I happened upon an interview with Eddie Vedder in The Believer this month. Granted, the magazine is mostly written for the tastes of white upper middle class graduates of mid west art schools who are largely ignorant of any information not printed in Newsweek; still one quote stood out. Vedder, with his vast untapped reservoirs of global political accumen, concludes that “this administration has made our country a liability upon the earth.”
Yes, I know this is Eddie Vedder whose credibility, even as a rock star, is somewhat questionable. Still the sentiment is a practical lifting of the party line of the Democrat PR machine and echoes Kerry’s own critiques against Bush at a May fundraiser. At that event, Kerry offered the fanciful idea that Bush “undermined the legacy of generations of American leadership” by using force before diplomacy was exhausted. As if that wasn’t enough of a stretch, Kerry then evoked the spectre of Teddy Roosevelt, perhaps the most nakedly imperialist President of the 20th century, appropriating his ‘big stick’ euphemism, which Roosevelt used to advocate global US military hegemony, with no intended irony. Kerry believes that our overwhelming military presence in the world was somehow greatly appreciated before 2000. In this pro-Kerry/Democrat formula, the American history of pissing off the world begins with the election of George W. Bush.
It’s not surprising to hear Kerry, whose doozies vie with those of Bush for sheer hubris, put forth this skewed perspective of American history (you’ve got to wonder if he includes Bush I’s invasion of Iraq and 8 years of questionable military adventures in the Reagan years when recounting America’s diplomatic salad days). What is surprising, and disturbing, however, is to hear so-called progressives also plying the unlikely version of events. Suddenly, in the rush to oust Bush, the questionable foreign policy paradigms of Democrats are no longer worth discussing. Former activists, who less than two years past were protesting Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, are crossing their fingers and hoping that Kerry will somehow emerge from his neo-liberal cocoon as some kind of messianic progressive come early spring 2005. Still, even if Kerry remains the pig he seems, they hope that the American cancer will be cured with the end of Bush’s reign, global citizenry will stop hating us, and the anti-American environment will decline.
Seemingly overlooked, is that the most destructive terror attacks against the US have occurred as a consequence of foreign policy either created or backed by Democrats. In late 2000, just two months after the Intifada began in Palestine, the USS Cole was bombed off the coast of Yemen. The bombing was a direct response to Bill Clinton’s pro-Israel policies expressed through nearly a decade of cynical US sponsored peace negotiations designed to disenfranchise Palestinians. Rather than break Palestinian aspirations to self-determination, the Clinton/Israeli ‘peace’ process culminated instead in an inevitable uprising and the collapse of the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict for the forseeable future.
Likewise, the largest act of terrorism against Americans in history, 9/11, was more likely a reaction to Clinton’s 8 years as President rather than the 8 months Bush had logged in office. Bush at that time had virtually made no mention of the world outside of US borders and was busy devising massive tax cuts and other schemes to continue the transfer of capital from poor to rich that has been the main preoccupation of every President since Lincoln abolished slavery. Bush, in fact, ran on an isolationist platform (however disingenuously), stating quite clearly that the US should not become a “world cop” or engage in “nation building”. Bush’s profile on the world stage was hardly threatening either; the popular characterization of the American President varied from illiterate-tele-prompt-bungler, cousin-bred boot-licker or stammering monkey-faced fuck-up. Besides some posturing and the infamous ‘axis of evil’ admonishments, he had not made a single foreign policy decision by the end of 2001, but instead continued the policies of his predecessor (aided by many of his predecessor’s staff). In any case, it is doubtful that the perpetrators of 9/11 put together their plan and carried it out with only 8 months lead time.
Osama Bin Laden himself stated quite clearly, in his many straight to video releases, that 9-11 was the first salvo in a war against US imperialism and support of politically (and, from the fundamentalist standpoint, morally) corrupt regimes throughout the Middle East. The occupation of Palestine and the crippling sanctions on Iraq could not have been far from his mind or the minds of millions of other Muslims viewing the hypocrisy and barbarism of US policy. Clinton steadfastly upheld the idea of sanctions in Iraq through both his terms, though it was well within his power to end them. It should also be remembered that the Clinton administration was responsible for destroying the credibility of weapon’s inspectors by planting CIA operatives within their midst, leading to the suspension of inspections for nearly 5 years. Clinton’s failure to end the sanctions regime cost many more lives to disease, hunger and poverty than the entire current Bush misadventure, a fact that our world neighbors are quite aware of.
The Clinton administration also mid-wifed the Oslo period in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is widely perceived throughout the Arab world as an unjust cynical strategy for institutionalizing apartheid in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. As the plan progressed through the Clinton years, it became more and more apparent, at least in the world beyond the US, that it was never meant to foster justice for Palestinians, but was instead intended to expedite their dispossession. The impact of this on the world opinion, especially in Arab and Muslim cultures, cannot be overstated; the US’s credibility, if it exists at all, was severely weakened by its one-sided involvement with Israel’s apartheid scheme. More to the point, when the Oslo plan failed to fool Palestinians into giving up their right to self-rule, Clinton blamed (and continues to blame) Yassir Arafat, and by proxy, Palestinians themselves. Clinton continued to blame Palestinians, even as barabaric Israeli military tactics in the West Bank and Gaza killed hundreds within the first months of the Intifada, at least one third of them, children.
Obviously, the Bush adminstration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq have inflamed anti-American sentiments throughout the world, and it is quite possible that 9-11 sequelae are currently in the planning stages as a by-product. But there was certainly no love affair with US foreign policy in the Muslim or Arab world before the Bush administration. To lay the blame for US unpopularity on the Bush doorstep is to conveniently relegate Clinton’s foreign policy, repleat with arrogant denials for Palestinian self-determination, unjustifiable bombings of civilian targets (in Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere), and a legacy of pro-corporate globalization schemes that have impoverished third world people, to the memory hole.
This is important to remember when considering the argument that Kerry, if elected, will somehow reverse the US’s downward trajectory in the eyes of the world. Kerry has been militantly anti-Palestinian, much more so than Bush. In fact, the last presidential candidate who so approximated right wing Israeli policies was Bill Clinton. Interestingly, Kerry has appropriated a Clinton-era pro-Israel device, the aptly named Jay Footlik, as his “senior advisor on Middle East and Jewish affairs” (in a bizarre twist, a Jay Footlik is apparently listed as an extra in the Michael J. Fox vehicle Teen Wolf) . Footlik is currently responsible for an ambitious PR campaign directed at “synagogues, federations, youth groups, sisterhood and brotherhood groups” to get the word out that Kerry’s Pro-Israel voting record in the senate is “second to none”. Kerry offers no just solution to the Iraq mess but champions Bush’s own plan—a continued occupation that could outlast his own term as president, should he win. These facts are no secret to the rest of the world, though they may be here.
Perhaps what has really given the US a bad name in the world and fed the rise of fundamentalist extremism in Muslim nations, is a foreign and economic policy that has hardly wavered in its arrogance and brutality for nearly 40 years. From Fall to Spring, Centrist Liberal to Right Wing Wacko, Democrat to Republican, US unjustifiable invasions, sponsored coups, economic chokeholds, occupations and bombings have been the norm, not the exception. As I am writing this article, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, perhaps the two most progressive Democrats in the US Senate, are vocally protesting the International Court of Justice ruling that the construction of Israel’s “seperation wall”, miles beyond Israel’s border with the West Bank, violates the human rights of Palestinians. Clinton and Schumer, like their counterpart Kerry, who has carefully and quietly applauded the wall, seek to deny Palestinians the one avenue they have besides violence to counter Israel’s colonialist endeavor – the very international diplomatic forums Kerry claims Bush has ignored. In this opinion, Clinton, Schumer and Kerry find common ground with George W. Bush, who made similar comments this week.
The copious hatred of the US in the third world may be less a reaction to Bush than a decade of withering globalization and generations of US foreign policy bullying. Maybe the world has finally had enough of the US, presidents notwithstanding.