Have the Powers Granted to the Prime Minister and President
led to them becoming a threat to the Democratic Processes?
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
by Laura Stormont
I am a 17 year old currently studying for my Advanced Higher Politics dissertation at a Secondary School in Scotland. My chosen title is "HAVE THE POWERS GRANTED TO THE UK PRIME MINISTER AND THE US PRESIDENT LED TO THEM BECOMING A THREAT TO THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES IN THEIR COUNTRIES?"
To aid my research on this topic, I recently visited 'The Green Papers' and read through Mr. Berg-Andersson's 'Between Iraq and a Hard Place' article. Whilst I agreed with his view that President Bush should be consulting Congress more on this issue (I personally believe it is a disgrace that both our leaders can march their respective electorates into war without having a political debate in Congress or the House of Commons beforehand) I was left angry at some of his comments about France and Germany's opposition to War with Iraq.
I cannot believe that Mr. Berg-Andersson said in his article that, "to many in those two countries," the oppression of World War Two "is not even a memory" and that he is insinuating that France, Germany and Russia may be opposed to this War as a means of showing their resentment at the USA being a 'sole superpower'.
Mr. Berg-Andersson's comments about these countries feeling resentful towards the USA as a superpower really do make him sound very pompous indeed. I think that what the French and German governments are doing is something to learn from. They are listening to their people who are saying they do not want to go rushing into a war before getting all the evidence about Saddam and his weapons and have decided that it would be wrong to act without the UN. The USA, and certainly George W. Bush, seem to be far too eager to get into Iraq. Why on earth are they so desperate to rush in and kill what is likely to be thousands of people? Saddam would be utterly stupid to attack when he knows that so many countries are watching his every move now and are against him showing any signs of aggression. I do not believe that they are against this war as a way of showing their resentment towards the USA. That is an utterly absurd comment in my opinion. It makes Mr. Berg-Andersson sound as if he believes that America is 'all-powerful' and that all others should 'bow at its feet'.
On top of this, I would like to point out that if one can so openly make these kind of accusations, then I feel I have the right to accuse America of attacking Iraq purely to gain control of its oil production in the hopes that it could be this 'all-powerful' country. I admire those countries who are expressing their concerns over this war and only wish that my own Prime Minister would do the same instead of following George Bush's every word like a well trained lap-dog.
However, I felt most angry and aggrieved at Mr. Berg-Andersson's comments about France and Germany with regards to their lack of memory of World War Two. I find it astonishing that he could make such a statement. Where on earth would one ever get that impression? What makes him think that France and Germany have forgotten the millions of lives they lost in the war? I doubt Mr. Berg-Andersson really thought about the impact this statement would have and I think he was completely wrong in making such a remark in such a flippant manner.
If America is this supposed ‘sole superpower’ he wrote about, then I feel that people such as Mr. Berg-Andersson give it an appalling name. With being a superpower comes responsibility. There is the responsibility of upholding the principles of democracy. This does not include getting your retaliation in first as a show of the power you hold.
Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:
To start with, I find it rather odd that Ms. Stormont would criticize my contention that at least a greater portion of the opposition to a war in Iraq in France, Germany and Russia (among others also in opposition) has quite a bit to do with America being the 'sole superpower' when she then closes her own comments with these words: "With being a superpower comes responsibility. There is the responsibility of upholding the principles of democracy. This does not include getting your retaliation in first as a show of the power you hold."
It is precisely the attitude seen in Ms. Stormont's final sentence that is the very one I have been sensing as coming from the French, German and Russian governments via the statements representatives of same have made in the UN, as well as to the press in at least somewhat informal interviews along with formal press conferences: there seems to be this prevailing sentiment within- or at the very least underlying- what I am hearing therefrom which suggests that these governments truly believe that the primary- if not the only- reason America might want to attack Iraq is, to again borrow Ms. Stormont's words, merely "getting [U.S.] retaliation in first as a show of the power [America] hold[s]". It is my own sensing of this within the statements made by representatives of these governments that forms the basis of my own contention which Ms. Stormont decries.
However, allow me to make three points quite plain so that there is no misunderstanding of my position here: first of all, she wrote "I think that what the French and German governments are doing is something to learn from. They are listening to their people who are saying they do not want to go rushing into a War before getting all the evidence about Saddam and his weapons and have decided that it would be wrong to act without the UN."
I agree that this is what the French and German governments are, in fact, doing- for I have never doubted that these two governments are acting in response to the consensus within their own respective polities, as that is what Democracy is for and France and Germany have a long enough democratic tradition for me to confidently make such an assumption. Even the government of Russia, while Democracy as we in the West understand that term is a comparatively very recent development there, is- so I equally assume- acting in pretty much the manner in which the "bell curve" of Russian citizens would want it to act as regards the question of possible war in Iraq. And this is precisely why I addressed my critique within my 15 February Commentary to the peoples, as well as the governments, of those countries I specifically mentioned as being in opposition to such a war.
Second, as to those peoples themselves: when I wrote that "[t]o the French and Germans, World War II and its concomitant oppression... is not only a fading memory but, to many in those two countries, it is not even a memory but, rather, the stuff of History- of sepia-toned photographs in grandparents' scrapbooks and fading, heavily spliced newsreel footage used in television documentaries", I was here referring to actual memory born of experience as opposed to the collective memory of national traditions. Of course I do not at all think that the citizens of either country- again to quote Ms. Stormont- "have forgotten the millions of lives they lost in the war" but, in the context of my piece, I was not referring to the war itself as a collective national memory (which is what a nation's History, in reality, is) but to the everyday experience of having lived through it. My own mother and father were children (pre-teenagers) here in America during World War II and they are both turning 70 this year. Simple arithmetic brings home the fact that those who actually experienced that war as adults in their homes (whether resident in occupied France or under the Nazi regime in Germany itself), as opposed to the front, are a diminishing lot by virtue of that great equalizer known as actuarial calculation: no, I was not being at all flippant in my contention that the "bell curve" of much of the populace in those two countries does not, and- indeed- cannot, recall- from their own personal grown-up experiences- what Nazism and its associated oppression- of Germans as well as those attacked and then occupied in the name of what was, back then, referred to by the Nazis as "the Fatherland" (including France)- might have actually been like.
Likewise, I would never- for example- suggest that Ms. Stormont's Britain has ever- as a collective national memory- forgotten what is known as 'the Blitz'- the German bombing of her island in what has come to be called the Battle of Britain. Personally, I think the U.K. will be much the worse off the day its citizens do forget that sky-based battle: it was a seminal test of British character and resolve and those who were killed or injured, whether civilians in the buildings and streets ravaged by German bombs or brave R.A.F. pilots scrambling to fight off the enemy raining death and destruction from the skies over their home island, should never ever be forgotten- any more than the Americans, British, Canadian and other Allied troops killed or wounded on the beaches and dunes of Normandy come D-Day (the very beginning of the nearly year-long "payback" for 'the Blitz', when one thinks about it) should be forgotten (or- for that matter- those who were killed and injured in both New York and Washington on 11 September 2001).
But how many Britishers alive now can actually remember the Battle of Britain as a personal experience? Anyone born just before that period in 1940 would be in their early 60s today; to have a memory of it as a child would require one to be in one's late 60s at the youngest; and how many of those who were adults at the time, the workaday men and women of Great Britain during the Blitz- who would now have to be in their 80s, are still alive in 2003? What percentage of the population of the UK do these people make today?
It is likewise as regards both France and Germany: anyone in either country who has a conscious memory of the events leading up to V-E Day (8 May 1945) would have to be, at minimum, having their- what?- 62d??- Birthday this coming year. (The earliest "current event" I myself can remember which I can then tie to a more or less specific date is when I saw Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, then the Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States, riding in an open car during a campaign motorcade into my native city of New Haven, Connecticut: I remember it was in the Fall and I remember I was 4 years old-plus at the time, which only makes sense considering that I was born in 1956 and JFK was elected President in 1960 [only later in life, when I was able to look it up, did I learn that I had to have witnessed this event on the specific date of Sunday 6 November 1960, just before the Presidential Election]... even with the psychological, where not also physical, trauma that living through wartime can wreak on children and their memories, I think- based on my own peacetime experience as recounted above- 4 years old is probably a good "ball park" figure for the beginning of conscious memory [however fuzzy or vague] of at least one seminal "current event" being remembered); those who were adults- or even teenagers- in France and Germany during the war would have to be celebrating at least their, say, 75th Brithday this year. Again I ask, how many people now living in France and Germany can remember actually experiencing World War II at home compared to the population as a whole? That was the whole point of that one comment of mine Ms. Stormont has so stridently criticized.
I do not think it at all a stretch to compare the response of the governments of, say, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary to the U.S. (and U.K.) position as regards the possibility of war with Iraq to that of the French and the Germans. How old does a Pole, a Czech or a Hungarian now have to be- in comparison to the Frenchman or the German recalling, from actual grown-up experience, Nazi oppression- to remember, as an adult, the oppression inherent in having been a citizen of a one-time Soviet satellite state? 35 (which would make that person 21 back in 1989)?? maybe even a few years younger??? Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and like countries in Eastern Europe are also Democracies- of more recent vintage than France or Germany, 'tis true, but Democracies nonetheless- and, as with my assumption about the slightly younger democratic institutions of the Russian Federation, I would have to presume that these governments also reflect the consensus of their populations- no less than those of France and Germany reflect theirs.
So, I have to ask myself: why such a difference in the respective views of these two sections of Europe on the exact same issue? The only logical conclusion which seems to be able to explain this is that the "bell curve" of France and Germany- their peoples as well as those serving in their elected governments- are too young to remember the adverse effects of Nazism from actual experience, while the same cannot at all be said of the "bell curve" in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as regards the adverse effects of Soviet-style Communism and I think this does play a rather large role in the difference in policy as regards American initiative in relation to Iraq between the two sections.
Third, I want to say something in defense of my country and its reputation as well as in defense of my own comments about its position in the world today as seen in my 15 February Commentary. I have no quarrel with someone in Europe (or elsewhere, for that matter) having at least some concerns with the power the USofA is able to project around the globe, for such power- like it or not- is still rather formidable. Ms. Stormont complains that it appears to her I believe America is "all-powerful" (putting aside- if only for the moment- her additional notion that such a belief as she attributes to me also implies a further belief on my part that all should "bow at [America's] feet") and some of her other comments seem to indicate no little skepticism on her part that the United States even is the "sole superpower" (despite her subsequent closing comments, as already addressed at the very start of this response of mine).
The United States of America is the world's only superpower right now. Superpowers, historically, are those Metropoles (a term used for the core of an Empire or other Sphere of Influence so as to include those based on some political entity other than- and during an era preceding- the so-called "Westphalian" Nation-State of comparably recent vintage) which have been able to project themselves politically, economically, culturally and- yes, above all- militarily over quite a wide swath of territory beyond the actual borders of the Metropole/Nation-State. The actual number of recognized Superpowers varies from historian to historian, but I think there is an overall consensus that the Roman Empire was such a Superpower, as was the Spanish Realm of the 15th and 16th Centuries, as was the British Empire of the 18th and 19th Centuries-- and so the United States of America nowadays (counterweighted for the first 45 years after the end of World War II by the now-defunct Soviet Empire, but- of course- no longer so). Another reason for my contention that the USof A being the sole superpower is of at least some element of the argument between the United States and some of its NATO allies over a war in Iraq is that it is becoming clear that the European Union might yet evolve into an early 21st Century counterweight to the United States the Soviet Union had been in the 20th and that the opposition to supporting America re: Iraq is, in reality, one among many other disagreements between the USofA and Europe in which a distinct European foreign policy is emerging.
Lest Ms. Stormont continue to think me the quintessential "ugly American" she seems to think I might, in fact, be, let me state for the record that I do not opine my country's Superpower status with anything approaching glee; if anything, being a Superpower is a burden. For why was it that the tallest buildings in the largest city in the United States (buildings with which, as I myself pointed out in a Commentary written not too long after the event, I had been intimately familiar) were the ones that got destroyed by Islamist terrorists on 11 September 2001? Wouldn't it have made more political sense- given Osama bin Laden's complaint that, to Al-Qa'eda, unfit rulers rule the Holy Places of Islam in Sa'udi Arabia- for planes to have been flown into buildings in downtown Riyadh? Why fly a plane into the Pentagon- so far away from the Arabian Desert? The simple fact is that the United States can, so relatively easily, project its power- in many forms- into the Islamic World and the Islamists who were behind the horrific events of September 11th strongly resent this projection. (Yet I listen to Radio Kuwait via ShortWave this week and hear no dearth of Muslim love for a fair amount of American Pop music... of course, to Al-Qa'eda, those who so listen are not true Muslims... of course, I also don't remember seeing reports of anybody from the U.S. holding a gun to anyone's head in Kuwait forcing them to listen!)
The United States, to be sure, is not as powerful as it once was in the immediate aftermath of World War II: partially this is because the world has so changed in nearly six decades (for instance, one of America's strongest allies in the wake of that war was Britain- as it still is, but "Britain" in 1945 also implied the Commonwealth of Nations- the successor to the British Empire; it was a lot easier for the USofA to stride the globe like a colossus when a plethora of now-independent, mostly Third World, countries could, back then, be dealt with through alliances with a relative handful of sources [Britain and its oldest Dominions]) but partially it is due to the resurgence, in the ensuing years, of both Europe (as already, albeit briefly, touched upon) and Japan- resurgence largely due to American largesse and support.
Western Europe was able to survive what the horrors of World War II had left behind thanks in no small measure to my country's strong financial intervention. Yes, I am quite aware that this was not entirely- or even largely- altruistic in intention and, in fact, had a direct tie to the American policy of Containment: keeping Western Europe non-Communist was, quite obviously, of enormous benefit to the United States. And, no, I am not one of those Americans who feel that, somehow- because of this, Europe now owes us something in return: the United States got what it wanted out of the Marshall Plan while that Plan was still a going concern before I was even born! It was certainly helpful to the USofA in its opposition to the Soviets that France was able to remain a strong Democracy and that there was an equally strong Democracy implanted in West Germany into which the Sovietized East could eventually be subsumed whenever reunification of Germany could someday be effected: if, nowadays, the free peoples of a democratic France and a reunified, democratic Germany wish to today argue against my country's foreign policy, that is their right and privilege as free peoples: there are more than enough of my fellow Americans who argue against that same foreign policy through utilizing the same freedoms of which Frenchmen and Germans also avail themselves! So, no, Ms. Stormont, I don't think that all others should bow at my country's feet!!
Indeed, I bring this all up not to chasten Europeans or to remind them as to who their benefactors once were: I know they know- the French representative to the UN Security Council even made reference to this in his 14 February speech to that body (as I myself pointed out in my Commentary of the following day). Instead, I also don't want Europeans- or anyone else for that matter- to forget that, as powerful as the United States might appear to be today, it is nothing compared to the power my country could have well wielded back in 1945! At the close of World War II, my country was- indeed- the most powerful nation on Earth (one might argue that it was the most powerful nation ever!) Unlike the other Great Powers, the U.S. had been physically untouched by the war (except for, of course, Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, some islands in the Alaskan Aleutian chain, the soon-to-be-independent Philippines [then still an American 'Commonwealth'] and a few scattered Pacific island bases) and its economy was about to take off like one of them new-fangled rockets come "reconversion"; American movies and its music were known worldwide and America's battle-tested military (and the industrial powerhouse that had supplied it) was unmatched... and we were then the only country with nuclear weapons capability!
If America had had a different set of national values, much more like those of many Superpowers of old, my country could have virtually annexed Western Europe (and, indeed, would have been expected to do so)- that is, in effect, treated Western Europe the way the Soviet Union was to treat Eastern Europe. But America did not! In 1964, for example, France withdrew from active participation in the military structures of NATO (whilst arguing, interestingly, against American "hegemonics"- same French argument, different century!): I dare say the American government was pretty ticked off at this (in fact, I am sure then-President Lyndon Johnson's language at the time would not have been as dainty as my use of the relatively mild term "ticked off" just now) but didn't at all threaten France's independence as a result (compare that to what happened four years later when Czechoslovakia tried to assert its own independence within the Soviet bloc- and that was an attempt at some politicoeconomic autonomy, not the military independence France achieved!)
Yes, America has made more than its share of mistakes in the course of its "career" as a Superpower (as I myself well know!-- after all, I came of age during the period of the Vietnam Conflict) and, yes, my country is- as of this typing, at least!- the only country to have actually used nuclear weapons in anger (though there is some justification for its having done so-- though, admittedly, arguable justification) but the United States also subsequently helped to rebuild the very country on which we had dropped those two atomic bombs (and isn't the flip side of having once been the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war also knowing exactly why these kinds of weapons shouldn't be at all taken lightly?). As was the case with Western Europe, Japan became an economic powerhouse- in this case, along the Pacific Rim- and a Democracy, too... again, with the help of the United States.
Now, I am not so naive as to try and pretend the excesses of Superpower-dom have never driven American foreign policy, nor am I such the flag-waver to suggest that America has always been right. I am, indeed, one of the biggest critics of the unthinking "My Country, Right or Wrong" crowd (I once asked a guy with that bumper sticker on his vehicle if he would jump off the Empire State Building if our country told him to; when he answered in the affirmative, I said "Good, because then the average IQ of our country will increase immensely once you're gone"). I firmly believe that Patriotism is, often enough, well demonstrated by having the guts to tell your country when it is wrong: that, as regards Americans, that Bill of Rights was put in our Constitution for our convenience!
I recite this historical litany if only to illustrate that, whatever America might have done wrong over time, we are not at all the ogre that many around the world see us as being. Why? Because we are a Democracy. Yet, what have I seen over the last several weeks?: polls taken among Europeans which indicate that George W. Bush is considered a greater threat to World Peace and Good Order than Saddam Hussein?! Puh--LEEZE!! Do Europeans (and others around this planet) honestly believe that America is so run by, say, its corporations that the American People have no say whatsoever in what their own government might be doing? The late Oswald Spengler- of Decline of the West fame- would be so proud of you all (for then, indeed, Force-Politics has begun to supplant Democracy!) Even if it were true that a war with Iraq were all about oil, as many anti-war protesters on both sides of the Atlantic have claimed- that is, solely a military conflict driven by the mad machinations of so many greedy oil executives with strong ties to the present Administration, how long do you honestly think such a war could then be sustained without the approval of the American People?
Look... whatever the American government does will, later if not sooner, have to pass muster with the American People. President Bush may talk tough as regards United States opposition to the tack taken by France and Germany re: the possibility of war with Iraq, dropping Chinese fortune cookie-like aphorisms such as "That's what leaders are supposed to do... lead!" (which everybody in the White House Press Corps then writes down as if Moses had just arrived with two stone tablets)- but the cold, hard truth is that Bush can afford to say things like that... now! As I pointed out in a response to a 'vox Populi' on 24 February, reliable polls show that a supermajority of Americans support military intervention in Iraq (though some of that support is also "soft", for reasons I pointed out in that response); thus, in a sense, President Bush- for all his brave talk about his not governing according to the polls (a frequent criticism leveled at Bill Clinton by his detractors during that particular Presidency, with the effect that no Republican President would now dare to admit to doing the same- despite the fact that a President of the United States who goes in a direction his country is not so willing to travel will soon find himself rather lonely at the top [thus, the familiar political maxim: 'if you're going to lead, from time to time make sure there is actually someone behind you'])- is not really leading but, rather, following American public opinion, as he has to if he is going to govern effectively (despite all rumors to the contrary, the American Dog does wag its Tail!). Were the poll numbers on war against Iraq reversed right now, I don't think you would see such drivel coming from the White House passed out as High Truth!
Obviously, I sincerely hope that- should America attack Iraq (with or without UN approval, with or without a so-called Coalition of the Willing)- those men and women who will have to then bear the burden of battle will not suffer too many deaths and casualties among their number; however, should the numbers of the dead and wounded go up higher- or faster- than the American People are willing to bear, it won't much matter how many petrodollars might have gotten stuffed into Republican campaign coffers lately: George W. Bush would still then be in much political hot water!
In short, when someone accuses the American government of war-mongering per se, they are- however indirectly- accusing Americans of being war-mongerers because it is our government that is being so accused: we Americans vote for or against it, we pay for it, we are the ones who bring political pressure upon it. If America goes to war against Iraq, it will be because a supermajority of Americans will have come to the consensus- right or wrong- that such a war is necessary: it will be American blood that will be spilled more than that of any other country, even if this should turn out to be a UN-sanctioned operation and/or there are more nations willing to join a coalition, and, if far too much American blood should be spilled for so little result (that is, if it turns out that those- whether other governments or individuals, here or abroad- who demonstrated against said war were, indeed, right- even if it also turn out to be for the wrong reasons), then that supermajority consensus will already, by then, have melted away like so much butter and there will thereafter be serious adverse political ramifications against those who were in charge during said war- ramifications to be meted out by we Americans as a free people!
Again, it was the United States that was the victim of the September 11th attacks, no one else; therefore, if we Americans hear about potential threats of future attack, we are going to try our best to find ways of well mitigating them. Just recently, as I type this, there have been reports of Iraqi unmanned flying vehicles capable of being outfitted with biohazard or other hazardous materials and which have been programmed to use GPS technology in order to be able to easily make their way through American cities to certain target areas within (so far, by the way, I have heard no mention of cities in other countries being so targeted): the idea is that these unmanned flying vehicles can be disassembled, transferred to some nefarious organization of Iraq's own choosing, and then potentially reassembled at a time and a place convenient to attacking the pre-programmed target. If this is, in fact, being done, it means that Iraq has the capability to arm terrorists with the means of carrying out attacks with biological and chemical agents into American cities, clearly far beyond Iraq's borders. There will, in such a case, have been no overt aggression on Saddam's part and Ms. Stormont's contention that "Saddam would be utterly stupid to attack when he knows that so many countries are watching his every move now and are against him showing any signs of aggression" would be of little value and much too cold a comfort! But we Americans are the ones who will now have to weigh the validity and then the import of this latest little terrorist threat "tidbit" among a whole host of others in making our individual decisions regarding support for a war against Iraq when it comes time to react to what I have already opined, in another Commentary, will most likely be a televised speech by President Bush only once the attack has already been launched.
I, as just one American, would very much like my country to be able to go through the United Nations process and get UN authority before engaging in armed conflict in Iraq (in some of my Commentaries, I have even gone so far as to argue that the UN Charter needs much more heed paid to it by American authorities, as it is- in fact- a Treaty, which makes the Charter a part of the "Supreme Law of the Land" under the U.S. Constitution; you can be assured that this is a minority position on this side of the Atlantic!); I would very much like to have other nations join us- if not in the actual military operation, then in what would have to be done to rebuild Iraq should said military operation be successful; I don't- nor do I believe most Americans would- believe that the deaths and maiming of thousands of Iraqis- military as well as civilian- is at all a good thing. But Iraq is not a Democracy: Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator; if he wishes to sacrifice his own people in order to preserve himself, there is nothing they can do about it. Saddam is, in effect, holding his country hostage to his will and there are no free elections and no other effective means through which the Iraqi people can effect their will. Iraqis, of course, don't want to die-- but I ask those of you reading this who agree with Ms. Stormont, how many Americans should then die in the streets of our cities because of the actions of an Iraqi-supplied terrorist... go ahead, pick a number... and know that, in so picking, you are doing nothing different from that you are accusing Americans of doing re: Iraqis... sometimes only the pot can call the kettle black!
If the citizens of France, Germany, Russia- even Britain- decide not to join Americans re: various means of supporting a war, so be it! We Americans will still be left to decide whether there will be such a war in Iraq, because any threat therefrom is clearly directed at us. And, yes, as I myself said in one of my recent Commentaries "there are basically three reasons for attacking Iraq... and two of them are bad!"-- in other words, this will not be a "clean" war (that is, in the sense that there will be all purity and light as the sole reason for so engaging militarily): oil interests are involved (North Korea is proving itself to be as much a potential nuisance- where not a hazard- as Iraq... and yet we are not engaging that country militarily... why? no oil!) and there is the settling of old scores (finishing off "Daddy's little war", perhaps?), which is precisely why Bush had to go through the UN (and also why a formal Declaration of War by Congress would be most advisable)... yet we Americans can't be expected to just stand around and idly wait for the next threat to take out a fair chunk of our population simply because happening to have a President who has been so "in bed" with petroleum interests and who also shares the same name and gene pool as the previous Commander in Chief who happened to engage Saddam Hussein militarily is so bloody inconvenient to unraveling all the competing reasons and aims for such a military campaign. At the same time, Ms. Stormont, it will be all much more than mere retaliation in order to simply demonstrate American power!