Friday, September 14, 2007

Regimes and Governments

It's been a norm to use the term "regime" to designate governments that are considered to be enemies of the United States but not to refer to the US government.
The United States has a government, security organizations and allies. The Soviet Union, however, has a regime, secret police and satellites. Our leaders are consummate politicians; theirs are wily, cunning or worse. We give the world information and seek influence; they disseminate propaganda and disinformation while seeking expansion and domination. (Stephen F. Cohen, Sovieticus: American Perceptions and Soviet Realities, New York: Norton, 1985, pp. 29-31)
Some liberals and leftists do use the term "Bush regime," but even they do not use terms such as the "US regime," the "American regime," and so on very often, while it's much more common among them, too, not just rightists, to use terms such as the "Iranian regime," the "Islamic regime," and so on. Here are two examples, one from the center Left and the other from the far Left:
  • As a result, the dilemma for U.S. policy-makers is this: the most realistic way to overthrow the Iranian regime is through a process the United States cannot control.

    The U.S. government has historically promoted regime change through military invasions, coups d'etat and other kinds of violent seizures of power by an undemocratic minority. (emphasis added, Stephen Zunes, "The United States and 'Regime Change' in Iran," Right Web, 7 August 2007)

  • Under increasing pressure from the US government, which has classified Iran as part of its 'axis of evil', there has been a recent escalation of conflicts within the Islamic regime. (emphasis added, Justus Leicht, "Social Tensions Escalate Conflicts within Iranian Regime,", 6 September 2002)
The impression conveyed by unequal application is that the US government is more legitimate than the Iranian government.

The problem of inequality can be solved by using the same term to refer to both: the US and Iranian governments; the US and Iranian states; or the US and Iranian regimes.

But it is not so much words themselves as the structure of feeling that gives rise to the aforementioned usage -- an unconscious but deep-seated idea that governments designated by Washington as its official enemies are automatically less legitimate than the US government itself -- that is the problem. The problem demonstrates the strength of hegemony of the US power elite, who have "spontaneous" consent of those whom they rule, including most liberals and leftists, however much they criticize this or that policy of this or that President or Congress.


Matthew said...

Hi-I've been reading the blog for a while but wanted to pipe up.

I've been thinking about this whole issue, too.
I'm not sure the use of the term 'regime' is just about manpiulating domestic hegemony. Remember that in the Cold War, 'regime' always indicated the USSR as a shadowy power that stood over and above state sovereignty, so that the 'Soviet Regime' could be considered to encompass, say, Poland while still basically indicating the will of Moscow. There's a whole juridical logic to that claim, and I'm not sure that supporting national sovereignty in principle can counter it. Hasn't the US government presented victory in the Cold War as, among other things, a victory of national self-determination in central asia and eastern europe?

Matthew said...

But incidentally, I'd certainly agree with your point that the usage of the term reflects a degree of consent to the actions of the Bush, er, administration.

Yoshie said...

Thank you for your comments. As you say, it is indeed difficult to deconstruct the American ideology, for Washington, unlike old empires like the British and Japanese empires, denies that the USA is an empire and moreover pitches its ideology as an "anti-colonial" one, liberating oppressed nations from the enemy "regime," the pitch that dates back at least to the Monroe Doctrine. We can see that what Washington says now about Iran's influence in Iraq and Afghanistan echoes what it said about the Soviet hold over Eastern Europe and other countries in the USSR's sphere of influence.

Matthew said...

Thanks for your reminder about the Monroe doctrine. I do academic work on the Japanese context, actually, where there was a blatant transfer of imperial holdings and imperial rhetoric (and emperors) right at 1945, and where it's easy to think that the phenomenon of American 'anti-colonialism' started at that point.

By the way, there is a very interesting book by Christina Klein ('Cold War Orientalism') about American Orientalism after WWII-she makes the argument that most of the legitimating rhetoric of Containment was borrowed from the popular front and Soviet-sponsored Friendship Associations. It's pretty fascinating reading, particularly if you know the parallel Japanese context: for example, Reader's Digest sent all this funding to the 遺族会 through humanitarian campaigns.

Yoshie said...

Cold War Orientalism sounds indeed fascinating. I just ordered a copy of it online, as a matter of fact.

I also ordered a copy of Client State: Japan in the American Embrace by Gavan McCormack. It seems to me that many Japanese, especially liberals and leftists, themselves have bought into this Popular Front-inspired rhetoric of liberation of Japan, which has been one of the reasons for the extraordinary stability of post-WW2 Japan as a client state (I had better explain why I think that, but that has to wait).

I'm afraid that "my people" (I am from Japan, after all, though few Japanese think like me) set a bad example, letting Washington get away with making a model out of "successful" occupation of Japan.