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I recently attended a showing of Oliver Stone’s new documentary film, “South of the Border”, which concerns seven present-day government leaders of Latin America -– in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, Cuba and Brazil — who are not in love with US foreign policy. After the film there was a discussion panel in the theatre, consisting of Stone, the two writers of the film (Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot) and Cynthia Arnson, Director of the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington; the discussion was moderated by Neal Conan of National Public Radio.
It perhaps was not meant to be a “debate”, but it quickly became that, with Arnson leading the “anti-communist” faction, supported somewhat by Conan’s questions and more vociferously by a segment of the audience which took sides loudly via applause and cries of approval or displeasure. Twenty years post-Cold War, anti-communism still runs deep in the American soul and psyche. Candid criticism of US foreign policy and/or capitalism is sufficient to consign a foreign government or leader to the “communist” camp whether or not that term is specifically used.
In the late 1980s, as Mikhail Gorbachev was steering the Soviet Union away from its rivalry with the West in a bid for a “new thinking” foreign policy, Georgiy Arbatov, director of the Soviet’s Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, declared to the United States: “We will do the most horrible thing to you; we will leave you without an enemy.” 1
The American military-industrial-intelligence complex understands the need for enemies only too well, even painfully. Here is U.S. Col. Dennis Long, speaking in 1992, shortly after the end of the Cold War, when he was director of “total armor force readiness” at Fort Knox, Kentucky:
For 50 years, we equipped our football team, practiced five days a week and never played a game. We had a clear enemy with demonstrable qualities, and we had scouted them out. [Now] we will have to practice day in and day out without knowing anything about the other team. We won’t have his playbook, we won’t know where the stadium is, or how many guys he will have on the field. That is very distressing to the military establishment, especially when you are trying to justify the existence of your organization and your systems. 2
Arbatov was right about the United States fearing a world without an enemy, but wrong about the United States actually being left without one. In addition to all the enemies produced in the Middle East by military interventions and the War on Terror, the US has had a continuous supply of “communists” challenging Washington’s militant hegemony – from Yugoslavia, Cuba and Haiti to the present large crop in Latin America. We should realize that the Cold War was essentially not a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was more a struggle between the United States and the Third World. The US sought to dominate the Third World and intervened in many countries even when the Soviets were not playing any significant role at all in the political tumult in those places, albeit Washington propaganda routinely yelled “communist”. There existed a strong push in the United States to stand tall against communism, particularly communism of the invisible variety, since that was the most dangerous kind.
In actuality, Bolshevism and Western liberalism were united in their opposition to popular revolution. Russia was a country with a revolutionary past, not a revolutionary present; and the same could be said about the United States.
In the post-film discussion, Stone replied to a charge of the film being biased by stating that the US media is generally so slanted against the governments in question that his film is an attempt to strike a needed balance. Indeed, it must be asked: How many of the 1400 American daily newspapers or the numerous television stations even occasionally report on Washington’s continually ongoing attempts to subvert the governments in question or present the programs and policies of their leaders in a positive light? Particularly Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, the two main focuses of the film; not forgetting of course that American journalists accuse Cuba of violating human rights first thing upon their awakening each morning.
While we no longer hear about the “international communist conspiracy”, American foreign policy remains profoundly unchanged. It turns out that whatever Washington officials and diplomats at the time thought they were doing, the Cold War revisionists have been vindicated; it was not about containing something called “communism”; it was about American supremacy, expansion and economic interests.
The media have been rather preoccupied by the replacement of General Stanley McChrystal by General David Petraeus in Afghanistan; it’s been like gossip-column material, or a sporting event, or the Oscars; “Petraeus for president” some clamor, lots of letters to the editor, all over the Internet. Some journalists have discussed which general would be better for the war effort. To me, this is tantamount to asking “Which Doctor Strangelove do you prefer to be in charge of our international psychotic mass murdering?” Hmm … let’s see … hmm … ah, here’s the answer: Who gives a fuck?
1 “Russia Now”, a supplement to the Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2009, p.H4
2 New York Times, February 3, 1992, p.8