American imperialism, formerly described as "manifest destiny", is alive and well in today's world, writes William A. Cook*
"We arouse and arrange our memories to suit our psychic needs," -- Michael Kammen, Columbus in History
If former US president George W Bush could attest to his mission from God Almighty to invade Iraq -- "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.' And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God, I'm gonna do it" -- then certainly President Barack Obama, our most recent American prophet, can attest to "America's singular role in the course of human events."
As Obama waxed eloquently in the latter third of his recent address to the people of the world, and most pointedly to the American people who must remain "united" behind his determination to complete his mission, for "the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance," he emphasised with great profundity that we must "learn the lessons" of this past decade.
"We have learned anew the profound cost of war," he said, listing as he did so the costs to America and leaving for another day, no doubt, the million and a half Iraqis killed and the untold millions that fled their country and the thousands upon thousands left maimed and physically and mentally ravaged.
But neither God nor His prophets have given much consideration to the enemy, another lesson Americans might have learned from their past. Minister John Robinson testified to God's intervention on behalf of His Chosen People when America's Puritan forebears exterminated the Pequot Indians in 1637.
"Thus were they now at their Wits End, who not many Hours before exalted themselves in their great Pride, threatening and resolving the utter Ruin and Destruction of all the English, Exulting and Rejoicing with Songs and Dances: But God was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven: Thus were the Stout Hearted spoiled, having slept their last Sleep, and none of their Men could find their Hands: Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies!"
In 1630, the preacher John Winthrop in his sermon to his Puritan followers, "a model of Christian charity", declared that they were the chosen people of God, arriving in God's chosen land, the new Zion, given to them as the new Israelites to be as a "City on a Hill" where the eyes of all the people in the world could see the covenant between their God and His people, a covenant that provided protection by God unless they were to break it, and then their "security ceaseth".
Belief in that God and that covenant seems to exist to the present day in the US, since America has yet to accept any responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people that once inhabited the land now called the United States of America. Needless to say, the cleansing continued well into the 1800s, and one might suggest with some reason, to the present day.
Every nation needs a mythic explanation of its purpose and a hero to exemplify its unique place "in the course of human events," as President Obama remarked. But how does a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal", find such a hero? It would be difficult, if not pretentious, to promote yourself as you proclaim that all men are equal. Who among the US "founding fathers" could be elevated to such a stature?
Washington, who vocally proclaimed the inferiority of the indigenous people? Jefferson, who fathered another nation of Jeffersons with Sally Hemings, his personal slave? Adams, who mocked his wife's efforts on behalf of women? Or maybe Thomas Paine, who indeed declared all men to be equal but was rejected and forgotten by the very men that led the revolutionary forces that would not have existed had he not spoken so eloquently of the virtues of freedom and liberty?
It is a difficult task indeed. Yet find a hero these men did, in Columbus, in the first half of the 1800s. Indeed, Columbus emerged as a myth and a symbol, a "man of vision and audacity", who defeated the "forces of entrenched tradition;" a man of hope and spirit willing to take risks even in foreign lands to accomplish his mission; a man sent by God to bring the puritas de sangre to the heathens of this very continent that they might be saved for Christ. Fortunately, Americans could turn to one of their own for corroboration of these myths in Washington Irving's Columbus: "we arouse and arrange our memories to suit our psychic needs."
Thus, from 1492 onwards, the initiation of the greatest holocaust in history against the indigenous people, before even the conception of a United States existed, and the myth of God-given rights to the spoils of war waged on behalf of "sacred beliefs" ordained by Christ through his ministers became a lesson learned by the Puritans, the settlers, the pioneers, and the government of the US until the whole of American came to heel.
By 1846, the US had declared its right to the land of Mexico north of the Rio Grande by initiating a war to ensure the continuation of slavery in Texas, fought against Spain in 1898 to gain control of Cuba and the Philippines in the Pacific, and eradicated the Moro Muslims in a massacre, described in a caustic satire by writer Mark Twain. American imperialism, baptised as "Manifest Destiny", or "bringing God's word to the heathens", continues unabated.
It is a corrosive mindset indelibly branded on the American psyche. It is the underlying proclamation of Obama's address, couched in words without meaning: "the tide of war is receding"; "the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance"; "these long wars will come to a responsible end".
The first implies that the US president knows the certainty of God's vision, yet the vision belies the reality of the past and the lessons to be learned from that past: the destruction of the Taliban in Afghanistan within three months, only to have that conflagration become the longest war in American history; the 90-day war that did not materialise in Iraq, although the declaration of its demise was broadcast worldwide from the deck of an aircraft carrier; the spread of terrorists from nation to nation as America's killing fields leapt from Afghanistan to Iraq to Pakistan to Yemen to Libya and as hatred for America grows geometrically as civilians die; and, perhaps most tellingly, the ongoing support by America of the genocide taking place in Israel against the Palestinian people, a massacre that has no "light of secure peace" in the distance.
Consider the phrase "these long wars will come to a responsible end." What is the "responsible end" of a war instigated and entered into on the basis of lies to the American people, to the soldiers of the United States, and to the United Nations when former US secretary of state Colin Powell testified to a mass of fabrications shoved down the throats of unknowing delegates who gave their consent on behalf of their peoples?
What is the "responsible end" to an irresponsible war? How does the US give recompense to the dead, the maimed, the refugees and the children whose lives have been lost to the American war machine? Will the "responsible end" declare the true reasons for the war? Will it tell the Iraqi people and all the US coalition partners that the true purpose was the control of oil reserves to maintain the US's vaunted standard of living, that it was to secure oil for Israel, that it provided America with a means of establishing 14 more airbases to effectively surround Iran, that democracy was offered as a means of electing a puppet to replace Saddam? Will the US act responsibly and tell the truth?
Consider that Obama knew the purpose of his statement, "this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America's engagement around the world... some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security and embrace isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face."
Notice the word "retreat" used negatively against those who would question his mission to be emperor of the world; cowards all, no doubt, though he does not offer them the respect due a logical question: who declared America to be the "anchor of global security"? When were the American people asked to vote that they should undertake such a mission?
But that's not all. Such "retreatists" are also "isolationists." They are also "ignorant". But ignorant of what? That they do not know why America has taken on this role; that they realise that America is awash in debt that threatens to undermine the nation; that they do not profit as a people from Pentagon investments in on-going wars; nor do they receive the million-dollar salaries made by CEOs of companies that furnish the war machine? Why are these questions not addressed by the president? Americans are either with the imperial, mission-driven mindset, or they are "retreatists" and ignorant "isolationists". How convenient.
Finally, and perhaps most audaciously, Obama ends his speech with these cautionary words, "we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -- it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law and respecting the rights of all our citizens." What principles in the founding documents justify America's blatant, on-going, calculated rejection of international law and the laws of the United States as it vetoes United Nations resolution after resolution condemning the illegal actions of the state of Israel?
The UN Security Council has passed a large number of resolutions condemning Israel for its actions in the Middle East and against the Palestinian people and surrounding nations. The General Assembly has passed over 100 resolutions condemning Israeli actions and policies. In addition, the International Court of Justice has ruled that the wall that Israel is building through the occupied Palestinian territories substantially violates the human rights of the Palestinian people and needs to be torn down and the people affected compensated for their losses.
Israel has ignored all of the resolutions of the Security Council, which is a violation of the Charter, and by extension, international law. And it has also ignored all of the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Advisory Opinions of the International Court. In addition, it is important to note that in support of Israel the United States has exercised its veto power in the Security Council to block many other resolutions that were otherwise passed unanimously, or by the vast majority of its members.
Once again, Obama understands the audacity of this contradiction even as he utters it to the American people. He is a student of the US constitution, yet he mocks the foundational documents by justifying the decades-long action of the US in the Security Council as it vetoes the will of the majority of nations that sees Israel's immunity as a product of the United States' decision to break its agreements with the international body. Just this February, Obama vetoed the last action taken by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, even though 14 member states of the council had declared the resolution justified.
More recently, the United States vetoed a resolution before the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories after failing to convince the Palestinian government to withdraw it. The veto came despite support for the resolution from the 14 other members of the Security Council, including the four permanent members. The Obama administration explained its opposition: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and prospects for peace would be damaged by any action taken at the Security Council. The reaction to the US veto in both Israel and the wider region shows that the US position is becoming increasingly untenable in the face of changes in the Arab world.
Such disdain for America's founding documents makes a mockery of Obama's address to the people. The US is no longer a nation that abides by laws; instead, it is a nation under the control of a foreign government that has coerced the US Congress to succumb to its policies and dictates. One need only witness the ridiculous demeanor of bobbing representatives who gave obeisance to the prime minister of Israel as he presented lies on top of lies, quietly smiling his approval as he virtually conducted a symphony of applause.
The US government no longer protects its citizens' rights; it emasculates them. It does not protect freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. Instead, US citizens are locked down at airports and in homes and in debt because of the military control and occupation of the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan and the imprisonment, torture and oppression of the Palestinian people, having allowed the illegal actions of Israel to destroy their country. In all of this, the US has not protected Americans, but has made their lives insecure and unstable.
Deception and deceit do not create a united nation; they foster only doubt, indignation and distrust. Contrary to Obama's assertion, "we stand not for empire, but for self- determination," the policy of the Bush administration from September 2002 on was exactly the opposite; the US stood for empire and threatened any nation that dared to oppose it. Two years into the Obama administration, and not one major policy of the Bush era has been altered. Indeed, US policies on torture, privacy, cyber-control, secret spying on Americans, Guantanamo imprisonment by military courts, and on- going invasion of other nations continues.
This speech belies the assertion: Obama condemns Americans who oppose his will by maligning them, and that in turn negates his last statement, "we will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity."
In effect, Obama seeks compliance and obedience to his determination that "America's singular role in the course of human events," as determined by his administration, will be the only principled response to a world that questions America's "role" and to citizens that find this myth of America repugnant, unacceptable and destructive.
* The writer is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California.