Monday, April 24, 2006

Pirates and Emperors

What happens when Schoolhouse Rock meets subversive anti-Imperial politics?







And for those who are curious where the creator got the title from.


7 Comments:

Blogger Oleksa said...

A tired, utterly predictable hard-left philippic - it ain't funny, to me at least.
Oh yeah, I just love how lefties cannot let go of their beloved pet causes - Nicaragua, my ass!! (It would be nice but utterly naive of course to expect them to remember THEIR support for Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot but hey, I'm just dreaming...)
And yeah, the USSR supplied Iraq with $10 billion worth of weapons and equipment but it was still uncle Sam's fault, right?!

3:19 AM  
Blogger A. Shah said...

What's predictable is the labelling of any sort of criticism of US foreign policy as 'tired' whining from the left. I agree some of the politics presented in Pirates and Emperors are greatly over-simplified but it is a Schoolhouse Rock version of anti-Imperial thought after all. Yes it's true that in the real world all major powers tend to resort to various 'bully' tactics to get what they want. The point is that even though great world powers have usually operated that way, it doesn't mean that it 'imperial' politics is inevitable or justifiable. In that BBC interview Chomsky himself cites the example of slavery. In the past all major powers had some form of slavery, it was unthinkable to mainstream thinkers of their time to conceive of an abolition of slavery. The same can be said about democracy or recognition of basic human rights under the law. But the 'progress' of human civilization in recent centuries has been largely about the increase in individual liberty winning out against concentrations of power. It may be an idealistic critique but it is an important one in my opinion.

I find it amusing that you always resort to comparing the US to the USSR. I agree on many levels the US is a preferable imperial power than the USSR was. The US does show more respect for human rights than say Russia, China or Saudi Arabia- this is true. Of course this doesn't justify what can only be described as imperialist US behavior. If you believe the ends justify the means, perhaps you can defend much of the 'dirty' tactics and repression the US has supported across the planet as necessary to combat totalitarian Communism. However, after the end of the cold war this excuse doesn't hold water. 9-11 was a godsend to Imperialists out their since it offered the possibility to hype up a new global threat and enemy in order to justify violence and repression to acheive their aims. I'm highly skeptical that 'dirty' tactics and war even succeed in achieving their objectives in the end. Just look at the consequences of CIA tactics in Iran, Cuba or Nicarauga. Take a look at the history of the Vietnam war. Look the rise of left-wing political leaders across all of Latin America. Take a look at US support for Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and the Afghan Jihadis and the monsterous consequences it's spawned. Most of the imperial adventures that the US has taken have been extremely short sighted and produced many negative consequences in the long run. In many ways the military side pales in comparison to the dominance the US exerts economically (this is the arena where the US has truly been successful as an imperial power) but I won't bother dwelving into that right now. That'll just take way too long.

The 'critique' offered here isn't really 'typical' politics at all. At its core it's a non-mainstream perspective that is basically arguing that any powerful group of individuals will abuse power to their own advantage. I believe Chomsky considers himself to be an anarchist and/or s 'leftish' libertarian. From his perspective accumulation of power in the hands of any group will inevitably lead to corruption and abuse. Critics labelling him a Khmer Rouge sympathizer or even an 'Anti-Semite' are engaging in the name calling and smear tactics that are standard for apologists of the status quo. Just label him a 'looney' and you don't have to bother refuting the details of his work.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

typical of people like the above to just stick their fingers in their ears and start screeching "lal lalal lalalal i cant hear you" when valid points for the way this stuff works is pointed out

if we ignore it it'll go away :O


their are multipal examples of times where the usa has taken down what they see to be "wrong" governments in numerous countries because they didnt agree with it because of its left leaning governments, these people have been taken down only to be replaced with "people" far worse and way more ruthless than the former left governments have been.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Oleksa said...

Let me state for the record, that I actually agree in principle with most of your points, the devil is in details as usual :-)

I don't believe the ends justify the means and thus the US should be absolved of any responsibility for its foreign policy actions in the past coz they were fighting communism.
I cannot agree more that
the 'progress' of human civilization in recent centuries has been largely about the increase in individual liberty winning out against concentrations of power.

I just don't see it's the case with the US, believe or not :-)


Schoolhouse Rock version of anti-Imperial thought after all.
This cultural reference of yours is mute to me so I see nothing but a simplistic (as you have acknowledged) diatribe.
Having said that, you are well aware that I'm not totally adverse to political humour that runs counter to my own beliefs. I don't mind Jon Stewart slamming Bush as long as it's funny and somewhat innovative.


I find it amusing that you always resort to comparing the US to the USSR.

Well, it's not just due to my background but also coz my head is still full of those things I've learnt recently, if you know what I mean :-). But there is a bigger point - critics of the US often like to portray the past as if the US operated in a total vacuum. I think they do it for an obvious reason for otherwise the anti-US invectives would seem much less convincing.

Look the rise of left-wing political leaders across all of Latin America.

This is an interesting example. I've been reading a lot about the so called Left Turn recently. The more I read the more I become convinced that it's not so straight-forward as it seems. I plan on writing a post at my blog about it.

And last but not least, don't even get me started on Chomsky!! :-) People more wise and more articulate than me have already espoused the true extent of his lies and deceptions. You think he's a 'leftish' libertarian. Oh really?! That didn't stop him from being an apologist for various communist tyrannies in the past.

P.S. Take a look at US support for Wahhabi Saudi Arabia

I totally agree on this one but again it's a more nuanced issue as you know...

5:44 PM  
Blogger A. Shah said...

I just don't see it's the case with the US, believe or not :-)

Are you denying that there is a concentration of military and economic power in the US? Are you denying that the US uses this power to further its own interests? If you are you're either horribly naive or you have some sort of mental block due to your ideological beliefs.


This cultural reference of yours is mute to me so I see nothing but a simplistic (as you have acknowledged) diatribe.
Having said that, you are well aware that I'm not totally adverse to political humour that runs counter to my own beliefs. I don't mind Jon Stewart slamming Bush as long as it's funny and somewhat innovative.


Well I think the creator of this cartoon is deadly serious about his message even if its presented in amusing form. If you had grown up watching Schoolhouse Rock you would better understand the humour- it's actually a remarkably well done parody of a Schoolhouse Rock cartoon.


But there is a bigger point - critics of the US often like to portray the past as if the US operated in a total vacuum. I think they do it for an obvious reason for otherwise the anti-US invectives would seem much less convincing.

Sometimes American critiques of their own government often focuse entirely on the US. I think there's usually two reasons for this. First of all, Americans have greater ability, as well as the moral obigation, to influence their own government. Secondly, I honestly believe its a byproduct of imperial hubris- Americans are often quite uninformed about the actions of other players because of the lack of information in their own media or their own bias about what is important to know and what isn't. That said I don't think most informed critics of US foreign policy ignore the other players involved and their flaws. Nothing is completely black and white and the reality is that any foreign policy will have positive and negative consequences. The point is in many cases the US has really been on the wrong side because they were solely focused on their own self-interest or ideology. Nicaragua, Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, El Salvador, Chile, Indonesia are a few examples of the US using its power to promote its own agenda against the legitimate will of the 'natives' to determine their own future. I think this is one of the major flaws of right-wing eurocentric critics of the left, they fail to understand the difference between Soviet style communism and the nationalism of the third world that often inevitably came in the form of socialism or communism when 'western imperialism' had to be overthrown to acheive any meaningful sovereignty.


And last but not least, don't even get me started on Chomsky!! :-) People more wise and more articulate than me have already espoused the true extent of his lies and deceptions. You think he's a 'leftish' libertarian. Oh really?! That didn't stop him from being an apologist for various communist tyrannies in the past.

Have you actually read any Chomsky that hasn't been filtered by some right-wing apologist beforehand? Can you actually provide any examples of Chomsky being an apologist for communist tyrannies? I'm actually critical of Chomsky's politics and view them as being overly ideological and maybe idealistic at times. I think he is a strong libertarian, i.e. every nation should be allowed to choose their own government no matter messed up and outside powers don't have the right to force a change. He criticizes the Kosovo intervention for example, and I'm guessing he wouldn't have supported a unilateral intervention in Rwanda for example. I personally don't think that the nation state should be a barrier for protecting universal human rights, but I strongly believe that overriding the sovereignty of a nation should almost always be done through the international community. So I do have my disagreements with Chomsky.


Take a look at US support for Wahhabi Saudi Arabia

I totally agree on this one but again it's a more nuanced issue as you know...


A more nuanced issue? Explain please. I was offering it as an example of a situation where the US has lent support to a repressive and regressive regime out of self-interest. Do you agree or disagree?

10:25 PM  
Blogger Oleksa said...

Are you denying that there is a concentration of military and economic power in the US? Are you denying that the US uses this power to further its own interests?

1) I'm not quite sure what you mean - that the US is the biggest economic and military player in the world? Then, yes. If you meant that somehow military and economic power is intertwined in the US - no.
2) Of course, it does. I don't quite understand what's the problem here.


Well I think the creator of this cartoon is deadly serious about his message even if its presented in amusing form. If you had grown up watching Schoolhouse Rock you would better understand the humour- it's actually a remarkably well done parody of a Schoolhouse Rock cartoon.

I'm sorry but as I said before I didn't have the chance to "grow up watching Schoolhouse Rock". Perhaps, that's why the humour was somewhat lost on me, I admit. I also understand that the creator was being serious about the content, even though the form he chose to present his ideas was that of a cartoon. That's why IMHO, he should've (could've) come up with better examples than those in the cartoon - my point being that Nicaragua and the US's alleged support for Saddam are not the best examples of the US being imperial.


Secondly, I honestly believe its a byproduct of imperial hubris- Americans are often quite uninformed about the actions of other players because of the lack of information in their own media or their own bias about what is important to know and what isn't.

It's an interesting point. One can only contemplate as to the roots of this phenomenon but I guess you agree it does exist.


Nicaragua, Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, El Salvador, Chile, Indonesia are a few examples of the US using its power to promote its own agenda against the legitimate will of the 'natives' to determine their own future.

To me these are very diverse cases that shouldn't be all lumped together. It'd would be hard to prove anything by bringing them up unless one is inclined to believe that the US has always been on the wrong side (i.e. biased against the US) . As to the legitimate will of the 'natives' I'm not sure how Cuba's communist dictatorship or Iran's theocracy represent accountable governments on your list. And b.t.w. Nicaragua's Sandinistas lost power in a free and democratic election right after the Soviet Union had ceased to provide them with aid.
Again, don't get me wrong - th US perhaps should've and could've acted differently in each of those cases and some of them, particularly Vietnam and Iran, no doubt represent US policy failures but this would be a matter of an "expert" debate , not some hamfisted attempt to demonize the US and its policies.

A more nuanced issue? Explain please. I was offering it as an example of a situation where the US has lent support to a repressive and regressive regime out of self-interest.

Yes, the US had done that and I don't think it's good. I just wanted to say that Saudis have all kinds of contacts within the US political brass (both democratic and republican). B.t.w. would you agree that although the current regime in Saudi Arabia is 'repressive and regressive', any democratically elected government would be much more hostile to the US and in no way more "progressive"?

12:38 AM  
Blogger A. Shah said...

1) I'm not quite sure what you mean - that the US is the biggest economic and military player in the world? Then, yes. If you meant that somehow military and economic power is intertwined in the US - no.
2) Of course, it does. I don't quite understand what's the problem here.


Again you're very naive if you think the USA's military advantage doesn't lend it an economic advantage in many respects. First if gives the US tremendous power in term of setting the world's monetary policy. Since the dollar is the reserve currency of the world it allows the US to go as far in debt as it desires. Eventually the consequences of this policy will be disasterous economically but for the past 3-4 decades the US has ran up a massive debt which has been funded by foreign capital. The present deficit spending and trade deficits that exist because of this situation are so out of control there is likely to be a major economic crisis in the near future- it will be centered on the debt-ridden US economy but since their currency is the reserve will affect the entire planet. More than likely the US will end up side stepping its debt obligations by debasing their currency- in effect making all that foreign US denominated debt worthless. I'm sure you'll be pretty skeptical about this scenario but I believe it will more than likely will unfold in the next few years. The point is the US would have never been able to exert such control and dominance of the world financial system if it didn't have the complete military dominance that it's had since the end of world war 2. It has used it status as 'protector of the free world' to call all the shots when it comes to making the world's economic and political decisions. The administration of the Bush the lesser clearly shows the raw power that the US is capable of exerting over its allies- his idiot administration with its complete lack of 'diplomacy' has torn the mask of the charade of international cooperation that has existed to date. 'International cooperation' has been so completely dominated in recent years that it has become almost meaningless. In the past this was largely the case but was covered up by the niceties of 'diplomacy' which allow face saving on the part of the other allied 'great powers' of the US. I think the hamfisted tactics of the Bush the lesser have shown this to be true. There are other direct economic benefits to being the world's military hyperpower. The US is often able to extract payments from countries it occupies and it has military bases all over the planet. The US is the world's largest arms produces, its military industrial complex benefits tremendously from contracts with foreigners who are often obliged to buy American for political reasons or the virtual monopoly the US has on certain military equipment. A military presence and influence over political leaders in the majority of the world's countries also gives US corporations a major advantage over competitors. I have the feeling I need to spell this out to you: How? Because the leadership of various countries are eager to win political capital by supporting US business interests. In fact they are often pressured too by their American overseers. Even countries such as Japan and Germany (during the cold war) were most eager to do business with the US- not just on economic grounds but also for political reasons. The US also dominates financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF which can exert tremendous power over developing countries. Also, having the world's reserve currency and military/political dominance of the middle east also means oil is traded in US dollars further bolstering the greenback. These are just some of the economic advantages of the world's military hyperpower and the corresponding political influence that comes with it. Yes, the US does spend much more money on 'defense' than other developed countries but the economic advantage it gains because of it more than likely outweigh the costs. Esp. as I said before when you can run up massive debt and never have to worry about really every paying it back ;-)

So you're asking what would be the alternative? For one real international cooperation. The US has long had a policy of ignoring the UN when it didn't suit it's interests, effectively making the institution meaningless. If there is to be any actual international cooperation then the US would have to accept the possibility of limitations on their power when there is an international consensus. The US has never substantially done this in good faith. During the cold war this was justified by the need to combat the Soviets. In recent years there is no real excuse, its naked imperialism in the name of 'freedom' and 'capitalism'. Note this is the ideology and mindset of all empires. The Imperial people always view themselves as superior and having the right to dominate the world. It's the will of God, it will bring enlightenment to the savages etc.


should've (could've) come up with better examples than those in the cartoon - my point being that Nicaragua and the US's alleged support for Saddam are not the best examples of the US being imperial.

These are actually excellent examples. To my knowledge in the case of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas were a grassroots movement which had widespread popular support in contrast to the Contras. Ortega intially won an election, but did eventually loose the following election. It's to his credit that he had free and fair elections and then stepped down when he lost. If anything this suggest that the Sandinistas weren't some brutal 'Stalinist' force that justified support for an opposition using murderous terror tactics.
In the case of Saddam, the US did cynically support him as a counterweight during the Iran-Iraq war. They supported him during the worst of his human rights abuses, and his aggression against Iran (he started the war that killed 1 million people) won him military support from the US. When Saddam started to move against US interests he was then painted as being a horrible evil aggressor and violator of human rights. Of course his character was clear all along.

To me these are very diverse cases that shouldn't be all lumped together. It'd would be hard to prove anything by bringing them up unless one is inclined to believe that the US has always been on the wrong side (i.e. biased against the US) .

Sure they are. But they're all cases where the US used it's military might or covert operations to thwart grassroots movements that were seen as being not suffiently complaint.


B.t.w. would you agree that although the current regime in Saudi Arabia is 'repressive and regressive', any democratically elected government would be much more hostile to the US and in no way more "progressive"?

Yes it most probably would be quite hostile towards the US. As for whether it would be more repressivly Wahhabi, its really anyones guess since there's no virtually no critical political expression in the country. I think we really have no idea what form an anti-Saud government in Arabia would take. The point here is that the US blindly married itself to the Saud/Wahhabi powers because of it's oil interests. The Saudi rulers did gain control earlier but were definitely propped up by the US economically and military. The Saud/Wahhabis then went about creating the repressive theocratic which we have today, which has paved the way through its petrodollar funding for the spread of one of the most rigid, regressive and intolerant interpretations of Islam throughout the Muslim world. Within Arabia itself, the Saudis have raised a generation of intolerant Wahhabis. The point I'm driving at here is that even if the Saudis would be replaced by a more repressive regime it's primarily a product of their own backward policies.

4:37 AM  

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