Baltimore City Paper

Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador

What has struck me most throughout the Presidential campaign is how narrowly stupid both teams are on international diplomacy and military issues. There was a perfect illustrative moment in the vice presidential debate when Edwards commented on the insurgency and opium cultivation in Afghanistan and the dwindling hope of fair elections there, and Cheney rebutted with his story about El Salvador in the 1980s. Cheney gamely talked about insurgency there, and how "we" held elections anyway, and now it's a democracy, etc. Edwards let it go. He didn't talk at all about ARENA, Roberto D'Aubisson's fascist party fueled by death squads which were armed and trained by the United States (which is now back in power). There was no mention of the Truth Commission which found that 90 percent of El Salvador's 75,000 civil war victims were killed by this U.S.-backed right-wing force. Or that the democratic government immediately granted amnesty to the named killers.

Or Edwards could have mentioned that, yes, El Salvador in the 1980s was another CIA success story that involved the use of drug proceeds to fund death squads--same as we were doing in Afghanistan at the same time. Lucky for us, the ARENA death squads have quieted down, and are apparently now running (along with the government there) typical urban gangs which cycle through Los Angeles and mostly shoot only inner city black people. Whereas the Taliban got a little out of control . . . And during the 1980s Kerry was trying to put a stop to the policy of supporting fascist insurgents through drug sales . . . . And by the way, El Salvador today is basically a hell-hole, good only by comparison to the early 1980s when the campasino-massacrin' and nun-rapin' was in full fettle.

Kerry keeps saying he'll do the "war on terror" better, and he never returns to what should be the central question animating US policy, which is, Should the U.S. continue to be an imperial power relying primarily on overwhelming military capability?

To ask the question is to admit the umentionable. But without a broader debate on the U.S. role in the world--on the sustainability, for example, of our $450 billion annual outlay for military stuff in light of our enormous debt and widening balance-of-trade deficits--Americans will continue to see the world through the lens of the American myth. Even the crazy neocons understand that a day of reckoning is approaching. Indeed, the current push to "democratize" the middle east is meant not to preempt Saddam's illusory WMDs, but to preempt the threat of wahabi fundementalism overtaking increasingly populous and potentially lucrative markets. They've been very clear on this point, and it's an arguable theory. Conversely, DLC-ers like Michael Ignatieff in the NYTimes write as though the American Empire is merely a foregone conclusion, a simple reality to which there is no practical alternative. But Ignatieff bases his conclusions on the same passel of foundational assumptions that undergird the neocons' more boldly aggressive strategy: namely, that the U.S.--alone among nations--never makes war merely to further economic and geopolitical goals of its elite; that U.S. postwar policy has been to contain communism and spread democracy, that opposition to U.S. policy is therefore misguided at best, etc. These assumptions form the heart of most Americans' belief about their country, yet all have shown to be absurd myths--the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador being only one example of such findings after the fact. Still, both the broad electorate and the elite of both major parties operate as though the world depends on the U.S. being the preeminent military power, unstoppable in its will, unquestionable in its motives.

So, any acknowledgement that much of the world--not just "the terrorists" but also the democracies--think U.S. power is itself a threat to peace is rendered politically untenable. Basic, uncontestible facts such as CIA complicity in drug trafficking and the U.S.'s central role in building the madrassas from which sprang the Taliban are simply not mentioned or, if mentioned, are dismissed as "silly left-wing propaganda." And the correlary to this unsayable reality--that there IS an alternative to U.S. empire; that humility as policy arguably could have a salutory effect on world tension while paying economic dividends at home--has been marginalized utterly.

This is tragedy in the making, and it's very hard to imagine that even Kerry will be able to do much to avoid it so long as he stays on his message about insuperable U.S. might, preemption and all that crap.