Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Tyranny of Imperial American Democracy

The United States, despite its conceit and propaganda, is as brutal and menacing as any empire which has preceded it - and in some ways more so. For those Americans who think that their country is not an empire, we present some contradictory evidence and note that the republic is long dead.

Much of the information on which we draw comes from Chalmers Johnson (1931 – 2010) who wrote an unlikely trilogy of best sellers on the American empire, spurred perhaps in part due to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by the CIA. He was professor at the University of California Berkeley and San Diego from 1962 - 1992, and was widely regarded as a leading expert on Far Eastern affairs.

Johnson was also well known as a Cold Warrior which probably made him quite a minority at UC Berkeley during his consulting days for the CIA from 1967 – 74. But as he considered the end of the Cold War, he realized that the much ballyhooed peace dividend would never be disbursed because those in the military industrial complex (MIC) had already set their eyes on the next contrived conflict.

We have expressed our opinions elsewhere on the nature of the MIC and its central coordinator, the CIA. We would further our observations by stating that the CIA is an independent sovereign state within a state with absolutely no accountability to official or elected government. Its branches of government are the plutocrats, the intellectuals, and the MIC. This viewpoint contradicts Johnson’s view that the agency is the private arm of the president, a view which we consider naïve in the light of its removal of at least two presidents: John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, to say nothing of its attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life. The CIA then is the servant of the plutocrats.

Johnson noted in the mid 00s that defense spending was at least 1 trillion USD, a number camouflaged by budgetary classifications, of which the Department of Defense is only a fraction of the total. For example, foreign military bases have a separate budget category apart from DOD. He also reports the number of known US bases at 737, but this too vastly understates the case since many US installations operate under foreign flags as in the case of the United Kingdom Air Force. Other bases are simply not reported on the Base Structure Report for so-called national security reasons. More than likely, the actually number of American military bases is closer to 1500 – 2000 which is indeed an enormous global foot print.

This aspect of American militarism forms the central theme of Johnson’s characterization of the American empire. For rather than being a classic example such as France or Rome, where the occupying state formally administers the political organs of government, the US exercises hegemony over the presence of its host by occupying bases in the host country which preserves a patina of sovereignty but which in fact is a delusion of the client state for domestic political purposes.

The enormous military expenditures – and they can hardly be called defensive except in the Soviet style paranoia sense of the term – have broad political support, even from erstwhile liberals such as California’s two state senators. Johnson terms this military Keynesianism because it has taken on the specter of large public works programs in which vast segments of the American population depend on it for jobs. Base closings are anathema as political suicide as much as Social Security cuts are. Thus it is highly unlikely that Americans would repudiate its empire at the ballot box.

American imperialism began in 1898 with its victory over Spain in the Spanish-American War, the splendid little war which plutocrats were anxious to start in order for America to take its proper place among the great powers. No self respecting nation with its country’s great wealth and unbridled ambitions could have any self respect without conquering foreign nations. Indeed American imperialism was an extension of Manifest Destiny which was the pretext for wiping out millions of American Indians.

Both World Wars further propelled American imperial adventures, but its big break came with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 which left the United States the uncontested super power – not just militarily, but economically and culturally. Interestingly enough, the CIA claimed not to see the Soviet economic meltdown which, if taken at face value, would indicate that the agency was completely incompetent in all matters related to intelligence. However, its time was spent toppling foreign governments and propping up brutal tyrannies, one reason of which was to condition Americans to accept totalitarianism at home.

But for Johnson this raises one of the great paradoxes of empire – it can only exist under the aegis of militarism which perforce eliminates the possibility of freedom, civil liberties, and republican government. He points to the example of republican Rome, upon whose example the United States was conceived, as a state whose empire cost it its liberties. When Julius Caesar was murdered in a desperate attempt to preserve the republic, it spawned a series of events accomplishing exactly the opposite. The string of emperors following Augustus was brutal and barbaric in the extreme.

The cost of empire is expensive. Not only are its fiscal costs enormous but so are the collateral costs of lost good will and economic opportunity costs. Empire represents a perpetual drain on the treasury, a cost which the racist British eventually acknowledged as it liquidated its once sprawling empire in some of the most brutal acts of retrogression of any colonial power, Kenya and  the Mau Mau uprising being an egregious example. However, in the United States, the point of economic bankruptcy has not been acknowledged, and given the troglodytic mentality of the neo-cons – both liberal and conservative – retirement of the empire will never happen as they have committed to “full spectrum dominance” over the world over.

But the costs are not limited to domestic exactions as Johnson notes. He documented the criminal behavior at American bases, using an example from 1995 at Okinawa where the US keeps 27 bases with 17,000 service men and women on an island home to 1.3 million second class citizens of Japan. Two marines and a sailor abducted, beat, and raped a 12 year old girl before killing her. The Okinawans were incensed but General Richard Meyers stepped in to sweep it under the rug as a rare and exceptional event which bore no relation to the rank and file military. Unfortunately for the deceptive Meyers, this is typical behavior for there are an average of two courts martial per month at American bases worldwide related to sexual offenses.

The military’s transgressions are not limited to individuals and civilians – the US military and CIA specialize in genocide as well. Johnson reports that the aftermath of the Guatemalan coup of 1954 engineered by the CIA resulted in 200,000 Guatemalans brutally killed by the US backed dictator.

On this point Johnson concurs with Smedley Butler, on whom we have previously reported, who stated after his long and illustrious Marine career, that the military was the private enforcement arm of American corporate giants in their quests to rape foreign countries of their natural resources. In the case of Guatemala the United Fruit Company asked the CIA for the coup because of modest land reform measures proposed by Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, the president of the country.

Of all the prosperity blossoming in the Pacific Rim, the Philippines singularly has not shared in that progress, a damning indictment of American administration and tutelage which continues down to the present time.

The various philosophical reasons advanced by American propaganda to justify its interminable foreign interventions have nothing to do with truth. The British and Americans seem to have an innate ability to weave stories about how they intervene to bring civilization, order, economic prosperity to the backward natives. And in the case of America, it stands ready with an M-16 to shove democracy down the throats of any peoples not sufficiently obsequious to the American plutocracy.

The litany of American interventions is unending – Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba, Philippines (1956), Congo (1961), Vietnam (1963), Indonesia (1965), Greece (1967), Chile (1973), Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan (1988 ff), Iraq (1997 ff), et, al. – but Americans do not understand that most of these interventions were CIA operations with untold miseries and brutal reprisals resulting in the deaths of millions of people. That anyone of these impoverished nations ever posed a threat to the United States is the most laughably arrogant and preposterous lie ever foisted outside of the Warren Commission Report.

These CIA misdeeds result in retaliation without visible cause known as blowback. Johnson cites the 9/11 attacks as a perfect example, for which there exists plausible justification. Unfortunately, he is uninformed about the true cause of the attacks, most notably the fact that a cruise missile – not an airplane – hit the side of the Pentagon, a subject which we shall address in another posting. The cruise missile attack was well beyond the capabilities of the US funded Al qaeda.

Nevertheless, Johnson is absolutely correct about the consequences of the CIA’s misdeeds. Because these incursions were stealth operations, Americans have been bewildered about why they are reviled and distrusted nearly everywhere. Furthermore, Americans are held in contempt for their dumb bunny perspicacity regarding their vast unfathomable ignorance concerning the operations of the CIA.

Johnson identifies militarism, necessarily consequent to empire, as the lethal threat to the republic. The severe unconstitutional rescission of civil liberties as embodied by the misnamed Patriot Act – an example of Orwellian doublespeak – was the casualty of militarism. General Tommy Franks approvingly warned that the next 9/11 event would result in a military coup of the US government.

Johnson opined that the disappearance of the American empire would be greeted with as many tears as were shed at the collapse of the USSR. We could not agree more. We would like to think that the CIA state would go quietly into the night, be we know that such hopes are delusional. As Lord Acton remarked, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Conversations with History: Chalmers Johnson, University of California Berkeley (interview)
Chalmers Johnson - Speaking Freely, Chalmers Johnson (video)
Chalmers Johnson - The Coming End of American Empire (video)
Copyright 2010-12 Tony Bonn. All rights reserved.

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