Scott Ritter on War With Iran

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Scott Ritter on War With Iran

By Scott Ritter, Dec 19, 2007

Scott Ritter

The Truthdig columnist (and WMD expert) warns that war with Iran could be inevitable, despite the National Intelligence Estimate report that says Iran dismantled its nuclear program in 2003. Bush, Ritter argues, doesn’t let facts get in the way of what he wants.

Listen to this interview. (PodCast)

Transcript:

James Harris: This is Truthdig. James Harris sitting down with Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector in Iraq. And today we’re talking about the latest report from the National Intelligence Estimate. The report says that Iran is not, as of mid-July, in the nuclear weapons business. Scott Ritter-I think, wisely-told me to look at this report with caution and that this means nothing to the White House, that they [members of the Bush team] are about regime change. Please explain.

Scott Ritter: Well, I think it’s important to assess patterns of behavior. When we take a look at the Bush administration and how it has sought to implement its policies of regional transformation in the Middle East, inclusive, these policies include the notion of regime change, removing unpopular regimes, regimes that the United States unilaterally declares incompatible with its vision, removing them from power. This includes Saddam Hussein and the theocracy in Tehran. They have demonstrated a tendency to exaggerate threats in the form of weapons of mass destruction to exploit the ignorance of the American public and the fear that is derived from this ignorance. They did so with Iraq. They made a case for war based upon weapons of mass destruction that they fail to back up with anything other than rhetoric. I can say, as a former weapons inspector who ran the intelligence programs from ’91 to ’98, that we had fundamentally disarmed Iraq, so for the president to say that there’s this new weapons capability, he would have to demonstrate some new information, and he failed to do so. And that’s why I said, unless he provides this new data, that there isn’t the WMD threat that he said. The same thing can be said about Iran.

Harris: Why should we be cautious about what President Bush is telling us right now?

Ritter: Here’s a president who has said Iran is a threat, a threat in the form of a nuclear weapons program. But for some time now I have been saying, “Where’s the beef, Mr. President? …”

Harris: Hmm.

Ritter: ” … I hear the rhetoric, but your pattern of behavior leads me to believe that you might be exaggerating the threat, fabricating the threat, misrepresenting data to achieve your policy objective of regime change, trying to exploit the ignorance of the American public and the fear derived from this ignorance.” Now we have a National Intelligence Estimate that is released that says, “Time out. There hasn’t been a nuclear weapons program in Iran since 2003.” Now I need to make a point here: I continue to say that there’s never been a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And the National Intelligence Estimate doesn’t provide any evidence to sustain its assertion that there was a nuclear program. But be that as it may, they’re saying that the concept of Iran today pursuing nuclear weapons is a fallacy. There’s no data to promote this. Now, if we lived in world where government functioned the way it’s supposed to when it comes to policy-that is, you get your intelligence, you look at it, you examine it, you assess it, and you say, “OK, how do we now interact with the target, the nation, in this case, Iran?”-that’s normal. That’s cause-and-effect relationship.

Harris: Sure.

Ritter: But what we have is, the administration has already made up its mind about what it wants to do with Iran and had been fabricating a case based upon a nuclear weapons program that the U.S. intelligence community now says doesn’t exist today. Do you think there will be a change in policy? And the answer, of course, is no, because they’ve got the cart before the horse. They put the policy out in front. Inconveniently, the intelligence community didn’t back them on the nuclear weapons issue. …

Harris: But you say Iran’s status as a terrorist organization also plays into this. How so?

Ritter: Not only does the Bush administration continue to say that Iran is a terrorist state, that it supports terrorists who were directly or indirectly involved in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The United States Senate has passed a resolution that says the same thing and certifies the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command is a terrorist organization. So anybody who thinks for a second this National Intelligence Estimate somehow retards the ability of the Bush administration to engage in military action against Iran, you’re sadly mistaken. The Bush administration’s policy has been made. This estimate was not used to make that policy, and as you yourself have reflected, the president’s not going to let this estimate get in the way of his continuing to articulate Iran as a threat.

Harris: Well, Scott, if you’re right, that’s a high crime. That’s wanton disregard for American wishes, disregard for any of the national intelligence agencies that supposedly cover our back.

Ritter: It’s wanton disregard for everything we stand for as a nation. We elect representatives to government to do our bidding. We expect them to operate within a framework of due process set forth by the rule of law. We might call this the Constitution or laws derived from the Constitution. We speak of checks and balances where we have three separate but equal branches of government, and when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy, really, two. The judiciary takes a step aside and it becomes the executive and the legislative branch. And there’s a system, a bureaucratic system there-the State Department, the CIA, the Defense Department-that is supposed to weigh in on these issues. And like I said, you want to gather the facts, examine the reality, and then make the policy. What we have here is an administration that, ideologically, has committed itself to certain policy actions divorced from what we’ll call reality, early on in the Bush administration.

Harris: Hmm.

Ritter: We heard people speak of a new reality, that the Bush administration can make its own reality. I’m not joking. Paul O’Neill, former secretary of the Treasury, who sat in Cabinet meetings where this was said. And so we now take a look at a situation where the president and his administration are continuing to march forward on a policy direction, regardless of what the data says. Am I jaded? No. I’m alarmed, as much as you are, but I think it’s imperative that we address this responsibly by first realistically acknowledging what’s occurring. There’s too many pundits out there today who are raising the flag of victory, saying, “Aha! Because of this NIE, this National Intelligence Estimate, war’s off the table. We don’t have to worry about it. The Bush plan has been undermined.” It most certainly hasn’t, because the Bush administration has never shown a tendency to respect the normal system of government. This estimate won’t have an impact at all.

Harris: Is it likely that George Bush will look at this report, throw it in the garbage and continue on, business as usual? The business, in this case: engage hostilely with Iran.

Ritter: The answer is yes. He is engaging hostilely with Iran. Remember: I’ve been saying for some time now that the Bush administration is taking the nuclear issue off the front burner. The CIA’s estimate follows on the heels of a finding by the International Atomic Energy Agency back in September that said the same thing: There’s no evidence of a nuclear weapons program. And this was one of their final analyses. They’ve been saying this for some time. The Bush administration has been, for many months now, having a hard time selling Iran’s nuclear threat as a causa bella. This is why they’ve shifted to terror and terrorism. The Bush administration is going to use the gift it was given by the U.S. Senate, this target list of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard command to serve as the cornerstone of its target list when it comes to launching a limited military operation against Iran that’ll probably take place some time in the spring. This is the plan, and the NIE-I don’t think-has changed this one iota. Now, it could. Let’s say Congress woke up all of a sudden. Let’s say Congress said, “Oh my goodness, this president’s been pulling our chain, been lying to us, hyping this thing up. There’s no threat,” and Congress intervenes in a way that it’s refused to do so to date, then maybe, maybe this war could be stopped. But if Congress continues to turn a blind eye or worse, as in the case of the Senate resolution, to facilitate Bush’s hyping of Iran as a threat, I think war is inevitable.

Harris: They’ve been asleep for five years now. Why would they wake up now? Why …

Ritter: [Unintelligible.]

Harris: Yeah. Hillary Clinton voted “yes.” She’s a U.S. senator, she’s running for president, and she said, “Yes, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is indeed a terrorist organization.” Does this further the idea that “the Democrats and the Republicans-you know what?-they’re all in bed together”?

Ritter: It furthers the notion that front-runners are all in it together. The bottom line is, Hillary is getting money from the same sources that fund Giuliani. And if you take a look at their foreign policies, they’re pretty much one and the same. They’re very aggressive foreign policies. They’re based upon the premise of a unitary executive, that the president has the right to pre-emptively launch military strikes against threats that emerge, and maybe do so in a manner which negates Congress. There’s no difference between Hillary and George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani when it comes to issues of this sort. There’s other Democrats out there who of course take a more nuanced, I would say responsible, point of view. Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, an outstanding candidate. But he’s not getting money from the same sources that are underwriting Hillary and Giuliani and others.

Harris: Scott, tell me what you think our president should be all about these days.

Ritter: The president should govern in accordance with the Constitution. What we have here is a situation that has existed for some time now where successive presidential administrations, frustrated by the inadequacies of democracy, so to speak-.

Harris: [Laughs.]

Ritter: It’s an ugly process. It takes time. It’s not convenient. And presidents want to wield their executive authority. And so, especially in time of war, they’ve created this concept-and it’s totally at odds with the Constitution-of the unitary executive where the president has unilateral powers in times of war. Somebody like Ron Paul, I think, somebody who knows the Constitution, takes a look at this notion of unitary executive authority and says, “Humbug. That’s ridiculous.” And I agree with him. I think it’s imperative that whoever becomes president understands that there are constitutional restrictions on what the president can and can’t do. I also think it’s imperative that Congress start reading the Constitution and flexing its constitutional muscles. That there is a role for Congress to play. It’s called oversight. And that Congress can retard irresponsible policy, that the president doesn’t get a blank check when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy. But, as you mentioned, we don’t have a Congress that seems to be enlightened in this fashion, and outside of a Ron Paul we don’t have too many people who have announced themselves as candidates for the president who will publicly commit to reversing this trend towards a unitary executive.

Harris: Before we move on, what are you optimistic about as we close the year and some of us being to make resolutions? Having told us before, there are no weapons of mass destruction, having been vociferous about the fact that the Bush administration is not doing their job, what keeps you optimistic in all of this? How do you not become jaded? How do you not become disillusioned?

Ritter: I’m a student of history. I allow myself to go back and examine the history of the United States, and I recognize that throughout our history our nation has been faced with serious problems, and yet we overcame these problems. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I’m a firm believer in the resiliency of the American people and our system of government because it’s founded in the Constitution. And as long as we respect that Constitution and abide by that Constitution, I’m comfortable with the fact that we will recover. It’s not going to happen overnight. It won’t happen in the next decade. I’ve said-. This invasion of Iraq has set in motion events that are going to take decades to cure. And so I’m not optimistic about 2008, 2009, 2010; I’m optimistic about 2020, that America will heal itself. But we’re not going to heal ourselves without a fight. That doesn’t mean that I can just sit back and throw my feet up and say, “I’ll just wait until the time passes.” No. We’ll heal ourselves because we will wake up collectively. Congress will reawaken. The presidency will be brought in line with the Constitution, but not without a fight. And so 2008 is going to be a fight, 2009 is going to be a fight. We have to fight, because if we don’t, then I have no confidence whatsoever in America healing itself.

Harris: Tell me a little about your dig. You’re leading a dig on Truthdig, Truthdig.com. And it’s called “Calling Out Idiot America.” Can you share with us some of what you’re saying? Your thesis, if you will?

Ritter: That was the first piece I wrote. I was approached by Mr. Scheer [Robert Scheer, Truthdig editor] and Ms. Kaufman [Zuade Kaufman, Truthdig publisher] to write for Truthdig. I thought probably the best thing to do is to set the tone of how I was going to approach this, which wasn’t going to be a kinder, gentler dig; it was going to be an in-your-face dig, but not one that was irresponsible. I chose, right off the bat, the issue of Iraq. I say we have a responsibility to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are over there and a responsibility to our government to be engaged on Iraq. But, sadly, most Americans were ill equipped. I was driving down- I had just talked to the publishers and the editors of Truthdig and I was driving down from L.A. to San Diego, formulating this concept of-how do I explain Shia, Kurds and Sunni to people? And I was listening to the radio and the Green Day song came on, “Calling Out to Idiot America.” I said, “That’s a great title. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to do.” With all due respect to the American people, we’re 300 million people, technologically advanced, but we’re probably the most ignorant people in the world …

Harris: How do you mean? How do you mean?

Ritter: … so I have no qualms about calling Americans idiots when it comes to issues like Iraq, Iran and other areas around the world that somehow in our nationalistic-. We thump ourselves on the chest and say we have a right to intervene, but when you ask people to talk about the reality of that country, we know nothing about it, so we’re basically sticking our nose in an area that we’re ignorant of.

Harris: Mm-hmm. How do we cure that? Because I think that’s the main reason we can’t make change. At least that’s one speculation: that we are thousands of miles away from where the action is going down. We’re disconnected. We’re over here living our lives, we’re doing our own thing and there’s a war going on. Maybe that’s why we aren’t up in arms collectively.

Ritter: It’s a huge part of the problem, the complacency of a society that has been dumbed down by the narcotic of consumerism. If you just think about it, we wrapped ourselves in this cocoon of comfort and so long as the powers that be keep us waddling down a relative path of prosperity, we don’t want to rock the boat. But the fact is, we must empower ourselves with knowledge and information. That’s why I’m grateful to Truthdig for giving me a chance to write, because I view it as an outstanding forum for informing people and for having people empowered with knowledge and information so that we make informed decisions. We go back. We talk about our system of government. It doesn’t work if we, the people, are divorced. And if you accept, as I do, that the Constitution of the United States is the foundation of our government, that preamble says that we, the people of the United States of America, we shouldn’t take that lightly. The Supreme Court has said, because of that preamble, the Constitution belongs to us; we are the defenders of the Constitution. And so it’s imperative that we, the people, get empowered and we empower ourselves through the acquisition of knowledge and information and then assert ourselves onto a system of government. But it’s going to require people to stand up and shake off this apathy, as I said, the narcotic of consumerism brings the bear. I love Christmas. I help my Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah. I think there’s nothing wrong with this time period, but we also need to reflect on how far we’ve shifted away from a holiday that celebrates human beings coming together and instead become involved in a holiday that’s about conspicuous spending.

Harris: Yeah.

Ritter: We need to recognize that there’s an enemy out there. And if we look in the mirror long enough, we’ll realize that the enemy is us.

Harris: I think you make a good point. Some of my busy friends would say, “You know what? What time do I have to make a difference? Is there anything the average Joe can do to help affect change? Besides writing the senator and writing the congressman, what else can you do?

Ritter: The first thing is to recognize that there’s a need. That’s step one. You have to say, “There is a need for change.” The next thing, after that, is to allocate time. I keep hearing people say, “I don’t have time.” Last night was Monday Night Football. Heckuva game, by the way. I sat in a bar with my friends. These are good guys; they’re not stupid. But they keep telling me over and over again, “That foreign policy stuff is too complicated, man. How do you expect us to get our fingers wrapped around it? You’ve been living this for your life, but we don’t do this. We have jobs and everything.” And I said, “That’s fair enough.” But then we’re watching the game, and they start criticizing play calls. They say, “You know, if they’d given the ball to the fullback on this play, statistically speaking on second down through the guard and tackle off the right side, he’s going to gain 3.5 yards.” I said, “How do you know that?” They go, “Oh, we studied the stats.” I’ll tell you what: If you’ve got enough time to study sports stats so that you know this kind of information, you can make that kind of analysis, you’ve got enough time to study American foreign policy and have an informed opinion about places where Americans are dying.

Harris: You would agree, then, that the more informed, and the more masses, the more people that are informed, the better off we are. We benefit from that, don’t we?

Ritter: It’s the only way we can be. It’s not one of these things that we would say is an “elective.” We don’t get to opt out of this one. If you call yourself an American citizen, you have to be informed. It’s a responsibility of citizenship. It’s not something you can opt into or opt out of. If you opt out of it, turn in your passport and leave my country. If you want to be a citizen in America, you’ve got to opt in and say: “Hey! I’m here. I count. I’m relevant, and I’m going to be informed.”

Harris: I think it is the job of every American to know something about foreign policy and something about government and be able to talk intelligently about these subjects, because that only means a better public. So I agree with you there. But we are preaching that Americans need to participate, yet the chief American is not participating. He’s not doing the things that we’re preaching Americans should do. So then, how, at this time, can we mount an effort to overcome the backward thinking that’s coming out of the White House?

Ritter: One of the reasons why the executive headed down the path towards unilateral executive power is that they got frustrated with the slow pace of democracy. I think the first thing we have to recognize is that the American people can’t allow themselves to be frustrated by the slow process of democracy. The other thing they have to recognize is that the rule of law means nothing unless the law is enforced. And we have a president who is showing a wanton disregard for the rule of law. There are constitutional remedies for executives who behave in this manner. It’s called impeachment. And I’m a big fan of the American public letting Congress know that impeachment is on the table. It’s Congress’ job, not to impeach, per se, but to investigate. And we have clear examples in the case of Iraq of the potential of wrongdoing that Congress has yet to investigate in a satisfactory manner. And now we’re taking a look at Iran. If we speak of holding the president to account for his actions, how about starting to hold Congress accountable for their failure to act in accordance with the will of the people? And what I’m talking about is a Nancy Pelosi and a Harry Reed, these “great” Democrats. And I say “great” in quotations because I don’t think they’re great at all. These Democrats who were elected to office by the will of the people and who have said that they are going to do nothing to tie the hands of this president when it comes to issues such as Iran and Iraq. And the last thing they’re going to do is defend the Constitution by holding the president accountable for his failure to abide by the Constitution. It’s time we started holding these people accountable as well.

Harris: Certainly refreshing to hear that you still maintain optimism and that you still have belief.

Ritter: I have belief in the American people. The government, as long as it’s reflective of the will of the people within the framework of the Constitution, I’ll continuously eye it in a suspicious fashion. But the government we have in play today? No, I don’t have any faith in it. It needs to be changed, and this is our collective responsibility to elect people to office who will do our bidding in accordance with the Constitution and who will be held accountable to us. Too many times we vote, but then that’s it. We don’t do the second half of the representative democracy equation, which is to hold them to account.

Harris: Yeah. If we keep calling the people, maybe they will answer one day. I believe they have to answer.

Ritter: I agree.

Harris: Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, is also the author of “Iraq Confidential” and the first man I heard say there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Scott Ritter, thank you for joining us today on Truthdig.

Ritter: Thank you for having me.

Harris: All right then. For Scott Ritter, this is James Harris, and this is Truthdig.

America’s Blinders

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America’s Blinders

By Howard Zinn

08/02/08 “ICH” – First Published, April 2006 Issue Of The Progressive Magazine

Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?

The question is important because it might help us understand why Americans—members of the media as well as the ordinary citizen—rushed to declare their support as the President was sending troops halfway around the world to Iraq.

A small example of the innocence (or obsequiousness, to be more exact) of the press is the way it reacted to Colin Powell’s presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, a month before the invasion, a speech which may have set a record for the number of falsehoods told in one talk. In it, Powell confidently rattled off his “evidence”: satellite photographs, audio records, reports from informants, with precise statistics on how many gallons of this and that existed for chemical warfare. The New York Times was breathless with admiration. The Washington Post editorial was titled “Irrefutable” and declared that after Powell’s talk “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

Afghanistan Afghan War by American Soliders

It seems to me there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture, and which help explain the vulnerability of the press and of the citizenry to outrageous lies whose consequences bring death to tens of thousands of people. If we can understand those reasons, we can guard ourselves better against being deceived.

One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of historical perspective. The other is in the dimension of space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. I am not speaking of the history we learned in school, a history subservient to our political leaders, from the much-admired Founding Fathers to the Presidents of recent years. I mean a history which is honest about the past. If we don’t know that history, then any President can stand up to the battery of microphones, declare that we must go to war, and we will have no basis for challenging him. He will say that the nation is in danger, that democracy and liberty are at stake, and that we must therefore send ships and planes to destroy our new enemy, and we will have no reason to disbelieve him.

Bush Declares War on the World War 4

But if we know some history, if we know how many times Presidents have made similar declarations to the country, and how they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled. Although some of us may pride ourselves that we were never fooled, we still might accept as our civic duty the responsibility to buttress our fellow citizens against the mendacity of our high officials.

We would remind whoever we can that President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn’t that Mexico “shed American blood upon the American soil,” but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

We would point out that President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that we really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to “civilize” the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Woodrow Wilson—so often characterized in our history books as an “idealist”—lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to “make the world safe for democracy,” when it was really a war to make the world safe for the Western imperial powers.

Harry Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was “a military target.”

Iran Coming War with America

Everyone lied about Vietnam—Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin, Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia, all of them claiming it was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanting to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country.

And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991—hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait (can one imagine Bush heartstricken over Iraq’s taking of Kuwait?), rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

Given the overwhelming record of lies told to justify wars, how could anyone listening to the younger Bush believe him as he laid out the reasons for invading Iraq? Would we not instinctively rebel against the sacrifice of lives for oil?

Iran Coming War with America Iraqi Women Injured in Suicide Bombing

A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States. This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught.

We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was “we the people” who established the new government after the Revolution. When the eminent historian Charles Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.

Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” said, thirty years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.

Two Children with American US Soldiers

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with phrases like “national interest,” “national security,” and “national defense” as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.

Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that—not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor—is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.

If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these people up there—the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, all those institutions pretending to be “checks and balances”—do not have our interests at heart, we are on a course towards the truth. Not to know that is to make us helpless before determined liars.

The deeply ingrained belief—no, not from birth but from the educational system and from our culture in general—that the United States is an especially virtuous nation makes us especially vulnerable to government deception. It starts early, in the first grade, when we are compelled to “pledge allegiance” (before we even know what that means), forced to proclaim that we are a nation with “liberty and justice for all.”

Barbara Bush Quote on War in Iraq and Afghanistan

And then come the countless ceremonies, whether at the ballpark or elsewhere, where we are expected to stand and bow our heads during the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” announcing that we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” There is also the unofficial national anthem “God Bless America,” and you are looked on with suspicion if you ask why we would expect God to single out this one nation—just 5 percent of the world’s population—for his or her blessing.

If your starting point for evaluating the world around you is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then you are not likely to question the President when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values—democracy, liberty, and let’s not forget free enterprise—to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world. It becomes necessary then, if we are going to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens against policies that will be disastrous not only for other people but for Americans too, that we face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

These facts are embarrassing, but must be faced if we are to be honest. We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which millions of Indians were driven off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations. And our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation, and racism. We must face our record of imperial conquest, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, our shameful wars against small countries a tenth our size: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Bush Declares War on the World

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted that belief in the minds of many people, that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. At the end of World War II, Henry Luce, with an arrogance appropriate to the owner of Time, Life, and Fortune, pronounced this “the American century,” saying that victory in the war gave the United States the right “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced this notion. George Bush, in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005, said that spreading liberty around the world was “the calling of our time.” Years before that, in 1993, President Bill Clinton, speaking at a West Point commencement, declared: “The values you learned here . . . will be able to spread throughout this country and throughout the world and give other people the opportunity to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given capacities.”

What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison—more than two million.

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.

A People's History of the United States

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