Sunday, May 13, 2018

Bad action stems from blinding the imagination: the case of American foreign policy

What would American history look like if the Republican party had been banned in the U.S. in the 1970s, its leaders jailed, or hunted down by the police? What would it look like if certain of them had been tortured or died?
Well, it would look a hell of a lot different.
This is why events like military seizures of power, or CIA supported coups, have had such a devastating effect on the histories of multititudinous countries. The suppression of a political party, or the banning of an ideology, can have major effects. Even after “democratic” procedures are re-applied, the swerve taken by a country, what is allowable, contains a limit, an internal place that can’t be trespassed.
I was catching up with the NYRBs lately – too much to read, the info just floods in! – and I came across a review of a Suzy Hansen’s Notes on a Foreign Country Hansen expatriated to Turkey in the 00s, leaving Bush’s country behind. Gradually she began to see that American foreign policy had left a lot of damage around, for instance in Turkey. For the NYTR critic, a little of this was too much  - it was like “heavy-handed” Noam Chomsky – and he thinks he has a killer argument:
“A more pervasive problem concerns the way Hansen presents people living under American influence in countries such as Turkey. They are not as victimized as Hansen wants us to believe. In every free election held in Turkey since 1950, Turks have elected the party that offers an American-style modernizing agenda that combines capitalist and religious freedoms, even though they are well aware of American intervention during the cold war. Turkey’s Communists and Marxists (many of whom were jailed and killed in the 1970s and 1980s) may have the moral high ground in their critiques of American imperialism, but there is little popular support for them, at least at the ballot box.
The pervasive problem with this paragraph is, of course, that you don’t hold a free election now and then and think, wow, we’ve really surveyed the popular will! If Ronald Reagan had been jailed and killed in the 1970s, to use my example above, he would certainly not have been the people’s choice in 1980. (I’m not going into whether the modernizing agenda chosen by Turkey was American-style or Kemalist – the description of what the ruling parties did in Turkey is at some variance with what we know about the pressure exerted on Turkey after the cold war to privatize and induce what Naomi Klein justly calls the “Shock Doctrine”).
This paragraph, to me, has a value that exceeds its place in a passing review: it really represents the blind spot of the foreign policy consensus in America, the contradiction between the imperialist enterprise and the democratic claim. It is one of the reasons that the #resistance to Trump has fallen back on the most absurd Cold War rhetoric: the “sides” in American foreign policy are all about how America should express its aggression, not whether it should express its aggression.
That can’t go on forever.

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