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War as Peace: A Dangerous Concept
Analysis of President George W Bush's State of the Union Address
Horace Campbell and Sreeram Chaulia
In his State of the Union address delivered before the joint houses of Congress in Washington D.C, President George Bush drove home that he was going to war in order to achieve peace. Outlining why it was necessary for the US government to launch a war against the state and people of Iraq, he noted, "We seek peace. We strive for peace. And sometimes peace must be defended. A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all. If a war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means- sparing in every way, the innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the US military – and we will prevail."
These words communicated the philosophies of ‘just cause' and ‘just war' and rekindled the classic realist view that the best way to obtain peace is to prepare for war. The State of the Union speech left no doubt in the minds of the ordinary US citizen that her country was on the brink of a major military adventure in the Middle East. Bush delivered this message in an aggressive and belligerent tone, with the vow that America is prepared to fight "every danger, every enemy." It was a telling opening comment from the head of an administration that spelt out to Bob Woodward the pre-emptive doctrine of neo-imperialist leaders forever on the lookout for new enemies and dangers. The main corpus of this doctrine was published in the book, Bush at War.
To the uninitiated, Bush's speech represented the concerns of a compassionate but dedicated President who cares about the state of the Union (strong) and the economy (recovering). One newspaper captured the three-pronged exertions of the President in this way, "Bush: Grow Economy, Fix Medicare and Prepare for War." The clear lesson was that war was also necessary for fixing the economy and ensuring that Americans remain a "free people."
Contradictions within contradictions
The contradictory position of the President is comparable to the fate of a candle maker in the era of the discovery of electricity. Revolutionary technologies of this biotech era require new thinking, but entrenched investments in the oil industry mean that Bush and his allies are still willing to go to war to control oil fields.
Protesters marching on streets are proclaiming, "No Blood for Oil," and so, the speech writers of the President forked out a long-held view among American policymakers that the world's largest energy consumer is being held hostage by Arab countries owing to their petroleum oligarchy. The reference to hydrogen fuel cell technology was used as an alibi, i.e. a crafty rebuttal of peace activist criticism that Bush is interested mainly in Iraq's 112 billion barrels of oil. Mentioning hydrogen power as a wave of the future is a reminder that American companies like the Connecticut-based UTC Fuel Cells will be the energy leaders of the future. It is also Bush's way of defending himself by asserting that traditional fossil-fuel extracting petroleum bigwigs like Exxon Mobil are not controlling US foreign policy.
But if the current state of fuel cell research is probed, Bush's interest in Iraq attains a new dimension and rationale. Iraq possesses as much as 326 trillion cubic feet of hydrocarbon gas, from which hydrogen can be easily separated for commercial use. Thus far, scientists have failed to fully develop the technology to separate hydrogen from natural air and therefore, fuel cells cannot yet be derived from a renewable source. Iraqi hydrocarbon fields are definitely a prized booty in the minds of the war planners.
Bush and the Palestinian self-determination project
Throughout the Middle East and North Eastern Africa the unresolved issue of Palestine is a destabilising factor in the lives of ordinary people. This has become vivid as the US increases its military and security presence in Africa, especially Djibouti and Kenya. The bombing of American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998 and the recent bombing of a hotel in Kenya are examples of how Africa is being diverted and dragged into the present war on terrorism at a moment when most Africans believe that the number one human security problem of the world today is the HIV-AIDS pandemic.
Bush and AIDS
The advantage Bush sees in starting massive Congressional spending on AIDS is that it will benefit the gigantic pharmaceutical sector, which is the second largest industry in the US economy after the military-industrial-information complex. Bill Frist, the new leader in the Senate, represents this vested interest and his face was prominently displayed when Bush announced the AIDS Plan. Merck, Bristol-Myers, Abbot, Roche, Glaxo-Smithkline and other drug corporations inspired the anti-generic drugs TRIPS case in South Africa. When ‘public health' was set aside at the WTO as an exception to which intellectual property rights cannot be applied, the pharmaceutical conglomerates lost their strategic entry deterrence and began facing heavy competition from cheap makers of anti-retrovirals like the Indian companies, CIPLA and Ranbaxy. No longer able to monopolise the African market, US drug manufacturers drastically reduced the prices of their AIDS cocktails to remain competitive. Bush's AIDS Relief Plan will open the way for these discredited manufacturers to re-enter the African market and regain public and governmental confidence.
The prime initiative of the US government in Africa is known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act. In numerous forums, policymakers and thinkers are describing AGOA's agenda of unilaterally prising open African markets and economies as "modern slavery." This denunciation is accompanied by a call for the US to release all information on biological and chemical warfare trials that were associated with Emerging Viruses in the apartheid era. It is one more demand by Africans as an integral part of the quest for reparations, truth and justice.
More significantly, Bush's pledge to assist Africa must be seen in the context of the call of Representative Charles Rangel to restore the draft. In an article in the New York Times, Rangel drew attention to the disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Americans of color in the armed forces. Representative Conyers was quoted on Jan. 3, "It has unfortunately become the duty of someone else's child to go to war and die, as the privileged evade the tragic consequences of war." This statement resonated throughout the black community as it visualised black youths going off to die for a vain cause in Iraq.
Conservatives were perturbed by the discussion and senior Republicans responded to Charles Rangel. In one commentary, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger insisted that African Americans were in the armed forces due to their loyalty to the country. It is this recent debate on the war and Africans at home and abroad that best explains the newfound compassion of George Bush towards Africans and African Americans who are dying of AIDS. AIDS is the leading cause of death among African Americans between the ages of 22 to 40.
Bush, privatised medicine and the deficit
The deep economic crisis in American society is reproduced daily in the newspapers via stark stories of the difficulties facing millions of ordinary US citizens. Bush's tax plans, instead of aiding poor Americans in need, benefit the one percent of the US population that controls levers of power. The same day that the President announced intentions of going to war that will cost more than US $60 billion (excluding post-Saddam occupation costs), the New York Times reported that the projected budgetary deficit for 2003 would exceed US $300 billion.
Bush and the Dollar-Euro war
This was the strongest rebuke of the US President by his NATO allies, who more or less accused him personally of failure. The picture of France and Germany standing together against Bush and Blair mirrors the emerging struggle between the Euro and the dollar. Bush's confident espousal in the speech of "going it alone" against Iraq reflects the subterranean trans-Atlantic currency war.
Bush as military leader
On Afghanistan, Bush took on critics who say Al Qaeda has been forgotten in the chase for Iraq. He claimed that Afghanistan has been "liberated" and that the country was enjoying a peace dividend. This contrasts sharply with the UN view that lawlessness and violence against women have increased all over the Afghan countryside and the threat of terrorism has not subsided at all. Bush listed top Al Qaeda catches in Asia, Europe and North America as proof that "we are winning" the war against terrorists who are "learning the meaning of American justice", again a lot of braggadocio which covers up the fact that except unseating Taliban, no major US objective has so far been achieved in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Mullah Omar is said to be riding a bicycle and roaming freely all over Waziristan area of Pakistan and the intelligence and military cooperation General Musharraf is providing to the US is absurdly poor.
Sticking to his "axis of evil" bashing, Bush harshly criticized the governments of North Korea and Iran for violating international norms and promoting terrorism. He stole the liberal line by extending solidarity for secular anti-fundamentalist students and reformers in Iran, but excoriated the Iranian government. This can be interpreted as an expression of displeasure at the lack of (or low level of) Iranian support for US war designs in Iraq. Alternatively, it is a warning to Iran that unless it kowtows to the US, once Baghdad is occupied, Bush will start plotting ‘regime change' in Tehran as well.
To secure America against "evil men", Bush announced that his pet project of "protecting this nation against ballistic missiles", Nuclear Missile Defense, will enter deployment this year. Another measure for homeland security that he inaugurated was a ‘Project BioShield' to defend the US against bacteriological attack. A practical question that crops up with the justifications for these extravagant projects is why a weak and poor country like North Korea or Iraq would risk national decimation by launching a missile or biological attack on America. Surely, Bush is being cynical when he claims these ‘rogue states' are totally irrational.
Poor case for war against Iraq
Downplaying nuclear weapons proliferation, now that Mohammad El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency has said no evidence of a renewed nuclear program was found in Iraq, Bush launched into a long diatribe on chemical weapons production in Iraq. Reminding that Saddam Hussein has "ambitions of conquest," Bush asked rhetorically why he was developing weapons of mass destruction if not to use them on his enemies. Bush also reported to the audience knowledge that Iraqi intelligence had clandestine links to anti-American terrorists. Each of these charges has been proven by independent experts to be baseless.
Bush as a man of peace
Trying to marry humanitarianism to his militarism, Bush then promised "food, medicines, supplies and freedom" to the people of Iraq, sweetening the pill of military destruction that would be unleashed by American fighter aircraft. Reaching a crescendo towards the end, Bush intoned, "the day he (Saddam) and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation." The emphasis was on ‘your', as if Americans will really start basking in greater freedom if there is regime change in Iraq. Though it is a puzzling logic, Congressmen stood up at this point in a bipartisan manner and began thunderous ovation. Hillary Clinton, who was questioning war motives during the November debates, was visibly moved and clapped with the rest. It was an overwhelming demonstration that Bush has appropriated the patriotic high ground and politicians of all hues have decided not to come out against war and get marginalized. Words like ‘traitor', going back to McCarthyism, are not yet in circulation, but such is the power of Orwellian mass media disinformation released by Bush that the day when conscientious objectors will be tried under anti-terrorism ‘patriot' laws appears not too distant.
Bush's entire speech was laced with religious overtones, in an apparent premeditated plan to seize the initiative from church groups who are opposing war in Iraq. He constantly referred to God being on America's side. For a secular state where ‘In God We Trust' is mentioned only as a custom on currency notes, the unending invocation of God was anomalous. But when the President affirmed that America places "confidence in the loving God," the entire Legislature broke into wild and deafening cheers, convinced that they are the chosen people. A crusading spirit, as if Bush were issuing a reveille call, was ever-present from start to finish. It seemed like a poisonous current flowing across all party affiliations in the hall.
What is the gist of Bush's State of the Union speech for 2003? In three words, the dangerous and misguided doctrine: ‘war is peace.' Cleverly maneuvering and manipulating words, Bush has worked himself and the country into believing that peace is achievable only through war. However, there is a major difference felt by conscientious people throughout the world as to the real meaning of peace. Nelson Mandela demonstrated to the world that the ideas of peace could not be separated from reconciliation and forgiveness. Mandela showed that it was not a sign of weakness to think through concepts of peace and move voluntarily to eschew and destroy weapons. One day after the state of the union speech, he called Bush "a President who can't think properly and wants to plunge the world into holocaust." It is this same humanist who remarked in a September 2002 interview in Newsweek, "the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace."
Peace is not about "fighting with full force" and "prevailing" on enemies. It is a live and let-live state of the mind that the present caretaker of the state of the union is incapable of comprehending.
Horace Campbell is Professor of Political
Science and African American Studies, Syracuse University, New York.