Monday, May 30, 2005

Having an Empire Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

thanks for the memories — enjoy your picnic

Once again, from Friday's graduation speech at the Naval Academy:
We're using all elements of national power to deny terrorists the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons they seek. We will not allow mass murderers to gain access to the tools of mass destruction. And we're stopping terrorists from achieving their ideological victories they seek, by working to spread the hope of freedom and reform across the broader Middle East. We understand that free nations do not support terrorists or invade their neighbors. We understand to make the world more peaceful and our country more secure, we will advance the cause of liberty.
And this from Saturday's radio address:
This Memorial Day, we remember ... all who have given their lives for our nation. And we honor them as we continue to wage the war on terror and spread freedom across the world. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan are determined to secure their freedom, and we will help them. We're training Iraqi and Afghan forces so they can take the fight to the enemy and defend their own countries, and then our troops will return home with the honor they have earned.

Throughout our history, America has fought not to conquer but to liberate. We go to war reluctantly, because we understand the high cost of war. Those who have given their lives to defend America have the respect and gratitude of our entire nation.
As for those whose brief, hideous lives are extinguished in wars sustained by American arms sales, it would be really helpful if we could forget that. As a new report from the World Policy Institute reminds us, the rhetoric of liberty is quite an inexpensive investment, especially when contradicting it brings such fabulous rewards:
In 2003, the last year for which full information is available, the United States transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts. From Angola, Chad and Ethiopia, to Colombia, Pakistan and the Philippines, transfers through the two largest U.S. arms sales programs (Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales) to these conflict nations totaled nearly $1 billion in 2003, with the vast bulk of the dollar volume going to Israel ($845.6 million).

In 2003, more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world (13 of 25) were defined as undemocratic by the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report: in the sense that "citizens do not have the right to change their own government" or that right was seriously abridged. These 13 nations received over $2.7 billion in U.S. arms transfers under the Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales programs in 2003, with the top recipients including Saudi Arabia ($1.1 billion), Egypt ($1.0 billion), Kuwait ($153 million), the United Arab Emirates ($110 million) and Uzbekistan ($33 million).

When countries designated by the State Department’s Human Rights Report to have poor human rights records or serious patterns of abuse are factored in, 20 of the top 25 U.S. arms clients in the developing world in 2003-- a full 80%-- were either undemocratic regimes or governments with records of major human rights abuses.
If the fondness for oversimplification within the Bush administration had not already been exposed by our grotesque failures in Iraq and Afghanistan (1, 2), a report like this might provoke more howls of outrage. Instead, the duplicity of US policy has become such an exhausted proverb that the NY Times can only muster the enthusiasm to cover this story in its business section. The neoconservatives who write for the Weekly Standard, eat donuts and drain fellowship dollars from the American Enterprise Institute, or clog the Vice President's office are notably fond of the sort of "freedom talk" in which the president so obediently and smirkingly indulges. Yet this report underscores what might otherwise be regarded as a deep contradiction between the prose of neoconservatism — with its emphasis on democracy and its operatic vision of American global leadership — and the less seemly realities of the global arms market. From the 1970s onward, neoconservatives articulated the identity of the United States as being rooted in a strong military, messianic commitments to self-determination for all the world, a sense of near-total responsibility for the international order, and the resulting obligations to challenge those who defy American values. All this sounds positively delightful — or at least vaguely coherent — until one realizes that the pursuit of the first goal (national defense) has generated the sort of grotesque overproduction that can only be absorbed by international markets that grievously compromise the second goal (the spread of democracy) while ensuring a constant supply of challengers to "American values" (or at least to the recipients of our militarized generosity).

In the late 19th century, American imperialists sought new markets for US manufactures and agricultural goods; since the conclusion of the second World War, and especially since the demise of the Soviet Union eliminated any pretense of restraint from the market, arms sales — and the corpses we refuse to acknowledge or count — have subsidized the emergence of the new American imperium. Neoconservatives like Kristol, Wolfowitz, Perle, Ledeen and Feith are apt to compare the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) with the cold war struggle against the Soviet Union (or at least its Reagan-era incarnations). In nearly every respect, these comparisons are unpersuasive distortions of history. This report, however, reminds us that when it comes to the unwise provision of military assistance to heinous regimes, the political calculations that drove the cold war are still quite vivid. After all, as the NY Times put it on Sunday, "There's Democracy, and There's an Oil Pipeline."

Happy Memorial Day.