Monday, June 23, 2008

The Anti-War Movements, Now and Then: A 1991 Interview With U.S. Political Prisoner David Gilbert--Part 4

What follows is part 4 of a 1991 interview with jailed former Weather Underground activist David Gilbert. See parts 1-3 below.

(The following interview originally appeared in the June/July 1991 issue of New York City’s Lower East Side alternative newspaper The Shadow )

Q: What about the argument that Hussein was another Hitler?

David Gilbert [DG]: I guess you should phrase that as “Hitler of the year,” since the U.S. propaganda machine has churned out quite a few “Hitlers”—Khomeini, Qadaffi, Arafat, Noriega—lately. One crucial element of defining Hitler objectively in history is that he was the leader of a major imperial power out to dominate the world. In that light, we need to worry a lot more about George Bush [Sr.] [I] than Saddam Hussein—and the same is true if we look at racial impact and scope of deaths caused by their military and economic policies.

Hussein, even after trying to claim the very honorable mantle of Arab nationalism, is [was] no sweetheart when it comes to human rights and international law, but he certainly doesn’t stand out as worse than scores of dictators that the U.S. has installed in various countries around the world. The way I look at it, Hussein is [was] a small-time local bandit. Bush [Sr.] [I] is a big-time global bandit.

Q: What do you think was the Bush [I] administration’s main motive for the war?

DG: One thing for sure: it sure as hell wasn’t about upholding international law and the principle of non-intervention. I mean, the U.S. government under Reagan and Bush [I], alone, invaded both Grenada and Panama; walked out of the World Court when it ruled that U.S. aggression against Nicaragua to be illegal; intervened militarily in Lebanon, Libya, the Philippines, and El Salvador; has been the main supporter of Israel’s illegal occupations of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights and its invasion of Lebanon; for a long time circumvented UN sanctions on South Africa; and has supported Indonesia’s brutal invasion of East Timor—to name just some of the examples. The idea that Bush [I] was acting to uphold international law is a joke—a sick and bloody joke. Calling in the U.S. to deal with Hussein’s transgressions is [was] like calling in the Mafia to clear out a local shoplifter.

In analyzing the real causes, I’ve been a little disappointed with the three positions I’ve seen most frequently in the left press: (1) it was a war for oil, (2) it was a war to maintain the high level of military spending crucial for the domestic economy, and (3) it was a way for the U.S., a declining economic power, to maintain its importance relative to Europe and Japan.

Each of these positions deals with elements of reality, but I don’t think that any of them gets to the heart of the matter. Sometimes analysts who have correctly absorbed the importance of economic factors (or, better put, class interests) too often simplify every situation to something that can be calculated on a cash register. The way I see it, broad economic interests are usually behind the formulation of a political strategy that has a scope and coherence that goes beyond the cash flow of a particular situation.

Oil is certainly central to why the Middle East has been seen as vital to Western interests, but Western oil interests were well provided for and would have been rescued by the terms of several diplomatic initiatives—especially the Soviet/Iraq proposal—that Bush [I] brushed aside. Military spending is important for the economy, but the military has always been able to come up with creative fictions for this purpose, and for many reasons such spending is problematical as a solution to the current set of economic problems. The focus on the economic competition with Europe and Japan misses just how much these three poles have had a common interest in keeping the entire Third World open for joint exploitation.

Bush [I] was determined to fight a war. He frantically discredited and brushed aside credible diplomatic initiatives, terrified that peace might actually “break out.” Bush [I] was hell-bent to fight a war because fighting a successful major war was the capstone to what has been the ruling class’s central strategy for the past 15 years: to move the U.S. public and world opinion past the “post-Vietnam syndrome.”

To understand the ruling class’s obsession, you have to know something about the world economy and recognize just how fundamentally the wealth and power concentrated in the West is predicated on the thorough and abject exploitation of the Third World. Moving past the Vietnam syndrome was so crucial to them because you just can’t maintain a vast economic empire—especially imposing the living conditions that prevail in the Third World—if you are not capable of using decisive force and terror against any “upstarts.”

They prepared the way step-by-step, first with the invasion of tiny Grenada in 1983 and then little Panama in 1989. Hussein’s move into Kuwait gave them their opportunity to finally have well-orchestrated popular support for a major war that they could count on winning.

Q: How do you see the state of the anti-war movement today [in 1991], and the tasks ahead of it?

DG: Well, it is certainly discouraging to be living in such a wave of war euphoria. While that wave is wide, it is not very deep. The ruling class had a broader agenda and long-term goals behind this particular war. We need to have a long-term perspective. The logic of the system will lead to other interventions, and we want to be able to start from a stronger place to try to stop the next one.

During the past 10 years, there have been a number of important, although small, movements on international issues: around Central America, around apartheid, around Palestinian rights, and the recent surge of mass anti-war activity. I wonder what the possibilities are for pulling this all together into a strong and ongoing anti-interventionist front. To be successful, such a front would have to be firmly rooted in anti-racism and in challenging social priorities at home.

Q: Any closing thoughts?

DG: Despite the current orgy of jingoism, we need to maintain a sense of history, a sense of perspective. As human beings, we can never accept the depreciation of human life because the people happen to be Iraqi or Salvadoran or Angolan. If we maintain our sense of identification with humanity, especially the majority of human beings, who live in the Third World, we won’t—even in the face of the most sophisticated media barrages—lose either our moral bearings or our sense of purpose.

To view part 3 of a video of a 1998 interview with David Gilbert, you can click on the following link:

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