(Yes, it's been quite a while since I've posted. It's that time of year, as the planting and outdoor work go forward and Jim takes time off from his paid job to catch up on chores around the homestead. But don't give up on me!)
The "system" is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognised to be, according to the journal Foreign Affairs, "frustratingly imprecise", some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.
Among the hardest tasks that anyone can undertake, and one of the most important, is to look honestly in the mirror. If we allow ourselves to do so, we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of "failed states" right at home.
I don't know enough about the concept of failed states to argue either way about the status of the United States in such terms, but I do recognize the existence in the US of the features Chomsky enumerates.
Bush supporters would find ludicrous, if not outright treason, the idea that the administration is unwilling to protect the citizenry from violence or outright destruction. What else, after all, is the War on Terror, that elaborate kabuki meant to soothe our fears and somehow protect our hides from the demonic haters of democracy and freedom?
That's exactly what it is, so much theater. As Pach over at Firedog Lake says,
Bushco has enslaved Americans into a psychological reign of "War on Terror" that amounts to a criminal protection racket. We are told we must be afraid. That is, we are told we must live in terror. This is to protect us from. . . terror. Then, because we feel terrified, we must give up our freedom - freedom to write what we believe without fear of reprisal, freedom of due process and habeas corpus protection, freedom from secret intrusion into our private lives by government.
Which brings us to that "democratic deficit," but more on that later. Right now I want to focus on the sham that is the War on Terror.
First, the search for actual terrorists was abandoned when Bushco relegated Afghanistan to being a minor concern compared with Iraq, which became the focus of massive amounts of money, military presence, and propaganda. The administration's Iraq adventure has done nothing to further the safety of the people of the United States. In fact, aggression against Iraq has made the world a far more dangerous place: terrorist acts have increased worldwide, the Middle East is becoming ever more unstable, and large numbers of frustrated, enraged young Muslims have joined the jihad.
Second, while Bush, supposedly to save American lives, sends soldiers into the meatgrinder that is Iraq, he has done nothing to beef up security at home. Oh sure, a few half-hearted measures that succeed mostly in annoying airline travelers, but when it comes to port security, securing our chemical plants and our food supply, protecting mass transit, and the like--nada. Sell off port operations to Dubai? No problem. Ensure that nuclear weapons can't be smuggled into our ports? Surely you jest. Because none of this grandstanding about the War on Terror has anything to do with reality.
Third, this administration has abandoned channels of diplomacy and has a knee-jerk response to every perceived threat, every international difficulty: use military force. This has made the United States feared and despised and recognized for the lawless aggressor and bully it's become under the auspices of George W. Bush and his enablers. Surely safety does not lie that way, when the world views our every move with suspicion while hurrying to forge new alliances with those countries not named the United States of America (see Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Venezuela-China accords, South South collaboration, cooperation among South American countries, etc.). Many of these new alliances center on access to resources like fossil fuels and minerals. Bush's reckless action in illegally invading Iraq is thus having consequences diametrically opposed to the administration's desire to protect US access to oil and natural gas.
Fourth, this administration has written off the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while other countries are scrambling to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in order to deter the use of such weapons against them. The lesson that North Korea, which has nuclear weapons, has not been attacked by the United States despite the US's aggressive rhetoric has not been lost on those outside the nuclear club. Thus we find ourselves now in a far more dangerous world where nuclear weapons are likely to proliferate as the number of nations possessing these WMDs grows.
So tell me again how George W. Bush is protecting us.
None of this even touches on the failure to address the environmental issues that pose great risks to continued human life on this planet. The administration's stubborn refusal to accept scientific expertise on global warning is irresponsible and dangerous. But then we saw the administration's refusal to acknowledge warnings about the levees of New Orleans, allowing US citizens to drown, starve, become separated from their children, remain homeless, or die in hospitals that were not evacuated. Once again, so much for making us safe.
The War on Terror is nothing more than a convenient device for propaganda and a cover for the stripping away of our Constitutional (and human) rights. I never thought I would see an administration defend the use of torture, fly people to foreign nations to have them tortured, claim the right to detain people indefinitely with no access to an attorney, defiantly announce the intent to continue an illegal warrantless wiretapping program against its own citizens, threaten to imprison journalists, declare the intention to disregard laws passed by Congress if the President so decides, and the myriad other "thousand cuts" that not only demonstrate a complete disregard of law and morality, but are killing our democracy.
Democracy deficit indeed. There are two features of this deficit: the lawlessness and the shredding of the Constitution, and the stark contrast between what most Americans want and the policies put forward by both the Republicans and the Democrats who are supposed to represent us. Of the first we can say that Constitutional and other legal protections of democracy are being methodically, intentionally stripped away, so that in terms of actual democracy there is a fast-deepening deficit as compared to rhetoric about democracy. Of the second, we must realize that we--ordinary American citizens, that is--have little to no representation in Congress.
Again and again we hear politicians and pundits declaring that this or that non-DLC Democrat is from the "angry left," "out of the mainstream." Yet when you look at polling on such issues as health care, the environment, taxes, the war in Iraq, and a host of other issues, it becomes obvious that it's our prominent, office-holding Democrats and Republicans--and the media lapdogs on the cocktail circuit--who are out of the mainstream.
Congress has shown no stomach for fighting for its own prerogatives as one of the three branches of government, no interest in preserving its power to act as a check on presidential power gone dicatatorial. Most members of Congress have failed to uphold their oath of office, an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. In doing so, they have declared that their first loyalty is not to the people who elected them, not to the people they work for, but to the moneyed interests that help to maintain their power. We have now in place a system so corrupt it gives all those Third World countries a run for their money in terms of how far from the people's wishes are the actions of the powerful.
Our talk of democracy is thus a far, far cry from the practice of democracy in this nation. It's hard to disagree with Gar Alperowitz in America Beyond Capitalism, as quoted by Noam Chomsky, that
the American "system" as a whole is in real trouble - that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values [of] equality, liberty, and meaningful democracy.
I don't know that I can agree with Chomsky that the US is, at present, a failed state. But I can agree that the US does exhibit characteristics thereof, and that we are moving toward a very gloomy scenario. It has always amazed me, and given me some hope, that Chomsky is able to maintain a level of optimism and faith in people, and indeed, the excerpt I link to above ends with this:
Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to seek to induce pessimism, hopelessness, and despair, reality is different. There has been substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years, leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than before. Opportunities for education and organising abound. As in the past, rights are not likely to be granted by benevolent authorities, or won by intermittent actions - attending a few demonstrations or pushing a lever in the personalised quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as "democratic politics". As always in the past, the tasks require dedicated day-by-day engagement to create - in part recreate - the basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining policies, not only in the political arena, from which it is largely excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena, from which it is excluded in principle. There are many ways to promote democracy at home, carrying it to new dimensions. Opportunities are ample, and failure to grasp them is likely to have ominous repercussions: for the country, for the world, and for future generations.