The End of an Empire

Let me share some thoughts about imperialism, something hard to grasp in the contemporary world. My thoughts are inspired by a comment I wrote, which was in response to a comparison of countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). We live in a large geopolitical order that no longer can be explained in national terms. The Anglo-American Empire is a project involving dozens of countries in the Western world. Even as it looks different than the old empires, it maybe operates more similarly than not.

There are many issues involved: who pays the most and who benefits the most from this geopolitical order, where is control of the social order maintained most strictly and oppressively, where is the center and periphery of the imperial project, how are alliances formed and maintained, where does the moral authority and political legitimacy come from, how does complicity and plausible deniability play a key role in participating populations, what is the role of the propaganda model of (increasingly international) media in managing public opinion and perception across multiple countries, what are the meeting points and battle grounds of vying geopolitical forces, etc.

I was wondering about how does a ruling elite maintain a vast geopolitical order like the Anglo-American Empire. It requires keeping submissive all of the diverse and far-flung populations of imperial subjects and allies, which means authoritarian control at the heart of the empire and looser control at the peripheries, at least in the early stages of the imperial project. Every imperial project maybe is in the end a Ponzi scheme. Eventually, the bills come due and someone has to pay for them. Wealth and resources can only flow in from foreign lands for so long before they begin drying up. This is problematic, as maintaining an empire is costly and ever more so as it expands. The ruling elite has little choice for it is either continually expand or collapse, although expanding inevitably leads to overreach and so in the end collapse can only be delayed (even if some empires can keep this charade going for centuries). Many people are happy to be imperial subjects receiving the benefits of imperialism until they have to admit to being imperial subjects and accept responsibility. Allowing plausible deniability of complicity goes a long way in gaining participation from various populations and retaining the alliances of their governments.

It could be interpreted that present conflicts indicate that this present geopolitical order is fraying at the edges. The formerly contented and submissive populations within the Western world order are becoming restless. Austerity politics are shifting the costs back home and the good times are coming to an end. The costs of imperialism are coming to seem greater than the benefits, but that is because the costs always come after the benefits. The American colonists came to learn that lesson, after generations of receiving the benefits of empire and then later on being asked to pay for maintaining the empire that ensured those benefits. Worse still, it rubbed American colonists the wrong way to be forced to admit their role as willing participants in an oppressive sociopolitical order. It didn’t fit their sense of identity as freedom-loving Americans.

My thought is that Europeans (along with Canadians and other allied national populations) are starting to similarly question their role within the Anglo-American Empire, now that the costs no longer can be ignored. The problem is someone has to pay for those costs, as the entire international trade system is built on this costly geopolitical order. It requires an immense military and intelligence apparatus to maintain a secure political order, guarantee trade agreements that allow the wealth to flow around, and keep open the trade routes and access to foreign resources.

So far, the US government has played this role and US citizens have sacrificed funding to public education, public healthcare, etc in order to fund the militarized imperial system. If other countries are asked to help pay for what they have benefited from, like the American colonists they might decline to do so. Still, these other countries have paid through other means, by offering their alliances with the US government which means offering moral authority and political legitimacy to the Anglo-American Empire. When the US goes to war, all of its allies also go to war. This is because the US government is less a nation-state and more the capital of a geopolitical order. These allied nations are no longer autonomous citizenries because such things as the UN, NATO, NAFTA, etc has created a larger international system of governance.

These allied non-American subjects of the Anglo-American Empire have bought their benefits from the system through their participation in it and compliance with it. This is beginning to make Europeans, Canadians, and others feel uncomfortable. US citizen are also suspecting they’ve gotten a raw deal, for why are they paying for an international order that serves international interests and profits international corporations. What is the point of being an imperial subject if you aren’t getting a fair cut of the take from imperial pillaging and looting? Why remain subservient to a system that funnels nearly all of the wealth and resources to the top? Such economic issues then lead to moral questioning of the system itself and soul-searching about one’s place within it.

This is how empires end.

* * *

Anyway, below is the aforementioned comment about trying to compare the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — the various components of the former British Empire that are now the major participants in the present Anglo-American Empire. Here it is:

There is difficulty in comparing them, as they are all part of the same basic set of ideological traditions and cultural influences. All of their economies and governments have been closely intertwined for centuries. Even the US economy quickly re-established trade with Britain after the revolution. It was always as much a civil war as it was a revolution.

The Western neoliberalism we see now is largely a byproduct of pre-revolutionary British imperialism (and other varieties of trade-based imperialism, such as even earlier seen in the influential Spanish Empire). The American Empire is simply an extension of the British Empire. There is no way to separate the two.

All those countries that are supposedly less war-like depend on the military of the American Empire to maintain international trade agreements and trade routes. The American Empire inherited this role from the British Empire, and ever since the two have been close allies in maintaining the Anglo-American geopolitical order.

So much of the US taxpayers money doesn’t go to healthcare and such because it has to pay for this international military regime. That is what is hard for Americans to understand. We get cheap products because of imperialism, but there is a high price paid for living in the belly of the beast.

There are in many ways greater advantages to living more on the edge of the empire. It’s why early American colonists in the pre-revolutionary era had more freedom and wealth than British subjects living in England. That is the advantage of living in Canada or whatever, getting many of the benefits of the Anglo-American imperial order without having to pay as much of the direct costs for maintaining it. Of course, those in developing countries pay the worst costs of all, both in blood and resources.

If not for the complicity of the governments and citizens of dozens of countries, the Anglo-American empire and Western geopolitical order wouldn’t be possible. It was a set of alliances that were cemented in place because of two world wars and a cold war. It is hard to find too many completely innocent people within such an evil system of authoritarian power.

It is a strange phenomenon that those at the center of empire are both heavily oppressed and among the most accepting of oppression. I think it’s because, when you’re so deep within such an authoritarian structure, oppression becomes normalized. It doesn’t occur to you that all your money going to maintain the empire could have been used to fund public education, public healthcare, etc.

Thomas Paine ran into this problem. When he came to the colonies, he became riled up and found it was easy through writing to rile up others. Being on the edge of the empire offers some psychological distance that allows greater critical clarity. But when Paine returned home to England, he couldn’t get the even more oppressed and impoverished English peasantry to join in revolution, even though they would have gained the most from it.

In fact, the reform that was forced by threat of revolution did end up benefiting those English lower classes. But that reform had to be inspired from fear of external threat. It was the ruling elite that embraced reform, rather than it having been enforced upon them by the lower classes in England. The British monarchy and aristocracy was talented at suppressing populism while allowing just enough reform to keep the threat of foreign revolution at bay. But if not for that revolutionary fervor kicking at their back door, such internal reform may never have happened.

Interestingly, what led to the American Revolution was when the British ruling elite decided to shift the costs of the empire to the colonies. The colonists were fine with empire when they benefited more than they had to pay. That is similar right now with the equivalent to colonists in the present Anglo-American imperial order. But if similar the costs of this empire were shifted to the allied nations, I bet you’d suddenly see revolutionary fervor against empire.

That probably would be a good thing.

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The Sun Never Sets On The American Empire

Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations – 69 countries – have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America’s modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as “sanctions”. The British historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. In every case, a big lie was deployed. (John Pilger)

It used to be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. That is no longer true. But this has been true of the American Empire for quite a while now.

The US presently has over 900 military bases in 130 countries in every region of every continent, not to mention probably naval ships patrolling every ocean and sea. We shouldn’t forget the numerous satellites overhead and the largest missile arsenal aimed in every direction. Plus, there are covert agents in governments all over the world, along with bribed and blackmailed politicians and along with allied governments and puppet dictators. There are probably even US operatives in every major foreign organization and media outlet.

The US is the largest and most powerful empire to ever have existed. And it is maintained with violent force, both as threat and actual implementation. Every time the US starts yet another war of aggression, think of the judgment given by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg:

War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Let that sink in. This brutal military imperialism is the most important issue we face.

This one issue relates to all of our major problems: failing democracy and concentrated power, corruption and cronyism, plutocracy and corporatism, legalized bribery and big money lobbyists, biased corporate media and neoliberal globalization, growing inequality and entrenched poverty, Social Darwinism and systemic racism, police militarization and mass incarceration, CIA covert operations and wars of aggression, climate change and externalized costs, refugees and terrorism, etc.

Call it what you will, imperialism is the linchpin issue.

Now consider this. Some of the candidates that have been running for the presidency support American imperialism and some don’t. Ask yourself the following: Do you support American imperialism or not? Would you rather the sun to go on shining on the American empire or are you ready for it to set? Then vote accordingly.

It’s that simple.

It is strange the disconnect that exists in the minds of so many.

In my lifetime, the US government has killed millions of innocent people worldwide through implementing or being involved in heartless sanctions, wars of aggression, proxy wars, CIA covert operations, overthrowing governments, assassinating leaders, training and funding militaries and paramalitaries, generally destabilizing regions for power and profit, etc.

If this was earlier last century and I was describing Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, or Fascist Italy, few Americans would pause for a second to call such a government an evil empire or at least an authoritarian regime. But why is it so hard for Americans to look objectively at their own government and see it for what it is? And why are so many willing to support politicians who have political records of promoting war hawk policies and military imperialism?

Are Americans afraid to face such a harsh truth? I’m sure the citizens of those other ruthless governments were also afraid. That is no excuse. Future generations won’t look back upon our moral cowardice with kindness and forgiveness.

I find myself often ending with thoughts about what future generations will think of us. The legacy we are leaving will likely be horrific, from a massive permanent debt to the endless costs of maintaining an empire, from growing global violence to climate change. I’d like to be able to envision a positive future, but it’s getting harder as time goes on.

American Empire

The Immorality of Preventive War
by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., History News Network

“One of the astonishing events of recent months is the presentation of preventive war as a legitimate and moral instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

“This has not always been the case. Dec. 7, 1941, on which day the Japanese launched a preventive strike against the U.S. Navy, has gone down in history as a date that will live in infamy. During the Cold War, advocates of preventive war were dismissed as a crowd of loonies. When Robert Kennedy called the notion of a preventive attack on the Cuban missile bases “Pearl Harbor in reverse,” and added, “For 175 years we have not been that kind of country,” he swung the ExCom–President Kennedy’s special group of advisors–from an airstrike to a blockade.

“The policy of containment plus deterrence won the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyone thanked heaven that the preventive-war loonies had never got into power in any major country.

“Today, alas, they appear to be in power in the United States.”

Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish?
The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon

“All in all, the U.S. drug war in Mexico has been an abject failure. In spite of high-profile arrests, including in 2014 Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who ran the Sinaloa group, and in 2015 Servando “La Tuta” Gómez, head of the Knights Templar Cartel in Michoacán, the cartels seem as strong as ever. They may occasionally split and reassemble, but they are still able to move plenty of product, and reap at least $20 billion a year in sales in the United States. In fact, this country remains the world’s premier market for illegal drugs.

“The cartels are responsible for the majority of the methamphetamine sold in the United States today. Since 2006, when a federal law made it much harder to buy ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in this country, the cartels have replaced small-time U.S.-based meth cookers. The meth they produce is purer than the U.S. product, apparently because it’s made with purer precursor chemicals available from China. The other big product is heroin, whose quickly rising consumption seems to be replacing the demand for cocaine in the United States. On the other hand, marijuana legalization appears to be cutting into the cross-border traffic in that drug.

“The Washington Post reports that almost 9% of Americans “age 12 or older — 22.6 million people — are current users of illegal drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” That represents a one-third increase over the 6.2% in 1998. It takes a lot of infrastructure to move that much product.

“And that’s where U.S.-based gangs come in. Urban gangs in the United States today are not the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story. Certainly, there are still some small local groups formed by young people looking for family and solidarity on the streets. All too often, however, today’s gangs represent the well-run distribution arm of the international drug trade. In Chicago alone, 100,000 people work in illegal drug distribution, selling mostly into that city’s African-American community. Gang membership is skewing older every year, as gangs transform from local associations to organized, powerfully armed criminal enterprises. Well over half of present gang members are adults now. The communities where they operate live in fear, caught between the gangs that offer them employment while threatening their safety and militarized police forces they do not trust.

“Just like U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Mexico war on drugs has only left a larger problem in place, while producing blowback here at home. A particularly nasty example is the cartels’ use of serving U.S. military personnel and veterans as hit men here in the United States. But the effects are far bigger than that. The DEA told the Washington Post that Mexican cartels are operating in more than 1,200 U.S. cities. In all those cities, the failed war on drugs has put in prison 2.3 million people — in vastly disproportionate numbers from communities of color — without cutting demand by one single kilo. And yet, though that war has only visibly increased the drug problem in the same way that the war on terror has generated ever more terror organizations, in both cases there’s no evidence that any other course than war is being considered in Washington.”

The New American Order
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People”
by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com

“[B]ased on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

“And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

“Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

“Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray. [ . . . ]

“Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

“While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

“Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
Chalmers Johnson, pp. 1-3

“As distinct from other peoples on this earth , most Americans do not recognize— or do not want to recognize— that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, they are often ignorant of the fact that their government garrisons the globe. They do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire.

“Our country deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations and just under a dozen carrier task forces in all the oceans and seas of the world. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another. Our globe-girding military and intelligence installations bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. One task of such contractors is to keep uniformed members of the imperium housed in comfortable quarters, well fed, amused, and supplied with enjoyable, affordable vacation facilities. Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales. On the eve of our second war on Iraq, for example , the Defense Department ordered 273,000 bottles of Native Tan sunblock (SPF 15), almost triple its 1999 order and undoubtedly a boon to the supplier, Control Supply Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its subcontractor, Sun Fun Products of Daytona Beach, Florida. 1

“The new American empire has been a long time in the making. Its roots go back to the early nineteenth century, when the United States declared all of Latin America its sphere of influence and busily enlarged its own territory at the expense of the indigenous people of North America, as well as British, French, and Spanish colonialists, and neighboring Mexico. Much like their contemporaries in Australia, Algeria, and tsarist Russia, Americans devoted much energy to displacing the original inhabitants of the North American continent and turning over their lands to new settlers . Then, at the edge of the twentieth century, a group of self-conscious imperialists in the government— much like a similar group of conservatives who a century later would seek to implement their own expansive agendas under cover of the “war on terrorism”— used the Spanish-American War to seed military bases in Central America, various islands in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines.

“With the Second World War, our nation emerged as the richest and most powerful on earth and a self-designated successor to the British Empire. But as enthusiastic as some of our wartime leaders , particularly President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were for the task, the American people were not. They demanded that the country demobilize its armies and turn the nation’s attention to full employment and domestic development. Peace did not last long, however. The Cold War and a growing conviction that vital interests, even national survival, demanded the “containment” of the Soviet Union helped turn an informal empire begun during World War II into hundreds of installations around the world for the largest military we ever maintained in peacetime.

“During the almost fifty years of superpower standoff, the United States denied that its activities constituted a form of imperialism. Ours were just reactions to the menace of the “evil empire” of the USSR and its satellites. Only slowly did we Americans become aware that the role of the military was growing in our country and that the executive branch— the “imperial presidency”— was eroding the democratic underpinnings of our constitutional republic. But even at the time of the Vietnam War and the abuses of power known as Watergate, this awareness never gained sufficient traction to reverse a Cold War-driven transfer of power from the representatives of the people to the Pentagon and the various intelligence agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency.

“By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the rationale for American containment policies, our leaders had become so accustomed to dominance over half the globe that the thought of giving it up was inconceivable. Many Americans simply concluded that they had “won” the Cold War and so deserved the imperial fruits of victory. A number of ideologists began to argue that the United States was, in fact, a “good empire” and should act accordingly in a world with only one dominant power. To demobilize and turn our resources to peaceful ends would, they argued, constitute the old-fashioned sin of “isolationism.”

American Imperialism: Freedom and Democracy

“Unfortunately, the United States has done for freedom and democracy what the Soviet Union did for socialism.”

Related quotes (not from video):

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.”
— John Kenneth Galbraith

“Capitalism has defeated communism. It is now well on its way to defeating democracy.”
— David Korten

“In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.”
— Fran Lebowitz

“Look, America is no more a democracy than Russia is a Communist state. The governments of the U.S. and Russia are practically the same. There’s only a difference of degree. We both have the same basic form of government: economic totalitarianism. In other words, the settlement to all questions, the solutions to all issues are determined not by what will make the people most healthy and happy in the bodies and their minds but by economics. Dollars or rubles. Economy uber alles. Let nothing interfere with economic growth, even though that growth is castrating truth, poisoning beauty, turning a continent into a shit-heap and riving an entire civilization insane. Don’t spill the Coca-Cola, boys, and keep those monthly payments coming.”
― Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

“Many believe that capitalism is synonymous with free enterprise and democracy. Capitalism is neither free enterprise nor democracy. After all, China is now a capitalist country. No one believes that China is a democratic country. This conflation has allowed all attempts to attenuate the deficiencies of capitalism to be construed as that grand evil, “socialism” or communism.”
― Egberto Willies, America’s form of capitalism kills free enterprise and democracy

20 Books about The American Empire

– The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2001 by Gore Vidal

– The New American Empire by Rodrigue Tremblay

– Secrecy & Privelege: Rise Of The Bush Dynasty From Watergate To Iraq by Robert Parry

– Crossing The Rubicon: The Decline Of The American Empire At The End Of The Age Of Oil by Michael C. Ruppert

– The Secret History Of The American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, And The Truth About Global Corruption by John Perkins

– Killing Hope: U.S. Military And C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II by William Blum

– What Uncle Sam Really Wants by Noam Chomsky

– Devil’s Game: How The United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam by Robert Dreyfuss

– Crusade: Chronicles Of An Unjust War by James Carroll

– 9-11 by Noam Chomsky

– At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance To Build A Better World by Michael Hirsh

– Rogue State: A Guide To The World’s Only Superpower by William Blum

– Economic Governance In The Age Of Globalization by William K. Tabb

– Day Of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise To Global Dominance And Why They Fall by Amy Chua

– The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story Of War, Politics, & Religion At The Twilight Of The American Empire by Matt Taibbi

– Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace: How We Got To Be So Hated by Gore Vidal

– War On Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You To Know by William Rivers Pitt & Scott Ritter

– The Limits Of Power: The End Of American Exceptionalism by Andrew J. Bacevich

– Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints And America’s Perilous Path In The Middle East by Rashid Khalidi

– America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives And The Global Order by Stefan Halper & Jonathan Clarke