Fascists? Look who's talking / Garfield with guns
Fascists? Look who's talking / Garfield with guns
By: Jim Lobe + Chan Akya on: 02.09.2006 [05:21 ]
The aggressive new campaign by the administration of President George W Bush to depict US foes in the Middle East as "fascists" and its domestic critics as "appeasers" owes a great deal to steadily intensifying efforts by the right-wing press over the past several months to draw the same comparison.
Fascists? Look who's talking
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The aggressive new campaign by the administration of President George W Bush to depict US foes in the Middle East as "fascists" and its domestic critics as "appeasers" owes a great deal to steadily intensifying efforts by the right-wing press over the past several months to draw the same comparison.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News Network and the Weekly Standard, as well as the Washington Times, which is controlled by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, and the
neo-conservative New York Sun, have consistently and with increasing frequency framed the challenges faced by Washington in the region in the context of the rise of fascism and Nazism in the 1930s, according to a search of the Nexis database.
All of those outlets, as well as two other right-wing US magazines - the National Review and The American Spectator - far outpaced their commercial rivals in the frequency of their use of keywords and names such as "appeasement", "fascism" and "Hitler", particularly with respect to Iran and its controversial president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
For example, Nexis cited 56 uses of "Islamofascist" or "Islamofascism" in separate programs or segments aired by Fox News, compared with 24 by CNN, over the past year. Even more striking, the same terms were used in 115 different articles or columns in the Washington Times, compared with only eight in the Washington Post over the same period, according to a breakdown by Nexis.
Similarly, the Washington Times used the words "appease" or "appeasement" - a derogatory reference to efforts by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain to avoid war with Nazi Germany before the latter's invasion of Poland - in 25 different articles or columns that dealt with alleged threats posed by Ahmadinejad, compared with six in the Post and only three in the New York Times.
Israel-centered neo-conservatives and other hawks have long tried to depict foreign challenges to US power as replays of the 1930s in order to rally public opinion behind foreign interventions and high defense budgets and against domestic critics.
During the Cold War, they attacked domestic critics of the Vietnam War and later the Ronald Reagan administration's "Contra war" against Nicaragua - and even Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon - as "isolationists" and "appeasers" who failed to understand that their opposition in effect served the interests of an "evil" Soviet Union whose ambitions for world conquest were every bit as threatening and real as those of the Axis powers in World War II.
Known as "the Good War", the conflict against Germany and Japan remains irresistible as a point of comparison for hawks caught up in more recent conflicts - from the first Gulf War when former president George H W Bush compared Iraq's Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler; to the Balkan wars when neo-conservatives and liberal interventionists alike described Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in similar terms; to the younger Bush's "global war on terrorism" (GWOT), which he and his supporters have repeatedly tried to depict as the latest in a series of existential struggles against "evil" and "totalitarians" that began with World War II.
Given the growing public disillusionment in the US not only with the Iraq war but with Bush's handling of the larger GWOT as well - not to mention the imminence of the mid-term congressional elections in November and the growing tensions with Ahmadinejad's Iran over its nuclear program - it is hardly surprising that both the administration and its hawkish supporters are trying harder than ever to identify their current struggles, including last month's conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, specifically with the war against "fascism" more than 60 years ago.
As noted by the Associated Press (AP) this week, "fascism" or "Islamic fascism", a phrase used by Bush himself two weeks ago and used to encompass everything from Sunni insurgents, al-Qaeda and Hamas to Shi'ite Hezbollah and Iran to secular Syria, has become the "new buzzword" for Republicans.
In a controversial speech on Tuesday, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld was even more direct, declaring that Washington faced a "new type of fascism" and, in an explicit reference to the failure of Western countries to confront Hitler in the 1930s, assailing critics for neglecting "history's lessons" by "believ(ing) that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased".
But Rumsfeld's remarks, which drew bitter retorts from leading Democrats, followed a well-worn path trod with increasing intensity by the neo-conservative and right-wing media over the past year, according to the Nexis survey. Significantly, it did not include the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial pages have been dominated by neo-conservative opinion, particularly analogies between the rise of fascism and the challenges faced by the US in the Middle East, since September 11, 2001.
Thus the Washington Times published 95 articles and columns that featured the words "fascism" or "fascist" and "Iraq" over the past year, twice as many as appeared in the New York Times during the same period. More than half of the Washington Times' articles were published in just the past three months - three times as many as appeared in the New York Times.
Similarly, the National Review led all magazines and journals with 66 such references over the past year, followed by 48 in The American Spectator and 14 by the Weekly Standard. Together, those three publications accounted for more than half of all articles with those words published by the more than three dozen US periodicals catalogued by Nexis since last September.
The results were similar for "appease" or "appeasement" and "Iraq". Led by the Review, the same three journals accounted for more than half the articles (175) that included those words in some three dozen US magazines over the past year. As for newspapers, the Washington Times led the list with 46 articles, 50% more than the New York Times, which also had fewer articles than its crosstown neo-conservative rival, the much smaller New York Sun.
A search on Nexis for articles and columns that included "Iran" and "fascist" or "fascism" found that the Sun and the Times topped the newspaper list by a substantial margin, as did the Review, the Spectator, and the Standard among the magazines and journals. Nearly one-third of all such references over the past year were published in August, according to the survey.
Nexis, which also surveys the Canadian press, found that newspapers owned by CanWest Global Communications, a group that owns the country's Global Television Network as well as the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen and the Montreal Gazette and several other regional newspapers, were also among the most consistent propagators of the "fascism" paradigm and ranked far ahead of other Canadian outlets in the frequency with which they used keywords such as "appeasement" and "fascist" in connection with Iraq and Iran.
The CanWest Global group is run by members of the Asper family whose foreign-policy views have been linked to prominent hardline neo-conservatives in the US and the right-wing Likud Party in Israel.
Garfield with guns
By Chan Akya
America's self-image is of the lonely caped crusader of comics, Superman. I think a more appropriate analogy would be the faintly entertaining but almost always irritating fat cat Garfield, albeit with more lethal weapons than bad breath at its disposal.
The comparison to Garfield is not accidental, as the latest report by the Trust for America's Health 1 showed a marked increase in the number of overweight and obese Americans. Another reason this analogy strikes a nerve is that the cat's handler is an
incompetent buffoon - comparisons to the current leadership seem almost too easy from there. The analogy means, unfortunately, that the Middle East must be compared to lasagna, but that probably reads as among the nicest things said about the region recently.
Fat okay, but where do the guns come into it? Read on.
America's backward leap
A wealthy family that got rich on oil co-opts religious extremists to maintain its stranglehold on power. Western readers of that statement would immediately assume that I am referring to the Saudi royal family, while at least some non-Western readers would surmise that my reference is to the Bush White House.
For neutral observers, the comparison is quite compelling. Much as the Saudi royal family signed away its role in society to Wahhabi leaders in return for political patronage, US Republicans have coasted to electoral victory on a combination of support for the rich that is balanced with concern for society's morals, as defined by the religious right. In other words, it is the politics of fear that is used to put harried middle-class voters into submission. This is very similar to the politics of fear that Muslim countries use to keep their populations in line, often engaging in lectures on threats to the religion.
There are many other similarities. Muslim governments often change education syllabi to accommodate the demands of religious authorities. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is virtually unknown in Muslim schools, as Islamic scholars object to the idea of human beings descending from monkeys. The religious right in the United States has adopted similar tactics of late, pushing notions such as "intelligent design" back on to campuses. The generation of Americans growing up in such schools could well approach the world with the same narrowness of mind and rigidity of purpose that Islamic countries produce.
Middle Eastern dictators need Israel as an available excuse so that they can themselves stay in power. Being portrayed as an opponent of Israel in Arab media carries with it a decided advantage, as any political opponent would immediately be labeled as pro-Israeli. In much the same way, US President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney probably need the Middle East to remain the sorry mess that it is for their own selfish reasons. This week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indulged in name-calling of Americans opposed to the Iraq war, likening them to Nazi-era sympathizers. In doing this, he has pulled a page straight out of the "Arab Despot Book of Governance". Before you ask, the tome is available for members and their friends only.
The Cold War kept the United States honest, by providing a tangible enemy. The resulting focus on innovation and technological leadership, combined with a free market for entrepreneurs, produced much of the success that characterizes the country's attraction to immigrants from everywhere. During this period, Americans learned from their initial failures in World War II to construct a strong technological infrastructure that was designed to sustain economic growth. US universities welcomed academics fleeing the rigid structures of their own countries, allowing them to explore and debate the limits of scientific knowledge. That in turn provided the world with a succession of breakthroughs that improved living standards everywhere.
The end of the Cold War removed a key element in this balance, namely the omnipresent external threat. True to form, that provided lopsided behavior as Americans focused more on guaranteeing their standards of living, while resisting the influx of new ideas. Quite simply, they did not see the need to accommodate quaint foreign customs anymore, seeing as the war had already been won. That bit of national hubris did hide the important demographic change of an aging population. Leave aside projections of continued immigration for now, and the fact is that the United States is aging at the same rate as Old Europe. The relatively free system I talked about above did not include payments for retirement or medical insurance, leaving an ever-increasing hole in the ability of the nation to sustain its living standards. Initially, this was handled by increasing welfare payments that were offset by rising tax revenues - but once the latter fell, America's structural deficit became visible to everyone.
Confronting this dynamic, America's aging population rebels against anything that could make the situation worse in its mind. The abortion issue is an example - people who fret about who will be around to pay for their medical insurance and welfare would naturally prefer more children than fewer. In much the same way, fears of future job losses may well push US political parties, which have thus far remained blessedly liberal, further toward protectionism. This is a disaster, as the time when the US could make things competitively has long passed.
As I wrote earlier, demographic calculations vary wildly once you remove immigration from the calculations. The question that Americans need to ask is whether ongoing trends allow their country to remain a magnet for immigrants. Assuming that the rightward shift in policies and practices is fully executed, will anyone from Asia want to live in America? It's a difficult question, but one that is easy to answer when you ask yourself why Asian immigrants do not fancy living in Japan even if immigration authorities can be persuaded to grant them residency. A helpful hint would be to consider Japanese political changes in the face of that country's own rapidly aging population.
Americans recognize that the main attraction for foreigners to own their financial assets is their country's status as a solitary superpower. Any threat to that status would logically cause investors to diversify their holdings, at an obvious financial cost. This is what the financial implication of a multipolar world is. A terrorist attack produces an overreaction from the US precisely because the country cannot economically handle these consequences. It needs to be the solitary superpower to keep its girth intact, in other words. Hence "Garfield, with guns".
Assuming that sea changes in demographics do not occur immediately, as they never do, restoring the system to balance would require significant sacrifices that America's ruling elite would find difficult to justify, particularly in the absence of an overwhelming external threat. This is where "Islamic fascism" (to use the White House term, not my own) presents itself as the logical answer, albeit to a question that should never have arisen in the first place.
For their part, Islamic tyrants have long used external threats to justify their continuity, which is why they will relish and prolong the current standoff with the US. It can be truthfully said though that the reasons leading the tyrants to this end-game are substantially different from those leading the United States. For one, Islamic countries have a poor record of economic growth. Saudi Arabia saw its per capita income fall to one-third the level prevailing at the end of the 1970s, due to its careless management of productivity infrastructure. The resulting plethora of jobless youth could be fed, clothed and sheltered, but not satisfied. Thus the country's ruling elite turned the attention of the disaffected youth externally, toward the problems in Palestine and Afghanistan.
This situation explains why neither the US-led West nor Islamic tyrants have any reason to control an escalation of the current situation. The result will be tragic, leading to World War III, although it will benefit any country that stays out. China and India should keep that in mind. 2
Americans who like to portray the conflict in the Middle East in civilizational terms need to confront the notion that they are attacking Islamic fascism not because it represents anything different from their own values, but because it possibly represents the future of their own culture. Like poles repel, after all.
1. See F as in Fat: How obesity policies are failing America, 2006.
2. See World War III - what, me worry? (Asia Times Online, July 25) and China and India in World War III (Asia Times Online, July 26).