May 15, 2007

Evil Empire

Is Imperial Liquidation Possible for America?

In politics, as in medicine, a cure based on a false diagnosis is almost always worthless, often worsening the condition that is supposed to be healed. The United States, today, suffers from a plethora of public ills. Most of them can be traced to the militarism and imperialism that have led to the near-collapse of our Constitutional system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, none of the remedies proposed so far by American politicians or analysts addresses the root causes of the problem.

According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, released on April 26, 2007, some 78% of Americans believe their country to be headed in the wrong direction. Only 22% think the Bush administration’s policies make sense, the lowest number on this question since October 1992, when George H. W. Bush was running for a second term — and lost. What people don’t agree on are the reasons for their doubts and, above all, what the remedy — or remedies — ought to be.

The range of opinions on this is immense. Even though large numbers of voters vaguely suspect that the failings of the political system itself led the country into its current crisis, most evidently expect the system to perform a course correction more or less automatically. As Adam Nagourney of the New York Times reported, by the end of March 2007, at least 280,000 American citizens had already contributed some $113.6 million to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani, or John McCain.

If these people actually believe a presidential election a year-and-a-half from now will significantly alter how the country is run, they have almost surely wasted their money. As Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism, puts it: "None of the Democrats vying to replace President Bush is doing so with the promise of reviving the system of check and balances…. The aim of the party out of power is not to cut the presidency down to size but to seize it, not to reduce the prerogatives of the executive branch but to regain them."

George W. Bush has, of course, flagrantly violated his oath of office, which requires him "to protect and defend the constitution," and the opposition party has been remarkably reluctant to hold him to account. Among the "high crimes and misdemeanors" that, under other political circumstances, would surely constitute the Constitutional grounds for impeachment are these: the President and his top officials pressured the Central Intelligence Agency to put together a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s nuclear weapons that both the administration and the Agency knew to be patently dishonest. They then used this false NIE to justify an American war of aggression. After launching an invasion of Iraq, the administration unilaterally reinterpreted international and domestic law to permit the torture of prisoners held at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and at other secret locations around the world.

Nothing in the Constitution, least of all the commander-in-chief clause, allows the president to commit felonies. Nonetheless, within days after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush had signed a secret executive order authorizing a new policy of "extraordinary rendition," in which the CIA is allowed to kidnap terrorist suspects anywhere on Earth and transfer them to prisons in countries like Egypt, Syria, or Uzbekistan, where torture is a normal practice, or to secret CIA prisons outside the United States where Agency operatives themselves do the torturing.

On the home front, despite the post-9/11 congressional authorization of new surveillance powers to the administration, its officials chose to ignore these and, on its own initiative, undertook extensive spying on American citizens without obtaining the necessary judicial warrants and without reporting to Congress on this program. These actions are prima-facie violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (and subsequent revisions) and of Amendment IV of the Constitution.

These alone constitute more than adequate grounds for impeachment, while hardly scratching the surface. And yet, on the eve of the national elections of November 2006, then House Minority Leader, now Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), pledged on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" that "impeachment is off the table." She called it "a waste of time." And six months after the Democratic Party took control of both houses of Congress, the prison at Guantánamo Bay was still open and conducting drumhead courts martial of the prisoners held there; the CIA was still using "enhanced interrogation techniques" on prisoners in foreign jails; illegal intrusions into the privacy of American citizens continued unabated; and, more than fifty years after the CIA was founded, it continues to operate under, at best, the most perfunctory congressional oversight.

Promoting Lies, Demoting Democracy

Without question, the administration’s catastrophic war in Iraq is the single overarching issue that has convinced a large majority of Americans that the country is "heading in the wrong direction." But the war itself is the outcome of an imperial presidency and the abject failure of Congress to perform its Constitutional duty of oversight. Had the government been working as the authors of the Constitution intended, the war could not have occurred. Even now, the Democratic majority remains reluctant to use its power of the purse to cut off funding for the war, thereby ending the American occupation of Iraq and starting to curtail the ever-growing power of the military-industrial complex.

One major problem of the American social and political system is the failure of the press, especially television news, to inform the public about the true breadth of the unconstitutional activities of the executive branch. As Frederick A. O. Schwarz and Aziz Z. Huq, the authors of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, observe, "For the public to play its proper checking role at the ballot box, citizens must know what is done by the government in their names."

Instead of uncovering administration lies and manipulations, the media actively promoted them. Yet the first amendment to the Constitution protects the press precisely so it can penetrate the secrecy that is the bureaucrat’s most powerful, self-protective weapon. As a result of this failure, democratic oversight of the government by an actively engaged citizenry did not — and could not — occur. The people of the United States became mere spectators as an array of ideological extremists, vested interests, and foreign operatives — including domestic neoconservatives, Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi exiles, the Israeli Lobby, the petroleum and automobile industries, warmongers and profiteers allied with the military-industrial complex, and the entrenched interests of the professional military establishment — essentially hijacked the government.

Some respected professional journalists do not see these failings as the mere result of personal turpitude but rather as deep structural and cultural problems within the American system as it exists today. In an interview with Matt Taibbi, Seymour Hersh, for forty years one of America’s leading investigative reporters, put the matter this way:

"All of the institutions we thought would protect us — particularly the press, but also the military, the bureaucracy, the Congress — they have failed… So all the things that we expect would normally carry us through didn’t. The biggest failure, I would argue, is the press, because that’s the most glaring…. What can be done to fix the situation? [long pause] You’d have to fire or execute ninety percent of the editors and executives."

Veteran analyst of the press (and former presidential press secretary), Bill Moyers, considering a classic moment of media failure, concluded: "The disgraceful press reaction to Colin Powell’s presentation at the United Nations [on February 5, 2003] seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student’s thesis, downloaded from the Web — with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with ‘plagiarism.’"

As a result of such multiple failures (still ongoing), the executive branch easily misled the American public.

A Made-in-America Human Catastrophe

Of the failings mentioned by Hersh, that of the military is particularly striking, resembling as it does the failures of the Vietnam era, thirty-plus years earlier. One would have thought the high command had learned some lessons from the defeat of 1975. Instead, it once again went to war pumped up on our own propaganda — especially the conjoined beliefs that the United States was the "indispensable nation," the "lone superpower," and the "victor" in the Cold War; and that it was a new Rome the likes of which the world had never seen, possessing as it did — from the heavens to the remotest spot on the planet — "full spectrum dominance." The idea that the U.S. was an unquestioned military colossus athwart the world, which no power or people could effectively oppose, was hubristic nonsense certain to get the country into deep trouble — as it did — and bring the U.S. Army to the point of collapse, as happened in Vietnam and may well happen again in Iraq (and Afghanistan).

Instead of behaving in a professional manner, our military invaded Iraq with far too small a force; failed to respond adequately when parts of the Iraqi Army (and Baathist Party) went underground; tolerated an orgy of looting and lawlessness throughout the country; disobeyed orders and ignored international obligations (including the obligation of an occupying power to protect the facilities and treasures of the occupied country — especially, in this case, Baghdad’s National Museum and other archaeological sites of untold historic value); and incompetently fanned the flames of an insurgency against our occupation, committing numerous atrocities against unarmed Iraqi civilians.

According to Andrew Bacevich, "Next to nothing can be done to salvage Iraq. It no longer lies within the capacity of the United States to determine the outcome of events there." Our former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas W. Freeman, says of President Bush’s recent "surge" strategy in Baghdad and al-Anbar Province: "The reinforcement of failure is a poor substitute for its correction."

Symbolically, a certain sign of the disaster to come in Iraq arrived via an April 26th posting from the courageous but anonymous Sunni woman who has, since August 2003, published the indispensable blog Baghdad Burning. Her family, she reported, was finally giving up and going into exile — joining up to two million of her compatriots who have left the country. In her final dispatch, she wrote:

"There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends…. And to what?"

Retired General Barry McCaffrey, commander of the 24th Infantry Division in the first Iraq war and a consistent cheerleader for Bush strategies in the second, recently radically changed his tune. He now says, "No Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO, nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi, without heavily armed protection." In a different context, Gen. McCaffrey has concluded: "The U.S. Army is rapidly unraveling."

Even military failure in Iraq is still being spun into an endless web of lies and distortions by the White House, the Pentagon, military pundits, and the now-routine reporting of propagandists disguised as journalists. For example, in the first months of 2007, rising car-bomb attacks in Baghdad were making a mockery of Bush administration and Pentagon claims that the U.S. troop escalation in the capital had brought about "a dramatic drop in sectarian violence." The official response to this problem: the Pentagon simply quit including deaths from car bombings in its count of sectarian casualties. (It has never attempted to report civilian casualties publicly or accurately.) Since August 2003, there have been over 1,050 car bombings in Iraq. One study estimates that through June 2006 the death toll from these alone has been a staggering 78,000 Iraqis.

The war and occupation George W. Bush unleashed in Iraq has proved unimaginably lethal for unarmed civilians, but reporting the true levels of lethality in Iraq, or the nature of the direct American role in it was, for a long time, virtually taboo in the U.S. media. As late as October 2006, the journal of the British Medical Association, The Lancet, published a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad estimating that, since March 2003, there were some 601,027 more Iraqi deaths from violence than would have been expected without a war. The British and American governments at first dismissed the findings, claiming the research was based on faulty statistical methods — and the American media ignored the study, played down its importance, or dismissed its figures.

On March 27, 2007, however, it was revealed that the chief scientific adviser to the British Ministry of Defense, Roy Anderson, had offered a more honest response. The methods used in the study were, he wrote, "close to best practice." Another British official described them as "a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones." Over 600,000 violent deaths in a population estimated in 2006 at 26.8 million — that is, one in every 45 individuals — amounts to a made-in-America human catastrophe.

One subject that the government, the military, and the news media try to avoid like the plague is the racist and murderous culture of rank-and-file American troops when operating abroad. Partly as a result of the background racism that is embedded in many Americans’ mental make-up and the propaganda of American imperialism that is drummed into recruits during military training, they do not see assaults on unarmed "rag heads" or "hajis" as murder. The cult of silence on this subject began to slip only slightly in May 2007 when a report prepared by the Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team was leaked to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Based on anonymous surveys and focus groups involving 1,320 soldiers and 447 Marines, the study revealed that only 56% of soldiers would report a unit member for injuring or killing an innocent noncombatant, while a mere 40% of Marines would do so. Some militarists will reply that such inhumanity to the defenseless is always inculcated into the properly trained soldier. If so, then the answer to this problem is to ensure that, in the future, there are many fewer imperialist wars of choice sponsored by the United States.

The Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

Many other aspects of imperialism and militarism are undermining America’s Constitutional system. By now, for example, the privatization of military and intelligence functions is totally out of control, beyond the law, and beyond any form of Congressional oversight. It is also incredibly lucrative for the owners and operators of so-called private military companies — and the money to pay for their activities ultimately comes from taxpayers through government contracts. Any accounting of these funds, largely distributed to crony companies with insider connections, is chaotic at best. Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, estimates that there are 126,000 private military contractors in Iraq, more than enough to keep the war going, even if most official U.S. troops were withdrawn. "From the beginning," Scahill writes, "these contractors have been a major hidden story of the war, almost uncovered in the mainstream media and absolutely central to maintaining the U.S. occupation of Iraq."

America’s massive "military" budgets, still on the rise, are beginning to threaten the U.S. with bankruptcy, given that its trade and fiscal deficits already easily make it the world’s largest net debtor nation. Spending on the military establishment — sometimes mislabeled "defense spending" — has soared to the highest levels since World War II, exceeding the budgets of the Korean and Vietnam War eras as well as President Ronald Reagan’s weapons-buying binge in the 1980s. According to calculations by the National Priorities Project, a non-profit research organization that examines the local impact of federal spending policies, military spending today consumes 40% of every tax dollar.

Equally alarming, it is virtually impossible for a member of Congress or an ordinary citizen to obtain even a modest handle on the actual size of military spending or its impact on the structure and functioning of our economic system. Some $30 billion of the official Defense Department (DoD) appropriation in the current fiscal year is "black," meaning that it is allegedly going for highly classified projects. Even the open DoD budget receives only perfunctory scrutiny because members of Congress, seeking lucrative defense contracts for their districts, have mutually beneficial relationships with defense contractors and the Pentagon. President Dwight D. Eisenhower identified this phenomenon, in the draft version of his 1961 farewell address, as the "military-industrial-congressional complex." Forty-six years later, in a way even Eisenhower probably couldn’t have imagined, the defense budget is beyond serious congressional oversight or control.

The DoD always tries to minimize the size of its budget by representing it as a declining percentage of the gross national product. What it never reveals is that total military spending is actually many times larger than the official appropriation for the Defense Department. For fiscal year 2006, Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute calculated national security outlays at almost a trillion dollars — $934.9 billion to be exact — broken down as follows (in billions of dollars):

Department of Defense: $499.4
Department of Energy (atomic weapons): $16.6
Department of State (foreign military aid): $25.3
Department of Veterans Affairs (treatment of wounded soldiers): $69.8
Department of Homeland Security (actual defense): $69.1
Department of Justice (1/3rd for the FBI): $1.9
Department of the Treasury (military retirements): $38.5
NASA (satellite launches): $7.6
Interest on war debts, 1916-present: $206.7

Totaled, the sum is larger than the combined sum spent by all other nations on military security.

This spending helps sustain the national economy and represents, essentially, a major jobs program. However, it is beginning to crowd out the civilian economy, causing stagnation in income levels. It also contributes to the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs to other countries. On May 1, 2007, the Center for Economic and Policy Research released a series of estimates on "the economic impact of the Iraq war and higher military spending." Its figures show, among other things, that, after an initial demand stimulus, the effect of a significant rise in military spending (as we’ve experienced in recent years) turns negative around the sixth year.

Sooner or later, higher military spending forces inflation and interest rates up, reducing demand in interest-sensitive sectors of the economy, notably in annual car and truck sales. Job losses follow. The non-military construction and manufacturing sectors experience the largest share of these losses. The report concludes, "Most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment."

Imperial Liquidation?

Imperialism and militarism have thus begun to imperil both the financial and social well-being of our republic. What the country desperately needs is a popular movement to rebuild the Constitutional system and subject the government once again to the discipline of checks and balances. Neither the replacement of one political party by the other, nor protectionist economic policies aimed at rescuing what’s left of our manufacturing economy will correct what has gone wrong. Both of these solutions fail to address the root cause of our national decline.

I believe that there is only one solution to the crisis we face. The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic — becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force.

For the U.S., the decision to mount such a campaign of imperial liquidation may already come too late, given the vast and deeply entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. To succeed, such an endeavor might virtually require a revolutionary mobilization of the American citizenry, one at least comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Even to contemplate a drawing back from empire — something so inconceivable to our pundits and newspaper editorial writers that it is simply never considered — we must specify as clearly as possible precisely what the elected leaders and citizens of the United States would have to do. Two cardinal decisions would have to be made. First, in Iraq, we would have to initiate a firm timetable for withdrawing all our military forces and turning over the permanent military bases we have built to the Iraqis. Second, domestically, we would have to reverse federal budget priorities.

In the words of Noam Chomsky, a venerable critic of American imperialism: "Where spending is rising, as in military supplemental bills to conduct the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would sharply decline. Where spending is steady or declining (health, education, job training, the promotion of energy conservation and renewable energy sources, veterans benefits, funding for the UN and UN peacekeeping operations, and so on), it would sharply increase. Bush’s tax cuts for people with incomes over $200,000 a year would be immediately rescinded."

Such reforms would begin at once to reduce the malevolent influence of the military-industrial complex, but many other areas would require attention as well. As part of the process of de-garrisoning the planet and liquidating our empire, we would have to launch an orderly closing-up process for at least 700 of the 737 military bases we maintain (by official Pentagon count) in over 130 foreign countries on every continent except Antarctica. We should ultimately aim at closing all our imperialist enclaves, but in order to avoid isolationism and maintain a capacity to assist the United Nations in global peacekeeping operations, we should, for the time being, probably retain some 37 of them, mostly naval and air bases.

Equally important, we should rewrite all our Status of Forces Agreements — those American-dictated "agreements" that exempt our troops based in foreign countries from local criminal laws, taxes, immigration controls, anti-pollution legislation, and anything else the American military can think of. It must be established as a matter of principle and law that American forces stationed outside the U.S. will deal with their host nations on a basis of equality, not of extraterritorial privilege.

The American approach to diplomatic relations with the rest of the world would also require a major overhaul. We would have to end our belligerent unilateralism toward other countries as well as our scofflaw behavior regarding international law. Our objective should be to strengthen the United Nations, including our respect for its majority, by working to end the Security Council veto system (and by stopping using our present right to veto). The United States needs to cease being the world’s largest supplier of arms and munitions — a lethal trade whose management should be placed under UN supervision. We should encourage the UN to begin outlawing weapons like land mines, cluster bombs, and depleted-uranium ammunition that play particularly long-term havoc with civilian populations. As part of an attempt to right the diplomatic balance, we should take some obvious steps like recognizing Cuba and ending our blockade of that island and, in the Middle East, working to equalize aid to Israel and Palestine, while attempting to broker a real solution to that disastrous situation. Our goal should be a return to leading by example — and by sound arguments — rather than by continual resort to unilateral armed force and repeated foreign military interventions.

In terms of the organization of the executive branch, we need to rewrite the National Security Act of 1947, taking away from the CIA all functions that involve sabotage, torture, subversion, overseas election rigging, rendition, and other forms of clandestine activity. The president should be deprived of his power to order these types of operations except with the explicit advice and consent of the Senate. The CIA should basically devote itself to the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence. We should eliminate as much secrecy as possible so that neither the CIA, nor any other comparable organization ever again becomes the president’s private army.

In order to halt our economic decline and lessen our dependence on our trading partners, the U.S. must cap its trade deficits through the perfectly legal use of tariffs in accordance with World Trade Organization rules, and it must begin to guide its domestic market in accordance with a national industrial policy, just as the leading economies of the world (particularly the Japanese and Chinese ones) do as a matter of routine. Even though it may involve trampling on the vested interests of American university economics departments, there is simply no excuse for a continued reliance on an outdated doctrine of "free trade."

Normally, a proposed list of reforms like this would simply be rejected as utopian. I understand this reaction. I do want to stress, however, that failure to undertake such reforms would mean condemning the United States to the fate that befell the Roman Republic and all other empires since then. That is why I gave my book Nemesis the subtitle "The Last Days of the American Republic."

When Ronald Reagan coined the phrase "evil empire," he was referring to the Soviet Union, and I basically agreed with him that the USSR needed to be contained and checkmated. But today it is the U.S. that is widely perceived as an evil empire and world forces are gathering to stop us. The Bush administration insists that if we leave Iraq our enemies will "win" or — even more improbably — "follow us home." I believe that, if we leave Iraq and our other imperial enclaves, we can regain the moral high ground and disavow the need for a foreign policy based on preventive war. I also believe that unless we follow this path, we will lose our democracy and then it will not matter much what else we lose. In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Chalmers Johnson is the author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007). It is the final volume of his Blowback Trilogy.

Copyright 2007 Chalmers Johnson

Join the conversation! 23 Comments

  1. I liked your article and found writing very clear and understandable. I did notice that you left out the Federal Reserve System as a topic of reform. It seems very bad that the control of the money supply of our country should be a private decision of bankers, arguably made for private benefit. Also the whole idea of fractional reserve banking seems suspect.

  2. “The aim of the party out of power is not to cut the presidency down to size but to seize it, not to reduce the prerogatives of the executive branch but to regain them.”
    Well put, and it speaks to the lack of publicity and support for any prewar-intelligence investigations. The Democratic Party would be too stupid to want to investigate or impeach the president. It would question the executive’s lax restrictions on intelligence gathering to support administration policies, which if taken away, would leave little left for a Democratic administration. It is why the Democratic party focuses on why the administration abused power, and not how, because asking how questions the institution while asking why questions the motivation. Choosing the latter usurps the opposing party while keeping executive “prerogative” in tact.

  3. So called “Liberals” are often accused of complaining about the myriad of problems confronting the US but not offering any solutions. This article presents a coherent plan for the future.
    However, until the propaganda apparatus is convinced that change is necessary and works to convey a truthful message to the public, there is limited hope for success. There must be a more severe decline in the country’s fortunes before this point is reached.
    The hardest thing to do is look at yourself in the mirror and admit your own faults.

  4. The first time I became aware of what I call the US news “blackout” was when I went to Bali in 1989. The local paper was just a tabloid which I thought wouldn’t have much news. What an eye-opener. That little tabloid had more world news than the Washington Post. It published insightful wire service stories from every continent and a lot about the US. They were news stories that I knew I would never be exposed to in the US.
    Over nearly two decades, the news blackout has gotten progressively worse until now one might reasonably consider it is either a planned conspiracy or a total sell out to special interest groups, Israel being one of the biggest. And, of course, we have a pretty total blackout on the entire continent of Africa.
    When I was in Turkey for the last two months, I saw cable with 1200 channels. For the first time I saw Al Jazeer, in English, and surprise, surprise; it was not the sleezy, yellow journalism broadcasting that US media had led me to believe. It is far, far better than CNN and even BBC because it is brave enough to report unpleasant stories. The reporting is very professionally done. The analysis in-depth. I watched it every day. They aired many interviews with many very well-known Americans, including politicians and government officials, that no US TV would air because the stories were not particularly pro-Israeli and many were not complimentary to US domestic or foreign policy, such as the tolerated abuse of women in our military. So you see, although Americans ARE speaking out against our government policies, US TV stations refuse to air their opinions.
    Chalmers Johnson has hit the nail on the head when he describes this news blackout and the inability of Americans to make informed decisions, because they are NOT INFORMED and cannot be informed so long as they limit themselves to mainstream US media. Thank goodness for the Internet, as yet uncensored in the US, but not uncensored in many middle eastern countries like Saudi Arabia that even bans Skype (calling over the Internet). Last week, the Turkish parliment passed a law that would allow censoring of the Internet through blocking websites. It stills needs to be either signed or vetoed by their president.
    What hurt me the most in Turkey was to learn about the Armenian genocide which I had never been taught and had never heard of in America. Turkey still denies it and refuses to teach it in its schools; but I should not be surprised because neither does the US teach it in its schools. Condelezza Rice recently refused to acknowledge it as genocide before intense questioning by a Congressional committee. In fact, there is major world-wide discussion about it now, trying to force Turkey to acknowledge the genocide (1915-1917, 1.5 million Armenians killed) in order to join the EU. If I, who am so well informed, am NOT informed, then how can I expect less educated, un-traveled Americans to be informed about either history or current affairs?
    I honestly see little hope for Americans and think, sadly, that CJ is right about the “last days of the American republic.” I love the benefits freedom and inexpensive shopping in the US, but am more and more happy that I live overseas. I am no longer comfortable with American no-nothing attitudes. They don’t know and what is worse, they don’t WANT to know because horrible truth about war, genocide, starvation, and human rights abuses upsets their comfortable lives.

  5. One thing to keep in mind about Chalmers Johnson is that he is a “former” analyst for the greatest terrorist organization in the world: the American CIA.
    But, apparently many American progressives and supposed anti-war activists are willing to accept his analyses as good coin. These liberals do not ask themselves: Why would a “retired” CIA analyst, who has dutifully served the interests of the American Empire throughout his life, now be criticizing American foreign policy?
    Is Johnson motivated by principled opposition to what he himself now calls the American “Evil Empire” and its wars?
    Or is he primarily concerned with making *tactical* modifications to American foreign and domestic policy in order to promote a more SUSTAINABLE imperial American system both at home and abroad?
    The answer most likely is the latter.
    This latter motivation is what at base drives many “progressive/antiwar” organizations in the USA including The Nation Magazine/Institute, whose Tom Engelhardt co-founded this very website.
    Coincidentally enough, The Nation Magazine/Institute is also funded and supported by outfits like the Ford Foundation, which is a known CIA proxy, and is connected to the National Endowment for Democracy, whose purpose is to “do today [what] was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

  6. I have two comments:
    1. CJ’s analysis of the problem is persuasive and his solution is plausible. He leaves out the hardest part. Given that we would like to see this solution occur, how do we go about causing that? The Democrats will not help. A third party can not succeed in the current electoral system.
    I think we need a Democracy Movement to explicitly agitate for a more democratic system (and certain positions overwhelmingly support by the people but opposed by both “parties”). Such a movement would look for support from people in both parties. To be sure, most support would come from Democrats but certainly not from the leadership of that party. Any alliance would have to be explicit in its limits. Allies must be criticized to avoid going down with the ship if the ally is untrue to principles or acts stupidly. Such a movement would have to avoid being an electoral spoiler (since so many Democrats would oppose any such movement no matter how bad their own party acts) but would have to find a way to take power legally (since our enemies will win any contest involving illegal activity). I think there is a huge amount of discouragement from people putting their efforts into supporting the Democrats and then ending up with nothing but betrayal. If a movement could ally itself with the Democrats (or others) for only specific limited goals but maintain independence, then when the Democrats betray or fail, all would not be lost. This kind of principled action would lead to peeling away people from the Democrats (or incresed power inside the Democrats). It would also allow for support to build rather than dissipating when whatever great Democratic hope fails or betrays again. And if the Democrats choose candidates or positions that are unacceptable, opposition will be organized and principled rather than looking like sour grapes or petulance.
    2. Amy may be right about CJ but does she imagine that anything beyond what he proposes is even remotely possible? Does she suggest that the correct path is the destruction of the US? While there may be a kernel of truth in what she says, the net result seems to be a sort of rhetorical one-upmanship. If she is part of a movement somewhere in Latin America, for example, planning on attacks on the US, she would make sense on a certain level although I still think that would be counterproductive. But if she is in the US and intends to act democraticlly, this comment seems to be not much more than posturing not likely to persuade many. If she is in the US and has other plans, I would remind that our enemies have a lot more guns and people to shoot them and a very large portion of those inclined to support us would be totally alienated by non-democratic tactics.
    It seems to me that CJ’s goals would be wholly positive. If achieved, they would make any more radical action easier. I can’t see how it could be argued that they would not weaken the imperial grip. If Amy’s purpose is merely to suggest skepticism, that never hurts, but it seems more in the nature of an attack. But for what purpose? If there is a particular point, far better to explicitly criticize that than make a general attack.

  7. It shocks me how the american republic have not reconized the situation our government is in. We have dug our selfes into a hole and it may be impossible to come out. I think we don’t have much of a chance to come out of this hole until the media stops siding with our currupt government and looks at america truthfully. Until the public becomes aware of our situation, our poor state will only worsen. It does indeed look like the world will soon see the end of the american republic.

  8. One of the Republican canidates, Ron Paul, seems to share some of CJ’s views on American Foreign policy. One of the questions posed at the May 15th republican debate was why the united states was attacked on 9/11. Paul answered that our policies in the area bred anti-american views. Rudy rejected the idea, claiming he had never herd such a thing, and then demanded Paul apologize and retract the statement. Its scary that Rudy can be a self-proclaimed expert on 9/11, yet not have the slightest clue as to why we were attacked, when the reasons have been explicitly stated in the 9/11 commision report(A even more frieghtening possibility could be hes simply lieing.) He was rewarded with a massive applause from the audience. Additionally, Paul and Mccaine were the only two canidates to oppose “ehanced interrogation techniques.” Paul also condemened the patriot acts for its privacy violations. As of June 2nd, Rudy leads the polls for the republican canidates. Despite Paul’s convincing points in the debate, he has generated little interest and refuses to run for a third party. Hopefully Paul can continue to force America to take a long hard look at some of these issues, particulalry in the next Republican debate schedueled for June 5th.

  9. It’s comical the (self)-deception that some people continue to promote about America.
    The propaganda narrative pushed by these people is the standard faux criticism that demagogues like Pat Buchanan (or Chalmers Johnson) peddle: America is “no longer a republic” and has become an empire. The USA should return to the “good old days” when it was a representative republic that stood for freedom, democracy, liberty, yadda, yadda, yadda.
    This is just another American lie, masquerading as dissent.
    America has *always* been an empire since the USA was spawned as an entity in 1776. There are no good old days nor some mythological American Republic(tm) to return to. This is a patriotic fantasy.
    What is happening now is that America seeks to create a PLANETARY American Empire in everything but name (i.e. what is often called the “New World Order” or “Unipolarism.”).
    The American aggression against Iraq; the lie called the “War on Terrorism”; the 1999 US attack on Yugoslavia; and the 1991 Operation Desert Storm war are outstanding examples of the many aggressive wars that America has launched since end of the Cold War in order to create it’s Unipolar World Order.
    And don’t expect the American propaganda media like Time Magazine, CNN, or the Washington Post to talk about these issues.
    They will lie and spindoctor and deceive as usual. That’s always been the real political function of the Fourth Estate–in case some people hadn’t figured that out yet.
    ‘The Americanization Of The World’

  10. Before anything can be done in terms of “imperial liquidation” it has to be recognized by the electorate as the most serious issue faced by Americans. Instead of asking for those who do not believe in evolution to raise their hands, the debate moderators need to ask, “Would you, as president, dismantle the imperial presidency created by George W. Bush and re-establish the constitutional system of checks and balances? If not, why not? If so, what are three specific actions that you would take to that end?” “Do you believe that those who attack the United States do so becaue they “hate freedom” or because they oppose our foreign policy as imperialistic?”
    If this issue can be brought to the forefront, and the candidates forced to discuss it realistically instead of bombarding us with tired old slogans like “strong (or weak) on defense” and “war on terrorism”, then there may be a chance that the next president can start to liquidate the empire.
    The problem is, how to raise the issue? With the possible exception of Ron Paul, no candidate seems willing to speak out on imperialism. If the news media will not force the issue, how is it to be brought to the awareness of the public? Not enough voters read Chalmers Johnson’s books, or Noam Chomsky’s books, or this website.
    How do we force the candidates to talk about it?

  11. For many years we have been ruled by fear.
    Mostly it was fear of the Communists but after they fell it has become fear of the terrorists.
    There will not be time or political will to return much of our freedom because a REAL threat, global warming, will so impact civilization that civil rights and terrorism will be lower priorities.
    The advantage in this, the only advantage, is that the world will have to unite if there is to be hope of survival of even a modicum of our current lifestyle.
    The politicians will not admit how bad it is ,even if they know, because no one wants to bring bad news, as it is bad for the vote count.
    This will have to be a worlwide greassroots movement, brought about by changing weather patterns already seen beginning which will decimate food production and coastal flooding that will affect hundreds of millions of refugees. You will see it in your lifetime.
    God save the planet and at least a representative quantity of it’s creatures.
    If Governments cannot be trusted now, how aggressive will they be when social order breaks down.
    Check the facts and pray for a future of sanity and unity of the Brotherhood of Man.

  12. Re: imperial liquidation.
    Like a giant supertanker, the USA requires a lot of time and space for course correction. Too many Americans think that if only the “right” candidate wins in 2008, things will be okey-dokey again. It has taken a good 50 or 60 years to build this corrupt and corrupting empire and would probably take at least that many to liquidate it properly.
    Of all the postings above, Bob Graf’s frightens me most — because this articulate, intelligent man is quite typical of most Americans, I think. Americans’ naievite about what’s going on in their own country, and their provincialism vis-a-vis the rest of the world are among the things that will need to change before any such liquidation can take place.
    The world needs a soft landing for America. A sudden implosion of the empire due to economic and/or environmental collapse would be far more dangerous for the world than a moderately paced and deliberate dismantling of the imperial machine.
    And by the way, Amy, I don’t much care what motivates Johnson. If Americans can learn something valuable about themselves and their evil empire from Johnson’s work, that’s what matters. The American electorate misses too many opportunities for positive self-reflection simply through projecting their own contradictions and questionable motives onto others in their typically American-idealist search for a Messiah.
    Despite his considerable baggage, I’m in favour of Gore taking another shot at the presidency — but only as an Independent or leader of a viable third party. Gore is far from a Messiah figure. But winning on an anti-war, pro-environmentalism platform would make him a fairly good transitional figure, I think — someone who could create an opening for a truly anti-imperialist, pro-republican (small-r) successor somewhere down the line.
    The time for idealism and American-Dreaming is long past. What’s needed is a consensus on what’s realistically possible in the short term, together with a national debate on what the long-term goals should be. Johnson and many of the other contributors to this American Empire Project provide some excellent material for getting started.
    Good luck, America.

  13. A piece that was well put together but there is a problem. We all here have taken the time to read it and and at least have some knowledge and a recognize what Johnson is speaking of. But so many in America (and perhaps other parts of the World too), do not even take the time to look into details, the facts or understand much of this type of subject matter.
    They are either too busy trying to make a living, too busy living their sheltered lives or simply just don’t care. And if they do listen, they have the attitude of American-egotistical-pride and the American way of life is the way of life that others should follow.
    I agree with him that it is going to take a “revolutionary” approach to change course, but there is also a problem of reaching the masses and then once they are made aware, how will they accept and promote the change?

  14. Sadly, the only way the US is going to change its ways – not its nature – is by more American suffering. The billions to cover the defence budget will have to come from somewhere (certainly not all from exploiting “conquered” nations). I imagine for most Americans, as vividly as they might imagine the war in Iraq, it still has no degrading impact on their daily lives – rather a benificial effect, I suppose. If the Bush administration is going to fall, it will be over a domestic issue like wiretapping – but that will not trigger a “grassroots” movement for democracy like in the 60s, which is needed for any real change, as temporatily as it always is – I agree with Patrick that the famous American “democracy” is a myth, although the ideal is in itself invaluable.
    The articles here and on TomDispatch are the most sane and farsighted I read so far, but these sites are among so many that I really begin to believe polls saying home support for the Bush regime is already very low. As newspapers and TV decline, the more independent Web media is on the rise. That – and hopefully more popular fiction like movies – re-awaken awareness in average people. America will surely sink deeper into crisis, count on the current system – it is already viewed more critically than seemed even possible 10 years ago in its Western “ally” nations.

  15. One line in the above comment should read:
    “I imagine for most Americans, as vividly as they might imagine the war in Iraq, it still has no degrading impact on their daily lives – IT HAS rather a benificial SIDE effect, I suppose.”
    Sorry, I’m not a native English speaker 😉

  16. Please don’t think that all American’s are unaware of their government’s Imperialism. We watched the soldiers from the actions taken by our government in the last 50 years get sick and die or commit suicide. We studied the VietNam action as a event that should have never happened. We understand that the country we believed in from our Civics lessons does not exist and that our system of government has failed. The founder’s feared political parties and their fears have come true. The campaigning between the Democratic and the Republican party tells me that no one has the ability to change how we talk about our place in the world. The news media in the United States is a marketing phenomen owned by the powerful. Unless we can get elections fully financed by the government and Instant Run-off elections, there is nothing we can do. We ask our “favorite” Presidential candidate to address the issues of Imperialism, but we know that there is little hope. This country is already over. Only slow painful downturn is ahead.

  17. As I read Chalmer’s article, and the comments accompanying it, I tend to agree with 98% of all the points raised so far – but in theory ONLY.
    I simply do not see any of the proposed beneficial changes EVER becomming a REALITY. The out of control juggernaut – this US Empire ‘thing’ is in my view unstopable – unfortunately – via any peaceful nor military means. The brakes are off, and you will never unite enough support to stop this momentum, unless you believe in miracles.
    Call me a cynic or a pessimist, but I prefer to call myself a realist. There is only one end for the US Empire and probably all of humanity – and that is ‘total destruction, the only solution’ as Bob Marley put it. This will of course be either environmental, nuclear/chemical, or when the US jaggernaut smashes itself to pieces and implodes economically under the stress of it’s fiscal failure. Sorry folks, I just see no other way. I guess I have zero idealism left, so hoping for the best is all we can do…but in that case we are just deceiving ourselves, and nobody else.

  18. This article makes numerous assumptions about the potential for governments of any stripe to act “morally”. And it fails to be realistic about who in our system, and all human systems, truly controls the power apparatus. Certainly it is not the peasants, which is to say the 95% or more of Americans who essentially hold no wealth. Peasants are to oppressed and utilized – if necessary, they may be appeased, but only to overcome temporary crisis.
    Another sad naive failing of the author is to completely ignore the complicity of the entire world in our actions. If the uninformed American republic has been feeble in its opposition, what of the other nations of the world, with their own power elite? Has one action been taken by any foreign government that would even be a noteworthy example of gesture politics? No. And for good reason. Their power elite are in on the game, regardless of what their own rabble might think.
    And oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth present here in the comments – some even going so far as to be waiting for the current state of affairs to bring about the eschaton. Let me help you with a little history. 1347, between 33 and 50% of everybody dies gruesomely. 1929, the fabric of international wealth unravels. 1945, Europe lies in ruins. And yet…here we are. Humanity will go on. And power will seek power. Feel gloriously self-righteous, perhaps even pious, if you must. Just remember what Orwell said: Rich people are just poor people with money.

  19. Some of the comments don’t only shock me but make me very, very angry. This is America. More accurately I should say this was America. Our government was been high-jacked shortly after WWII. OUR possesions and basic life support systems have been given to criminals and thugs. They then use what was ours to sell back to us at inflated prices. You may be familiar with this practice, they call it privitization. The criminal state is promoting, through force and murder, this same brand of wealth concentration on a global scale. July 4th 1776 still means something to some of us. It’s time we TAKE back what is ours.

  20. Great analysis by Chalmers, as always. The comments are also very interesting, having covered most of the ideological positions that those likely to read an article such as this have traditionally taken. Gurn Blanston’s stands out for me. He says,
    “This article makes numerous assumptions about the potential for governments of any stripe to act ‘morally’. And it fails to be realistic about who in our system, and all human systems, truly controls the power apparatus.”
    Our system was set up with the explicit aim of dealing with the unfortunate fact of human nature. Ambition was meant to counter ambition. But what’s missing is a vigilant public (and, by extension, a vigilant congress.) One needn’t believe in the essential goodness of human nature to believe in the democratic project. When all the pieces are in place, the populace can theoretically keep their rulers in check, even if only out of a jealous guarding of their own interests.
    The fundamental problem, to my mind, is that the imperial project actually is in the interest of the American people – in the short term anyway. Despite the gloomy economic forecasts of the report that Chalmers cites, it seems to me that forcefully opening foreign markets for our investors is good for our economy. So is global cultural and military hegemony. If it weren’t for those, would other nations be so willing to extend huge amounts of credit to our government?
    So in the end I fall into the “things will get much worse before they get better” camp. Most people are vaguely aware of the empire, and don’t have a problem with it. Most Americans live high on the hog, so why should they want change?

  21. The American people tacitly and directly support the American Empire because they either 1. benefit from it economically or 2. they believe American propaganda that the USA is a “Beacon of Liberty” that represents a shining example for all of mankind.
    Implicit in this perverse US ideology is the underlying belief that America has a moral and politcal right to invade, attack, regime change, or colonize whatever nation it targets.
    After all, America is the self-proclaimed Land of the Free, and given this status, the USA is goodness incarnate and can do no deliberate wrong …. just ignore all the crimes against humanity that America has committed past or present.
    This religious belief in “American Exceptionalism” is essential to American tradition since even before 1776 and dates back to the first Anglo-American colonizers who invaded the continent at Jamestown, Massachusetts Bay, and Plymouth Rock.
    Today, America’s ideology of Manifest Destiny has become global in ambition and in its “targets of opportunity.” It’s called the War on Terrorism.

  22. Blackbird is correct. The train has left the station and is fully underway. The idea of the American people rising up and reversing our military empire is ludicrous. This is not to say that some unpredictable event could not derail the speeding train, but of course that would result in national destruction which is, incidentally, where the train is headed in the final analysis. Third parties, and especially one led by the blathering opportunist Al Gore, stand zero chance of success. One hopes that the inescapable final cataclysm will not result in global destruction. It is interesting to speculate, in hindsight, what the German people would have done if only they had known what lay in the future. From their experience, we can clearly see where we are headed. What we can or will do about it is another story. Those that fled Germany before the Hitler regime solidified absolute power saw the writing on the wall. Is exile preferable to facsism? That is the question.

  23. 1) How did England decide to dismantle their empire?
    2) With all the publicity surrounding Al Gore’s recent Nobel Prize, I almost missed hearing that Doris Lessing also won a Nobel this year. For one look at the early days of a collapse of civilization, check out her less-known novel Memoirs of a Survivor, written back in the 1970’s. (The movie version of it, starring Julie Christie, is on DVD.)


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