The biggest rogue of them all. Americans, said Bill Clinton, are targets of terrorism because "we act to advance peace and democracy". Pull the other one, writes Will Self
Rogue State: a guide to the world's only superpower
William Blum Zed Books, 308pp, £12.99
The philosopher Arnold Geulincx, a major influence on the pessimistic world-view of Samuel Beckett, had this to say about the measure of freedom enjoyed by humanity: "Men are free to walk around the deck of a ship about whose destination they know nothing, and over which they cannot exert the slightest control." Since the attacks of 11 September, a widely understood but psychologically suppressed fact about the destinies of both individuals and nations has once again come to the fore. In contemplating the flailing attempts of princes, potentates, prelates and pundits to get to grips with violent actions over which they can exert no real control, I am insistently reminded not only of Geulincx, but still more of the stoical conception of free will, which defines the sensation of "freedom" we experience when performing acts of volition as being the product of what we want happening to coincide with what is necessitated.
This view has the virtue of explaining the current belligerence of so many chair-bound players of the plastic keyboard, whose attitude Oscar Wilde characterised as "the peculiar impotence of the violence of literary men". Quite simply, it makes them feel free to match their inclinations to processes as vast, inexorable and utterly beyond their control as tectonic shifts. I digress - but not that much, because William Blum's book is unlikely to be read by anyone who supports "allied" military intervention in Afghanistan, and nor will it figure on the reading lists of those who counsel Ariel Sharon's allegedly equivalent "war on terrorism" in Israel and Palestine. Nor is this a book for deck-strollers, or the pilots of Stealth-Bomber simulators. Indeed, this is not a book for anyone who wishes to maintain any cosy illusions about their own liberty - let alone about the freedoms of anyone in any country to whose domestic policy the United States government takes exception.
What Blum has done is to analyse American foreign policy since the end of the Second World War as if the US were any other nation state. Hence the title Rogue State, because if the actions of the US government are assessed by any of the standards it brings to bear in its employment of the term, then the US itself is revealed as the biggest rogue of them all.
Setting to one side the significance or otherwise of the "communist threat" and the extent to which we can expect any state to engage in a certain minimum quotient of realpolitiking, we find in these pages, meticulously detailed and annotated, all the instances of assassination, covert and overt destabi-lisation, election-rigging, sponsorship of terrorism, secret surveillance, brainwashing and provocation that the US has employed to further its burgeoning corporate empire (otherwise known as the "new world order").
To take just one example relevant to our current imbroglio, Blum quotes Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who let slip , in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, that the US began aiding the Afghan mujahedin six months before the 1979 Soviet invasion. "That secret operation was an excellent idea," said Brzezinski in 1998. "It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it?"
The insight that the Taliban, al-Qaeda et al are America's gift to the world is not a new one, but what Rogue State does is to put such "inter- ventions" within the context of a half-century of similar actions, from the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras with money from cocaine trafficking to the active encouragement of the Indonesian genocide in East Timor. (And a useful - though not explicit - conclusion to be drawn about the CIA's involvement in drug trafficking, as outlined in Blum's book, is that, wherever the agency goes, narcotic production is effortlessly increased and supply facilitated: in Indo-China in the 1960s, in Central America in the 1980s, and in the so-called "Golden Crescent" through the 1990s to the present day.)
After reading Rogue State, it is impossible to hang fast to the comforting illusion that the "American Way" is some kind of an enlightenment. The deck-strollers always call our attention to how, as President Clinton so succinctly put it, "Americans are targets of terrorism in part because we act to advance peace and democracy . . ." And if it is pointed out (by Blum and his ilk) that, in truth, the American state has acted on myriad occasions to frustrate democracy and foment war, then the significance of those actions is nullified by an appeal to superpower conflicts. Or, if they are too recent and egregious, to the very democratic institutions that might be expected to frustrate the imperial urge: "Hey, don't blame us for Guatemala/the Bay of Pigs/supporting apartheid - that was the guys who were in power then."
But what Blum does in this book, by enumerating countless examples and listing ten years of United Nations resolutions that the US (and Israel, and occasionally Britain) has rejected, is to demonstrate how consistently purposive American foreign policy has been, regardless of who has been wearing the captain's cap. From the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 (in cahoots with the British government) to the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan in 1998, the US government has acted either capriciously or insidiously, but always with a sublime disdain for the inalienable rights enshrined in its own constitution.
Unfortunately, Blum's book is not confined to a simple enumeration of the US government's "rogue" activities. And while a hard core of about 70 per cent of its content is factually unassailable, the other 30 per cent is at best tendentious and, at worst, false and misleading.
Combined with this is the pervasively crowing tone of the author, who lays himself open to being typed as a prime example of the westerner who, for psycho-pathological reasons, loathes his own society, just as Jewish opponents of the state of Israel are invariably stigmatised as "self-haters". This is a great pity, because it means that Rogue State will be easily dismissed by the passengers of the SS Titanic Global Disaster. They will get on with such important matters as re-electing T Blair as entertainments organiser, and preparing for the next gripping game of deck quoits, while those power-drunks at the wheel propel us all towards oblivion.
Will Self's most recent book is Feeding Frenzy (Viking, £16.99)