12 January 2016 **** Front Page

Voices of dissident Americans

By Tapani Lausti

In Finland criticising US foreign policy often triggers accusations of anti-American hysteria. These reactions ignore the fact that the best critical analyses of US policies come from American writers. One reason for this is the fact that many Finnish writers have lived in the shadow of the old Cold War and have now immersed themselves in the new Cold War. There are good reasons to be critical of Russian social and political reality and foreign policy. However, too often this criticism gets mixed with a lopsided world view where everything good comes from the West. The majority of Finns are against joining NATO but a large part of the population seems ignorant of the realities of US social life and Washington's foreign policies.

In order to highlight the existence of important dissident writing in the US, I used a series of columns in 2015 to introduce some excellent writers who are little known in Finland. The columns appeared in the Finnish peace magazine Rauhan Puolesta (For Peace). The writers I chose were Henry A. Giroux, Ann Jones, Chris Hedges, Phyllis Bennis, Robert Parry and Marjorie Cohn. The choice was partly influenced by themes that were at the time being widely discussed in the alternative US media. Here I want to give non-Finnish readers some idea of what sort of alternative views appeared in the dissident discourse that I covered.

Professor Henry A. Giroux is one of the most critical analysts of current US policies. He is currently working in Toronto, Canada. Giroux says that after the 9/11 attacks an obsession with security and revenge created a militarised culture steeped in violence. Violence is part of everyday life in the US and its relations with the rest of the world. Torture is widely accepted by the American public. Groux writes:

After 9/11, the United States slipped into a moral coma as President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney worked tirelessly to ensure that the United States would not be constrained by international prohibitions against cruel and inhumane treatment.

He adds:*

Americans now live under a government in which the doctrine of permanent warfare is legitimated through a state of emergency deeply rooted in a mass psychology of violence and culture of cruelty that are essential to transforming a government of laws into a regime of lawlessness. (America's Addiction to Torture, Truthout, 17 December 2014)

Giroux believes that the Americans are living in dangerous times. Critical education, thought and dissent are disparaged. Giroux writes:

Compromise and compassion are now viewed as a pathology, a blight on the very meaning of politics. Moreover, in a society controlled by financial monsters, the political order is no longer sustained by a faith in reason, critical thought and care for the other. (Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education, Truthout, 30 December 2014)

Giroux's latest book is Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (2013).

Ann Jones is an American journalist, volunteer worker and writer who has toured the world all her life. She now lives in Norway. She remembers how after the Second World War people around the world used to admire the US. Jones tells how after the 2003 invasion in Iraq this all changed. During her travels around Eastern and Central Europe in 2014 people kept asking her whether the Americans had gone bonkers.

She desribes her recent visit to her home country thus:

It struck me there that most Americans have no idea just how strange we now seem to much of the world. In my experience, foreign observers are far better informed about us than the average American is about them. This is partly because the “news” in the American media is so parochial and so limited in its views both of how we act and how other countries think -- even countries with which we were recently, are currently, or threaten soon to be at war. America's belligerence alone, not to mention its financial acrobatics, compels the rest of the world to keep close track of us.  Who knows, after all, what conflict the Americans may drag you into next, as target or reluctant ally?

Jones writes:

Europeans understand, as it seems Americans do not, the intimate connection between a country's domestic and foreign policies. They often trace America's reckless conduct abroad to its refusal to put its own house in order. They've watched the United States unravel its flimsy safety net, fail to replace its decaying infrastructure, disempower most of its organized labor, diminish its schools, bring its national legislature to a standstill, and create the greatest degree of economic and social inequality in almost a century. They understand why Americans, who have ever less personal security and next to no social welfare system, are becoming more anxious and fearful. They understand as well why so many Americans have lost trust in a government that has done so little new for them over the past three decades or more, except for Obama's endlessly embattled health care effort, which seems to most Europeans a pathetically modest proposal. (Tomgram: Ann Jones, Answering for America, TomDispatch.com, 11 January 2015)

Jones's latest book is They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars -- The Untold Story (2013).

Veteran journalist and foreign corespondent Chris Hedges laments the fact that the mass media blindly support the ideology of corporate capitalism. They laud and promote the myth of American democracy—even as Americans are stripped of civil liberties and money replaces the vote. Hedges writes:

They pay deference to the leaders on Wall Street and in Washington, no matter how perfidious their crimes. They slavishly venerate the military and law enforcement in the name of patriotism. They select the specialists and experts, almost always drawn from the centers of power, to interpret reality and explain policy.

Hedges observes that the mass media are plagued by mediocrity, corporatism and careerism. He writes:

They cling to the self-serving mantra of impartiality and objectivity to justify their subservience to power. The press writes and speaks—unlike academics that chatter among themselves in arcane jargon like medieval theologians—to be heard and understood by the public. And for this reason the press is more powerful and more closely controlled by the state. It plays an essential role in the dissemination of official propaganda. But to effectively disseminate state propaganda the press must maintain the fiction of independence and integrity. It must hide its true intentions. (The Myth of the Free Press, Truthdig, 26 October 2014)

In conditions of global capitalism the mass media ignores the real life of real people. Hedges writes:

The assault of global capitalism is not only an economic and political assault. It is a cultural and historical assault. Global capitalism seeks to erase our stories and our histories. Its systems of mass communication, which peddle a fake intimacy with manufactured celebrities and a false sense of belonging within a mercenary consumer culture, shut out our voices, hopes and dreams. Salacious gossip about the elites and entertainers, lurid tales of violence and inane trivia replace in national discourse the actual and the real. The goal is a vast historical amnesia. (Journalism as Subversion, Truthdig, 22 March 2015)

Hedges's latest book is Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015)

Phyllis Bennis is an analyst and journalist who has for years written background analyses of US foriegn policy, especialy in the Middle East but also elsewhere. She explains how after 9/11 the US opted for a militarised, unilateral foreign policy which prioritises military power everywhere. Washington believes that this policy is viewed positively in the world. The US stepped openly outside the UN Charter by declaring the new concept of preemptive self-defence. Those not approving of Washington's dictates would be considered to be outside the bounds of civilisation. In her 2003 book Before & After : US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis, Bennis summed up this attitude thus:

"While the US demands that other countries strictly abide by UN resolutions and international law, and threatens or imposes sanctions or even military assault in response to violations, it holds itself accountable only to a separate law of empire which applies to the US alone." (p. 104) (US intimidates the world)

With this arrogance, the US pretends to be making the world a safer place. In reality, in its search for self-serving stability, Washington is destabilising much of the world. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, US interests, not human rights considerations, are the driving factor which bodes ill for any road maps towards peace. In its push to control world oil supplies, it is redrawing the political map in Central Asia, again with no respect for human rights. True to this tradition, in his comments about US foreign policy President Barack Obama has aimed to justify his new and continuing wars, rationalise the militarisation of policy towards much of the world, and reassert the power and legitimacy of the United State empire. Bennis writes:

There were two major crises to address, Ukraine and ISIS. Obama chose tough language towards Russia, accusing Moscow of a “might makes right” policy while asserting everything the U.S. does is based on “right makes right.” It was a litany of everything Russia must do, the U.S. has little responsibility for the crisis. (The Obama Speech We Didn't Hear at the UN, teleSUR , 24 September 2014)

Despite the bluster of hawks who crave a deeper war in Iraq and Syria, it isn't true that Obama has no strategy against the Islamic State. There is a strategy — but in Bennis's view it is wrong and it's losing. She writes:

The Obama administration has so far been unable or unwilling to act on its own oft-repeated understanding that “ there is no military solution” to the so-called ISIS crisis. Instead, the U.S. strategy has relied almost solely on military action, with little or no investment in the funds, personnel, or political capital to wage the kind of powerful diplomacy that's so desperately needed. If anything, the ongoing air war — and the flooding of the region with arms — is making a diplomatic resolution less likely. (Obama Does Have a Strategy in Iraq: Escalation, Common Dreams, 11 June 2015)

Bennis's latest book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (2015)

Some of the best American journalism has been inspired by I.F. Stone (see here and here). He was an iconoclastic journalist who published I.F. Stone's Weekly during the McCarthy era and the Vietnam War, setting a standard for independence that Robert Parry has been following. In October 2015 Parry received the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence from Harvard's Nieman Foundation. In 1995 Parry had launched Consortiumnews.com which was the first internet site specialising in investigative reporting.

Recently Parry has been analysing American neo-conservatives' damaging policies. Parry writes:

The neocons have plunged the U.S. government into extraordinarily ill-considered wars wasting trillions of dollars, killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, and destabilizing large swaths of the planet including the Middle East, much of Africa and now Europe. Those costs include a swelling hatred against America and a deformed U.S. foreign policy elite that is no longer capable of formulating coherent strategies.

In spite of their disastrous record, the neocons are still riding high in Washington as Parry notes:

Yet, the neocons have remained immune from the consequences of their catastrophes. They still dominate Washington's major think tanks as well as the op-ed pages of virtually all the leading newspapers, including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times. They hold down key positions in the State Department, and their “liberal interventionist” pals have the ear of President Barack Obama. (Are Neocons an Existential Threat? Consortiumnews.com, 15 September 2015)

As the neocons continue their reckless policies, the world is ever nearer a dangerous brink. The new Cold War is whipped up by wild anti-Russian hysteria. The US role in fomenting trouble in Ukraine disappears from view, it's all about "Russian aggression". The mainstream media goes along with this propaganda war. In Parry's view the US media has given up any attempt of independent, investigative reporting. Thus the media partipates in propaganda that makes it difficult for the American public to understand what is going on in the world and what is the US's destructive part in fomenting chaos. In his acceptance speech at the I.F. Stone ceremony Parry said:

Though I shared Stone's view that journalists should be the consummate outsiders, I came to the profession as a mainstream journalist. But I never forgot his insistence on maintaining your independence, whatever the pressures. To me, the core responsibility of a journalist is to have an open-mind toward information, to have no agenda, to have no preferred outcome. In other words, I don't care what the truth is; I just care what the truth is. That's the deal you make with your readers, to follow the facts wherever they lead. (Parry's Speech at I.F. Stone Award, Consortiumnews.com, 26 October 2015)

Parry's latest book is America's Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Obama (2012).

A central part of the neocons' -- and Obama's -- perception of the US's role in the world is the country's "exceptionalism". One of the sharpest critics of this dangerous concept is Marjorie Cohn. She is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.

Cohn describes the ideology of "exceptionalism" in this way:

American exceptionalism reflects the belief that Americans are somehow better than everyone else. This view reared its head after the 2013 leak of a Department of Justice White Paper that describes circumstances under which the President can order the targeted killing of U.S. citizens. There had been little public concern in this country about drone strikes that killed people in other countries. But when it was revealed that U.S. citizens could be targeted, Americans were outraged.

This double standard moved Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu so much that he wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times. Tutu asked, “Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours?”

Cohn has no doubt that the drone strikes are mostly wanton butchery. They break international law, they are immoral and increase the risk of terrorist strikes against Americans. Cohn writes:

Contrary to popular opinion, the use of drones does not result in fewer civilian casualties than manned bombers. A study based on classified military data, conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses and the Center for Civilians in Conflict, concluded that the use of drones in Afghanistan caused 10 times more civilian deaths than manned fighter aircraft. (Challenging American Exceptionalism, Common Dreams, 28 April 2015)

US politicians often express contempt towards international regulations and the United Nations. Cohn explains:

Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, armed conflict, especially US wars that violate the UN Charter, continues to plague the world. In 1945, the UN Charter was created "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." It forbids the use of military force except in self-defense after an armed attack by another state or when approved by the Security Council. Yet the three most recent US presidents have violated that command. (The US Is Still Manipulating the UN After 70 years, Truthout, 15 November 2015)

The writers included in this article are decent Americans who worry deeply about their country's political and financial elite's chosen path. The US has become a country where money buys everything and where inequalities are tearing the country apart.


Archive: Phyllis Bennis, Marjorie Cohn, Henry A. Giroux, Chris Hedges, Ann Jones, Robert Parry, Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Diana Johnstone, Gabriel Kolko, Gary Younge, Howard Zinn, United States, International Affairs, Middle East, Russia and Ukraine, Occupy, Wikileaks

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