As the United States enters a new and unprecedented political era — or, as killjoy cynics would have it, as the American empire gets a new set of temporary managers — the fate of the “dissident” movement that arose under the Bush Regime seems greatly occluded. So many of those who set out their stalls as bold outsiders “speaking truth to power” now find themselves on the inside, enthralled by power, speaking for power, as it is personified by President-elect Barack Obama — who, ironically, has consistently repudiated many of the tenets and principles that provoked the dissidents’ outrage in the first place.
I have always disliked this phrase “speaking truth to power” (although I’m sure I’ve lazily employed it myself on several occasions). No one needs to speak truth to power: power knows the truth well enough, it knows what it is doing, and to whom, and why. What we need, most desperately, are people who will speak truth about power, and speak it to people who might not have heard that truth through the howling cacophony of media diversion, corporate spin and political manipulation.
So for those of dissident bent who would still like to speak truth about power — and who are not sending their CVs to the Obama transition team or signing on as happy warriors to defend the new imperial managers from revenge attacks by bitter partisans of the ousted faction — the question of how best to comport oneself in this brave new world takes on some urgency. In this regard, we would like to suggest the following conceptual framework for analyzing and understanding the moral, ethical, social, economic and legal implications of the policies and actions of the coming administration. (And it even comes with its own handy acronym!):
“WIBDI: What If Bush Did It?”
This user-friendly analytical tool provides a quick and easy way of determining the value of any given policy while correcting one’s perception for partisan bias. Simply take a particular action or proposal and submit it to the WIBDI test: If Bush did this, would you think it was OK? Or would you condemn it as the act of a warmonger, or a tyrant, or a corrupt corporate tool, etc.? The just-concluded campaign has already shown us how hordes of our quondam dissidents have signally failed this test, excusing, countenancing, defending or even embracing the actions and positions enumerated below by Chris Hedges:
Sen. Barack Obama’s vote to renew the Patriot Act, his votes to continue to fund the Iraq war, his backing of the FISA Reform Act, his craven courting of the Israeli lobby, his support of the death penalty, his refusal to champion universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans, his call to increase troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, his failure to call for a reduction in the bloated and wasteful defense spending and his lobbying for the huge taxpayer swindle known as the bailout…
To which we could add his bellicose saber-rattling at Iran, his promise to roll back “Russian aggression” and extend war-triggering treaty protection to an aggressive Georgian regime (which cluster-bombed its own people, as we learned this week), his advocacy of destabilizing and civilian-shredding military strikes in Pakistan, his opposition to gay marriage (and campaigning with gay-bashing preachers), and his support for extending the death penalty to cover non-fatal offenses, and so on.
Any one of these positions would be roundly condemned by “progressives” if they were taken or advocated by George W. Bush — as in fact many of them have been. Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about this campaign is how Obama has managed to embody the deep and desperate thirst for change among millions of Americans — hence the genuinely moving scenes of jubilation and revived hope that have greeted his victory — while his actual positions in many if not most key areas track very closely with Bush’s, if they are not actually identical with them.
Take Iran, for example. Obama has taken what is regarded as a more nuanced position, holding out the promise of direct negotiations with Iranian leaders. Yet he has repeatedly stated what the outcome of these “negotiations” must be: Iran must “abandon its nuclear program.” If it does not, then more and more draconian sanctions will be applied, with the clear threat of military action if these don’t bring Tehran to heel. This is, chapter and verse, the precise policy followed by Bush, who has also repeatedly offered to “negotiate” with Iran as long as they agree to surrender on every point before talks begin.
And, as with Bush, Obama’s stern warnings apply not only to any nuclear weapons program (which even Bush’s intelligence services say Iran no longer has), but to any nuclear energy program whatsoever. Obama has repeatedly and consistently said that Iran must not even be allowed to enrich uranium, which is necessary to any nuclear energy program. (The fact that Iran is legally entitled to pursue nuclear energy development under international non-proliferation treaties which it has signed — while nuclear-armed U.S. allies like Israel and India have not — is of course entirely irrelevant in the discussion. The Washington hegemon decides which laws apply, and to whom, and when.)
Again, if Iran does not agree to these predetermined conditions of the “negotiation,” then, as Obama has also repeatedly promised, “all options remain on the table,” a totality which must of necessity include the nuclear option. Indeed, his chief advisor for the region, Dennis Ross — the man who, as Michael Flynn reports, is confident that he will play a leading if not the principal role in formulating Middle East policy for President Obama — was involved in the development of a new report by an influential bipartisan “think tank” that is, essentially, an action plan for war with Iran. As Flynn notes:
…the report argues that “Cold War deterrence” is not persuasive in the context of Iran’s program, due in large measure to the “Islamic Republic’s extremist ideology.” Even a peaceful indigenous uranium enrichment program would place the entire Middle East region “under a cloud of ambiguity given uncertain Iranian capacities and intentions.”
Among the report’s proposals are undertaking a major military buildup in the Gulf; pressuring Russia to halt weapons assistance; and, if the U.S. agrees to hold direct talks with Tehran without insisting that the country first cease enrichment activities, setting a predetermined compliance deadline and be prepared to apply increasingly harsh repercussions if these are not met, leading ultimately to U.S. military strikes.
Ross was a protégé of Paul Wolfowitz and has long-standing associations with the group of warmongering “intellectuals” known loosely as the neo-cons, who evidently will continue to hover in and around the inner circles of power in the “new” Washington.
So if President Obama, heeding his own band of neo-con outriders, ultimately finds the Iranians too evil and stubborn to give up their lawful and intensely supervised nuclear program, and decides — reluctantly, of course, as “a last resort” — to launch, say, a “limited strike to bring them back to the bargaining table,” will American “progressives” utilize the WIBDI tool, and lead marches in the street against this Bush-like use of unilateral force? Or will they suddenly discover the wisdom and effectiveness of judiciously applied, expertly managed “pre-emptive” strikes? (“You can trust Obama; he’s too cool and rational to go off half-cocked the way Bush would. If he says we need to do this, then you know that it’s been well thought-out and the right thing to do.”) Indeed, will they not follow the injunction of Joe Biden, and “gird their loins” to stand with Obama in the face of an unpopular policy, even if “it’s not gonna be apparent initially…that we’re right”?
This is just one example, and perhaps an extreme one. The managers of the empire may have already decided that the Iran gambit would not be cost-effective under present circumstances; or alternatively, Bush might just push the button for a hit on Tehran before he slinks off into well-wadded obscurity, thus rendering moot the above scenario. But the principle remains the same. In measuring and judging the operations of power, we must judge an action or policy for what it is, in reality, and for what it does, to actual living human beings, and not for who has ordered it.