As we head into the Fourth of July weekend of patriotic bluster and beer swilling -- but before we are too besotted with ourselves -- might we also for once consider our imperfections? Why not take a moment to heed the cautions of our founding father, George Washington, whose true legacy will most likely be ignored during the flag-waving weekend?
Washington's "Farewell Address" to the new nation was a warning about the threat of American imperial ambitions and a declaration of his high expectations for a republic of free men: "In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism. ..."
We are drowning in the "impostures of pretended patriotism," used to cover the lies that got us into Iraq, the defense of torture and the violation of our basic liberties. In the name of patriotism, we presume a God-given American right to reorder the world to our liking, masking the vice of unfettered greed as an obligation of national security.
Any doubts as to this later governing impulse of our imperial ambitions were shattered with the recent news that U.S. advisers to our puppet government in the Green Zone of occupied Iraq have worked out agreements for American oil companies to gain control of Iraqi oil fields. But, then again, what did we expect when we elected a Texas oil hustler, and a failed one at that, to be our president?
Only in an America dumbed down by constant propaganda about our innate moral superiority will anyone any longer believe that we didn't invade Iraq for the oil, even though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to the Bush administration from the board of directors at Chevron, where they named an oil tanker after her. Like Vice President Dick Cheney with those Halliburton contracts, Rice has stayed true to her corporate sponsors. That's what the U.S. invasion of Iraq accomplished; for the first time in more than three decades after Iraq joined a worldwide trend of formerly colonized nations gaining control of their own resources, Big Oil is getting its black gold back. It was always about the oil -- that's why "we" invaded Iraq -- only "we" aren't getting any, at least not at a reasonable price. The oil companies are.
I know it's difficult for the corporate media and politicians, both fueled generously by energy money, to grasp the distinction, but we the people and they the oil companies are not one and the same. While we suffer at the pump, they make record profits, which is the way they like it. Don't think for a second that U.S. oil companies are rushing into Iraq to expand production to help lower world oil prices, thus making their investments less profitable. They just want to be on the winning side, which is why the CEO of Halliburton relocated his office from Texas to the United Arab Emirates, where I am certain he and his fellow corporate expatriates are able to happily celebrate the Fourth of July.
So, take that American flag off your lapel and replace it with a button bearing the Exxon or Chevron logo. C'mon, Dick Cheney and Condi Rice, be straight about what it is you are really pushing here. 'Fess up -- it's not the good old USA as represented by the sucker taxpayers conned by your patriotic blather. No sirree, what you would have Americans paying homage to is the majesty of the big multinational corporations that exploit American military power to rule the world.
But recognize that you have shamed the legacy of our first president. George Washington, who distinguished the promise of the new world from the corruptions of the old by shunning imperial conquest, said: "Our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing."
If Barack Obama or John McCain was to offer such words of wisdom this Fourth of July, he would be vilified as "weak," and that is a fit measure of just how far we have descended from the high hopes of our first president.
Robert Scheer is the author, most recently, of "The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America," published by Twelve Books.