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The Second American Revolution
Published on Thursday, March 20, 2003 by
The Second American Revolution
by Roger Normand and Jan Goodwin

We are in the midst of a new American revolution. The task at hand according to the Pentagon’s own official documents, is nothing less than establishing “full spectrum dominance” in a “unipolar world.”

To accomplish this goal requires a radical transformation not just of American foreign policy but of domestic policy as well–by loosening the constraints of well-established laws at home and abroad. Dick Cheney has told us that “we can no longer operate under 20th century standards” given that the war against terrorism “may never end. At least, not in our lifetime.”

The revolution is already well underway. War in Iraq marks the next phase in this process of transformation.

Under the new Bush Doctrine, a bold military strategy of preemptive attacks–including the possibility of unilateral nuclear first strike– is intended to prevent any state or group of states from challenging our preeminent role in the world. As President Bush told the graduating class at West Point Military Academy last year: “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenges.”

Preemptive war, however, is unequivocally illegal. As far back as 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal rejected Germany’s argument of the necessity for preemptive war against Norway and Denmark, judging it: “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

This prohibition was incorporated into the United Nations Charter as the basis for a new system of collective security in which no state retained the unilateral right to attack another–with two specified exceptions: self defense and Security Council authorization.

In self-defense, states may retaliate against an armed attack or the imminent threat of one. But only if, in the words of Daniel Webster, an earlier Secretary of State, the threat is “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” The Bush Administration did not offer a shred of substantiated evidence that Iraq either participated in the attacks of 9/11, or has the means and intention to launch an imminent attack against the U.S.

The Security Council may authorize force outside of self-defense when necessary to maintain international peace and security. But only after all peaceful alternatives have been exhausted—clearly not the case in Iraq with the UNMOVIC weapons inspectors literally begging for more time.

Having derided the U.N. as “irrelevant,” the White House placed Colin Powell in the ironic position of justifying an illegal war opposed by the Security Council as a whole by invoking a 12-year old Security Council resolution.

The untenable contradiction between U.S. policy and international law arises because the revolutionaries in Washington are more concerned with the projection of American power than with disarmament, democracy or human rights. Their agenda is often misunderstood as a direct response to 9/11. But Bush strategists have been writing for more than a decade about the need to remove Saddam Hussein–despite the U.S. having armed and supported him for years. Their articulated goal is to reshape the Middle East to better serve American geopolitical interests.

Even Americans unconcerned by overt imperialism should consider whether this radical new strategy is good for our country and the world. What would happen in a world stripped of the very laws designed half a century ago to protect humanity from the carnage of unrestrained force? Can pure military might really defend us from evil and secure our freedom at the same time?

Despite the predicted military victory, our own leaders are also quietly preparing us for failure. We have been told by the White House and the CIA to prepare for increased anti-American terrorism at home and abroad, as war in Iraq swells the ranks of Al Qaeda. This can only mean one thing: we will be even less safe after the war than we are now.

Consider, too, how other countries might exploit the U.S. example. Repressive governments the world over have already increased human rights abuses against their own brand of home-grown “terrorists”—usually anyone opposing their policies. Simmering tensions in nuclear flashpoints like India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, and China-Taiwan could quickly escalate beyond control. Taken to its logical conclusion, the absence of law will lead to the absence of peace and human rights altogether.

The revolution is underway at home as well. In just two years the Bush Administration has turned a $500 billion surplus into a $300 billion deficit—without allocating a penny to war in Iraq or reconstruction in Afghanistan. Through tax “reform” and a swelling military-security budget in the midst of recession and growing poverty, Americans have experienced a massive upwards redistribution of wealth undreamed of even in the Reagan years.

Our Constitution is also under attack, and our civil liberties have been significantly eroded since 9/11. At some point after the invasion of Iraq, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department will present to Congress secretly-drafted legislation, the Patriot Act II, which further limits fundamental and long-cherished American principles of free speech and due process. Mr. Ashcroft has even condemned lawful dissent as “aiding and abetting terrorism”–raising the specter of criminalizing opposition to government policy.

The practice of racial profiling–generally abhorred in American society–has become institutionalized through mass detentions and special registration procedures. American citizens can now be subject to indefinite detention without trial. Our government has gone so far as to justify and even practice torture.

The bottom line is this: to build American Empire abroad, we will have to construct Fortress America at home. The two cannot be separated.

So where will this new American revolution take us? How will this “endless war” end?

With U.S. troops engaged in battle, Americans will pray for their safety and—for a time—also rally round the government. But before it is too late, we would do well to heed Sir Thomas More’s advice to Will Roper, his protégé-turned-vigilante, in the play “A Man for All Seasons.”

And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned around on you,
where would you hide, the laws all being flat? Do you really think
that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Americans of all political persuasions have the right to speak and act freely in opposition to Washington’s revolutionary program—without being treated as terrorists by our own government. This is, after all, still our country. And if we truly love our homeland, we must take it back.

Roger Normand (, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Iraq. CESR's latest report, Tearing up the Rules: The Illegality of Invading Iraq, is a comprehensive refutation of arguments used by the U.S., U.K, and Australia to circumvent the U.N. Security Council and claim legal justification from past resolutions. Jan Goodwin, author of " Price of Honor" (Plume-Penguin, 2003), which examines how Islamic extremism is affecting women, frequently writes on conflict and human rights.


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