The author is the master political essayist of this era who takes the long view of history. The term ’Empire’ is now much in fashion to describe US imperialism. Gore Vidal, however, described it in this way 50 or more years ago.
This is not just a searing indictment of the Cheney-Bush junta but also of the brutal methods used by the different US "Caesars" (presidents) to carve out this Empire, trampling over in the process the peoples of Guatemala, Vietnam, Afghanistan, countless others and now Iraq.
Yet, as the author shows, the Bush presidency is unique, not just in representing the oil and gas billionaires, but in directly incorporating some of them into the government: "Bush Senior of the Carlyle Group, Bush Junior of Harken, Cheney of Halliburton, Condoleezza Rice of Chevron-Texaco, Rumsfeld of Occidental, Gale Norton of BP-Amoco". They all hail from this section of US big business. His conclusion: "If ever there was an administration that should recuse [not be involved - eds] itself in matters dealing with energy, it is the current junta."
THE PERCEIVED wisdom is that the Bush regime and all its agencies, were totally unprepared for the events of 11 September. Yet, this book shows that not only were Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowicz expecting such an attack, they were actively preparing for it. Vidal provides the evidence to show that al-Qa’ida were virtually goaded into attacking the US.
This is not to suggest, as many in the Middle East and the Muslim world still believe, that the CIA or Mossad had directly perpetrated the 11 September outrage. Ironically, it was Bush, Rumsfeld and Co, the proponents of the ’pre-emptive strike’, who themselves were the victims of bin Laden’s ’pre-emptive terrorism’.
Vidal shows that just as a previous US president, Franklin Roosevelt, had created the conditions which forced Japanese imperialism to launch its attack on Pearl Harbor, so bin Laden was provoked into acting against the US before he himself was struck down.
This is one of the most fascinating parts of the book and is linked to US imperialism’s determination to maintain its grip on the oil resources of the Middle East, enhancing them by also grabbing a share of the oil from the Caspian Sea. Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq were central to this strategy. Hence, the courting of the Taliban by US oil companies in the 1990s. It was increased resources and the strengthening of the strategic interests of US imperialism which guided their approach.
Vidal points out that in the post- 9/11 mood the American "media was filled with pre-emptory denunciations of unpatriotic ’conspiracy theorists’." This is because "it is an article of faith that there are no conspiracies in American life. Yet, a year or so ago, who would have thought that most of corporate America had been conspiring with accountants to cook their books... Ironically, less than a year after the massive danger from without, we were confronted with an even greater enemy from within: Golden Calf capitalism."
Vidal uses simple facts to underline the preoccupation of the US elite with Eurasia. Quoting Zbigniew Brzezinski he writes: "[Eurasia] has 75% of the world’s population... that means that we’ve (the US) only got control, to date, of a mere 25% of the world’s folks. More!" He goes on to state: "Eurasia accounts for 60% of the world’s GNP and three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources."
US imperialism now has a thousand bases worldwide with 600,000 personnel, down from a million a few years ago. He points out: "Afghanistan is the gateway to all these riches." Victory in Iraq has now given the US control of the second largest oil reserves in the world. How long they are going to be able to hold on to it, at least directly, given the revolt of the Iraqi people, is a different matter.
The ruling class
ANOTHER LONG-TERM theme of Gore Vidal has been the subverting by the "oligarchy", who control every facet of US society, of the original democratic aims of the ’US republic’. He recognises that the founders of the republic had "invented the Electoral College so that the popular voice of the people could be throttled, much as the Supreme Court throttled the Floridians on 12 December . We were to be neither a democracy, subject to majoritarian tyranny, nor a dictatorship, subject to Caesarean folly."
However, in the "dollar democracy" power has been increasingly concentrated into the hands of a narrower and narrower band of rich and increasingly despotic elite: "1%... own the country".
Vidal presents a convincing yet horrifying picture of the control exercised by this elite and its media leading to greater attacks on democratic rights. Under Bush, the cherished goal of the Republicans to consolidate the "National Security State" has gone a long way towards fruition in the post-11 September period.
Incredibly, this increasingly dysfunctional society has "6.6 million adults (3% of the adult population)" in prisons, on probation or in "correction facilities", according to USA Today. Gore Vidal states: "No other society has ever done so deadly a thing to its people and on such a scale".
IN SOME of his comments he foreshadows a future revolt - "the coming impeachment of George W Bush" - but does not outline a credible alternative to the putrefying decay of US capitalism. Rejecting the monstrous accumulation of power by the federal government - and he is line with millions of Americans on this score - he in effect calls for a retreat to the looser union of pre-1865. His model for the US is that of the present European Union. But this is no more of an alternative for the working people of the US or Europe than the present system in the US.
The mass of working-class people will, in future, embrace socialism as the alternative but there could also be intelligent sections of the rich - not brutalised by the barbarism or corrupted by their system - who will also seek a way out which will lead them in a socialist direction. This book is a pointer towards that future. The author declares: "There will be trouble and big trouble... Mark my words. He [Bush] will leave office the most unpopular president in history. The junta has done too much wreckage".
The alternative, however, is not the tweedledum of the Democrats but to create a force, a new mass party of the working class, which can mobilise the American people to change society. Gore Vidal does not draw this conclusion but his dissection of the horrors of US imperialism points in this direction.
There are many powerful insights here, which flow from the author’s erudite knowledge of history and from contemporary developments. There is irony, humour and very important generalisations vital for socialists trying to understand the world today. The book is also well set out and will be rewarding for all of those who read it.