagan. The two articles urged Clinton not to be satisfied with just bombing Iraq but to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which in practical terms means totally destroying Iraq by merciless bombardment and then occupying the country using the four heavy artillery teams and two aircraft carrier teams now in the Gulf. There is clearly enormous cooperation among extreme conservatives opposing Clinton, trying to push him into a war from which he may not easily be able to withdraw, with no thought for the consequences. I also have no doubt that Clinton himself sees the war as a way to focus public attention away from his domestic problems. However, the crisis in Iraq has been going on now for more than four months without a war. I think we can conclude from this that the UN, and the Arab and European countries are not happy with the military option, or the overriding question: What is the next possible step after a military strike?

Something else that must be considered is Saddam Hussein's possible response if he really does have the weapons that Richard Butler, head of UNSCOM, accuses him of hiding. It is possible that Clinton has held back up until now because of these consideration and the risks present in escalating the conflict, and the potential human, material and environmental losses which would be unavoidable.

However, I believe there is evil and ill-intentioned pressure building on President Clinton from conservative Christians and their right-wing Jewish allies to push him into a disastrous war which would result in Clinton's destruction as well as Iraq's. The strongest voices in the pro-war chorus are those of politicians closest to Israel who may place a higher value on Israeli interests rather than those of the United States. I would think that, at least for now, there will be no war as long as President Clinton is able to withstand the pressure. But at the same time, the pressure against him personally is rising, which makes war against Iraq his only choice.

What is most unfortunate is that there is no unified Arab position towards the United States, just as within the United States, there are no political sectors working against a new war in the Gulf. This political vacuum benefits those who are prepared to risk incurring huge losses in order to secure the goals they consider to be sacred. They include the groups [on the Christian right] which Israel decided to use to its own advantage, because the underlying message behind the chorus of attacks on Clinton and the incitement to war is that the destruction of Iraq and the disposal of Bill Clinton would benefit both Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel.

 


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