Sure, lots of horrific things happened in the years between 2000 and 2010: a massive terrorist attack, our country lied into a disastrous war in Iraq, the Administration colluding with corporations in looting the treasury and polluting the air and water, a great recession brought into being at least partially by refusing to enforce oversight regulations on financial institutions, eight years lost in the fight against global warming. Yes, all those things, and many more dark episodes, including the strengthening of a kind of native fascism, happened during the CheneyBush era.
But those shameful ashes of the past eight years can, Phoenix-like, also yield a momentous rebirth of American democracy, a more rational foreign policy, and economic justice. What leads me to this contrarian conclusion?
The essence of my guarded optimism rests on the Removal of the Veils.
Stick with me here. Most of the time, governmental corruption, moral and ethical lapses, wrongheaded economic and foreign/military policies take place in secret, hidden behind the veils designed to keep the truth of what's really going on from the public. But once every 10 or 20 years, at least in America, the veils part a bit and we can see the scarefying reality of how our government really work: the Army/McCarthy hearings in the 1950s, Watergate and the Pentagon Papers in the early-1970s, Iran-Contra in the early-1980s, and the CheneyBush era of the past eight years.
Suddenly, the citizenry is permitted at least a long, partial glance at the true corporatist/extremist forces at work in our society. The pictures are not pretty. Historically, out of those revelations comes anger, activism, at least some reforms and, at least for a while, a new and often better crop of politicians. The GOP found out about that pattern in 2006 and 2008, when their misrule led to Democratic majorities. Now Obama's the object of anger. There is major anti-Administration activism coming from both the Left and the Right, including even a budding Know-Nothing party or faction forming on the tea-bagging extreme -- all signs that indicate the presence of major seismic activity under the tectonic plates of the American political process.
Let's use America's foreign/military policy as our first demonstration model for this Removal of the Veils:
"Soft imperialism" -- using diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, political leverage, firm but gentle threats, etc. -- has characterized U.S. foreign/military policy for decades, under all presidents. But when the neo-conservatives took power in 2001, the CheneyBush regime felt that "soft" way of acting was liberal-sissy and wouldn't frighten anyone into acceding to American demands. And so, with the Soviet Union gone and the U.S. as the last remaining Superpower, CheneyBush were proud to reveal the iron fist of "hard imperialism" hidden inside the velvet glove of diplomacy. Read the PNAC documents that became official U.S. policy; it wasn't enough to threaten to attack, the U.S. was required to initiate at least one major war and, even better, two.
That's what blitzkrieg and "shock-and-awe" were all about. You resist us, we'll bomb you to smithereens. Don't push us, just do what we say and get out of our way. There was even a theological imperative behind such arrogance. Bush, a numbskull unable to keep truths from exiting his mouth, gave that cat away when he revealed God commanded him: "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq", and that his job as president was to "catapult the propaganda." You may also remember that Bush originally used the term "crusade" to describe the U.S. mission in that Muslim region.
That exceptionalist, neo-con philosophy, the basis for an astoundingly aggressive U.S. foreign/military policy from 2001 to 2009, is still the prevailing thinking in the GOP today. In some ways, these militarist policies continue under Obama, though he also seems open to returning the country to its "soft imperialism" mode.
(We still haven't reached the point in America's political maturity -- mostly controlled and dominated by corporatist forces -- where we can have a full and open debate about whether any imperialism, soft or hard, is what America ought to be practicing. Nor is there a willingness to admit to and talk about U.S. foreign policies that so many terrorists describe as their reasons for joining the Islamist jihad; pretending they want to attack America because "they hate us for our freedoms" or because they are "evil" is simply an attitude of denial that will come back to bite us big-time.)
Let us not forget that the negative result of this neo-con attack on Iraq was to turn much, if not most, of the world against the United States. More than ten million citizens in nations around the globe, knowing the disaster that would follow America's imperialist misadventure, demonstrated against CheneyBush's imminent war on Iraq. Protests of such magnitude never had occurred in human history. Even America's key allies, such as Germany, poked the U.S. sharply in the eye in public against the coming war and then the war itself.
That revulsion and negativity directed against the United States, which receded when Obama became President, seems to be returning in certain regions, especially in the Muslim world where they see Obama continuing CheneyBush's militarist policies: Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, et al. The presence of U.S. troops on the ground, drone attacks inside sovereign nations, heavy "collateral damage" of civilians -- all of these are helping to foment the nationalist and Islamist insurgencies in those countries, rather than tamping them down. This stark fact is given little consideration in the Obama White House, and the same holds true for the conservative-leaning mainstream news media. In short, how far have we moved from disastrous CheneyBush policies? What lessons have our leaders learned, if any?
So we've got the example of American imperialism, which, as we've learned from the removal of the veils, in Iraq as in Vietnam has demonstrated its inherent weakness in dealing with motivated nationalists/religionists. And yet the U.S. blunders on, as if caught up in a sticky loop from which there is no escape.
How about one more example before we discuss how all this might benefit progressive activists?