Noam Chomsky has correctly and perceptively argued that although the difference between Kerry and Bush is small -- thus the “Bush-lite” label given to the former by many -- in a “system of immense power,“ a small improvement over Bush could “translate into large outcomes” in several vital areas, including healthcare and education in the domestic US agenda and world peace and the environment on the global scale. Even fractional changes in these fields, the argument went, could make life more tolerable to millions in the US and the world at large. Bush-lite, Chomsky concluded, was therefore a cut above Bush-regular.
The view from Palestine may be at variance with this logic. Palestinians like me are not betting their lives on the prospects for progress under Kerry. After all, he has already come out on record in unqualified support of Israel’s apartheid wall, colonies in the occupied territories and all the other grave violations of international law. Even under an analytical microscope, one would be hard pressed to identify the “lite” part when it comes to Israel. And this comes as no surprise. Israel has effectively secured a position of unparalleled influence over the US administration, especially as far as foreign policy towards the middle east is concerned. This is now a built-in feature of the system that will take far more than a mere change in the presidency to alter it. Moreover, Kerry, unlike Bush, may actually be able to win considerable European and international backing for essentially the same biased policy, and that would make him worse, in fact.
Lite is not always bright, it seems.
Take cigarettes, for instance. For many years now, people around the world have been naively duped into thinking that cigarettes labeled “light” somehow posed a lesser risk of serious disease. Through extensive, relentless and quite ingenious public relations campaigns, bogus research and political muscle, the mighty tobacco industry has effectively succeeded in circumventing the robust results of age-long research, which has proven beyond doubt the causal effect between smoking and several chronic illnesses. The “lights” were a smoker’s dream come true: all the addictive fun with no harm done. Smokers wanted to believe; that was the secret behind the staggering success of the ruse.
To the detriment of the tobacco industry, however, scientific evidence has consistently shown that the lower nicotine and tar levels have hardly resulted in any alleviation of the disastrous health impact of smoking. Quite the opposite, they had an adverse effect as smokers put off plans to quit and felt more at ease smoking lights around children or other passive smokers. A supposedly noticeable change for the better has therefore turned out to be for the worse. Little wonder then that even the US justice department is pushing for a ban on such descriptions as “light” cigarettes.
Same with Bush and his low-tar competitor. For sure, a Kerry presidency may bring in some tangible change that bodes well to many, not least of whom those of us who suffer the brunt of the neocons’ designs and policies in the Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and the south in general. In all likelihood, a president Kerry would set a not-too-far deadline for pulling US troops out and officially ending the occupation of Iraq. Multilateralism may be given a terribly needed boost. The UN may finally breathe a bit easier after Uncle Sam’s choking leash is relaxed. But would those changes be better or worse in view of the fundamental opposition between empire on the one hand and peace, justice and balanced human development on the other?
A watered down version of empire is still empire. Worse yet, it is more nicely packaged and less repulsive, and as such has an appeal that may assure its longevity. A considerable -- some say unprecedented -- wave of protest against the current bullying and crude ways of empire has emerged from diverse US industries, power houses, diplomats as well as former political and military leaders, who have become acutely concerned about where the neocon path is leading their country. What is common to all of them perhaps is the belief that prolonging US economic and military dominance in the world at this stage will require softer, silk-gloved tactics that can cement alliances, secure allegiances and pacify resistance. Hence Kerry.
Like low-nicotine tobacco, a more diplomatically astute emperor perpetuates addiction, dependency and a false feeling of content, while still pursuing the same main objective of world domination, faced with less opposition from a mollified world.
Democrats have been disingenuously shouting: “A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.” Well, a vote for Kerry is a vote for Bush lite. Just like tobacco lights, that may well turn out to be worse for the world’s health in the long run.
And just as the current US surgeon general has courageously called for the abolition of all tobacco products, Americans would do well to themselves and the world by seeking or creating a better alternative to Bush lite and heavy alike. America and the world deserve far better than both.
Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Omar Barghouti