War-makers, Bribees, And Poodles

Versus Democracy

by Edward S. Herman

Dissident Voice
February 18, 2003


One of the most dramatic features of the Bush-Blair drive to war--actually, "massacre" given the imbalance of forces-- has been the split and struggle between governments and their citizenry. It might be argued that this ongoing struggle demonstrates that democracy works. But such struggles occur even in authoritarian systems, where there are frequent protests and strikes.


In democracies governments are supposed to represent the people, so that there shouldn't be a need for massive protests to get the government to do what the public wants done. We shouldn't see "democratic" governments trying furiously to drag their country into actions that people oppose--and that many oppose passionately- -even after being subjected to intense propaganda and disinformation.


The same split was evident in this country at the time the North American Free Trade Agreement was being debated (1993-1994). The Clinton administration fought hard and invested huge political capital to gain passage of this agreement, although a majority of the public and an even larger majority of Democratic voters opposed it (as consistently shown by polls).


The Republicans are the extreme and undisguised business party; but the Democrats have in the past shown flashes of representing a broader constituency from which they derive most of their votes. But in this important case (and it is not unique) Clinton worked very hard on behalf of the business community, with the almost unanimous support of the mainstream media.


Even with the media propagandizing furiously on behalf of NAFTA, polls continued to show hostile majorities. But in this plutocratic democracy, the corporate interest prevailed and the elite-class-money basis of U.S. democracy was made crystal clear.


War is extremely useful to elites, not only for carving out opportunities for business abroad, but for its internal effects. As Thorstein Veblen explained 99 years ago, war provides "the largest and most promising factor of cultural discipline....It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, and within the military organization at all times...civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance."


And, crucially, war "directs the popular interest to other, nobler, institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comforts." (The Theory of Business Enterprise [1904], pp. 391-3).


Rightwing business administrations gravitate quickly to war and fear- mongering to help cover over their service to their principals (i.e., making income distribution more unequal): Immediately upon taking office in the early 1980s Reagan mounted a war on terror and on the "evil empire," and his clone George W. Bush has done the same two decades later. They have both pressed for soaring arms budgets to meet inflated or manufactured threats, and both have been given aid and comfort by the Free Press.


The public is more vulnerable to propaganda on a foreign policy issue like Iraq than something like NAFTA. With Iraq the propaganda system can play on patriotism and alleged national security threats that are not available in selling NAFTA.


Four-fifths of the U.S. public believe Saddam was involved in acts of terrorism against the United States (according to a December 2002 Tribune/WGN-TV poll), and a majority today fear him and think that this regional bully, who has been almost entirely disarmed and who the Bush gang is toying with like a Bengal tiger might play with a malnourished mouse, actually poses a military threat to the pitiful giant. This is the ultimate propaganda system at work.


But despite these irrational and manipulated fears, almost a third of the public (29 percent) remains opposed to the war and a solid majority (59 to 37 percent in a recent NYT/CBS poll) favors giving the UN and inspections more time.


On the basis of this opposition and these doubts a major peace movement has come into being to oppose the war--and it has come into existence and grown at a far quicker pace than during the Vietnam war. The February 15th demonstrations here and abroad were possibly the largest ever, to the consternation of the war party.


This peace movement could stop the war if it had any kind of support from the mass media in focusing on the illegality of the Bush plan, the serial lies used by the war party, its compromised position in prior support of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, the hidden agenda (oil, support of Sharon, coverup for Bush's internal policies), and the recklessness and human and material cost of this forthcoming aggression.


But the U.S. mainstream media are currently serving as propaganda arms of the state, which is helping the war party maintain just enough support and public inertia to sustain their political position (Blair in Britain is in a less favorable position as war-maker).


The dichotomy between governments and people as regards the Iraq war-massacre is a global phenomenon, reflecting both the power of the United States to coerce and bully and the fact that democracy in the New World Order is increasingly an undemocratic facade.


Bush himself is a coup d'etat president, who garnered fewer votes than his main rival even with an immense treasure chest from his corporate backers and the illegal disenfranchisement of large numbers in Florida. He was obliged to fall back on a corrupt Supreme Court to anoint him and a "liberal media" to swallow this coup without complaint (see Greg Palast's account in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy).


Throughout the world corporate and financial power has drained democracies of substance and made them plutocracies. It is a matter of course now to find that "democratic" leaders systematically carry out important economic, social and arms/war policies that their people disapprove. The people increasingly have no effective choices--all the "practical" candidates (i.e., those electable in a plutocratic political system, as Ralph Nader was not) offer little or no alternative and regularly betray their promises to ordinary citizens when they had campaigned with populist messages.


So the lineup of governments versus people across the globe in joining the Bush massacre program is entirely comprehensible. The "old Europe" resistance to the Bush war-massacre program is exceptional, and reflects some residual responsiveness of French, German, Belgian and other leaders to mass popular demands, along with national self-interest in avoiding a potentially devastating war and feedback from that war.


Many other Western governments have gone along with Bush-Cheney despite massive public opposition (polls show oppositional votes of 75 percent in Italy, 74 percent in Spain, 70 percent in Britain, majorities in opposition across the board).


In Eastern Europe also, while the governments line up in support of massacre, polls show massive public opposition--in Hungary, 80 percent, in Latvia 74 percent, a majority in Croatia.


It is notable that even the Voice of America acknowledged on February 6 that the ten East European countries that endorsed Colin Powell's position at the UN Security Council "are seeking to join the NATO alliance." It was implied that perhaps the desire to avoid jeopardizing entry might have affected their vote. It is well-known that the United States bullies, bribes and threatens allies who step out of line, and they often succumb.


Today, Germany and France are vilified in the United States and even these strong states are threatened with retaliatory action for opposing U.S. plans. Lesser and weaker countries are even more vulnerable.


Poor Turkey, for example, a U.S. client, military base, debtor, and aid-dependent, is under heavy U.S. pressure to allow the stationing of Iraq invasion forces on its soil, when 85 percent or more of its population is opposed to the war. Prime Minister Abdullah Gul stalls for time, but in one account, "Washington told him unequivocally that it expects full cooperation without restrictive conditions..." (Ha'aretz, Feb. 6, 2002).


The United States will get its way, because "The Turkish government and its military will not hide behind public opinion," according to an official in the Turkish Foreign Ministry. In other words, what the people want will not affect government policy, which, according to this same official, "is what makes Turkey America's most valuable ally" (Catherine Collins, "Turkey Juggles Dueling War Demands," Chicago Tribune, Jan. 14, 2003).


The February 5 letter of the ten Eastern European governments most of whom hoped to get into NATO, which cited Colin Powell's "convincing evidence" for war, was written BEFORE he gave his speech, and an earlier letter of eight European leaders on "United We Stand" (including Blair, Aznar, Berlusconi) called for support of the Bush position and "full compliance" with Security Council resolutions to "maintain credibility" (as regards Iraq, not Israel, Turkey and Morocco, but no doubt these leaders will soon produce a letter covering those cases).


This letter by the eight had been organized by the Wall Street Journal to give a lift to the war party, and it was noted in the "news" column that this effort threatens to "isolate the Germans and French" and may "smooth a path to war" (Marc Champion, "European Leaders Declare Support For U.S. on Iraq," Jan. 30, 2003). Featured on the front page and with the letter reproduced along with photos/bios of these eight leaders on the editorial page, this is a pretty illustration of an integration of news and editorial operations in service to the propaganda needs of government.


This "parade of vassals" (as one European Parliament member called it) was greeted in the United States as a triumph of moral force. As noted, the "people" in those states did not go along with their eager vassal governments, but Robert Kagan, for example, described as "moral courage" their leaders willingness to ignore the people they represent in order to join their master's crusade against evil.


The Journal piece touting the eight leaders' support of the war notes deep in the article that those leaders all face "strong opposition to the war" at home, but this betrayal of their obligation to serve their people is a small aside for the paper as it celebrates the leaders' service to the Bush war.


The moralist leaders of the vassal governments show a certain lack of independence of thought. Poland's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, for example, a minister in the former communist regime, says that "If it is President Bush's vision, it is mine."


Mark Almond notes that "other prominent ex-communist apparatchiks across the region repeat oaths of fealty to America as once they parroted the Brezhnev line. Slovakia's long-serving foreign minister, Eduard Kukan, is always in the front row of those backing the US use of force, but received his diplomatic training in communist Czechoslvakia, and became ambassador to Mengistu's Ethiopia." ("The Master's Faithful Servants," New Statesman, Feb. 3, 2003).


A major difference between the "old" and "new" Europe is between relatively strong and relatively weak states, the former better able to resist bullying and more responsive to public demands; the latter, more needy, dependent, and with leaders handed down from a corrupt and authoritarian tradition.


Russia falls into the last class, with Putin jockeying to maintain good relations with his dear friend and patron George Bush while trying to keep an image of minimal independence and preserve rights to Iraq oil. Seamus Milne is surely referring to Putin when he writes of the U.S. strategy as giving assurances of "oil contracts here and nods to ethnic cleansing there" ("Direct Action May Become A Necessity: The UN is being used as a fig leaf for war in the face of world opinion," Guardian, Jan. 16, 2002).


The people are fighting back everywhere against the DC Axis of Evil and its plans. The people's surge on February 15 is a set-back for the war party. Even further pressure is needed, however, to stop the war machine. High priority should be given to pressing the media to cease their unquestioning service to the war-makers. With even a modest change by the mainstream media in the direction of fairness and openness to views that are held by the global majority, the tide could be turned.


Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to Z Magazine. He is author of The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism with Robert McChesney (Cassell, 1997), Triumph of the Market: Essays on Economics, Politics, and the Media (South End Press, 1995), and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media with Noam Chomsky (South End Press, 1988). This article first appeared on ZNET (www.znet.org/weluser.htm). Posted with authorís permission.








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