The American Offensive

Wednesday 4 September 2002, by Daphnée DION-VIENS

One year after the events of September 11, we are noticing a shift in US foreign policy," explained Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. "We are now facing a new type of empire that has more military, economic, political and cultural power than ever before," said Bennis, during a recent Alternatives-organised meeting. "The new doctrine is unilateralist. The world is divided, and those who dare to criticise the American government are being accused of supporting the terrorists. The world is afraid to challenge US power."

The American hold on the rest of the world is not a new phenomenon. Since the end of the cold war, the absence of a force to counter-balance American power has given wings to the flight of its expansion. But since George Bush Jr. came to power, the new American doctrine is being exposed to the light of day. According to Bennis, Americans are no longer hiding their position that "international laws apply to everybody else, but not to the US government."

Bennis also noted that "the Bush administration ignores the rules it sets for international laws [...]. It violates UN laws with impunity while threatening other countries with war when they violate those same laws."
One example is the threat of war against Iraq for their violation of a UN resolution, but "in fact, there is no effort to reconcile America’s own empire law with the UN charter," says Bennis. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also publicly acknowledged that a war with Iraq would violate international law, but she argues that international law should be rewritten to explicitly give the United States the right to use pre-emptive force while prohibiting other countries from doing so.

The hypocrisy of the Bush administration continues. The US is one of only two countries in the world that has refused to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child - Somalia is the other. The American government also refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the Rome Treaty (the agreement to create the International Criminal Court). The current administration also refuses to accept any limitations on nuclear or biological weapons, and has also refused to sign the treaty on anti-personnel landmines.

Public Opinion Counts

The political impact of certain decisions could still change things. "What we are seeing on major television networks and on [the] front pages of newspapers is unprecedented[ed] in US history. There is a big split in ruling circles and a strong anti-war discourse, even among the Republican administration," explains Bennis. The division was evident at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings. The Joint Chief of Staff made it clear that a war in Iraq is not necessary or advisable, despite the Pentagon’s civilian leadership’s enthusiasm for war.

"In the administration, the massive opposition means that dissenting voices matter more than usual. Now we know it is a politically driven decision and that it is possible to stop the empire," said Bennis with hope. An increasing number of grassroots groups are organising to denounce American poliicies. Latest public opinion polls indicate that 41% of Americans are not in favour of attacking Iraq.

"Members of the Congress and the administration are watching the polls. If they believe the political price of going to war will be greater than that of rejecting war, US troops will not be sent in harms way and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians will not be killed," argued Bennis.

These new divisions in the American administration not only allows space for debate but also unveils the hypocrisy in American policy. For example, the New York Times, which is opposed to the war against Iraq, has published several articles detailing how the United actively supported Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war. Witnessing the change in the media landscape, Bennis concludes that "there is an opportunity to use the official [media] discourse to influence American policy."

Canada’s Role

"The debate is going on in the States. It also has to be debated in Canada," Bennis claimed. Even though Canada is known for following American foreign policy, "Canada can stand up to the US if Canadians voice their opposition to attacking Iraq. There has never been a more important moment to say no to war."

Translation: Stephanie Felkai

À propos de Daphnée DION-VIENS

Assistante à la rédaction, Journal Alternatives

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