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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO AMERICA: A THIRD WORLD REFLECTION

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July 19, 2017

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By Shad Saleem Faruqi

The International Movement for a Just World conveys its sincere greetings to all the people of the United States of America on their nation’s 241st birthday on the fourth of July. We pray for peace and prosperity in America and elsewhere. May the glow of liberty, justice and equality fill every American home and heart and may this glow fill the world.

Having said that, we wish to tell our American friends that from the third world perspective it appears that the great nation of the United States, though born in liberty, has metamorphosed into a warrior nation with an insatiable addiction to war.

This is not because the American people are lacking in idealism or justice but because American democracy seems to have been captured by many undemocratic, behind-the-scenes, hegemonic groups. These groups constitute a parallel “deep state” that seems to run the American government today.

More will be said of this “deep state” later. Let me first recollect the beauty and majesty of the American Declaration of Independence.

Impact of the Declaration of Independence

On the historic day of July 4, 1776, thirteen British colonies in North America severed their links with their British colonial oppressor and proclaimed themselves to be a sovereign, independent nation.

The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence contains some of the most stirring words ever penned in a political or legal document. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” .

The Declaration was the first formal pronouncement by an organised political community of its right to choose its government. The Declaration distils the moral idealism of the forefathers of independence and their vision and aspiration for the then new nation.

Indeed, in the decades that followed, the Declaration inspired many other similar documents around the world including the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution of 1787. President Abraham Lincoln referred to the Declaration in his quest to abolish slavery in the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, initiated by President Kennedy, and later piloted by President Johnson, was inspired by the Declaration.

For many decades, or even centuries, the United States was idolized by the young and old of the third world as a benevolent force in the world. The US was one of the main architects of the Charter of the League of Nations after World War One and of the UN Charter after World War Two. It supported decolonization. After some reluctance, it opposed apartheid in South Africa. It condemned the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Suez.

American servicemen sacrificed their lives to defeat Nazism in Europe. In the early nineties, while Europe slept, America intervened to stop the genocide in Yugoslavia.

For about two and a half centuries, American shores welcomed the poor and oppressed of all nations. America devised the Marshall Plan to help Europe to overcome the economic devastation of World War Two. It provided aid (though with strings attached) to many third world countries.

Students of public law around the world look with admiration at the 230-year old American Constitution’s safeguards for liberty, its protection against state despotism and its vibrant provisions for check and balance of power.

More than most lands, America allows its citizens to live their lives according to their concept of the good life and permits them to control their own destiny.

The ability for all Americans to gain an equal footing in civil society was a central theme of the American Dream. Great strides have been made in this direction. As the Rev Jesse Jackson said: “the American Dream is equal protection under the law and equal opportunity. The American Dream does not promise equal results, but it does promise equal opportunity”.

The American culture of entrepreneurship is a good example of a meritocratic society in which hard work and success are both praised and rewarded.

Besides industrial and commercial achievements, the United States has expanded the horizons of knowledge immeasurably. Americans have split the atom, eliminated the scourge of polio, planted the American flag on the surface of the moon and mapped the human genome.
Over 1.2 million students from around the world enter American citadels of higher education to build their careers even though in President Trump’s America they feel less welcome.

Chasm between theory and reality

Sadly, however, a wide gap between theory and reality is also discernible. Even in its pioneering years the “land of liberty” violated its lofty ideals. The US expanded across North America by slaughtering the Native American population. “How the West was won” is a story penned with the blood of indigenous people.

The US wrested Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas from Mexico. Though professing anti-colonialism, it acquired a few colonies abroad.

Friends of America note with sadness that the US used atomic weapons on the population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing 120,000 innocent civilians. After World War Two, the use of brute military force, “American exceptionalism” and unilateralism have become very pronounced.

A nation born in liberty has metamorphosed into a warrior nation with an insatiable addiction to war and the ethos of a garrison state. From the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Mesopotamia, America remains in constant war to pursue its hegemonic and strategic interests.

William Blum, a historian and US foreign policy critic, has calculated that since World War Two the US has nuked, bombed or been militarily involved in 31 countries and has directly or indirectly killed or maimed between 15 and 20 million people, 90 per cent of whom were innocent civilians. Pentagon records their extermination as “collateral damage”.

Nations in Asia that have suffered devastation at American hands are Afghanistan (1998 to the present), Pakistan (2003, 2006 to the present), Japan (1945), Cambodia (1969-70), Vietnam (1961-73), Laos (1964-73), China (1945-6), Korea (1950-53) and Indonesia (1958).

In the Mid-East, victims of America’s “deadly export of democracy” are Iraq (1991 to the present), Iran (1987 and 2003), Kuwait (1991), Lebanon (1983-84), Syria (1983-84, 2014 to the present), Palestine (2010) and Yemen (2003, 2009, 2011 to the present).

In Africa the US has intervened militarily in Libya (1986, 2011, 2015 to the present), Congo (1964), Sudan (1998) and Somalia (1993, 2001-8 and 2010).

In Latin America the US has imposed its military will on Cuba (1959-61), El Salvador (1980s), Guatemala (1954, 60, 67-69), Grenada (1983), Nicaragua (1980s), Peru (1965) and Panama (1989).
Europe has not been spared. Bosnia in 1994-95 and Yugoslavia in 1999 were mercilessly bombed.

What is notable is that most of the targets are people of colour, those of the third world or Muslims. It is not just a coincidence that all the nations being bombed by the USA today happen to be Muslim.

In addition to direct military attacks, the US wages proxy wars around the world. In Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), South Vietnam (1963), Brazil (1964), Dominican Republic (1965), Chile (1973), Egypt (2013) and Ukraine (2014) the US provided arms to rebels and hired mercenaries to subvert and overthrow governments that refused to tow its line.

If all people are created equal and have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then they should be self-governing and not be subject to the will of a super power. At least that was the message of the Declaration.

The US maintains 800 military bases in 30 countries around the world. In 2015 it spent US$598.5 billion on defence. This amounted to 20% of its total budget and 54% of its discretionary budget. The US allocation for defence was higher than the combined budget of the nine next biggest military spenders.

One wonders why a nation not threatened by any enemies and a nation which has pressing socio-economic problems must waste 15 trillion dollars on the war in Iraq. This is while Congress cuts billions from core social programmes like medical care.

The US is the chief manufacturer and seller of weapons of mass destruction and often uses proxies to sell murderous weapons to both warring sides. Thirty-one per cent of the world’s trade in nefarious weapons of war is controlled by the USA.

One wonders why international law, that seeks to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and bans the use of some other weapons, does not address itself comprehensively to the regulation of the evil aspects of the arms industry. Other than light arms needed for policing, why should nations be allowed to manufacture weapons of mass destruction? Why should arms dealers who are merchants of death be given the respectability, commissions and kickbacks they are given? The answer to these questions are embarrassing. First, the most powerful nations of the world are also the biggest arms manufacturers and exporters. Second, manufacturing, testing and selling deadly weapons has become a critical aspect of many developed economies. Encouraging wars of devastation is a lucrative business and not a heinous international crime.

Regrettably it has to be stated that America’s addiction to war, its policy of regime changes and its arms trade make it one of the greatest destabilizing forces in the world today.

The United States is also the chief diplomatic, military and financial backer of the seven-decade old genocide in Palestine. The US provides Israel 3.7 billion per year in direct foreign assistance along with additional hundreds of millions for joint defence systems. US taxpayers contribute US$10.14 million per day to Israel! This is more than half of all direct aid the US gives worldwide. Surveys indicate that 60% of Americans believe that the US gives too much foreign aid to Israel. This sentiment is ignored by the powers that be in Washington.

To assert its impunity and sense of exceptionalism the US has done such outrageous things as shooting down an Iranian civilian plane in 1988 killing all 290 on board. The American navy later made the incredulous claim that it had mistaken the much larger and slower civilian Airbus for a fighter plane. In 1999 the US bombed the embassy of China in Belgrade.

Ever since 9/11 the US runs offshore torture camps. It uses drones to assassinate enemies around the world. It is estimated that 3,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed extra-judicially in illegal US drone attacks.

Despite its outward profession of democracy, the US props up dictators around the globe if they do its bidding. But dictators like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi or Bashar Assad who have their own mind, are eliminated or sought to be removed through regime changes either by military conquest or by providing arms and financial support to anarchists, terrorists, rebel groups or mercenaries who for a consideration will cooperate with the US.

Take ISIL, A-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and Taliban. They are all well-armed and awash with funds. Where did they get all the arms and money from? Religious faith and fervor cannot cause tanks, shoulder-held missiles, uniforms, arms and allowances to materialize from the sky. Obviously some merchants of death are supplying these terrorist with arms and money to combat and, in some cases, even to defeat regular uniformed armies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.

It is now a well-known secret that terrorist groups like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra and Daesh/ISIL were set up, armed and financed by the United States, Israel and their European allies to foment mass protests, create violence and destabilize governments which the United States and Israel do not like. Once the civil disobedience and violent crack-down commences in the targeted states, that provides a pretext for military intervention by the Western allies in the guise of “humanitarian intervention” (as in Libya and Syria).

In Syria for example on the pretext of bombing ISIL, the US, France and UK are trying to destroy Bashar Assad’s military.

The turmoil caused by Western-inspired civil wars and sectarian conflict in the Middle East has decimated several Arab nations and caused an estimated 150 million of their citizens to flee death and destruction. The Western nations that are primarily responsible for, or at least complicit in the displacement of millions of Arabs, are now imposing border controls when the displaced, starving and dying refugees reach European or American shores.

In the meantime the great beneficiaries of these Arab wars are, firstly, the nation of Israel whose adversaries are one by one being decimated. Secondly the arms manufacturers who are guaranteed billions of dollars of arms contracts. Perpetual war means perpetual profits for the military-industrial businesses.

And who are the victims of these wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Palestine? It is quite clear that 90% of the people being slaughtered in these countries are Muslims.

On another front America rejects or un-signs international treaties like the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention; the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; American Convention on Human Rights, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The deep state

Why has America turned its back on its ideals? All friends of America wonder why a nation so steeped in democracy and liberty has metamorphosed into such a war-mongering hegemon. The slogan “In God We Trust” appears to have been replaced with “In Arms We Trust”.

The reasons for this metamorphosis are many. What can be said by way of a summary is that American democracy has become subverted by the rise of many behind-the-scenes, hegemonic groups which have acquired such a stranglehold on foreign, domestic, financial and military policy that even the elected President and the Congress cannot defy them.

These groups are unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements and beyond the reach of the law. They form an un-elected “government within a government” that operates secretly, silently, continuously to run America without democratic accountability and legitimacy. This “deep state” not only influences Washington, it also controls Wall Street which supplies the cash for the marriage between government bureaucrats and corporate fat cats. Some of the obvious players in this deep state are the following:

•   The Department of Defence. The Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 American states combined spend on health, education, welfare and safety.
•   The foreign policy establishment.
•   The military-industrial empire, the arms manufacturers, the 854,000 defence contractors, and the domestic drone industry (worth $30 billion per year). It is estimated that the expanding military empire costs America $15 billion a month.
•   The National Security Agency with its $10.8 billion black ops annual budget for domestic surveillance and a whopping $500 billion for maintaining a global espionage empire.
•   The media that whips up sentiments for war.
•   The Zionist/Israeli pressure groups. Pat Buchanan once described the American Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory”. In May 2011 when PM Netanyahu addressed the Congress, he received 29 standing ovations from law-makers who shamelessly jumped up and down like Jack-in-boxes.
•   The major banks and Wall Street are part of the deep state.
•   The gun lobby. Within the shores of the USA there are approximately 34,000 gun-related deaths every year from homicides, suicides, mass killings and accidental deaths. Yet, adequate arms control is difficult to legislate because of the power of the gun-lobby. Most amazingly, the US Congress has prohibited financing for the official Center for Disease Control from conducting research that would advocate gun control.
•   The privatized prison operators (with a state guarantee of 90% occupancy). It is alleged that courthouses and prisons have allowed corporate profits to take precedence over due process and justice.

All the above powerful groups within and outside the US Government have a vested interest in the manufacture and sale of horrendous weapons, the waging of continuous wars to achieve full spectrum dominance, the destabilization of unfriendly regions and regimes, the control of the world’s oil supplies and the maintenance of existing exploitative trade mechanisms.

For example, one of the reasons for the killing of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was that they were threatening to trade oil in gold rather than in the US Dollar.

President Dwight Eisenhower had, in his farewell address in 1961, implored future Presidents to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted … influence by the military industrial complex” composed of military contractors, lobbyists and agencies baying for perpetual war.

The power of the Constitution, the Congress and the President is more symbolic than real. This is contrary to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence which said plainly that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The American electorate is either unaware of or benumbed by all this. The majority of voters seem not to be aware that America’s ongoing wars have nothing to do with keeping the country safe. It has everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at the taxpayers’ expense.

Only if more voters learn about this sad reality can any change be accomplished. The electorate needs to question the direction the country has taken and the priorities the leaders have adopted. The electorate has to ask itself whether peace, security and prosperity at home must mean endless wars, exploitation and domination abroad.

Successive American governments have built empires that are more powerful and larger than perhaps any in history. Today America is feared but not respected. Is this what the American forefathers desired? And is this in America’s enlightened self-interest?

As well-wishers of America we beg our American friends to try to comprehend the grave implications of the immense military establishment and the large arms industry that has emerged as an uncontrollable hidden force in US politics. This state within a state seeks perpetual war. But as we all know, “you can start a war when you wish, but you cannot stop it when you will”. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria are clear lessons.

On another note the challenge of American citizens is to celebrate their diversity, to use their freedoms more responsibly and to subordinate selfishness, hedonism and materialism to the higher spiritual values of faith, family and community. John E. Nestler reflects: “Whereas the American Dream was once equated with certain principles of freedom, it is now equated with things. The American Dream has undergone a metamorphosis from principles to materialism. … When people are concerned more with the attainment of things than with the maintenance of principles, it is a sign of moral decay.”

Only ordinary Americans can arrest these trends and rebuild a country that lives up to the principles and ideals of the Founding Fathers.

We at the International Movement for a Just World wish America a Happy Birthday. We fervently pray that the “City Upon A Hill” will once again become a force for good in the world and once again be regarded as a sentinel of democracy and human rights.

Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is Holder of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair at the Faculty of Law at University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur . He is an Executive Committee member of JUST.

17 July 2017

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