A White Woman’s Burden: Hillary Clinton, Imperialism, and Racism

The imperialist syndrome that has been institutionalized at least since 1492 in the Americas, with its familiar register of notions of superiority, a right to dominate, of the civilizing beneficence of Western rule, of force needed to tame wild creatures so that they can learn to take responsibility, with routinized actions and customary rituals, acting through mechanisms of inequality, is not something that can be shed overnight. It is too lucrative, and too self-affirming, at least for a while. As the United States enters its own phase of Soviet-style structural fatigue, we might see greater internal critiques of imperial manifest destiny, but for now, and as evidenced in the current electoral campaign in the United States, this syndrome is still firmly in place. Indeed, none of those who are presented as alternatives, promise an alternative to quests for continued imperial dominance abroad, and heightened national “security” (fear, surveillance) at home.

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Reading the transcript of Hillary Clinton’s appearance on the CNN program, “Larry King Live”, on 21 April, 2008, one can find a string of comments made by Clinton that only endorse an agenda for global domination. She renews her satisfaction with her support for the invasion of a nation that never attacked the United States–specifically Iraq. I will return to her comments to Larry King in a few moments.

In the recent past Clinton has also claimed that her policies would be different from those of George Bush, even while applauding his would-be successor, John McCain, for having crossed some imaginary “commander in chief threshold” (alongside herself of course). She claims to be experienced, to have been tested, and offers safe management of American affairs in an unruly world that is unsafe for America.

Hillary Clinton, having lambasted Bush previously for using “the fear card” whenever it was convenient to challenge his opponents, has also resorted to the exact same narrative when challenging Barack Obama, with her ads about phone calls coming into the White House at 3:00am, and other ads featuring Osama Bin Laden, Pearl Harbour, the customary images designed to remind Americans that they are to remain fearful of a world in which America is nonetheless determined to splash around. Hillary Clinton has been heightening the terrorism rhetoric for quite some time, and in this current electoral campaign since January of this year at the latest. For those of us outside of the United States who might not have seen those ads, here are two of the more widely referenced ones.

(Update: Since this post was first released, Hillary Clinton has also threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran, if Iran should ever attack Israel if she were the next President. She added: “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran.”)

On CNN’s Larry King Live, Hillary Clinton stated: “Our military is stretched thin“. This is the leading reason in her response as to why the United States should leave Iraq. The reason is not that the U.S. never belonged in Iraq to begin with. The reason is not that the war has had effectively genocidal consequences for Iraqis. Clinton wishes to leave, not to right a wrong committed by the U.S., but rather for basic, pragmatic, logistical reasons pertaining to a renewed focus on American world domination. Indeed, she repeats this imperialist theme soon after:

“And by our staying in Iraq, we are losing ground elsewhere in the world. Our military and foreign policy experts have all said that we have lost ground in Afghanistan. The Middle East is in a much more dangerous position than it was. We have all kinds of problems, from Latin America to Africa to Asia. China and Russia are reasserting their positions in the world. We are not moving to really take the global leadership that America must take for our own security and for the stability of the rest of the world.”

The problems of other countries are America’s problems. Attempts by other countries to deal with their problems, and especially to deal with the problem of U.S. dominance…are also American problems.

One of the lessons learned and taught by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in the 1980s was that the real debate between Democrats and Republicans in the United States was about what were the best means for laying waste to Nicaragua’s revolution. The razor thin differences between the two parties have blurred once more, or perhaps we should say, even further. Indeed, the only seriously anti-war candidate is the one that most Americans never glance at, Ralph Nader, not in 2004 and not now.

Hillary Clinton went on from the “stretched thin” remark to make the next one, seemingly with as much ease:

“We have given the Iraqis the precious gift of freedom.”

It turns out that Hillary Clinton has uttered this exact same line on a number of occasions (none of them while dodging sniper fire in barbarian lands being tamed by heroic American forces of freedom). Apparently she used this line across Texas in March. One might quip that good sense should have told her to leave it in Texas, but an imperialist syndrome is much more than a talking point.

But this could just be an outsider’s perspective since, after all, Americans have developed very unique ways of understanding and communicating “freedom” that most of us outside of the seat of empire find incomprehensible. Or maybe not…

In the American news blog, The Huffington Post, on 04 March, 2008, Andre Gumbel published an article titled, “Hillary Goes Orwellian on Iraq” where he also notes the disturbing feature of Clinton’s narrative and her preferred tropes, and that they fail to stand apart from those of George Bush:

“The gift of freedom” is, of course, a curious way to describe an unprovoked invasion and occupation causing hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and leaving just about every aspect of life chaotic and fraught with daily dangers. To then lay responsibility for the mess on the Iraqis — we did our bit, now you do yours — is the worst kind of dishonesty, a complete abdication of moral principles. It’s the sort of thing George Bush has said to justify his decision both to launch the invasion in the first place and then stay the course — a course Hillary Clinton has spent many months telling primary and caucus voters she thinks was misconceived from the start.

Why, then, is she taking on the president’s rhetorical tropes? Could it be she didn’t — and doesn’t — oppose the Iraq war quite as much as she’s been letting on?

George Orwell rightly warned us about the way politicians use words like “freedom” when such usage begs more questions than it answers. “Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way,” he wrote in his famous essay Politics and the English Language. “That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”

(The OA blog is increasingly becoming a George Orwell fan site.)

Hillary Clinton might shock those who know better when she also stated quite simply:

“Our young men and women have performed heroically”.

I will only ask the reader to glimpse at these videos below, in place of a direct reply from me.

In Clinton’s worldview, which is not uniquely or especially hers, but that of the cultural history she inhabits, the Iraqis (under the gun of a brutal American occupation) have failed to act as responsible adults:

The Iraqis have not stepped up and taken responsibility, as we had hoped; that they would begin to make those decisions that only they can make for themselves”.

As I have indicated elsewhere in this blog, “the Iraqis” have made many decisions that are known to the wider world, included a repeated demand for the immediate withdrawal of US forces. If this were a sovereignty that actually existed, and that the U.S. respected, then Clinton might have had some justification for her remark.

Clinton added in her talk with Larry King:

“As we begin to withdraw our troops, I believe that will help to focus the Iraqis, unlike the blank checks that President Bush has given them. And that they will have to understand that we are not going to be there to save them, protect them, to step in for them”.

This exemplified the kind of callous coldness that sets in with the imperial mindset. Torture, everyday abuses, aerial bombing missions in civilian areas, dictating policy to another people and setting their social and political agenda–all of these become “saving” and “protecting” Iraqis. They have been saved and protected, as Gumbel rightly noted, to the tune of hundreds of thousands killed in a war of choice.

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Racism has long been the ideological traveling companion of imperialism, some might say it’s ideological workhorse. Here again familiar themes emerge in Clinton’s public discourse. Not bound by the right wing hysteria that seeks to place him in internal exile, I freely quote from filmmaker Michael Moore who provides an excellent explanation, on the grounds of racism, for why he rejects Hillary Clinton (while reluctantly endorsing another Democrat, Barack Obama):

I’ve watched Senator Clinton and her husband play this game of appealing to the worst side of white people, but last Wednesday, when she hurled the name “Farrakhan” out of nowhere, well that’s when the silly season came to an early end for me. She said the “F” word to scare white people, pure and simple. Of course, Obama has no connection to Farrakhan. But, according to Senator Clinton, Obama’s pastor does — AND the “church bulletin” once included a Los Angeles Times op-ed from some guy with Hamas! No, not the church bulletin!

This sleazy attempt to smear Obama was brilliantly explained the following night by Stephen Colbert. He pointed out that if Obama is supported by Ted Kennedy, who is Catholic, and the Catholic Church is led by a Pope who was in the Hitler Youth, that can mean only one thing: OBAMA LOVES HITLER!

Yes, Senator Clinton, that’s how you sounded. Like you were nuts. Like you were a bigot stoking the fires of stupidity. How sad that I would ever have to write those words about you. You have devoted your life to good causes and good deeds. And now to throw it all away for an office you can’t win unless you smear the black man so much that the superdelegates cry “Uncle (Tom)” and give it all to you.

To me, this statement did not come as a shock. For the last couple of years I have been recalling Hillary Clinton’s remarks in a Harlem church on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2006. They oozed with the condescension of the white saviour who has appropriated the history of another people, and who reduces those people to unchanging bit players in that history:

“When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I’m talking about.”

“They” know what you are talking about? Excuse me, is that because they are black and so, naturally, they must know what life on a plantation was like, it’s in their blood perhaps ? No, really, because some might not know, having grown up in the inner city, where even a tree might be an unusual sight. If the injustices that have suffocated African Americans had remained on the plantations, that might have been good news, but their experience has been far more updated than that, and there is no need to look back more than a century when the injustices can be found in the present.

More than that, and here the printed word fails (I first saw the piece on television), Clinton really elongated the words like she was an insider knowing the inside secret and loudly hinting at it, with bulging eyes and the exaggeratedly nodding head common to many who appear in the American mass media: you know…(YOU FIELD NEGROES KNOW, and I know you know). She was simultaneously using their history for her squabbles, teaching them “their history”, and then placing them back in that history as the living dead. Paternalism in a skirt, and the same old racial zombification it seems.

Like a bigot stoking the fires of stupidity–for me at least, this may end up being the most memorable line from the current U.S. electoral game.

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