[eDebate] recent articles by Zizek and Agamben
Fri Jan 16 10:07:13 CST 2004
In order to save you a trip to the library, here are the two articles, plus
one on the south being a sinkhole for the dems.
Foreign Policy, Jan-Feb 2004 i140 p42(8)
Iraq's false promises. Slavoj Zizek.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
If you want to understand why the Bush administration invaded Iraq, read
Freud's interpretation of Dreams, not the National Security Strategy of the
United States. Only the twisted logic of dreams can explain why the United
States thinks that the aggressive pursuit of contradictory goals--promoting
democracy, affirming U.S. hegemony, and ensuring stable energy
supplies--will produce success.
To illustrate the weird logic of dreams, Sigmund Freud used to evoke a story
about a borrowed kettle: When a friend accuses you of returning a borrowed
kettle broken, your reply is, first, that you never borrowed the kettle;
second, that you returned it unbroken; and third, that the kettle was
already broken when you borrowed it. Such an enumeration of inconsistent
arguments, of course, confirms precisely what it endeavors to deny: that
you, in fact, did borrow and break the kettle.
A similar string of inconsistencies characterized the Bush administration's
public justifications for the U.S. attack on Iraq in early 2003. First, the
administration claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass
destruction (WMD), which posed a "real and present danger" to his neighbors,
to Israel, and to all democratic Western states. So far, no such weapons
have been found (after more than 1,000 U.S. specialists have spent months
looking for them). Then, the administration argued that even if Saddam does
not have any WMD, be was involved with al Qaeda in the September 11 attacks
and therefore should be punished and prevented from launching future
assaults. But even U.S. President George W. Bush had to concede in September
2003 that the United States "had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was
involved with September the 11th." Finally, there was the third level of
justification, that even if there was no proof of a link with al Qaeda,
Saddam's ruthless dictatorship was a threat to its neighbors and a
catastrophe to its own people, and these facts were reason enough to topple
it. True, but why topple Iraq and not other evil regimes, starting with Iran
and North Korea, the two other members of Bush's infamous "axis of evil" ?
So, if these reasons don't hold up to serious scrutiny and merely seem to
suggest that the administration was misguided to do what it did, what, then,
were the real underlying reasons for the attack? Effectively, there were
three: first, a sincere ideological belief that the destiny of the United
States is to bring democracy and prosperity to other nations; second, the
urge to brutally assert and signal unconditional U.S. hegemony; and third,
the need to control Iraqi oil reserves.
Each of the three levels works on its own and deserves to be taken
seriously; none of them, including the spread of democracy, should be
dismissed as a simple manipulation and lie. Each has its own contradictions
and consequences, for good and ill. But taken together, they are dangerously
inconsistent and incompatible and all but predestine the U.S. effort in Iraq
THE NOT-SO-QUIET AMERICAN
Americans have historically seen their role in the world in altruistic
terms. "We just try to be good," they say, "to help others, to bring peace
and prosperity, and look what we get in return." In fact, movies such as
John Ford's The Searchers and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver or books like
Graham Greene's The Quiet American, which provide fundamental insight into
the naive benevolence of Americans, have never been more relevant than with
today's global U.S. ideological offensive. As Greene said about his American
protagonist, who sincerely wants to bring democracy and Western freedom to
the Vietnamese, only to see his intentions totally misfire: "I never knew a
man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."
The supposition underlying these good intentions is that underneath our
skins, we are all Americans. If that is humanity's true desire, then all
that Americans need to do is to give people a chance, liberate them from
their imposed constraints, and they will embrace America's ideological
dream. No wonder the United States has moved from "containing" the enemy to
promoting a "capitalist revolution," as Stephen Schwartz of the Foundation
for the Defense of Democracies put it in February 2003. The United States is
now, as the defunct Soviet Union was decades ago, the subversive agent of a
But when Bush said in his January 2003 State of the Union message, "The
liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to
humanity," this apparent burst of humility, in fact, concealed its
totalitarian opposite. Every totalitarian leader claims that, in himself, he
is nothing at all: His strength is only the strength of the people who stand
behind him, whose deepest strivings only he expresses. The catch is, those
who oppose the leader by definition not only oppose him, but they also
oppose the deepest and noblest strivings of the people. And does the same
not hold for Bush's claim? It would have been easier if freedom effectively
were to be just the United States' gift to other nations; that way, those
who oppose U.S. policies would merely be against the policies of a single
nation-state. But if freedom is God's gift to humanity, and the U.S.
government sees itself as the chosen instrument for showering this gift on
all the nations of the world, then those who oppose U.S. policies are
rejecting the noblest gift of God to humanity.
As for the second reason, the urge to demonstrate unconditional U.S.
hegemony, the Bush administration's National Security Strategy calls for
translating America's "position of unparalleled military strength and great
economic and political influence" into "decades of peace, prosperity, and
liberty." But neoconservative thinkers speak in balder terms what their
brethren in the White House cannot. In their recent book, The War over Iraq,
neoconservatives William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan write, "The mission
begins in Baghdad, but it does not end there .... We stand at the cusp of a
new historical era .... This is a decisive moment .... It is so clearly
about more than Iraq. It is about more even than the future of the Middle
East and the war on terror. It is about what sort of role the United States
intends to play in the twenty-first century." One cannot but agree with that
statement: The U.S. attack on Iraq has effectively put the future of the
international community at stake, raising fundamental questions about the
"new world order" and what rules will regulate it.
Regarding the third reason for launching an attack, it would be simplistic
to assume that the United States intended to take over Iraq's oil industry
lock, stock, and barrel. But in a country that, as Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz put it, "floats on a sea of oil," the installation of a
U.S.blessed government that is committed to permitting foreign (read: U.S.)
investment in its oil industry and that enjoys an influential perch at the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was surely an important
consideration for U.S. policymakers. Indeed, to ignore that consideration
would have been a case of strategic malpractice on a grand scale.
AMERICA'S EMPIRE BURLESQUE
Of these three reasons, the key factor is the second one: using Iraq as a
pretext or exemplary case to establish the parameters of the new world
order, to assert the right of the United States to launch preventive strikes
and thus to cement its status as the sole global policing power. The message
behind the U.S. attack was not primarily addressed to the Iraqi people but
to all of us witnessing the war--we were the true ideological and political
At this point, one should ask the naive question: the United States as
global policeman--why not? After all, the post-Cold-War world effectively
begged for some global power to fill in the void. Ah, but there's the rub:
The problem with today's United States is not that it is a new global
empire, but that it is not, i.e., that, while pretending to be an empire, it
continues to act as a nation-state, ruthlessly pursuing its interests.
Indeed, in a perverse reversal of the old ecological slogan, the bumper
sticker for the Bush administration's foreign policy could well be "act
globally, think locally." Look, for example, at the U.S. decision to impose
steel tariffs, ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization and certainly
in violation of its own sacrosanct advice to developing countries to open
themselves to the global market.
Another stunning example of U.S. double-think was the two-sided pressure it
exerted on Serbia in the summer of 2003. U.S. officials demanded that Serbia
deliver suspected war criminals to the International Criminal Tribunal for
the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague (in accordance with the logic of the
global empire, which demands transnational judicial institutions); but they
also simultaneously pressured Serbia to sign a bilateral treaty obliging it
not to deliver to the new International Criminal Court (also in The Hague)
any U.S. citizens suspected of war crimes or other crimes against humanity
(in accordance with the logic of the nation-state). No wonder the Serb
reaction was one of perplexed fury.
And does the same inconsistency not hold for how the United States is waging
the "war on terror"? The exemplary economic strategy of today's capitalism
is outsourcing--handing over the "dirty" process of material production (but
also publicity, design, accounting, etc.) to another company. Production
takes place in, say, Indonesia, where environmental and labor standards are
much lower than in the West, and the Western company that owns the logo can
claim that it is not responsible for violations by its contractors.
Now, something homologous is taking place with the interrogation of terror
suspects, with torture "outsourced" to Third World allies (those same
countries criticized in the U.S. State Department's annual Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices) who can coerce confessions without worrying about
legal problems or public protest. "We can't legalize torture; it's contrary
to American values," sniffed columnist Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, while
nonetheless concluding that "we'll have to think about transferring some
suspects to our less squeamish allies, even if that's hypocritical. Nobody
said this was going to be pretty." And so it goes with First World
democracies, which outsource more and more of their dirty undersides,
whether telemarketing or torture, to other countries.
The opportunity to bring the war on terror within the scope of an
international legal order has been squandered. Why? To borrow the words of
Muhammad Said al-Sahaf, the colorful Iraqi information minister who, in one
of his last press conferences during the war, reportedly denied that
Americans controlled parts of Baghdad: "[The Americans] are not in control
of anything--they don't even control themselves!" Simply put, U.S.
policymakers lack the self awareness to recognize, let alone reconcile, the
contradictions between and among their intentions and their actions.
In February 2002, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld engaged in a bit of
amateur philosophizing about the relationship between the known and the
unknown: "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also
know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things
we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns--the ones we don't know
we don't know." For Rumsfeld, these "unknown unknowns" represent the
greatest threats facing the United States. But Rumsfeld forgot to add the
crucial fourth term: the unknown knowns, things we don't know that we
know--which is precisely the Freudian unconscious, the "knowledge which
doesn't know itself," as the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan used to say.
In many ways, these unknown knowns, the disavowed beliefs and suppositions
we are not even aware of adhering to, may pose an even greater threat. That
is indeed the case with the reasons for this war. What is "unknown"
(disavowed, ignored) is not primarily the problematic nature of those
reasons as such (say, the fact that in spreading democracy, the United
States is imposing its own version of democracy), but, rather, the
inconsistency among those reasons. The United States is pursuing a series of
goals (spreading democracy, asserting its hegemony, securing oil supplies)
that are ultimately incompatible. Consider countries like Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait, conservative monarchies, but economic allies, deeply integrated into
Western capitalism. Here, the United States has a very precise interest: For
these nations to provide dependable oil reserves for the United States, they
must remain undemocratic, since it is a safe bet that democratic elections
in Saudi Arabia or Iraq would produce an Islamist, nationalist regime riding
on anti-American attitudes. "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and
accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us
safe," declared Bush in November 2003 [See sidebar on page 47]. But it did
give Western countries relatively stable energy supplies, something that the
United States is unlikely to sacrifice overnight on the altar of freedom.
Moreover, despite Bush's talk of a "forward strategy of freedom in the
Middle East," we know now what bringing democracy means: The United States
and its "willing partners" ultimately decide if a country is ripe for
democracy and what form that democracy should take. Witness Rumsfeld's
comment in April 2003 that Iraq should not become a theocracy, but a
tolerant secular country in which all religions and ethnic groups enjoyed
the same rights. U.S. officials have reacted with barely muted discomfort to
the possibility that a new Iraqi constitution might give Islam a privileged
position. The irony here is twofold: Not only would it be nice if the United
States were to demand the same from Israel with regard to Judaism, but while
Saddam's Iraq already was a secular state, the likely result of democratic
elections would be the privileging of Islam! One unnamed senior U.S. figure
even stated, according to the British newspaper The Independent, "the first
foreign policy gesture of a democratic Iraq would be to recognize Israel."
Instead, what is likely to emerge as a result of the U.S. occupation in Iraq
is precisely a fundamentalist Muslim anti-American movement, directly linked
to such movements in other Arab countries or countries with a Muslim
presence. It is as if, in a contemporary display of the "cunning of reason,"
some invisible hand of destiny repeatedly ensures that the U.S. intervention
only makes more likely the outcomes the United States sought most to avoid.
Too Much Vision Thing
Excerpts from U.S. President George W. Bush's speech on freedom in Iraq and
the Middle East at the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for
Democracy on Nov. 6, 2003.
The sacrifices of Americans have not always been recognized or appreciated,
yet they have been worthwhile....
As changes come to the Middle Eastern region, those with power should ask
themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform, or for leading it?
In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad, as we saw last month
when thousands gathered to welcome home Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the
Nobel Peace Prize. The regime in Teheran must heed the democratic demands of
the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy....
There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society,
in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the
power of the military--so that governments respond to the will of the
people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom
with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selectively
applying the law to punish political opponents....
[Securing democracy in Iraqi is a massive and difficult undertaking--it is
worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The
failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, and
increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of
millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed--and that success will
send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran--that freedom can be the
future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the
Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic
... As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not
flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence
ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic
harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the
Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of
freedora in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and
energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same
results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the
advance of freedom leads to peace.
The advance of freedom is the calling of our time. It is the calling of our
country ... And we believe that freedom--the freedom we prize--is not for us
alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.
Working for the spread of freedom can be hard. Yet, America has accomplished
hard tasks before. Our nation is strong; we're strong of heart.
[ Want to Know More? ]
Rebecca Mead's profile of Slavoj Zizek, "The Marx Brother" (The New Yorker,
May 5, 2003), describes Zizek as a "master of the counterintuitive
observation." Three of Zizck's recent books provide insight into his
geopolitical views: Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on 11
September and Related Dates (New York: Verso, 2002) examines the war on
terrorism; Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? (New York: Verso, 2001)
highlights the weaknesses of liberal-democratic ideologies; and The Puppet
and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge: MIT Press,
2003) provides a political reading of Christianity.
French philosopher Alain Badiou condemns the liberal ethic of "respect for
otherness" in Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (New York:
Verst, 2001). Karl Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New
York: International Publishing Co., 1898) analyzes the rise of Napoleon and
underscores the challenges of political representation and ideological
justification. Readers interested in Sigmund Freud's thinking on the
contradictory reasoning of dreams may turn to The Interpretation of Dreams
(New York: The Macmillan company, 1913).
Visit the Web site of the White House for the full text of the Bush
administration's "National Security Strategy of the United States of
America," issued in September 2002, as well U.S. President George W. Bush's
speech "President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and the Middle East"
(Washington, November 6, 2003). For a guide to the challenges facing the
United States in postwar Iraq, consult the Carnegie Endowment Special Report
"From Victory to Success: Afterwar Policy in Iraq" (FOREIGN POLICY,
July/August 2003). Lawrence F. Kaplan and William Kristol lay out a
neoconservative vision for the U.S. role in the world in The War over Iraq:
Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission (San Francisco: Encounter Books,
A trio of U.S. films offers provocative perspectives on U.S. ideology. See
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (Columbia Pictures, 1976) for its portrait of
the aggressive outburst of a disillusioned redeemer; Phillip Noyce's The
Quiet American (Miramax, 2002) for its portrayal of the catastrophic U.S.
effort to democratize Vietnam (based on the Graham Greene novel of the same
name); and David Fincher's Fight Club (Twentieth Century Fox, 1999) for
insights on some of the more troubling forms of resistance to global
>>For links to relevant Web sites, access to the FP Archive, and a comprehensive
index of related FOREIGN POLICY articles, go to www.foreignpolicy.com.
Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher and senior researcher at the Institute for
Social Studies in Ljubljana, Slovenia. His books, most recently Organs
Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences (New York: Routledge, 2003), have
been translated into more than 20 languages.
????Article A112022235 ?????
??No to Bio-Political Tattooing
??By Giorgio Agamben
??Saturday 10 January 2004
??The newspapers leave no doubt: from now on whoever wants to go to the
United States with a visa will be put on file and will have to leave their
fingerprints when they enter the country. Personally, I have no intention of
submitting myself to such procedures and that?s why I didn?t wait to cancel
the course I was supposed to teach at New York University in March.
??I would like to explain the reasons for this refusal here, that is, why,
in spite of the sympathy that has connected me to my American colleagues and
their students for many years, I consider that this decision is at once
necessary and without appeal and would hope that it will be shared by other
European intellectuals and teachers.
??It?s not only the immediate superficial reaction to a procedure that has
long been imposed on criminals and political defendants. If it were only
that, we would certainly be morally able to share, in solidarity, the
humiliating conditions to which so many human beings are subjected.
??The essential does not lie there. The problem exceeds the limits of
personal sensitivity and simply concerns the juridical-political status (it
would be simpler, perhaps, to say bio-political) of citizens of the
so-called democratic states where we live.
??There has been an attempt the last few years to convince us to accept as
the humane and normal dimensions of our existence, practices of control that
had always been properly considered inhumane and exceptional.
??Thus, no one is unaware that the control exercised by the state through
the usage of electronic devices, such as credit cards or cell phones, has
reached previously unimaginable levels.
??All the same, it wouldn?t be possible to cross certain thresholds in the
control and manipulation of bodies without entering a new bio-political era,
without going one step further in what Michel Foucault called the
progressive animalization of man which is established through the most
??Electronic filing of finger and retina prints, subcutaneous tattooing, as
well as other practices of the same type, are elements that contribute
towards defining this threshold. The security reasons that are invoked to
justify these measures should not impress us: they have nothing to do with
it. History teaches us how practices first reserved for foreigners find
themselves applied later to the rest of the citizenry.
??What is at stake here is nothing less than the new ?normal? bio-political
relationship between citizens and the state. This relation no longer has
anything to do with free and active participation in the public sphere, but
concerns the enrolment and the filing away of the most private and
incommunicable aspect of subjectivity: I mean the body?s biological life.
??These technological devices that register and identify naked life
correspond to the media devices that control and manipulate public speech:
between these two extremes of a body without words and words without a body,
the space we once upon a time called politics is ever more scaled-down and
??Thus, by applying these techniques and these devices invented for the
dangerous classes to a citizen, or rather to a human being as such, states,
which should constitute the precise space of political life, have made the
person the ideal suspect, to the point that it?s humanity itself that has
become the dangerous class.
??Some years ago, I had written that the West?s political paradigm was no
longer the city state, but the concentration camp, and that we had passed
from Athens to Auschwitz. It was obviously a philosophical thesis, and not
historic recital, because one could not confuse phenomena that it is proper,
on the contrary, to distinguish.
??I would have liked to suggest that tattooing at Auschwitz undoubtedly
seemed the most normal and economic way to regulate the enrolment and
registration of deported persons into concentration camps. The bio-political
tattooing the United States imposes now to enter its territory could well be
the precursor to what we will be asked to accept later as the normal
identity registration of a good citizen in the state?s gears and mechanisms.
That?s why we must oppose it.
??Translated from Italian to French by Martin Rueff.
??Giorgio Agamben is a philosopher and professor at the University of Venice
and New York University.
??Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
??Jump to TO Features for Tuesday 13 January 2004
??Dixie Trap for Democrats in Presidential Race
??By Norman Solomon
??t r u t h o u t | Perspective
??Tuesday 13 January 2004
??Many pundits say President Bush is sitting pretty, but this year began
with new poll data telling a very different story.
??A national Harris survey, completed on Jan. 1 for Time magazine and CNN,
found that just 51 percent of respondents said they were ?likely? to vote
for Bush in November, compared to 46 percent ?unlikely.? When people were
asked to ?choose between Howard Dean, the Democrat, and George W. Bush, the
Republican,? the margin for Bush was only 51-43, and when the survey focused
on ?likely voters? the gap narrowed to 51-46.
??While other polls have some different numbers, clearly the race for the
White House could be quite close. But one of the obstacles to Democratic
success is the pretense of having a chance to carry a bunch of Southern
states. Actually, for a Democratic presidential campaign in 2004 -- in terms
of money, travel time, rhetoric and espoused ideology -- Dixie is a
??In 2000, the Bush-Cheney campaign swept all of the South, albeit with
electoral thievery in Florida.
??The percentage margins were double-digit in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky,
Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. But leading Democrats
show no signs of acknowledging what ought to be self-evident: They should
not exert their presidential campaign to troll for electoral votes in such
states any more than the Bush team will push to win in Massachusetts or
??During the Jan. 4 debate in Iowa, responding to a question about how he
plans to ?reach out? to ?particularly white Southern voters who no longer
even consider Democratic candidates,? Sen. John Kerry offered
patriotic-sounding flourishes. ?I am a veteran,? he said. ?I?ve fought in a
war. They particularly respect service to country in the South.?
??Then Kerry added a real doozy: ?And in the end, if I?m the nominee, I
could always pick a running mate from the South, and we?ll do just fine.?
??But in 2000, even with a Southerner at the top, the Democratic ticket did
not get a single electoral vote from the South. So this year, in the South,
how could a ticket headed by Kerry ?do just fine??
??Such posturing is partly a charade for the primary season. Several
Democratic candidates are concentrating appreciable resources on the South
Carolina primary, for instance, because they could win some early delegates
there. Yet, come November, the likelihood of South Carolina?s electoral
votes going to the Democratic ticket is on a par with the chances that Laura
Bush will publicly express a fervent desire to marry Dennis Kucinich.
??At the risk of riling some political journalists, the Democrats should
stop kidding themselves about the South in this year?s presidential
campaign. ?The 2000 election left us with a map split between blue states
and red states,? Joe Velasquez and Steve Cobble write in the Jan. 5 edition
of The Nation magazine. ?The conventional wisdom is that a Northern nominee,
to win, will have to find a way to convert some of the old Confederate gray
from red to blue. But most Southern states are burial grounds for Northern
Democrats, not battlegrounds.?
??Velasquez and Cobble make a persuasive case: ?The new path to the White
House runs through the Latino Southwest, not the former Confederacy,
especially for a Northern nominee. Hope blooms as a cactus flower, not a
magnolia blossom.? The two longtime progressive electoral strategists cite
three states with booming Latino populations -- Arizona, Nevada and Colorado
-- carried by Bush in 2000 but within striking distance for the Democratic
ticket in 2004. Also, they note, New Mexico was ?essentially a dead heat?
won by Al Gore.
??According to Velasquez and Cobble, ?re-defeating George W. Bush in 2004
hinges on holding blue states on both coasts, making gains in the Midwest
from West Virginia through Ohio to Missouri and adding New Hampshire -- and
registering and mobilizing massive numbers of Latino voters in the Southwest
and Florida.? They conclude: ?Mobilizing the fast-rising Southwestern Latino
population around the same progressive economic issues that can also unite
poor whites and African-Americans is the ticket to ride in 2004.?
??The notion of carrying several Southern states is often encouraged by
media pundits eager for a more ?moderate? Democratic standard bearer. But
the Dixie trip is a dead end. And a fixation on the conservative
sensibilities of white Southerners is apt to tilt the ticket away from the
kind of political message that could resonate sufficiently elsewhere to mean
??Norman Solomon writes a weekly syndicated column on media and politics.
??Jump to TO Features for Tuesday 13 January 2004
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