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August 1998 
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By Gore Vidal
Sunday - The Guardian - August 23, 1998

Forty per cent of the American people in the Malls Assembled, our agora, decided that the strikes against Islamic Satans in the Sudan and Afghanistan were intended to divert attention from the Commander-in-Chiefs problems with Savonarola Starr. Such figures were enough to make a patriot weep and turn yet again to Henry Adams The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1920), must reading this August on the better beaches.

How can the one indispensable nation turn so rapidly into the one, apparently, indisposable global empire and world policeman? What has gone wrong? Why are they blowing up our embassies? Who are they? Or as a lady asked me at a political meeting in Orange County, California, during the Cold War: "I have two questions. First, what can I do as an average American housewife to fight Communism and, second, what is Communism?"

No president can do much of anything domestically. The economy takes care of itself, Nixon once observed and, besides, he added, its pretty dull. That leaves the President foreign affairs. Trips abroad. Pageantry. Nixon himself had a vastation equal to that of Henry James in the Galerie dApollon of the Louvre when he first marched past the gorgeous royal guard of the king of the Belgians. Reeling at the glory of it all, he ordered Ruritanian uniforms for the White House security men, uniforms that to this day dress many a far flung production of The Merry Widow. 

But pageantry to one side, there are the pleasures of showing that the empire is no poor helpless (brain-dead) giant. Stand tall. Light the missiles. Bang! People always rally round the President when hes telling foreigners whats what  the Palmerston manoeuvre.

No one can count the number of covert and overt wars that the United States has fought since 1945. Governments overthrown in Guatemala and Iran. Then bloody "police action" in Korea  no triumph, as it turned out. A dozen years of containing China by trying to destroy its millennial enemy, Indochina. The destruction, in the process, of Cambodia and Laos.

Then war on the cheap. Reagan invades the island of Grenada, forgetting to tell its Queen, your Queen, in the process. Reagan also dropped bombs on Gadaffi in Libya. Bush had his light show in the Gulf. Defied by the great Satan Noriega, for whose capture we invaded fearsome Panama, we kidnapped Noriega, put him on trial in a Miami court that had no jurisdiction over him, then put him in jail for crimes that make no sense. What is this all about? For one thing, a constant stream of "enemies" is the only justification for a half-century of military procurement; $5.5 trillion thus far. When Communism folded, two new wars were launched. First, against drugs  an unwinnable but highly enjoyable and profitable enterprise for the prosecutors, and even the victims of our paranoia. 

Then there was the war against terrorism. What is a terrorist? Well, anyone who objects, say, to our support for Israel. To dramatise these enemies we put snarling faces on them. Enemy of the Month Club. Arafat for a long time.

Gadaffi, whose eyeliner still offends American manhood. Nasser, who died. Noriega, who got kidnapped. Saddam, who got away, if not with Kuwait, with his defiance. Now Osama bin Laden of Saudi in Afghanistan. 

The CIAs demonising process is fascinating, swift, unvarying. Each demon admires Hitler. Keeps a copy of Mein Kampf beside his bed. Is a poofter  red silk knickers are found in his closet. He also has mistresses and takes cocaine. In Noriegas case the captured cocaine paste turned out to be tortilla flour. Cant win them all, as they say at Langley, Virginia. The fact that there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, as opposed to a quarter of a billion Americans (by no means united in this enterprise), gives no one pause. Twin devils: drugs and Islamic terror fuelled by an insane fundamentalism  who can forget Olivier as the Mahdi?

It was irresistible for Clinton to push the revenge button against those responsible for the embassy bombings. Unfortunately, we dont actually know who they were or, if do we know, were the missiles accurate? Sandy Berger looked definitely shifty at the National Security Council press conference. Madeleine Albright, due to some configuration of her handsome lips, seems always to be extruding snakes and toads and scorpions. It appears that a guess was made. Action was taken. Allies... Forget it, Boris! We stand alone. And we stand tall.

Also, a matter of some relevance to the recent troubles in Washington, should something unfortunate explode on American soil, under the Constitution the President assumes wartime powers and is beyond the reach of all law and custom, as Lincoln discovered when he invoked the sombre constitutional phrase "military necessity", which allowed him to cancel habeas corpus, shut down newspapers and free the slaves. Oh, what a lovely thing is war. More to the point, as the eloquent Spiro Agnew once said: "The United States, for all its faults, is still the greatest nation in the country." More to come.



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