Friday, March 21, 2003

The Empire Strikes Back

Here’s an interesting word: Empire. The word can be used to describe Ted Turner's media holdings or the state of New York. Darth Vader works for the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, and the horse that is the early favourite for the upcoming Kentucky Derby is called Empire Maker.

The word can be also used to describe the United States, and it has been for a long time. While it used to be only leftist academics and Marxists denouncing American Imperialism, mainstream journalists – without a hint of tongue in the cheek – have increasingly started refering to the “American Empire.”

Cue the Project for a New American Century. If you haven’t heard of them you should check out their website. The Project was formed in 1997 by a group of neo-conservatives, including some now-powerful folks like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz (now working in the Defence Department), Richard Perle (head of the defence advisory board), and Louis Libby (Dick Cheney’s chief of staff).

Back in the day, the Project urged the US to abandon the anti-ballistic missile treaty, pursue regime change in Iraq, and establish an American “constabulary” to police the world unfettered by world opinon or the United Nations. About a year before September 11, the right-wing think-tank grudgingly admitted that these goals would not likely be attainable until “a catastrophic and catalysing event…like a new Pearl Harbour” took place.

Well, The New American Century has now arrived. The ABM treaty is no longer, Iraq’s regime is being – ahem – changed, and the Americans are acting as the world’s constabulary. The Project’s main goal is continued world dominance by the United States, which they call the “Pax Americana.” William Kristol, director of the Project, described the Pax Americana as “benevolent global hegenomy.” Sounds like an Empire.

The Empire went to war yesterday night with the British and the Austalians on board militarily, and some smaller countries like Eritrea and Albania on board as part of what is being called a “coalition of the willing.”

But what happens to countries like Canada who are not supporting the Empire? What about those unwilling to take part in the preemptive war in Iraq? Well, over the past month, we’ve seen many examples of the Empire striking back at these naysayers.

Some of the backlash has been amusing, like the anti-French craze that is sweeping the nation. Congress has renamed cafeteria fries “Freedom Fries” and Representative Ginny Brown-Waite has introduced a bill proposing that families of Americans who died in France and Belgium in WWI and WWII be allowed to dig up their remains and have them shipped back to the States. Proud patriots have poured bottles of French wine down the drain and the Star-Spangled Ice Cream Company has started selling a flavour called I-Hate-the-French-Vanilla (to complement their Smaller Governmint and Nutty Environmentalist flavours). One irate fellow named Josh Wander has started an online petition to give the Statue of Liberty back to France at www.giveitback.net.

Also silly is the reaction to the Dixie Chicks’ apparently abhorent mistake of criticising Bush last week at a concert in London. The country superstars have since seen their radio airplay decline by 30 per cent. Events have been held across the United States where their CDs have been burned and smashed. One country radio station in Lousiana organised an event where a pile of Dixie Chicks CDs were crushed by a tractor. Representative Catherine Ceips of the South Carolina House presented a resolution yesterday that the country group perform a free concert for South Carolina’s troops and their families to apologise. The measure passed the House in a 50-35 vote. (I doubt that they will require System of a Down or Rage Against the Machine to do the same.)

All this is an amusing sideshow to the more sinister backlash that has been occuring. Last week, bugging devices were found in a Brussels building where an EU summit is to begin today; Belgian police identified the listening devices as American in an interview with Le Figaro, but have since gone silent on the issue. This is not the first time the United States has been suspected of spying on its European allies; two years ago, the European Parliament investigated reports that a US-led spy network called Echelon was snooping on the European business community.

Meanwhile, the American government has waged economic war on dissident countries. The Pentagon has withdrawn its funding of military contracts from anti-war Germany, and other countries have been similarly wooed or punished with the awarding or withdrawl of financially-lucrative American investment. Arab countries seem to have a starker choice: do want the American government asks you to, or get punished. Iraq’s getting the stick right now.

The American government has also allegedly been trying to punish Al-Jazeera, the Arab world’s CNN, for running stories that are not pro-American. After September 11, Colin Powell asked the emir of Qatar, where the station is based, to get Al-Jazeera on board with the war on terror, but the emir refused to interfere. According to cbc.ca, Al-Jazeera’s journalists now believe that the United States is again pressuring the emir, this time to shut down the station until the war in Iraq is over.

Since the war on terror began, the United States has been wielding its power more often than ever before. Whether you want to call it one or not, America has increasingly been acting like an Empire. I wonder what Canada’s punishment will be for not getting involved in the invasion of Iraq…

Welcome to the New American Century!

On the Fence appears Thursdays in The McGill Daily. You can contact Kelly at jkelly@cup.ca.

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