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Politics Mondays: War as Peace: A Dangerous Concept (Analysis of President George W Bush's State of the Union Address) by 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

Bush's zero concern for genuine peace and economic reconstruction was compounded by a clear contradiction of the moment. The President and his family belong to a section of the American elite that is connected to the petroleum industry. Yet, one of the contradictions of this period is the revolutionary potential of hydrogen fuel cell technology in a world that is fast switching form hydrocarbons to renewable energy use. Among the early notable points was Bush's promise to increase R&D on production of "more energy at home." He predicted that hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology would revolutionise energy usage and reduce US dependence on oil from the gulf.

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 speechwriters 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 most parts of the world, the posture of the US towards Iraq is seen as a double standard in so far as there is no major effort to pressure Israel to respect the resolutions of the United Nations. In the speech, Bush promised a "secure Israel and a democratic Palestine," indicating continued encouragement of Ariel Sharon's overwhelming use of force for his legitimate "war on terrorism," coupled with US-backed attempts to dislodge Yasser Arafat on grounds that he is undemocratic. This is one 'regime change' Bush wants to achieve stealthily, without causing much noise.

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

Bush was supposed to visit the continent of Africa at the end of January. The trip was postponed to allow the US government to address "other pressing priorities." As a belated sop, Bush announced in his speech an Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief worth $15 billion for Africa and the Caribbean. The United Nations has declared HIV AIDS the most serious crisis on the planet and superficially, Bush seemed to be lending a genuine helping hand to a global problem. However, the position of the US trade representative within the World Trade Organization has been to block all attempts of the African states to develop indigenous capacity for production of generic drugs to treat AIDS patients, fearful that it will introduce low-priced competition for American drug cartels.

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

Health care initiatives in the address must also be understood as efforts to strengthen the drug and insurance private sectors. Bush's rejection of nationalised health plans as stymieing innovation and technical advances is confirmation that 'Reagonomics' will rein supreme in America. The welfare state is destined to remain a chimera. Bush's ambitious schemes to rebuild the economy received round after round of approbation from the Congressmen hearing the speech, but it contrasts with the truth that in every American state we see spending cuts in education and delivery of medical care to the poor.

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

In the present structure of the world economy, the US government is able to use the reserves of other countries because the dollar is still the standard currency of world trade. The challenges to the dollar from the Euro are manifest in the alliance between France and Germany. The British Pound has been umbilically linked to the dollar since the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, and the Blair government hangs suspended between the future of the buoyant Euro and a US dollar that is backed up by the might of the world's strongest military. After a joint meeting on January 22 with the Chancellor of Germany, President Chirac of France firmly rejected the military plans of Bush and called on the US to work through the UN to allow inspectors to complete their work in Iraq. Chirac boldly stated that the joint approach of France and Germany was "based on the two principles that the UN Security Council is the only body qualified to decide on military intervention, and secondly that war is always an admission of failure and the worst possible solution. Everything possible should be done to avoid it".

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

After rushing through domestic affairs, Bush began lauding American armed forces ad nauseam, unprecedented for a peacetime State of the Union speech. Chiefs of military staff, who were sitting in the front row, were seen clapping and rising whenever Bush reiterated that America was strong and great. His bid to project a 'tough' masculine image was obviously working, with all attendees joining the applause.

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.

Sticking to his "axis of evil" bashing, Bush harshly criticised 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 Defence, 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

Finally, moving on to the flavour of the times, Bush painted graphic pictures of brutal ill treatment and torture of prisoners in Iraqi jails. Conveniently forgetting the dire need for prison condition reforms in America, he cited human rights organisations that have documented evidence of cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment in Iraqi prisons. This cinematic description of Iraqi torture chambers was a calculated attempt at increasing US public revulsion for Saddam Hussein as a pitiless tyrant who is the epitome of evil. There was no acknowledgement of the former relations between the US government and the same Saddam Hussein.

Downplaying nuclear weapons proliferation, now that Mohammad El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency has said no evidence of a renewed nuclear programme 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

Asserting ironically that America "stands for peace," Bush imparted an emotional ring to his voice and disclosed that US armed forces are ready to attack Iraq for the sake of "defending peace." Without hinting when the war button will be pressed, he said there are "crucial hours ahead" for American troops and he was confident that they would not fail. "Trusting in the sanity of Saddam Hussein is not an option," he averred. In the same vein, he revealed his utter distrust and contempt for the United Nations by stating, "we are not here to follow a process, but to achieve results." 'Process' is a euphemism for multilateral negotiations at the UN to diplomatically resolve the Iraq crisis. The crucial line in the speech related to the possibility of terrorists slipping into the USA to release biological or chemical agents. "It would take just one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known." This Hollywood thriller script line was intended to mobilise frightened US citizens to support the march to war.

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 marginalised. Words like 'traitor', going back to the McCarthyist era, 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 and can be contacted via e-mail at: hgcampbe@syr.edu

Sreeram Chaulia works for the International Rescue Committee, New York and can be contacted via e-mail at: sreeramchaulia@hotmail.com















Monday, February 3, 2003

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