For many years the US was a beacon of light and hope to many. It was easy for the dazzled and awestruck to come up with evidence in defence of that country that in the mere two centuries since its appearance on the world map as an independent nation had accomplished more than any other nation in history. That gleaming new and modern nation had become the most powerful, wealthiest and most influential nation on earth. Its political, economic and social systems were models of dynamism, efficiency and achievement. The American way of life amazed, inspired and lured people around the world. More importantly, that country’s awesome material might remained subordinated to the moral might of the country that was the most democratic on earth, the most respectful of law and vigilant in its defence of human liberties and the rights of peoples to self-determination.
Not all, however, were gripped by this image. For some, the image of the US was bleak and far from noble. To them, the history of the US was an uninterrupted train of colonialist expansionism, violence and racism. The train of violence had been set into motion even before the founding of the state, with the beginning of the systematic genocide of the indigenous population, and continued through the dropping of two atom bombs on Japanese cities without any military justification whatsoever. The American history of racism began with the importation of millions of Africans to be sold into slavery and it certainly did not end with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. America’s record of imperialist expansionism began with the extension of its western frontiers to the Pacific and continued beyond the establishment of its current boundaries by means of its drive to expand its sphere of influence and control, starting with the Western hemisphere (in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823) and ending with its current hegemony over the international order, a status it is now in the process of trying to secure.
Two antithetical images, but neither belies the important fact that the US in the post-World War II period was far less ugly than colonialist Europe and the Stalinist Soviet Union. Certainly, the presence of rivals on the international stage, regardless of whether it planned on eventually inheriting their estates or containing them, helped restrain Washington’s thirst for power and control, smoothing the way to the helm inside the US for more liberal political forces, be they Republican or Democrat. Yet once it succeeded in elbowing Europe to the side, after the 1956 crisis, and in tying Soviet hands in the Middle East following the 1973 War, the American right wing gradually gained ground and eventually moved into the White House in 1980. Then, following the elimination of the Soviet rival for good, the even more racist and fanatical ultra right grew stronger until it succeeded in taking control over the White House and installing in the Oval Office a repentant alcoholic called George W Bush. With this development, the American drive for global hegemony moved up into full gear.
It is impossible for anyone now to mistake America’s international bearing. The beast has shed all remnants of sheep’s clothing and run rampant, and the ravages in Iraq and Palestine, in particular, testify to a mode of ferocity next to which even the brutal ages of colonialism pale. A power that devastates a country with an ancient civilisation, such as Iraq, causing the death of more than a million of its people and the displacement of a quarter of its population; that permits a blockade intended to starve a defenceless people into submission; that commits horrifically brutal human rights violations in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s secret prisons around the world, can not by any stretch of the imagination be called democratic or civilised.
It is difficult to conceive how such a vibrant society as that in the US could produce such a foolhardy, rash and contemptuous administration. Even supposing that a people had not thought very clearly in 2000, how could they have made the same mistake and voted Bush into power for a second time in 2004 in the face of all the evidence of his gross incompetence and criminal deceit? Surely the only possible explanation is that there is something wrong with American society and that the George W Bush phenomenon is not a passing anomaly but rather a reflection of a deep and powerful current of opinion and interests in that society.
True, US society has finally begun to wake up, albeit very late in the day, and has punished Bush in the legislative elections of November 2006 by depriving him of a congressional majority. However, this by no means suggests that a corrective revolution has erupted or that Barack Obama already has a foot in the Oval Office. American society is still deeply divided and all possibilities remain open, including the victory of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who is a rational extension of everything Bush stands for and, therefore, more dangerous. Also, despite his congressional setback, Bush appears so smug in his confidence regarding his base of support that it is impossible to rule out yet another reckless folly engaged under his administration, such as an assault on Iran.
In an article published online 12 April, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan lists several reasons why “the neocons may get their war on Iran” before Bush leaves the White House. He observes that, in early 2007, Nancy Pelosi withdrew a resolution that would have denied Bush the authority to attack Iran without congressional approval. In September, both houses passed the Kyl-Lieberman resolution designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organisation. “Courtesy of Congress”, he writes, “Bush thus has a blank check for war on Iran. And the signs are growing that he intends to fill it in and cash it.” Among these signs are the major military manoeuvres that took place in the region in the wake of Cheney’s tour. Apart from the trouble Iran is ostensibly causing the US in Iraq, Buchanan notes that Bush has another incentive to go to war: it will drive a wedge between the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton — who voted for the Kyl- Lieberman resolution — and Obama. With the Democrats at each other’s throats, the path to the White House will be pretty well cleared for McCain.
It would not surprise me if this scenario, which appears to mirror a deep and disturbing facet of US society, comes to pass. But why has this voracious power drive singled out the Middle East and the Arab and Muslim peoples, in particular, for its most brutal forms of aggression?
The Israel or Zionist factor is surely one of the most obvious keys, and it would be naïve to disregard it. Although I am not among those inclined to attribute US policy orientation in the Middle East to the Zionist lobby alone, there is no denying its influence. A relatively new phenomenon in the US, awareness is dawning among a slowly but steadily growing segment of American opinion of the power of the Zionist lobby and the extent to which it jeopardises American strategic interests. Not that this is the first time voices have cried out in the US against the Zionist lobby’s ways of asserting its influence on American decision- making centres and hounding out opponents. We all remember Paul Findley’s They Dared to Speak Out (1982), which exposed the tactics the Zionist lobby used to, among other things, bring about his electoral defeat in the 1982 congressional elections. However, never before has it been possible to come across so many prominent names in American political and academic circles that have begun to level open and harsh criticism at Israel and its advocates in the US. Not least of these are former US President Jimmy Carter who, two years ago, published Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, and Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer who jointly produced The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, a lengthy and thoroughly documented study on the extent to which that lobby has shaped US policy on the Middle East to promote Israeli over American interests.
The title of Carter’s book speaks for itself. It criticises Israeli policies on settlement expansion and the construction of the apartheid wall as reminiscent of the racist policies of former apartheid South Africa. The former president appears to have weathered the storm his book triggered and the campaign of personal vilification that predictably labelled him anti-Semitic. Apparently he is now preparing for a visit to Damascus to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, which I regard as another important step towards breaking Zionist taboos.
The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy originally appeared in the London Review of Books, having initially been turned down for publication by Harvard University Press. Despite ferocious attacks from the Zionist lobby, it evolved into a 500-page bestseller. The book is significant not only because of its scholastic thoroughness but also because of the academic eminence of its authors, one the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and professor of international relations and the other a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. The book furnishes extensive corroboration of the extent to which the influence of the Zionist lobby has penetrated the White House, congress, research centres, the media, universities and other important forums for influencing decision-makers and American public opinion. Among the most significant conclusions of the Walt and Mearsheimer work is that the Zionist lobby was highly instrumental in drawing the US into the war on Iraq and that it is now campaigning to propel the US into another war, this time against Iran.
The book is a breath of fresh air in thinking on US Middle East policy in American academic circles, and it is acquiring some respectable company. The Washington Quarterly, an international affairs journal, recently featured an article entitled “After Iraq: Future US military posture in the Middle East”. Written by Bradley L Bowman, the article reaches the conclusion — startling to Americans, perhaps — that the US military presence in the region is the leading source of an unprecedented rise and spread of terrorism therein.
However, there is little to be gained from chasing rainbows. The blind support for Israel in the US is too strong to be shaken, to which testifies the recently adopted House of Representatives Resolution 185 on the recognition of the rights of “Jewish refugees” from the Middle East. The resolution is not binding, but it is a sign of the shape of things to come, unless someone comes along to save the US from itself and from Israel, and in doing so to save mankind.