"The Obama regime" - América Latina en Movimiento
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"The Obama regime"

Atilio Boron
Clasificado en:   Política: Politica, Democracia, |   Internacional: Internacional, |   Comunicación: Medios, |
Disponible en:   English       Español    

The practice of characterizing governments opposed to U.S. domination as "regimes" is routinely established within the big media of the empire, together with colonized intellectuals of the periphery and with those whom the great Spanish dramatist Alfonso Sastre has characterized as "right thinking intellectuals" (intelectuales bienpensantes).  In the discourse of contemporary political science, the word "regime" has acquired a profoundly negative connotation, which was absent from its original formulation. Until the mid-twentieth century, one spoke of "the feudal regime", of a "monarchical regime" or of a "democratic regime" to designate the body of laws, institutions and political and cultural traditions that characterized a political system.  But with the cold war and later with the neoconservative counterrevolution, the word acquired a completely new signification.  In present discourse the word is employed to stigmatize governments or states that refuse to bend their knee before the dictates of Washington, states which are, because of this refusal, dismissed as authoritarian and, in not a few cases, as bloody tyrannies.

Nevertheless, a sober look at the reality behind this nomenclature will reveal a number of states that are patently despotic, but that the voices of the right and of imperialism never describe as "regimes".  In the present situation there are many analysts or journalists (including some "progressives" who are a bit distracted) who have no problem with accepting the language established by the empire. The Syrian government is "the regime of Basher al Assad" and that same term is used in speaking of the Bolivarian countries.  In Venezuela there is a "Chavist regime", in Ecuador the "Correa regime" and Bolivia is subject to the caprice of "the regime of Evo Morales." The fact that these three countries have developed institutions and forms of popular participation and democratic governance superior to those existing in the United States and in the majority of countries of developed capitalism, is simply ignored.  They are not friends of the United States and as such, their political systems are "regimes".
The double standard applied in these cases is evident, once we note that the infamous petroleum monarchies of the Persian Gulf, which are far more despotic and brutal than the Syrian "regime" have never been stigmatized by the word under consideration.  One speaks, for example, of the government of Abdullah bin Abdul Assiz, but never of the Saudi "regime", in spite of the fact that there is no parliament in that country, but simply a "Consultative Assembly" whose members are appointed by the monarch from among his relatives and friends; political parties are explicitly prohibited and the government is run by a dynasty that has remained in power for decades.  The same is true of Qatar, and yet the New York Times or the hegemonic media of Latin America and the Caribbean would never write of the "Saudi regime" or the "Qatar regime."  Syria, on the other hand, is a "regime" in spite of being a secular state in which, until recently, different religions lived peacefully, there are legally recognized political parties and there is a single-chamber congress with representation from the opposition.  But no one can lift its disgrace of being a "regime."  In other words, a friendly government, an ally or client of the United States, no matter how oppressive or how given to violations of human rights they may be, are never referred to as "regimes" by the propaganda apparatus of the system.  On the other hand, governments such as those of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and a number of others are invariably described in this way (1).
An even greater demonstration of the twisted ideological discourse behind these characterizations of political systems is seen in the form in which rightwing publicists paint the U.S. government, considered as the "ne plus ultra" of democracy.  This in spite of the fact that a short time ago, former President James Carter said that his country "does not have a functioning democracy."  What they have, in reality, is a carefully disguised police state, that exercises a permanent and illegal vigilance over their own citizens, and of which the most important achievement of the last thirty years has been to enable one per cent of the population to enrich themselves as never before, at the cost of the stagnation of the incomes of ninety per cent of the population.  A similar critique of U.S. "democracy" (in reality, a cynical plutocracy) is found in the thesis of the great political philosopher Sheldon Wolin, who has described the dominant political regime in his country as "inverted totalitarianism."  According to this author, "inverted totalitarianism... is a phenomenon that... fundamentally represents the political maturity of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry." (2).  In other words, the consolidation of bourgeois domination in the hands of the big oligopolies and the political de-activation of the masses, stimulating political apathy and the abandonment -- and distain of -- public life and the rush towards an out-of-control consumerism sustained by an even more unrestrained indebtedness. The result: a new kind of totalitarian "regime."  In a word, a peculiar "democracy", without citizens or institutions, in which the overwhelming weight of the "establishment" empties public discourse and its institutions of all real content, and because of this democratic institutions and discourse become an insipid and charmless gesture, absolutely incapable of guaranteeing popular sovereignty; or of any semblance of the old formula of Abraham Lincoln, who defined democracy as "government of the people, by the people and for the people."
As a result of this gigantic operation of deceptive language, the U.S. state is conceived of as an "administration", that is to say an organization that, with clearly established rules and norms, administers public affairs with transparency, impartiality and according to the rule of law.  In reality, as Noam Chomsky assures us, none of this is true.  The United States is a state "rotten to the core", that as no other, violates international legality and does the same with some of the most important domestic rights and legislation.  This is clear, in the domestic area, with the revelations concerning espionage that the NSA and other agencies undertake against their own people.  Nor can we forget the even worse violations of human rights that occur every day in the infamous prison of Guantanamo Bay or the persistent scourge of racism (3).  Because of all this, I propose that we open a new front in the ideological struggle and that from now on we refer to the "Obama regime" or the "White House regime" every time that we have to refer to the government of the United States.  This would be an action of strict justice, which in addition would improve our capacity of analysis and would contribute to cleaning up political discourse, which has become sullied and bastardized by the cultural industry of the empire and their bottomless manufacture of lies.
(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)
- Dr. Atilio A. Boron is Director of the Programa Latinoamericano de Educación a Distancia en Ciencias Sociales (PLED)
[1] It is worth recalling that this double criterion of moral judgment has a long history in the United States. One recalls the famous anecdote recounting the reply of President Franklyn D. Roosevelt to some members of the Democratic Party, horrified at the brutal and repressive policies of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua.  FDR heard them out and replied:  "Yes, he is a son-of-a-bitch. But he is 'our' son-of-a-bitch."  The same can be said of the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among others.  It happens that Bashar al Assad is not their son-of-a-bitch.  Hence the characterization of his government as a "regime."
[2] Cf. his book Democracia Sociedad Anónima (Buenos Aires: Katz Editores, 2008) p. 3. (NdT: quotes retranslated from the Spanish).
[3] For a systematic examination of the violation of human rights on the part of the U.S. government or of the U.S. "regime", see: Atilio A. Boron and Andrea Vlahusic, El lado oscuro del imperio. La violación de los derechos humanos por Estados Unidos (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Luxemburg, 2009)


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