‘America’s selective vigilantism will make as many enemies as friends’ by Tariq Ali for the Guardian, September 6 2011
“Sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” Carl Schmitt wrote in different times almost a century ago, when European empires and armies dominated most continents and the United States was basking beneath an isolationist sun. What the conservative theorist meant by “exception” was a state of emergency, necessitated by serious economic or political cataclysms, that required a suspension of the constitution, internal repression and war abroad.
A decade after the attentats of 9/11, the US and its European allies are trapped in a quagmire. The events of that year were simply used as a pretext to remake the world and to punish those states that did not comply. And today while the majority of Euro-American citizens flounder in a moral desert, now unhappy with the wars, now resigned, now propagandised into differentiating what is, in effect, an overarching imperial strategy into good/bad wars, the US General Petraeus (currently commanding the CIA) tells us: “You have to recognise also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually… Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.” Thus speaks the voice of a sovereign power, determining in this case that the exception is the rule.
Even though I did not agree with his own answer, the German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas posed an important question: “Does the claim to universality that we connect with human rights merely conceal a particularly subtle and deceitful instrument of western domination?” “Subtle” could be deleted. The experiences in the occupied lands speak for themselves. Ten years on the war in Afghanistan continues, a bloody and brutal stalemate with a corrupt puppet regime whose president and family fill their pockets with ill-gotten gains and a US/Nato military incapable of defeating the insurgents. The latter now strike at will, assassinating Hamid Karzai’s corrupt sibling, knocking off his leading collaborators and targeting key Nato intelligence personnel via suicide terrorism or helicopter-downing missiles. Meanwhile, sets of protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations between the US and the neo-Taliban have been taking place for several years. The aim reveals the desperation. Nato and Karzai are desperate to recruit the Taliban to a new national government.
Euro-American liberal and conservative politicians who form the backbone of the governing elites and claim to believe in moderation and tolerance and fighting wars to impose the same values on the re-colonised states are still blinded by their situation and fail to see the writing on the wall. Their pious renunciations of terrorist violence notwithstanding, they have no problems in defending torture, renditions, targeting and assassination of individuals, post-legal states of exception at home so that they can imprison anybody without trial indefinitely. Meanwhile the good citizens of Euro-America who opposed the wars being waged by their governments avert their gaze from the dead, wounded and orphaned citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan … the list continues to grow. War – jus belli – is now a legitimate instrument as long as it is used with US approval or preferably by the US itself. These days it is presented as a “humanitarian” necessity: one side is busy engaged in committing crimes, the self-styled morally superior side is simply administering necessary punishment and the state to be defeated is denied its sovereignty. Its replacement is carefully policed both with military bases and money. This 21st-century colonisation or dominance is aided by the global media networks, an essential pillar to conduct political and military operations.
Let’s start with homeland security in the US. Contrary to what many liberals imagined in November 2008, the debasement of American political culture continues apace. Instead of reversing the trend, the lawyer-president and his team have deliberately accelerated the process. There have been more deportations of immigrants than under George W Bush; fewer prisoners held without trial have been released from Guantánamo, an institution that Barack Obama had promised to close down; the Patriot Act with its defining premises of what constitutes friends and enemies has been renewed; a new war begun in Libya without the approval of Congress on the flimsy basis that the bombing of a sovereign state should not be construed as a hostile act; whistleblowers are being vigorously prosecuted and so on – the list growing longer by the day.
Politics and power override all else. Liberals who still believe the Bush administration transcended the law while the Democrats are exemplars of a normative approach are blinded by political tribalism. Apart from Obama’s windy rhetoric, little now divides this administration from its predecessor. Ignore, for a moment, the power of politicians and propagandists to enforce their taboos and prejudices on American society as a whole, a power often used ruthlessly and vindictively to silence opposition from all quarters – Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake (released after a huge outcry in the liberal media), Julian Assange, Stephen Kim, currently being treated as criminals and public enemies, know this better than most.
Nothing illustrates this debasement so well as the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. He could have been captured and put on trial, but that was never the intention. The liberal mood was reflected by the chants heard in New York on that day: “U-S-A. U-S-A. Obama got Osama. Obama got Osama. You can’t beat us (clap-clap-clap-clap-clap-clap) You can’t beat us. Fuck Bin La-den. Fuck Bin La-den.” These were echoed in more diplomatic language by the leaders of Europe, junior partners in the imperial family of nations, incapable of self-determination. Cant and hypocrisy have become the coinage of political culture.read more