The Pre-Emptive Prophet
"Something has gone extremely wrong with American politics."
After you think, "duh," thank Saul Landau, who has put his veteran political instincts to work once again in The Pre-Emptive Empire: A Guide to Bush's Kingdom (Pluto Press, London, 2003), a brisk scouring of the ideological circus that is the Bush Administration.
An Emmy award-winning filmmaker and longtime analyst with the Institute of Policy Studies, Landau has authored dozens of gutsy, incisive commentaries on the state of international politics and is currently a professor of communications at Cal Poly in Pomona. After three decades of watching the world scene Landau isn't afraid to point out that our emperor-in-chief wears no clothes.
Gathered into a bracing bouquet of essays (many of the chapters are expanded from articles written for Progreso Weekly and Pacifica Network News) Landau's book offers a full-throttle crash course in just how we got into this mess. His probe is aimed both at the politically savvy and at those Americans whose grasp of foreign affairs and world politics is skimmed from cable news sound bites and government propaganda.
The book, which has a Foreword by George McGovern, tracks the Bush administration's imperial aggression in order to make the world free for democracy (whether it likes it or not). Bush-league imperialism quotes the New Testament early and often, before bludgeoning its detractors with Wild West clichés. It's a simple case of us against them, and of doing unto them (the pre-emptive part of Landau's title) before they do unto us.
Landau cites chilling instances of what our failure to question authority has cost. His overview of 9/11 and its costly harvest of government disinformation is illustrative. At no point did the Bush administration ask why the World Trade Centers were attacked.
"Shouldn't people in power have asked that question and debated it before rushing madly around the world with troops, missiles and extreme belligerence?" Landau wonders. Instead came the barrage of TV hyperbole, spin doctoring and the granting of "billions of dollars to the President to use as he wished."
In a section entitled, "The Empire Strikes Back," Landau details a historically accurate fable of just how the interests of national security have been used to pad federal payrolls, abbreviate civil rights and escalate our tax debt into a war perceived by former allies as ruthless and unjust. Landau knows that the Orwellian atmosphere of waging war to preserve peace is the perfect smokescreen for the Bush administration's mission of world domination.
"Our infrastructure, such as the Department of Homeland Anxiety, keeps people feeling misled and isolated," the author joked in a recent interview. Landau has watched the US agenda of world domination bloom, after the Cold War, into a landscape of official lies. "If left unquestioned, big lies turn into axioms and then into destructive policy -- cold war or hot war," he writes.
What would it take to stop this empire? "Well," Landau sighs, "the press could start doing its job. Someone said recently that if you embed reporters with the military what you get is presstitutes." Drum roll.
Seriously though, Landau mocks the press as "privatized Ministries of Propaganda," and deplores the "brevity of explanation and paucity of facts," fed to the American public by the mainstream media."
The book originated partly because "people just weren't quite grasping the breadth of all this," Landau told me. "I mean, who would declare a war without an exit strategy?" The result is what Landau calls "an abstract war" -- a war that can neither be won nor lost. Despite the fact that Iraq posed no documented threat to the US, Landau notes, W approved the daily pounding by hi-tech ordinance, while government spinmeisters tinkered with historic facts to make Saddam look more "evil."
"The American empire can no longer maintain even a façade of compatibility with the foundations of its Republic," Landau points out, noting more than once that our Commander in Chief was not duly elected. "[T]he Supreme Court selected him."
According to Merriam-Webster, a republic is "a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law." No wonder Landau sees the US republic degraded into empire. "The push to destroy Iraq marks the onset of America as the Rome of the 21st century, the sole and exclusive enforcer of its order." Sure the Pledge of Allegiance needs reexamination. But not in the way the media has reported. "For accuracy," Landau jokes, "the phrase should now read 'to the Republic for which it used to stand.'"
"We are beginning to look uncomfortably close to those Nazi war criminals we helped to bring to justice at Nuremberg," Landau says. "Crimes against humanity included waging an unjust war -- that's what the Nazis were accused of waging. And that's what George W. Bush is waging in the name of the American people."
"The Pre-Emptive Empire" powers through the sobering impressions of Landau's many tours to Cuba, Latin America and the Middle East. Iraq certainly wasn't the first place Bush's political ancestors tried out their neo-imperial agendas. Landau's memory adroitly serves up numerous examples of our previous efforts at Yankee-style nation-building, e.g. the 20 years in Nicaragua that multiplied into long decades of dictatorship and includes recollections of Rumsfeld's missions to Iraq in the 80s as Reagan's emissary -- missions in which Rummy helped Saddam defeat Iran by facilitating sales of chemical weapons to Iraq. Landau spells out the human cost and the cultural implications of such reckless economic policies as the International Monetary Fund and NAFTA. The book lays out the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and examines Cuba's success in bucking the tide of US commercial culture.
Among its robustly detailed analyses is Landau's linking of current security doublethink to anti-Communist defense hysteria of the 50s. "Long after the Soviet Union turned into an ally," Landau explains, "we kept in place all of the security organizations we'd erected during the Cold War." Bush gives lip service to spreading freedom abroad, while Ashcroft & Co. curtail it here at home.
"Cowardly" Democrats are not spared Landau's contempt in The Pre-Emptive Empire. Ditto the American opiate-of-choice -- consumerism -- that Landau believes has anesthetized our political instincts. Landau manages to soften his disappointment with our collective bad faith, but just barely. The book's final chapter concludes with an impassioned call to activism, to take back the historical stage from the Texan dictator and his praetorian hawks of war. Landau urges reader to "become an actor in your world, in your time and join other participants whose efforts have brought about some victories for justice and equality."
Right on, but haven't we been there and done that? I point out that many Baby Boomers have grown cynical seeing how little was actually accomplished by those years of protesting and rallying. Landau isn't buying it.
"Former activists misread the amount of time it takes to accomplish social justice. It takes much longer than most people are willing to realize. Generations sometimes. We may not see the fruits of our efforts in our lifetimes. I believe that my doing these things will set an example for others, and at least I will go to my grave knowing that I participated in the history of my time."
Christina Waters, PhD, writes for alternative publications in the San Francisco Bay Area and lectures in philosophy at UC-Santa Cruz.