Up in Arms: Dinesh D’Souza and the Neoconservative Farce Ten Years Later
Dinesh D’Souza’s anti-Obama film, 2016: Obama’s America, released last year became a very successful enterprise, proving that D’Souza is still a force to be reckoned with in conservative circles. The ideas represented by D’Souza, while no longer in ascendancy politically speaking, seem to inspire nostalgia in some conservative circles. So, in order to remind us of the ideas as best represented by the so-called neoconservatives our country experimented in the Bush Administration with such disastrous consequences, I think it is time for me to publish an article I wrote almost ten years if for nothing else but to see how much our world has changed in ten years even as many of our attitudes about the place the United States should occupy in the world has remained the same.
In his exceedingly populist presentation at the Smith Family Foundation debate on 10/14/03, Dinesh D’Souza managed to conflate and confuse various arguments so thoroughly that his points became insupportable, transparent, and contrived, exposing how dangerous they ultimately are to the welfare of the United States of America. D’Souza’s contorted logic and feel-good assertions, all drawing on the energy and fears generated by the horror of 9/11, could be dismissed as a utopist’s dreams of a good-willed idealist if not for the tragic fact that his cohorts are currently wielding a disproportionately large degree of influence in the Bush Administration and are causing enormous damage to the USA economically, morally, and individually. To argue, as D’Souza does, that “liberty”, which is a notoriously pliable abstract notion in the first place, could and should be forced onto nations the political and governmental organization of which differs from the US model is not only naïve (because of its blatant disregard for the right of each nation to determine its own form of government based on its cultural, religious, and traditional values), but is also impossible to execute, his historical models of Germany and Japan—incidentally, neither of which applies—notwithstanding. And yet, this is precisely what D’Souza proposes as the moral obligation of the USA. His stated aim, according to which the US should embrace all nations suffering under a system that is not based on individual freedoms, sounds good and is no doubt receives frequent applause, but it reveals itself as most pernicious when put into practice because it conceals other motives grounded in greed that have ultimately proven to be the ruin of all empires. Moreover, almost all of D’Souza’s so-called arguments for carrying on the neoconservative agenda of imperial expansion are fallacious and ultimately counterproductive.
D’Souza’s major assertion is that the fledgling US Empire is fundamentally different from all other empires that came before. Yet, when one examines the basic function of all empires that have come and ended up in that proverbial dust-bin of history, one discovers that the underlying and fundamental motivation of nations to acquire an empire, even when intellectuals and interested partisans of the conquering nations loudly articulate other reasons, has been economic self-interest that is maximized by bringing an increasing number of peoples and their natural resources under the umbrella of a single economic power. In what ways does the US, according to D’Souza, constitute an empire today? Taking the fact that the US has active military bases in a 125 countries as a given, his definition is that the US Empire is based upon values that are grounded in liberty, democracy, and self-governed individuality and, therefore, is benevolent. Quite significantly, he completely ignores the manifest economic interest in creating new fronts for the US-based corporations, many of which were generous donors of the current President in 2000. To provide a thorough critique and analysis of D’Souza’s definition of the US Empire is beyond the scope of this article, but it is not difficult to demonstrate how its cynically conceived self-congratulatory posture misleads those less familiar with actual American history and the present reality as opposed to America’s mythic image. Yet, lest I be labeled an Anti-American, I want to indicate emphatically that I most fervently admire the ideals America represents, toward the full realization of which it is still marching and the many honest entrepreneurs who use their skills to build up and sustain companies of all sizes. Of course, the ideals of Jefferson, which to some extent were imported from European revolutionaries of the 18th century, have become thoroughly entrenched in Europe as well, thereby completely undermining the notion that the US has a monopoly on “liberty” with the obvious difference that no other nation on Earth currently possesses the raw military might the US at present does. Does D’Souza completely discount the economic benefits a US Empire would accrue from its new “colonies”? For an empire without colonies is no empire at all. Is he advancing a policy of “liberation” based on purely idealistic motives and his infinite faith in militarism in the service of liberty? He clearly states that the US should compel by military force if necessary other nations to accept a political system that favors the “universal” values that the US represents. Yet, in his rush to show the greatness of American “liberty,” he presents himself as a materialistic believer of total individual autonomy. Perhaps with the exception of an absolute ruler—who himself is subject to the intrigues and internal conspiracies of his court—no individual in any society can justifiably claim to be in total control of his life (the law, disease, aging, the actions of others and finally death being the chief culprits). Nonetheless, D’Souza shamelessly promotes this, perhaps, foundational fantasy of American life. On his list of benefits that self-governed individualism would occasion, he includes the rejection of the notion that somebody else can direct people’s lives (“my husband cannot tell me what to do”) and even includes the rejection of Allah (i.e. “Allah cannot tell me what to do”) whose will as codified in Islam, according to D’Souza, should be ignored in favor of his phantasmagoric vision of complete self-willed individualism. Not even John Ashcroft or George W. Bush, both devout Evangelical Christians, would agree to this view of godless self-magnification, much less would this materialistic vision have any chance of success in Islamic countries with or without military force. His muddy doctrine of “liberty” without bounds, however, has already crept into American policy, at least as expressed by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld when he reacted to the looting in the “liberated” Iraq by saying, “Freedom is untidy.”
Is the American Empire, then, not based upon economic interests? Or is it not, rather, merely the mechanism of the proposed exploitation of the new colonies’ natural resources that differs? That no overseers, masters, or colonial administrators (except in Iraq for now) are present in the colonies should put the average American at ease. But what should we call companies and corporations such as Bechtel, Halliburton, MCI and others that will gain enormous profits in the short run—and if entrenched, for the foreseeable future? Are they not masters of the economic destinies of millions of “natives”? Who will benefit from their heavily subsidized presence in the colonies? Most assuredly, it will not be the American tax payer whose money, 80 billion dollars of which has already been spent and another 87 billion to go for now, has gone to secure those contracts, and not the soldiers, marines, and army personnel who die or are wounded, leaving widows, orphans, and grieving families behind. How does the US Empire differ from the British, Ottoman, Russian, Mongolian, or French (under Napoleon), all of which had various mechanisms of economic exploitation and were vastly different from one another while sharing the basic principle, i.e. the drive for economic supremacy over other, less powerful nations? A cursory overview of the history of British colonialism, which also based its legitimacy upon a similar ideology of superiority complex, then termed the civilizing mission, should suffice.
Yet if D’Souza’s beloved US Empire is only a metaphor, as it becomes clear from his use of the term empire of ideals, then how does he propose to force his idea of liberty on those nations that are still “deprived of” American-style democracy? Naturally, we would have to forget the fiasco of the 2000 presidential elections, the memory of which is still vivid in the minds of many people in most nations outside the US, and the post-9/11 legislative movement embodied in the Patriot Act to restrict the very liberties D’Souza intends to spread. But even if one were to presume that US democracy is healthy and is still better than that which exists outside of the US—which assumption is patently false and, again, is merely the self-congratulatory impulse of the ignorant chauvinist—one would be fatally wrong to assume that, using the aggressive tactics of the self-aggrandizing neocons, it will be heartily embraced by the Muslim world in which the only truly democratic state is the non-Arabic Turkey. A case study of how Turkey became democratic would be a fascinating illustration of how a Muslim nation has dealt with the challenges of Western Europe. From such a study, it would become clear that the westernization of this country was a gradual process with some early failures as a result of the West’s impatience to remake Turkey in its own image. Regarding the economically hemorrhaging Ottoman Empire, Arminius Vambery, a Hungarian expert in Turkish and Central Asian affairs of the 19th century and a friend of England, observed that in the Turkey of mid-last century, “there was no sound basis to work upon, and the introduction of modern civilization was forced on far too hastily, for the evident purpose of satisfying the craving impatience of the West” (136, Story of My Struggles). One only need to substitute Turkey with Iraq and other countries on the hit-list to see the parallels.
If the free expression of the will of the people is paramount then would the neocons accept the choice of Iraqis who would very likely empower the Mullahs in their first free elections? It is well known that the Shiite religious authorities are now reasserting their influence as the anti-religious secularist police state of Saddam is eliminated and are, indeed, in a very good position to be elected. If, however, these advocates of “liberty” were to reject those results, would it not merely expose the fact that the guiding principle of neocons is arrogance, that is their belief that they know better than anyone else how any nation should be governed and if a nation refuses to comply, they have a right to force such a regime change by military power? For an illustration, one only has to examine the arrogant and dictatorial style of Donald Rumsfeld as he expressed his opinion on the subject in an interview to the AP reprinted online on April 25, 2003. Mr. Rumsfeld, when asked whether or not the US would accept such an outcome, replied, “If you’re suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn’t going to happen.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2975333.stm). But what our recent experiences in Iraq show is that arrogance coupled with incompetence leads to looting, chaos and disaster. So, the debate about the expansion of the American Empire, at the moment, remains an intellectual exercise as a result of the (unforeseen?) complications of putting a neoconservative principle into practice. Like other neocons, D’Souza, however, still seems to cling to his thoroughly discredited assumptions that are buttressed by unbounded arrogance and a misguided grasping after the wrong mission, which only fuels and energizes the real threat: the spread of Muslim fundamentalism the growing popularity of which is, in part, a reaction to the now stated US imperial ambitions.
Lastly, I am going to engage in some populist rhetoric myself in order to reciprocate that of Dinesh D’Souza. Let me first admit that I believe in a strong US military that is capable of defeating any threat even though I disagree that the current inflated military budget is necessary. Still, because I am a real supporter of the military, I am opposed to sending soldiers without any knowledge of Arabic to act as policemen and civil servants in Iraq while living in tents exposed to the heat for a year and am moreover opposed to seeing an increasing number of them being maimed and killed unnecessarily. At the end of the event at the Smith Family Foundation debate, I proposed a challenge to Mr. D’Souza that he ignored, and so I will repeat it here: Since your entire system of neoconservative beliefs, Mr. D’Souza, is based on arbitrary and self-appointed violence executed by the military— I want to ask you to enlist in the military in order to fill in the shoes of one of the soldiers killed in Iraq for a year and thereby personally demonstrate your great courage and convictions by forcing liberty on the Iraqi people with your very own Humvee and other weaponry since your verbal arsenal as put into practice has, so far, only exploded their good-will towards the US. I think the families of those killed in this reckless and totally unnecessary war would be forever grateful to see a neoconservative of such prominence as you in active military service. And if you are too squeamish to go to Iraq, will you solemnly pledge to enlist and exchange your Washington think-tank for a real one in order to be amongst the first in the army or the marines to lead the literal march to your potentially unlimited next targets: Syria, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, China etc. etc. etc.?