US President Lyndon B Johnson, 1964: “The Great Society is in place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind.”
1967: In the wake of some of the worst riots ever seen in America, that dream ended in violence and hatred.
Early 70’s: Why the optimistic liberal policies of Johnson failed?
Explanation by Leo Strauss: The very basis of the liberal idea—the belief in individual freedom was causing the chaos, because it undermined the shared moral framework that held society together. Individuals pursued their own selfish interests, and this inevitably led to conflict.
1972: Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State under US President Nixon) persuaded the Soviet Union to sign a treaty with America limiting nuclear arms.
US President Richard Nixon, 1 June 1972: “We have enhanced the security of both nations. We have begun to reduce the level of fear, by reducing the causes of fear—for our two peoples, and for all peoples in the world.”
The neoconservatives, idealists with aim to stop the social disintegration by giving people a shared purpose were set out to destroy Henry Kissinger’s vision of global interdependence (and so a safe America). What gave them their opportunity was the growing collapse of American political power, both abroad and at home. The defeat in Vietnam, and the resignation of President Nixon over Watergate, led to a crisis of confidence in America’s political class. And the neoconservatives seized their moment. They allied themselves with two right-wingers in the new administration of Gerald Ford. One was Donald Rumsfeld, the new Secretary of Defense. The other was Dick Cheney, the President’s Chief of Staff. Rumsfeld began to make speeches alleging that the Soviets were ignoring Kissinger’s treaties and secretly building up their weapons, with the intention of attacking America.
At the end of 1980: Ayman Zawahiri, an eye surgeon [current leader of al-Qaeda], with a number of other followers of Qutb came together to create an organization they called Islamic Jihad with dream to get rid of Egypt President Sadat in pursuit of a transformation in the society- acceptance of reality by the mass.
Those who carried out the assassination were a group of Army officers who were a part of Islamic Jihad. They were immediately arrested, and the regime launched a massive manhunt for those behind the plot. But the effect of the assassination on the Egyptian people was not what Zawahiri had hoped for. That night, Cairo remained calm. The masses failed to rise up.
Ayman Zawahiri: The mystery, for Zawahiri, was why the Egyptian people had failed to see the truth and rise up. It must be because the infection of selfish individualism had gone so deep into people’s minds that they were now as corrupted as their leaders. He thought that like leaders people too could be killed legitmately. But such killing, Zawahiri believed, would have a noble purpose, because of the fear and the terror that it would create in the minds of ordinary Muslims. It would shock them into seeing reality in a different way. They would then see the truth.
1981 America: Religion was being mobilized politically.
By the late ‘70s, there were millions of fundamentalist Christians in America. But their preachers had always told them not to vote. It would mean compromising with a doomed and immoral society. But the neoconservatives and their new Republican allies made an alliance with a number of powerful preachers, who told their followers to become involved with politics for the first time.
James Robison, Fundamentalist Preacher, 1980: I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the Communists coming out of the closet! It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet, out of the churches, and change America! We must do it!
At the beginning of 1981, Ronald Reagan took power in America. The religious vote was crucial in his election, because many millions of fundamentalists voted for the first time.
With many neoconservatives given power in the new administration, they beleived to have the chance to implement their vision of America’s revolutionary destiny—to use the country’s power aggressively as a force for good in the world, in an epic battle to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a vision that they shared with millions of their new religious allies.
A Unidentified Preacher : “I take a personal and public stand as a minister, a stand against Communism. To destroy it, to wipe it from the face of the Earth, because believe you me, these people are dedicated to the destruction of the United States of America and freedom as we know it.”
President Reagan was convinced that the Soviet Union was an evil force, but he still believed that he could negotiate with them to end the Cold War.
Michael Ledeen (Special Adviser to the US Secretary of State 1981-1982) and William Casey (new head of the CIA) both had read and been influenced (convinced) by the book ‘The Terror Network’.
Ledeen: “CIA never believed that the Soviet Union was a driving force in the international terror network. They always wanted to believe that terrorist organizations were just what they said they were: local groups trying to avenge terrible evils done to them, or trying to rectify terrible social conditions, and things like that. And the CIA really did buy into the rhetoric. I don’t know what their motive was. I mean, I don’t know what people’s motives are, hardly ever. And I don’t much worry about motives.”
Casey called a meeting of the CIA’s Soviet analysts at their headquarters, and told them to produce a report for the President that proved this hidden network existed. But the analysts told him that this would be impossible, because much of the information in the book came from black propaganda the CIA themselves had invented to smear the Soviet Union. They knew that the terror network didn’t exist, because they themselves had made it up.
In the end, Casey found a university professor who described himself as a terror expert, and he produced a dossier that confirmed that the hidden terror network did, in fact, exist. Under such intense lobbying, Reagan agreed to give the neoconservatives what they wanted, and in 1983 he signed a secret document that fundamentally changed American foreign policy. The country would now fund covert wars to push back the hidden Soviet threat around the world.
President Reagan : “The specter of Marxist-Leninist controlled governments with ideological and political loyalties to the Soviet Union proves that there’s a direct challenge to which we must respond. They are the focus of evil in the modern world.”
It was a triumph for the neoconservatives. America was now setting out to do battle against the forces of evil in the world. But what had started out as the kind of myth that Leo Strauss had said was necessary for the American people increasingly came to be seen as the truth by the neoconservatives. They began to believe their own fiction. They had become what they called “democratic revolutionaries,” who were going to use force to change the world.
Ledeen : “We were aiming for an expansion of the zone of freedom in the world. And in part that had to do with fighting Communism, and in part that had to do with fighting other kinds of tyrannies. But that’s what we were about, and that’s what we’re still about.”
INTERVIEWER : When you say you were democratic revolutionaries, what do you mean?
Ledeen : It meant that we wanted to support the people who wanted to carry out revolutions against tyrannical regimes in the name of democracy, in order to install a democratic system.
The neoconservatives set out to transform the world, find themselves joining forces with the Islamists in Afghanistan, and together they fight an epic battle against the Soviet Union. And both come to believe that they had defeated the Evil Empire. But this imagined victory leaves them without an enemy. And in a world disillusioned with grand political ideas, they invent new fantasies and new nightmares, in order to maintain their power.
In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this. But their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered to their people. Those dreams failed. And today, people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as managers of public life. But now, they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism. A powerful and sinister network, with sleeper cells in countries across the world. A threat that needs to be fought by a war on terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It’s a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media.
Power of Nightmares is a series of films written and produced by Adam Curtis, originally aired on BBC in the October of 2004, about how and why that fantasy was created, and who it benefits. At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neoconservatives, and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. And both had a very similar explanation for what caused that failure. These two groups have changed the world, but not in the way that either intended. Together, they created today’s nightmare vision of a secret, organized evil that threatens the world. A fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. And those with the darkest fears became the most powerful.
Watch the film (3 parts) here: http://www.personalgrowthcourses.net/video/power_of_nightmares_politics_of_fear