Britain is part of Europe but it is not European. It is closer to America, not alone in language, but in the partnership it has forged with its former colony in a world that is increasingly anti-American. George W. Bush Jr. was in London this week not just to visit the Queen, but also to remind his British allies of the definitive goals of this AngloAmerican special relationship.
Their common mission, he said in his opening speech in London, is “to build the peace and security of all free nations in a time of danger.” Three “pillars” support this vision. “We will encourage the strength and effectiveness of international institutions. We will use force when necessary in the defense of freedom. And we will raise up an ideal of democracy in every part of the world.” No one will probably quarrel with any of these objectives. But because they emanate from the mouth of a dangerous man, they acquire an ambivalent and sinister quality that invites careful examination.
It may seem, for example, as if the declaration to “encourage the strength and effectiveness of international institutions” is tantamount to a wish to do penance for the mistake of invading Iraq without the collective sanction of the United Nations. But Bush remains righteous about Iraq. Before Europe’s critical leaders start hailing an imagined softening of American attitude, they ought to read the subtext of his speech.
In the same breath that Bush pays homage to the importance of international institutions and collective response, he states that “the credibility of the UN depends on a willingness to keep its word and to act when action is required.” Recalling the unlamented collapse of the League of Nations, “lacking both credibility and will,” he warned against meeting dangers to the world with mere resolutions. “We must meet those dangers with resolve,” he said, drawing a sharp distinction between words (resolutions) and action (force). In a dig at the tedious UN process of arriving at a firm consensus, Bush stated: “We understand as well that the process of multilateralism is not measured by adherence to forms alone – the tidiness of the process – but by the results we achieve to keep our nations secure.”
This is not a chastened Bush reciting a redemptive ode to multilateralism; this is the same Bush who harbors a deep contempt for any collective process America cannot dominate. This is a man who loves to talk about peace but sees its attainment only as an outcome of the use of force. “The second pillar of peace and security in our world is the willingness of free nations, when the last resort arrives, to restrain aggression and evil by force.” This may as well be the sole pillar on which US domination of the world today rests. “The people have given us the duty to defend them and that duty sometimes requires the violent restraint of violent men.”
One wonders where and how Bush got the notion that people anywhere in Afghanistan and Iraq have “given” America “the duty to defend them.” But, of course, this is colonialism’s old conceit – to represent as a burden and duty the act of taking over another country. Had we seen them as liberators, would we have launched the Philippine-American War? Would the Iraqis be killing American soldiers in numbers never anticipated if they saw America as a liberator and friend? “We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins,” says Bush. “Thugs and assassins” they may be in his eyes, but to many Iraqis they are heroes.
In a stirring line that could have been uttered by Arafat or, indeed, by Iraqi and Afghan guerillas, Bush intoned: “In a world where oppression and violence are very real, liberation is still a moral goal, and freedom and security still need defenders.” How right he is! Clearly, he is unable to see that in many parts of the world today, America is perceived not as liberator but as the source of oppression and violence, and the target of moral wars of liberation.
Finally, Bush pays homage to “the global expansion of democracy and the hope and progress it brings” – the “third pillar” of American security. “We cannot rely exclusively on military power to assure our long-term security. Lasting peace is gained as justice and democracy advance.” On this value, he predicates the war against tyranny and dictatorship. He sees only the tyrants of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. Where dictatorships are friendly to America, he is silent. One wonders what he means when he says: “We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine in the past have been willing to make a bargain to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites.” How true!
But Bush makes no reference to the Saudi autocrats. It could be a vague reference to the opportunistic relationships that both Britain and America had with Saddam Hussein in the past. More clearly, he used this line to whip Arafat and his associates, the unnamed “Palestinian rulers who intimidate opposition, who tolerate and profit from corruption and maintain their ties to terrorist groups.” Bush dislikes Arafat intensely not because he is a tyrant but because this crafty Palestinian is not a malleable American boy.
Bush’s speech was interrupted by applause many times. He was preaching to the converted. Out in the streets of London, where thousands had gathered to protest his visit, no one believed a word of what he was saying.
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