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Against the Grain: Safire's Hollow Musings
by Thomas Riggins
July 7, 2004

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William Safire, one of the ultra-right luminaries featured regularly in the New York Times', has decided that NATO is now a "hallow alliance." In two recent Times’ columns, "The Hallow Alliance" (6/28) and "Beware of Certitude" (6/30), he tells us why NATO is in trouble, and at the same time reveals by his subtext the imperial ambitions of his far right buddies.

The problem with NATO, according to Safire, is the French and the Germans, but especially the French. These two alliance members "fled from the fight" when it came to the war for the "liberation of Iraq." Mr. Safire, who prides himself on English usage, should know that its difficult to "flee" from a fight one never signed on to, or was a part of, in the first place: a unilateral fight to insure US dominance in the Middle East and control of the oil resources masquerading as a struggle for freedom and democracy.

Safire’s articles reflect his take on the recent NATO meeting in Istanbul where Bush had hoped to get more support for his Iraq schemes, especially from the "Chirac-Schroder Bloc." He was disappointed that neither the French nor the German leader was willing to play the role of lap dog that so suits Tony Blair.

NATO,is now presenting a "facade" of unity, since the C-S Bloc is refusing to allow the use of NATO troops to bail out Bush’s sinking Iraqi policy, according to Safire. The reason, he says, for this lack of unity is the absence of a "common purpose" since the destruction of the USSR. After all, NATO was set up to undermine and facilitate the overthrow of the European socialist countries and with their demise what unified interest do all of its members now have?

The new raison d’etre, Safire says, is "to defeat imperial terrorism." But what is this "imperial terrorism"? It is a wholly artificial construct of ultra-rightists such as Safire and his confreres to justify military intervention and aggression anywhere and anytime the US claims it is in the "national interest" to do so. As is now clear to almost everyone with a functional brain, the Bushites used 9/11 and the attack on Afghanistan as a cover for their own prior imperial plans regarding the conquest of Iraq - something the left pointed out at the time.

What upsets Safire is the fact that neither France nor Germany see it as in their "national interests" to play second fiddle to US imperialism. These junior imperialists have their own interests to look out for. Lenin is still relevant in understanding what's happening here. In Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism, still a must read, he points out how inter-imperialist rivalries for the financial control of world markets and resources are inevitable. While, for example, the US rattles its saber at Iran, we see stories headlined in the Times such as "France Steps Up Its Investments in Iran" (6/23).

The US may be, as the French say, the only "hyper-puissance" (superpower) but that doesn’t mean that only the interests of the US bourgeoisie counts. The imperialist nature of capitalism and the struggle for markets now is once more becoming evident since the contradictions between the imperialists is no longer masked by the struggle against socialism. With no socialist threat immediately facing them, the "great powers" are reverting to type.

Safire is also incensed that Bush was publicly rebuked for trying to influence the European Union to admit Turkey as a member. This is essentially a European and Turkish affair and France’s President Chirac rebuffed Bush’s meddling by stating, "He not only went too far, but he has gone into a domain that is not his own. He has nothing to say on this subject."

Safire, an enthusiastic Bushite, cannot control himself over this putdown. This, plus the refusal to send troops to Iraq, makes France (and presumably Germany as well) "a former ally." The only thing that will mollify Safire is one hundred percent kowtowing obeisance to the US. France is even now, however, cooperating with US in Afghanistan and recently both France and the US connived together to overthrow the democratically elected government of Aristide in Haiti. So only someone who has lost all sense of reality would go so far as to call France (or Germany) a "former ally." NATO is still an alliance! It was set up as a "defensive" alliance (in theory) and the fact France and Germany don’t want to take part in patently aggressive wars cooked up by the neocon fringe of the US bourgeoisie does not make them "former allies. With all their contradictions and rivalries they are still presently allied in the great "peacetime" effort of picking the bones of the Third World clean - they only differ in method.

Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs ( He can be reached at:

Other Articles by Thomas Riggins

* Against the Grain: Kerry and Evil (online)
* The Verala Project and the CIA
* 128,000 Reasons to Defeat Bush