Dr Winford James

The ugly American way

By Dr. Winford James
October 31, 2004

There is no doubt that the United States of America is a great polity, perhaps the greatest polity in the present world. You look at its democracy, its legal system, its educational system, its sports, its military, its commerce, its press, its music, its cinema, and its accommodation of immigrants from everywhere, and you cannot fail to see greatness. Perhaps the greatest proof of its greatness is the ubiquity of its culture in the living rooms and consciousnesses of practically the rest of the world. Non-Americans, including Trinbagonians, routinely consume America, especially its food, clothing, songs, movies, politics, journalism, and scholarship.

And yet America is a sad, ugly place - in critical respects. And nothing brings this out better than the 2004 election campaign for the presidency which will be decided on Thursday this week.

One of the hottest issues in the campaign is the war on Iraq (misconstructed in the American press as the 'the war on terror'), with both incumbent George Bush and challenger John Kerry holding that America was right to go in and pre-emptively remove Saddam Hussein since the latter was a clear threat to the security of both America and the Arab region. Where they differ is that whereas Bush believes that America was right to strike without the support of the United Nations, in particular France, Russia, and Germany, Kerry feels that it should have gone in with that support as well as with a foolproof plan for winning the peace.

Amazingly, it does not matter that Bush misused intelligence to tell Americans and the rest of the world the lie that he was invading (le mot juste that Americans steadfastly avoid) Iraq because the latter had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that it was refusing to admit to having and to destroy. Iraq was viewed as being a terrorist threat for possessing WMDs, and when it turned out beyond the shadow of a doubt that Iraq did not have them, it was still held to be a terrorist threat. And in the face of that deception, distortion, and fraud, both Bush and Kerry amazingly maintain that America was justified to invade Iraq. They differ only details - unilateralism vs. multilateralism; no clear prior plans for winning the peace after Saddam's ouster vs. clear prior plans for so doing.

Even more amazing is the support of the American people, especially Christian churchgoers, for the outrage against Iraq. On absolutely false and unjustified premises, America invades Iraq, killing thousands of innocent Iraqis and suffering hundreds of casualties, most of them young people, and Christian churches, which should have condemned and be condemning the barbarism and bloodthirstiness, line up behind Bush and Kerry in self-righteous support; and line up, critically, behind either the super-important details of American preparedness to win the peace and American unilateralism or American reliance on a properly negotiated world alliance.

And notice too the way the American press reports the bacchanal in Iraq. A sympathetic focus is given to American casualties but callous indifference is the attitude to the Iraqi dead. The message is clearly that American lives are more important than Iraqi lives, that it is okay for Iraqis to die in the America-initiated tragedy, never mind that many are children, but that it is not so okay for Americans to die, except, of course, in the patriotic cause of protecting America.

The American response in the campaign to the American atrocity in Iraq reveals America's ugly side. It is a side that enables America to break up a country on the flimsiest of grounds. It is a side in which Christians can rationalise their endorsement of American terrorism while virulently condemning terrorism by other nations and groups. It is a side that allows America to champion human rights while refusing to recognize and support the international court of justice. It is a side in which American politicians can quibble, not on the rightness of the war, but on the organisation of the offensive. It is a side that justifies America having WMDs but finds it unacceptable that certain other nations should have them.

For people like me and you, powerless Trinbagonians, this side of America must be exceedingly frightening. It certainly throws us into confusion, for I am sure that many of us are supporters of either Bush or Kerry in respect of Thursday's election.

I must be a confused man myself for I prefer Kerry to win even though I know that there is no real difference between the two men, both firmly ensconced in American's ugly side. Astonishingly, I use the spurious reason that the man comes across as being more liberal, thoughtful, and humane.

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