Bush’s State of the Empire Speech
Bush’s “State of the Union” speech was not in praise of “America” as he claimed–it was about fascism at home and imperialism abroad. It was a speech in praise of conquests of Third World countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), the celebration of force as an instrument of political blackmail (Libya) and a declaration of new imperial impositions in the entire Middle East.
The speech reiterated the most retrograde elements of the Bush doctrine: The unilateral use of force, preventive war, the supremacy of U.S. imperial dictates over the national sovereignty of enemies and allies. The smiling President glorifying U.S. imperial conquests while his sycophants and partisans, who packed the Congress, cheered, was a version of ‘Nuremberg lite’: A choreographed scenario to exalt the accomplishments of the imperial president.
The emperor denied imperial intentions even as he defended imperial conquests and projected new military expeditions. Bush’s speech went beyond ‘triumphalism’ and mendacity: It was a surreal vision that placed the U.S. in the center of a divine universe, in which the Chosen People would exterminate its enemies and forcibly enlighten its reluctant allies.
Bush spoke as a millenarian, slaying devils (terrorists) with a righteous sword (or cluster bombs), an ordained, anointed disciple of God. Between triumphalism and celebration, however the emperor sowed the fear of enemy violence to sustain the imperialist mission.
Paranoia complemented the divine mission. “Terrorism” was everywhere, hidden and disguised, the evil force, which at any moment, could reproduce September 11, 2001.
The imperial ideology of triumphalism was juxtaposed to permanent vulnerability, celebration with fear. The illogic of this contradictory discourse however doesn’t matter. What does matter is power. Triumphalist rhetoric was used to capture domestic resources (inflated military budgets and soldiers) to continue a colonial war and paranoia to justify the concentration of dictatorial powers (via the PATRIOT Act) to repress, silence and cow the anti-war opposition.
Nothing mundane or factual was allowed to interfere with the building of this glorious vision of World Empire. No mention of the hundreds of U.S. soldiers killed, thousands maimed and dismembered, scores of suicides and thousands of mentally disturbed.
Bush did not mention the U.S. dead and wounded, not merely because they didn’t serve the purpose of exalting empire, but because they demonstrated that the U.S. soldiers are vulnerable (they were not God’s chosen and protected ‘supermen’) and that the colonized people were effectively resisting the “invincible military machine.”
As Bush and his inner circle know full well, each victory for the Iraqi resistance, each U.S. casualty erodes his electoral support, undermines Rumsfeld’s “Will to Power.” Defeats in Iraq make a mockery of the Pentagon-Zionist-Militarist vision of unlimited wars in the Middle East. The militarist-Zionist millenarian vision of successive military conquests (after Iraq, Syria, Iran and others) has been shattered by the battles in the suburbs of Baghdad, the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Basra, the roadmines everywhere.
The Iraqi resistance has put the lie to the racist image of Arab haters in the Pentagon and their colleagues in Israel. The Arabs are neither cowed by U.S. military power nor incapable of organizing resistance. It is the U.S. soldiers in the hundreds who are resigning from the military. It is the U.S. government which is desperately begging for mercenaries from Central America to replace the demoralized U.S. forces.
Guns and Butter
Bush’s report on the state of the Empire, necessarily included a sweeping panegyric about the domestic social and economic successes of his regime. The empire was built of “guns and butter”, or so his message was supposed to convey. But here, the story was less credible even to the most backward, chauvinist sector of the U.S. public.
Most people know that 3 million U.S. workers have lost their jobs over the past three years. Over two-thirds of the population know that the private health and pharmaceutical plans are failing and that Bush’s policies have increased the vulnerability of everyone but the very rich. It is precisely because Bush knows that over 60 per cent of the U.S. public rejects his social policies, that he emphasized the need to extend the repressive PATRIOT Act, with its clauses enabling the President to suspend all democratic rights.
Cloaked in the rhetoric of “defending the American people,” there was no mention of the 80 per cent unemployed in Iraq, the bombing of villages in Afghanistan, the daily slaughter of Palestinians, the abusive police-state treatment of non-Europeans visiting the U.S.–who are presumed guilty (photographed and fingerprinted) and must prove their innocence.
Bush is in total denial of the fragile domestic foundations of empire; the massive transfer of state funds from the “republic” (domestic economy) to finance the empire, producing massive budget deficits of over $400 billion in 2003. Blinded by imperial economic expansion he refuses to see that the outflow of capital and exports by U.S. overseas subsidiaries are creating a monstrous trade deficit and undermining the credibility of the dollar. Bush believes that the “American people” must sacrifice for the greater good of his virtuous empire. With the total support of the quasistate mass media, the message is spread in the U.S. and throughout the world, but the reception in the world is different from the U.S. Le Monde reports that after Bush’s speech, two-thirds of its readers felt that the U.S. represents a grave threat to world peace. The same opinions were expressed in the rest of the world (with the exception of Israel). In the United States less than 15 per cent of the people listened to the speech, and apart from the convinced, few voiced any outward support. A day after the speech there was more interest in the Superbowl football championship game two weeks away than in Bush’s oratory.
This U.S. version of fascism is quite distinct from its German predecessor: It buys votes with hundreds of millions of dollars in mass media propaganda; it does not coerce approval, it does not overtly terrorize the population, it simply sows paranoia of the “others”. There are no mass organization and mass spectaculars to mesmerize the population; instead there are frivolity and banal lies to alienate voters and produce an abstention rate of over 50 per cent. The next U.S. President will be elected by less than 20 per cent of the potential electorate, given 50 per cent abstention, the exclusion of “illegal” immigrants (10 million) and former prisoners (4 million). If this exclusionary electoral process is not sufficient to ensure the appropriate outcome, there can be voter fraud, exclusion and judicial interference.
This is ‘fascism lite’ but it holds the potential for the other, heavy version. The former commander of the U.S. invasion force in Iraq, General Tommy Frank (a close adviser to Bush) recently declared that if there is another “major attack” in the U.S., the Constitution should be suspended and martial law should be declared, and military tribunals established to try suspects. Bush’s repeated defense of the PATRIOT Act echoes General Frank’s overt fascist pronouncements. In other words, any regime-instigated provocation can shift the fragile balance to fascism.
Authoritarianism in pursuit of imperialism faces two fundamental obstacles–the democratic and armed resistance in Iraq and the decline of the U.S. republic. The Davos meeting of the ruling elites is troubled by the decline in the dollar, the U.S. trade deficit and its fiscal deficit, but it supported and still supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq, refusing to recognize the relationship between imperialist expansion and republican decay. The dilemma of the Davos elite is the Left’s opportunity: The greater our solidarity with an Iraqi resistance, which weakens the colonial army, the greater the likelihood we will succeed in building social movements and ‘re-founding’ the democratic republic in the U.S. and strengthening the mass revolutionary movements in the Third World.
James Petras is a member of the CD editorial collective.