Official Washington controlled by a lethal mix of politics, ideology, media and money has an imperial death grip on what’s left of the American democratic republic, a hold so suffocating that it’s hard to envision any move to escape. But some citizens keep on trying, writes Greg Maybury.
By Greg Maybury
Andrew Bacevich, a former U.S. military officer and now a professor at Boston University, has measured the U.S. government against British historian Correlli Barnett’s observation that “war is the great auditor of institutions” and noted that since 9/11 America “has undergone such an audit and found to be wanting.”
A military man whose tours of duty included Vietnam and Europe, Bacevich has for years presented sharper, more cogent insights into America’s place in the geopolitical firmament than most of the pundits we see trotted out on CNN, ABC and FOX News and their ilk. But this prolific author, political scientist, and professor of history and international relations is little known to most Americans, perhaps because he had the audacity to judge the Iraq War a “catastrophic failure” well before others were prepared to do so.
Bacevich’s critical assessment of how U.S. institutions responded to the post-9/11 crises is contained in an article that he published in 2008. But his insights can be found in any of his books, â€‹including Washington Rules: America’s Pathway to Permanent War and Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and their Country, to name two.
â€‹What makes Bacevich’s insights even more compelling and indeed poignant is that his own son, a U.S. Army officer, was killed in 2007 by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq. In an article in the Washington Post in May of that same year tellingly titled “I lost my son to a war I opposed; we were both doing our duty” he asked himself the following: “What exactly is a father’s duty when his son is sent into harm’s way?” He provided this response: “As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.”
Bacevich, of course, is far from alone in being a good citizen by daring to critique his country’s foreign policy misadventures. In a 2004 book of essays, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, the late Chalmers Johnson also provided in a similar vein a sobering and persuasive argument for America drawing back from the imperialist ambitions that have long characterized its foreign and national security policies.
Whether it’s in his published works or his numerous magazine and newspaper articles, Johnson left little doubt as to what he saw was driving this geopolitical obsessive-compulsive disorder the profits of waging war. To preserve any lasting vestige of itself as a democratic republic, the empire as it stands must be dismantled, Johnson warned. He summed it up this way:
“We are on the brink of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation starts down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play isolation, overstretch, the uniting of global and local forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end, bankruptcy.”
Johnson, who passed away in 2010, basically said that if America is to sustain itself as a viable nation economically, socially and politically, and preserve whatever integrity, standing and influence it currently enjoys among nation states as a truly global leader in the conduct and management of world affairs, it must attend to three fundamental issues.
Firstly, the U.S. needs to dismantle the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) completely, an organization which he views as being both incompetent and dangerous, not only to America’s own security but global security.
Secondly, he proposed the curtailment of any further expansion of U.S. global military presence along with the progressive dismantlement of the existing infrastructure. (This itself is an interesting proposal given that my own country Australia has recently signed up to a new agreement with the U.S. to increase its military presence here in Australia’s north.)
Thirdly, he emphasized America’s urgent need to scale back and then eradicate the intertwined military, industrial, security and economic foundations that have both driven and underpinned the growth of U.S. empire for far too long.
If these actions are not taken, Johnson argued in his introduction, the “long-standing reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it,” will lead to “a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.” Although Johnson rightly observed that this outcome is not inevitable, he noted pessimistically “it may be unavoidable given the hubris and arrogance of our national leadership.”
The World is Never Enough
For anyone following recent events from outside the realms of the corporate media’s reach the proxy “cold war” with Russia over the Ukraine along with the provocative saber rattling over the downing of MH17, Israel’s genocidal incursions into the Gaza Strip, the deteriorating situations in Iraq and Syria and the rise of ISIS, just to name a few of the volatile global ructions to which America is a party to or has some vital stake in these conclusions should be obvious. The hubris is palpable, and hubris is always the precursor to imperial decline.
Moreover, if we accept Johnson’s proposition that America’s unerring desire to impose political and economic dominion over the rest of the world is driven largely by economic (read that: energy) imperatives, then the irony herein is that in doing so, the U.S. may end up bankrupting itself, must also be blindingly obvious.
For all President Barack Obama’s 2008 election promises to bring America back from the brink of imperial overreach and to dampen its global hegemonic ambitions by relying more on the wielding of soft power than hard power, America’s place in the world order is even more precarious now than it ever was.
The current malaise is not all attributable to the Obama administration to be sure. Although his election rhetoric indicated otherwise, as with many presidents who take over the White House, they have to deal with the accumulative baggage left behind by their immediate (and not so immediate) predecessors. This is to say, Obama was locked into pursuing what neoconservative historian Max Boot billed as the “Doctrine of the Big Enchilada.”
But a lot of it is the present administration’s cross to bear and has been for some time. In fact, it seems that not a week goes by where this contention does not become even more apparent. At best Obama seems to be trying to be all things to all people whilst placating the neoconservative hawks in his administration and in the broader Beltway.
Yet after now almost six years of Obama as president, the imagined scenario of imperial collapse becomes all too plausibly undeniable. For those who might scoff at this suggestion, it is important to remember that there were indeed plenty of folk who did actually predict the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc: that is, well and truly after it all went pear shaped!
As for the likes of Johnson and Bacevich and their fervent hope America will pull back from the strategic brinkmanship it has been engaging in, it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. This becomes even more evident when one reads author F. William Engdahl‘s Full Spectrum Dominance Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, published in 2010. Engdahl delivers an unsettling account of the evolution of U.S. global military strategy since the Fall of the Wall and especially that which has prevailed since 9/11.
Put simply, the term “full spectrum dominance” denotes America’s plan to advance its long-term goal of total military control of every nook and cranny of the Big Blue Ball and beyond: this includes land, sea, air, inner/outer space, and even cyberspace. In essence, full spectrum dominance is the very opposite of what Johnson had in mind.
Yet clearly the Agenda Benders in the National Security State and other stakeholders not just eager to maintain the status quo but relentlessly and recklessly pursue its expansion appear not to have received Johnson’s “memo.” Or for that matter, Andrew Bacevich’s either, someone else who has had a word or two about “full spectrum dominance” and its implications.
And if anyone is on the lookout for a prime example of the blowback of this “World is Not Enough” tendency to dominate the globe militarily in the name of freedom, democracy, liberty and the filthy lucre, then a brief recap of America’s recidivist history of “regime rehab” since the CIA instigated overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran back in 1953 should provide a salutary lesson in why the U.S.’s hitherto relatively untarnished reputation as the global go-to “good guy” is taking a trashing at present.
Folks may be finally waking up and smelling the rodent. Whilst this may be a good sign and certainly not before time, it may be too little too late.
By the end of November 2008, after eight years of the Bush administration it was not hard for Americans and non-Americans alike to buy into the singular promise of “Yes We Can” and “Change We Can Believe In” message that Obama brought to campaign.
â€‹America was on the ropes economically and financially, and some would say spiritually and morally. It had overreached itself militarily and geopolitically in ways not seen since the Vietnam era. Clearly even many die-hard Republicans had had enough of the Bushmeister’s regime, which apart from anything else had done much to diminish America’s reputation for world leadership and all but cut the power on its moral beacon.
America certainly used up most if not all the political and moral capital it accrued as a result of the 9/11 disaster, the worst attacks on American soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941, a squandering of goodwill for which no one has yet to be called to account. That 9/11 accrued the degree of capital it did is remarkable in hindsight, especially given the extraordinary and catastrophic defense, security and intelligence failures on the day itself and leading into it. All this, along with the fact that the powers-that-be had to be dragged kicking and screaming to an investigation into what actually happened and how such a failure transpired.
Even after the monumental shell-game regarding Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction, along with its alleged links to al-Qaeda and support of terrorism, and the revelations of the execrable treatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners (to name a few of the memorable outcomes from America’s overarching response to 9/11), America continued to dine out on the sympathetic support that sprang from that historically tragic event.
That the belated revelation the numerous pretexts for war in Iraq were bogus failed to dent the image that America had carefully crafted in the wake of 9/11 possibly best exemplified by the plaintive wail, “Why do they hate us?” is also illuminating. And the very fact that there are still so many disturbing, outstanding questions regarding the 9/11 attacks, including the government’s redaction of evidence on alleged Saudi financing of al-Qaeda, leaves many Americans and non-Americans alike wondering, “where to from here?”
An Empire of Graveyards
Where indeed? In addition to Johnson’s recommendations, here’s a few more. America needs to pull back from its unstinting support of Israel. It should counterbalance the excessive influence the Israel lobby has on both the domestic political scene and its foreign and national security policies. And above all, it should clip the wings of the Zionistas in the U.S., and cut off the funding of their counterparts in Israel.
Overall, it needs to reflect long and hard on its compulsion for meddling in the so-called Greater Middle East, and we need no further evidence in support of this given the current circumstances in Syria and Iraq. All this of course is about as likely to happen as the suggestions made by Johnson and Bacevich, but we press on regardless.
The U.S. should also stop meddling in Europe, and begin by reassessing its support of the Ukraine regime instead of pointing the finger at Russia for its perceived aggression in the east of that country. A rapprochement with Russia should be the order of the day, but instead we get old school Cold War belligerence that we many thought was well past its use-by-date.
The hypocrisy demonstrated by the West over Russia’s policies in respect of the Ukraine (and the Crimea) is breathtaking, and an example of geopolitical double standards of the first order. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy” and “The Only Standards Are Double Standards.”]
The West could do worse than look in its own historical backyard and see the mess it has created therein in similar scenarios for what it has truly represented. And it will need to go back a long ways in order to do this!It’s all very well to label Vladimir Putin “dangerous” as some folk have done, but he has ample reason not to trust the West in general and the U.S. in particular.
Despite its promise not to expand NATO after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, America and its NATO allies have consistently tested Russia’s patience by not abiding by this agreement in a way that America herself would never have tolerated had the “boots on the ground” been on the other foot.
â€‹Whilst a discussion for another time, Putin knows what the West did in the lead up to and aftermath of the USSR’s collapse. Which is to say, for anyone wanting to get a real handle on “Comrade Putinski’s” neo-Bolshie “up yours” ‘tude towards the Americans, two words will do here: Project Hammer!
By way of taking this discussion full circle, if indeed war is the “great auditor of institutions,” then we can only conclude from that that permanent war the very type America seems determined to engage in going forward will be the “great auditor” of empire. The downside is that such is the monumental faith, hope and trust we have placed in it over such a long period that empire’s decline and fall almost certainly will mean the decline and fall of the rest of us.
For this reason alone, I hope I am proven dead wrong, or dead before proven right. Not that that will be of much comfort to those left behind who will have to bear the brunt of the inevitable, albeit uncertain, but doubtless ugly, outcome.
It’s a somewhat overworked clichÃ© to label Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires, but whether true or trite, either way America, the current occupying imperial power, could already be well on the road to becoming an Empire of Graveyards!
Greg Maybury is a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia.