by Eli Beckerman
But before the fires from the "shock and awe" military onslaught were even extinguished, Bremer unleashed his shock therapy, pushing through more wrenching changes in one sweltering summer than the International Monetary Fund has managed to enact over three decades in Latin America.
—Naomi Klein, "Baghdad Year Zero"
(Swans - June 4, 2007) In a searing article in Harper's Magazine in September 2004, Naomi Klein laid out a theory of the Iraq War that shreds even today's conventional wisdom about the motivations for our invasion. Her theory was that the neocons saw Iraq as a potential test tube for their ideological utopia, and pursued a strategy of shock therapy, where the devastation of war would force Iraqis to rebuild their nation from scratch. Out of desperation (not to mention shock and awe), they would be receptive to U.S. economic policy unimaginable in any other country. The common refrain that Bush did not have a postwar plan is inaccurate. According to Klein, the neocons' plan started to backfire once the companies they were counting on to privatize the country hesitated to jump on board, and not for the reason you think. Yes, the security situation wasn't perfect. But more importantly, companies decided to wait for the creation of an Iraqi government because international law prohibited the United States as an occupying force from running the show.
Of course, there were other parts to the ideological impetus for this war, including but not limited to Iraq's tremendous oil reserves, the extension of US hegemony through the establishment of military bases, and the ever-present profit motives of the military-industrial complex. While Naomi Klein exposes the neoconservative drumbeat for war that we all love to hate, these other reasons hone in on a rift in the antiwar movement that must be overcome. That rift, my friends, is between those of us who hold out hope that the Democratic Party can be moved to spurn these deeper-rooted motivations for war, and those of us who know they cannot and will not.
Klein's take on the Iraq War also provides a starting point for moving forward. The post-9/11 peace and justice movement, along with millions of Americans who oppose the disastrous maneuverings of the Bush administration, have been shocked and awed into a desperate and debilitating position. This shock therapy has led millions of us to support policies and politics that were otherwise unimaginable. Furthermore, we are incapable of resisting tyrannical power grabs that we see before our eyes, along with the horrific actions that we know are happening in our name. All the while we continue to pay federal taxes, funding the whole enterprise, then laughing it off with a release of steam by watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert sock it to Bush.
What makes things even worse is that amidst the mounting human devastation that we are all aware of, we are increasingly aware of the ecological devastation that is accompanying it. Often these are interwoven. Global warming and Katrina; oil depletion and Iraq; water depletion/privatization and drought/displacement. The common thread for these catastrophes and many others that we face seems to be that there is an economic driver and no political counterweight. Those that believe the right-wing rise to power is driven by religious fundamentalism are right, except that the religion is Capitalism, not Christianity. While most voters cling to the dominant two parties, which are owned and operated by corporate interests, an intricate dance takes place to provide just enough hope that the values the parties once stood for are still alive within. Both the Republicans and the Democrats, however, are wholly committed to that unsustainable religion of continued economic growth called Capitalism. Even Socialism is wedded to the same basic premise that is presently ravaging our planet -- unabated industrial growth.
The right-left political spectrum needs to be turned on its head, and the Green Party does just that. As Jonathan Porritt wrote in his 1984 book Seeing Green,
The politics of the Industrial Age, left, right and centre, is like a three-lane motorway, with different vehicles in different lanes, but all heading in the same direction. Greens feel it is the very direction that is wrong... It is our perception that the motorway of industrialism inevitably leads to the abyss -- hence our decision to get off it, and seek an entirely different direction.
Mounting evidence since 1984 has borne out the perception that this 3-lane highway is leading us off a cliff, perhaps at different speeds. But the highway of industrialism is the only thing we know, and we do not know how to get off. Our quick adoption of and increasing dependence on technological advances makes it even harder. But technology is slowly replacing knowledge, and we are increasingly disconnected from the earth, from each other, and from the sources of our food and everything that we use in our daily lives.
Thankfully, human society has thrived for thousands of years without fancy electronics, cheap and abundant oil, and food shipped halfway around the world. And the shock therapy we're being exposed to just may give us the jolt we need to make the leap.
What's amazing is that the leap is not so scary, and actually offers newfound benefits. As Bill McKibben points out in his book Deep Economy, the corporatized food system is actually making us sick, while the bounties of reinvigorated local food systems are making us happier, healthier and more secure. Since World War II, the National Opinion Research Council has surveyed Americans as to their happiness. And despite skyrocketing consumption, the proportion of Americans who claimed to be very happy peaked sometime in the 1950s and has steadily declined in the years since. What makes us happy is community, connectedness, and cooperation -- we are a communal species running around in a competitive, individualistic world. Farmers markets provide infinitely healthier offerings than the processed foods that surround us, but also deeper connections to where our food is coming from and who is growing and distributing it. Omega 3 fatty acids have been stripped out of our diet in favor of Omega 6's for longer shelf lives and high fructose corn syrup and other killers have been forced in through the subsidized commodification of US agriculture. Talk of efficiencies and economies of scale misses the point that land is more productive if we work with nature rather than against it, and we are now hitting up against natural limits like depletion of groundwater, fossil fuel reserves, and top soil.
But our tax dollars subsidize the whole destructive enterprise, and our democratic voices are being squashed through campaign contributions and lobbying dollars from the wealthy elite and their corporations. Economic stimulus and job creation packages get showered down on big corporations that suck money out of our communities. US subsidies to the ever-consolidating food industry -- from growers and producers to the energy and resources they use -- predominantly go to giant agribusiness. Our federal healthcare spending is more than enough to cover healthcare for everyone, but instead our tax dollars subsidize enormous private profits in insurance, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare itself. And war is the most destructive and subsidized enterprise of them all.
The crisis in government and governance screams out from the international level down to our cities and towns. Democratic participation has been squeezed out to the margins, with merely symbolic pageants receiving endless hype, and rampant disillusionment. Corruption and fraud and even rigged elections have gone unchallenged by the office-holders and the corporate media who benefit. Alberto Gonzales continues to push draconian legislation even though he has been manifestly shown to be in contempt of the flawed constitution he has sworn to uphold.
And the peace movement, the social justice movement, and the environmental movement continue on their separate ways, divided even within their own movements. Even as Senator Ted Kennedy teams up with criminal Bush all over again to move “comprehensive immigration reform” to criminalize migrant workers, immigrant rights groups hold out hope that the Democratic Party will look out for their constituents. Even as the Democrats have taken power and failed to move on their mandate to pull US forces out of Iraq, and even as they bluster threats towards Iran, the peace movement finds comfort in the soothing words of Dennis Kucinich -- despite the fact that even the few delegates he won in 2004 (all but one) were battered into switching their votes to John Kerry. And even as the coal and nuclear industries fatten up the campaign war chests of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the environmental movement breathes sighs of relief that global warming is gaining wide acceptance as a serious threat.
Meanwhile the Green Party sits there, with ten key values that speak to all of this madness -- well articulated yet lacking any semblance of being put into practice after years of trying. Community-based economics, grassroots democracy, social justice, ecological wisdom, non-violence, personal and global responsibility, future focus and sustainability speak for themselves. Respect for diversity would be a nice solution to the bipartisan bellowing of false threats of Islamofascism, while feminism and gender equity would truly change the balance of priorities and would most certainly knock militarism out of the go-to toolkit. An ecological party that sees the connectedness of issues and policies, and people and the natural world. A full-on alternative to the political, social, and economic structures that are either decaying or combusting before our very eyes. A vehicle for change that brings us closer to becoming participants rather than observers, problem-solvers rather than pawns, leaders rather than beggars.
That vehicle, sitting in the break-down lane, doesn't need one driver, but millions. And it needs to get off that goddamned highway.
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