The Dictatorship of Bullshit

by Stephen Gowans

November 26, 2001


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Comedian George Carlin has a way of getting to the heart of a matter quickly. What the US produces in abundance, says Carlin, is bullshit and bombs. It can't produce a toaster worth shit, it can't furnish 80 million of its citizens with adequate health care, it can't keep all of its citizens productively employed, but it sure can bomb the shit out of other countries and it sure can pump out bullshit to justify it.

Mindful of the tendency of well-meaning people to blanche at the use of such vile language, others have made the same point more delicately. "The current social order," writes one newspaper columnist, "is held together by a mind-numbing amount of deception and violence." That's a bullshit way of saying, "America stays on top by bombing the shit out of other people and bullshitting you about why it's doing it."

Hypocrisy is another word that's often bandied about in connection with American foreign policy. "Washington's hypocrisy knows no bounds." That sounds nicer than, "There's no hole deep enough to hold all of Washington's bullshit," but the meaning is much the same.

If you think I'm exaggerating, let's do a quick survey.

We'd never do what Cuba does

For over forty years barely a day has gone by when Washington hasn't tried to undermine, subvert, destabilize, or terrorize Cuba in some way. It started with the Bay of Pigs, with harebrained schemes to assassinate Fidel Castro, with an economic embargo, with isolation, with terrorist attacks, with airplanes that "blunder" into Cuban air space. You name it, short of a full scale invasion, Washington has been unrelenting in its efforts to return Cuba to its proper place -- a playground for rich Americans run by corrupt dictators with connections to organized crime who care not a fig for the welfare of Cubans but are prepared to dance a jig whenever their masters in Washington command it.

And over the course of those forty years various American politicians have publicly lamented Cuba's jailing of dissidents and its lack of respect for civil liberties, dismissing Cuba's being under attack from without and within as a poor excuse to violate human rights.

And then along comes Sept. 11 and before you know it over 1,000 people are thrown in the clink without charge, the USA Patriot Act sails through Congress, civilian courts yield to military tribunals, officials ruminate openly about torturing suspects, and in Britain the Home Secretary dismisses civil liberties as "airy-fairy." Human rights must yield, we're told. We're under attack from without and within. Hmmm.

We hate misogynist, repressive, antidemocratic Islamist regimes...well, at least the ones we don't control

Women are not allowed to leave their homes unless they are accompanied by a male relative or bear a note from their husband. They have to be covered in public. The burqa, the head to toe covering for women, is everywhere in evidence. A woman's testimony in court counts for half of that of a man's. Women are chattel.

There are no political parties, no elections, no legislatures, no independent judiciary. Those who run afoul of the law are treated harshly. The favoured punishment is beheading, amputation and flogging.

Access to the Internet, satellite TV, and other forms of communication with the outside world are severely restricted. It is a backwards, benighted, repressive, country with a penchant for religious austerity.

Afghanistan under the Taliban? Yes.

And also Saudi Arabia, a US ally, good friend, firmly ensconced in Washington's orbit, and the Taliban's major financial backer. A country about which hardly a critical word is ever spoken.

Somehow, all of those who justify the bombing of Afghanistan by pointing to the odious qualities of the Taliban and the necessity of removing their blight from the world, never get around to mentioning Saudi Arabia and the necessity of removing the blight of the Saudi tyranny from the world. Why? Maybe because all that concern about repressive, antidemocratic, regimes that treat women horribly, mete out inhumane punishment, and do evil, is just plain bullshit. Another lie to justify more bombing.

The standards of international law must be followed by everyone...well, almost everyone

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, another of those misogynistic, antidemocractic, repressive, tyrannies we're more than happy to tolerate, George H. W. Bush declared with steely determination, "Iraq must not be allowed to get away with this blatant violation of international law." As theatre Bush's indignation was laudable, but like all theatre, it was pure bullshit. Blowing raspberries at international law is a Washington tradition, one that has since been carried on with eager abandon.

When Washington ordered the mining of Nicaragua's harbors in the 80's, the tiny central American country took its tormentor to the World Court. Washington was none too pleased with the Sandinistas, who had committed the ultimate affront of ousting Washington's man in Nicaragua, the hated dictator Somosa, whose father had been installed by US Marines in the 1930's. The court ordered Washington to cease. But like a bully who knows no one can take him on, Uncle Sam issued the equivalent of "Who's going to stop me?" Of course, Sam, ever the bullshitter, put it in pretty language. "We don't recognize the court's jurisdiction." I'll bet garden variety criminals are wishing they could say the same and get away with it.

Then there were Israel's ongoing violations of international law in the occupied territories, undertaken under the noses of, and with the blessing of, a Washington that sheltered the rogue country from censure and sanctions. Still does. And America's Indochina adventures can hardly be called a paragon case of genuflecting before international law.

In the years that followed Washington's punishing of Iraq for attacking Kuwait without UN approval, a punishment that sent 200,000 Iraqis to early graves in the period during and immediately following the Gulf War, and a punishment which has since sentenced another 1.5 million to death through sanctions-related disease, American forces have attacked Bosnia, Sudan, Afghanistan (in 1998), Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan again (in 2001), all without the UN's endorsement, and blatantly at odds with international law.

Iraq attacks Kuwait in violation of international law and its ordinary citizens, none of whom had anything to do with Iraq's foreign policy, have been paying the price for over a decade. Washington orders a number of attacks in violation of international law and escapes censure and sanction by virtue of its veto over the Security Council and power to crush opposition, and all the while its citizens chant USA! USA!

Elections? As long as the right candidate wins

When the charge was made that China was contributing funds to Bill Clinton's run for the presidency, a number of people were justifiably incensed, and for good reason. A candidate whose ascendency to public office is underwritten by a foreign power can't be trusted to put domestic interests above his backer's interests. Indeed, there's a law to prohibit it.

But what if a foreign power not only finances certain candidates, but orders others to withdraw from an election, underwrites the media, and trains, equips, and funds a grassroots pressure group? What if it also trains and provides financial backing to secessionist guerillas, and then uses the government's crackdown on the guerrillas' activities as an excuse to impose sanctions and bomb the country, all the while making plain that the sanctions and bombing will stop if, and only if, the government is ousted and the right candidate is elected? It's what Washington, self-proclaimed beacon of democracy to the world, has been doing for years, most recently in Yugoslavia. But there's a long string of examples, stretching back decades.

Take the case of Chile. When socialist Salvadore Allende was elected president in 1970, Washington unleashed a program of destabilization designed to drive his radical government from power. The media was bought, it was made known that American and other foreign assistance would be cut-off, horror stories about communist rule were spread. Three years later, the incumbent party increased its popular vote in congressional elections. Washington had had enough. A military coup was engineered. Allende died, thousands of his supporters were jailed, tortured and eventually murdered, and Augusto Pinochet was installed as dictator. This led many people on the left who had committed themselves to the ballot box to wonder whether their commitment was naive. Washington's attachment to the idea of government by the people is purely rhetorical, they said, a heaping, stinking pile of manure, that guaranteed that any elected movement that challenged Washington's economic suzerainty would soon be undermined, destabilized and overthrown. Why have elections, they wondered, when, if you win, Washington will do its best to subvert future elections, and when the very openness that elections demand will be exploited?

That's a question former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega may be asking himself today.

Weeks ago, and a decade after losing an election to a Washington-backed and financed coalition of opposition parties running under the banner of the National Opposition Union (UNO), Ortega was trying to mount a political comeback. Early polls put him ahead of the other contenders for the Nicaraguan presidency, conservative Noel Viduarre and Liberal Enrigue Bolanos, setting off alarm bells in Washington. Ortega wasn't going to get a second chance.

Soon, an action plan was in place. A State Department official was dispatched to Managua to warn the local chamber of commerce, and through its members, the electorate, how damaging Ortega's election would be. Threat number one.

Next, Washington prevailed upon Noel Viduarre to withdraw from the race. With Viduarre gone, the anti-Ortega vote could coalesce around Washington's favoured candidate, Bolanos. Washington had ordered candidates to withdraw from elections in Yugoslavia in a bid to oust Slobodan Milosevic as president, and, later, in Belarus, in a failed effort to drive President Alexsander Lukashenko from office. Notably, neither Milosevic, Lukashenko or Ortega are completely onboard Washington's demand that it be allowed to dominate their country economically, politically and militarily.

To make doubly certain Nicaraguans were clear on who Washington had picked to win the election, the US ambassador donned a Liberal party baseball cap, embraced Bolanos, and invited the Liberal candidate to join him on an emergency food-aid trip.

More: Florida governor Jeb Bush, George W.'s brother, wrote an article in The Miami Herald denouncing Ortega. "Daniel Ortega is an enemy of everything the United States represents," wrote the Florida governor, an unfortunate turn of phrase since what the US represents in Nicaragua is dictatorship, the continuing poverty of Nicaraguans, and a terrorist army that destroyed Sandinista built schools and health clinics. Anyone who is an enemy of that should be showered with accolades, not condemned as an unfortunate choice for president. "Further, he is a friend of our enemies," continued Bush the lesser. "Ortega has a relationship of more than 30 years with states and individuals who shelter and condone international terrorism." The article was reprinted in Nicaragua as a Liberal party campaign ad under the headline, "The brother of the president of the United States supports Enrigue Bolanos."

The finishing touch was a resolution put before Congress by Jesse Helms (Republican, North Carolina), Bob Graham (Democrat, Florida) and Mike DeWine (Republican, Ohio), calling on Washington to revisit its policy toward Nicaragua should Ortega win. The resolution was widely reported in the Nicaraguan press.

Ortega lost. Bullshit, and threats, won.

As to Washington threatening civilians with bombs, missiles and their unpleasant aftermath, consider these two gems: The first comes from US Air Force General Michael Short, spoken during NATO's 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia. It was reported in The Washington Post.

"If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?'"

Message: Dump Slobo and the bombing stops. Of course, we said the bombing campaign is aimed at taking out Slobo's military, but that, along with much else we say, is bullshit. The bombing is aimed at making you miserable. Now, if you want to stay miserable, just keep Slobo around. Otherwise, give him the boot.

And this, from British Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Michael Boyce. Boyce told reporters that his country and the US would continue to bomb Afghanistan "until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed."

Terrorists are bad...except when they're working for us

The contras, death squads in Colombia, anti-Castro terrorists living in Florida. All of these groups could be called terrorist, but they're our terrorists, so they're known instead as rebels, freedom fighters, guerillas, patriots.

But what happens when freedom fighters and rebels have links to Al-Qaeda, an organization that has been saddled with the "terrorist" label? Are they rebels, or terrorists? The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) says it depends on your perspective (Nov. 19, 2001.) This, in response to a question from a Globe reader: "Are there any confirmed links between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Al-Qaeda? If so, does it mean that NATO took the wrong side in the Kosovo crisis?"

Here's the reply:

"In 1999, The Washington Times reported that some members of the Kosovo Liberation Army were trained in terrorist camps run by Osama bin Laden.

According to intelligence reports, they were taken through their paces in camps in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere. The documents describe a 'link' in financing and training between Mr. bin Laden and his organization known as al-Qaeda and the KLA."

What the newspaper doesn't point out is that The Washington Times also reported State Department "officials charged that the KLA used terrorist tactics to assault Serbian and ethnic Albanian civilians in a campaign to ruthlessly induce Western media sympathy and achieve independence."

The Globe and Mail's explanation continues:

"A recent article in The Wall Street Journal stated that the Clinton administration had been briefed by the State Department in 1993 on the growing Islamic threat in the former Yugoslavia. Little was done to follow up on the matter.

However, the State Department did list the KLA as a terrorist organization financing its operations with money from the heroin trade and with the help of Islamic countries and individuals, including Mr. bin Laden."

So does this mean that NATO backed the wrong side in the "Kosovo crisis?" That "depends on your perspective," writes the Globe. Indeed, it does.

More newspaper reports: On June 22, 2001 The Washington Times reported that a bin Laden representative "is the main financial supporter of the National Liberation Army," the Macedonian "rebels" that Washington and NATO have backed.

In June, when Macedonian forces were closing in on NLA guerillas in the town of Aracinovo, NATO intervened, transporting the terrorists out of the besieged town in air-conditioned busses. According to the German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt, 17 US advisors, belonging to an American mercenary firm involved in other Balkan conflicts, were among the guerillas. And the newspaper pointed out that 70 percent of the equipment carried away by the terrorists was US made.

Days earlier, an American diplomat was slightly wounded by Macedonian gunfire as he emerged from rebel-held territory around Aracinovo with two other Americans, according to the International Herald Tribune.

Skopje has been hampered in its response to the bin Laden-backed guerillas. NATO and the EU have warned Macedonia not to crack down on the guerillas, and Ukraine, which was providing equipment to the under-equipped Macedonian army, was warned to stop shipments of materiel.

To erase any lingering doubt about whether the Macedonian rebels are terrorists, here's an AP squib from Nov. 19, 2001.

"A powerful explosion ripped through a city in northwestern Macedonia yesterday, and a shadowy ethnic-Albanian militant group claimed responsibility for the blast. Macedonian police said an explosive device was detonated near the market in Tetovo...

Alban Berisha, a spokesman...said his organization was claiming responsibility for the bomb attack and announced that there will be 'more similar actions during the next week'."

There's nothing unusual in the story itself. It you read the squibs in your newspaper you can find dozens of stories just like this. But what is unusual is that blatant terrorist attacks against Macedonian targets, or Serb targets, are not decried as terrorist attacks, and terrorists are not called terrorists, but militants, rebels and guerillas. The same activity carried out by other groups against Israeli or American targets would be unequivocally labelled terrorist, and would be splashed across front pages and carried as the lead item in newscasts. Anyone so boldly disingenuous as to call the terrorists rebels, militants or guerillas, would be roundly denounced as an apologist for terrorism and pilloried in the press. But when they're Washington's terrorists, you can get away with bold disingenuousness.

Moreover, the same terrorist attack, if directed at the US, could get a country bombed, millions forced from their homes, and millions more put at risk of starvation, while US citizens applaud the tough response as the right thing to do. But when it happens in Macedonia, Washington warns Skopje not to crackdown, demands the government grant the terrorists amnesty, imposes a peace deal that forces the government to capitulate to terrorist demands, and then ejaculates gallons of bullshit by calling it "a step forward for democracy." Huh?

A double-standard? Hardly. How could a war on terrorism undertaken by the world's top sponsor of international terrorism be called a double-standard? Call it what it is: bullshit.

A Disobedient American

George Carlin says he doesn't feel the way he's instructed to feel about Washington's penchant for bombing brown people. (America's motto: "If you're brown, you're going down," says Carlin. "That's our hobby now. But it's also our new job in the world: bombing brown people. Iraq, Panama, Grenada, Libya." Also Sudan, and now Afghanistan, and tomorrow, Iraq again, and maybe Syria, Sudan (for a second time) and North Korea.)

From whence springs Carlin's disobedience? "My mind doesn't work that way," he says. "You see, I've got this real moron thing I do. It's called thinking. And I guess I'm not a very good American, because I like to form my own opinions. I don't just roll over when I'm told."

Carlin's rule: "Never believe anything anyone in authority says." That's because what they say is almost always bullshit.

Don't believe any of them, he counsels. "Government, police, clergy, the corporate criminals. None of them." And don't believe anything you're told by the media, either, recommends Carlin. They're "little more than unpaid employees of the Defense Department, and who, most of the time, operate as an unofficial public relations agency for government and industry."

As for Washington's latest bombing binge, Carlin points to the first names of the two men who ran the Gulf War: "Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. Dick and colon." In that war, "someone got fucked up the ass," says Carlin, and "Dick and Colin have come back for an encore."

Carlin's advise to the brown people of Iraq, Syria and North Korea, the countries Dick and Colin are gunning for next: Keep your pants on.

As for Americans: Disobedience, a good bullshit detector, and that moron thing Carlin does, might be the only thing that stands between you and Dick-tatorship.



       Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stephen Gowans 2001. All rights reserved.

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Stephen Gowans on Swans

Essays published in 2001


Published November 26, 2001
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