An Imperial Death Grip on Democracy

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.

President Barack Obama as he is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, with an oath to defend the Constitution. (Defense Department photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force)

President Barack Obama as he was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, with an oath to defend the Constitution. (Defense Department photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force)

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, ​including Washington Rules: America’s Pathway to Permanent War and Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and their Country, to name two.

​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.

​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’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.

​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 cliché 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.

13 comments for “An Imperial Death Grip on Democracy

  1. Winston
    October 24, 2014 at 22:09

    You will find this book of interest:
    ‘National Security and Double Government’ by Michael J. Glennon
    National Security and Double Government
    Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change
    And this book indicates why Glennon’s faith in the people is misplaced:
    Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
    See also:
    Social Capital: Measurement and Consequences
    Robert Putnam, social capital and civic community

  2. Hillary
    October 14, 2014 at 11:37

    “Official Washington – controlled by a lethal mix of politics, ideology, media and money” says Greg Maybury

    And that’s as far as Greg Maybury could go ?

    We are living in days of “double speak” and we have to read between the lines.

    As Voltaire said “To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

    • Zachary Smith
      October 14, 2014 at 23:48

      Your link has quite a few problems, but the part which caught my attention was this:

      Osama Bin Laden was thinking quite small when he was recruited by the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1979.

      IMO it’s more likely that OBL ‘recruited’ the CIA. He wasn’t some hick, and I doubt if he ever thought “small” at any time after 3 years old.

      Bin Laden was born to the family of billionaire Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden in Saudi Arabia. He studied at university in the country until 1979, when he joined mujahideen forces in Pakistan fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He helped to fund the mujahideen by funneling arms, money and fighters from the Arab world into Afghanistan, and gained popularity from many Arabs.[6]

      Rich boy, well educated, and at some point become a dedicated US hater. If, as is generally reported, he had a degree in civil engineering, he knew a lot about buildings – both constructing and taking them down.

      If Israel knew about the upcoming 9/11 events ( and I suspect they did) then all they had to do was ‘grease the skids’. Make sure no obstacles were encountered by the evildoing Saudis.

  3. Gregory Kruse
    October 14, 2014 at 11:23

    The farthest I’ve been able to is to firmly believe that a commercial airliner flying at about 500 mph could not have hit the pentagon so precisely, especially piloted by an amateur, that it could not have projected its entire length into the building with its 3′ thick reinforced concrete walls through a hole just 18′ in diameter without shearing the wings and tail, of which there was no appearance outside the wall just after the event, as evidenced by video footage taken before the roof section collapsed. The video is on Netflix, and it’s title is In Plane Site.

    • Zachary Smith
      October 14, 2014 at 23:34

      I fear you’ve been taken in by an urban legend propagated by some really dishonest people. So I went to the snopes site to locate a nice debunking.

      • F. G. Sanford
        October 15, 2014 at 00:23

        It bears mentioning that Snopes also maintains that a docile, perhaps brainwashed young man named Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated JFK. Nice site, credibility…ZERO!

  4. Gregory Kruse
    October 14, 2014 at 11:13

    In my dictionary, a conspiracy is a group of people breathing together, or breathing the same air. Confederacy might mean eating together, or eating the same food.

  5. John
    October 14, 2014 at 10:49

    The need for moral leadership, the “equivalent of war” in moral action to support progress for the less fortunate, which would prevent their being driven to develop extremist responses, has been manifest for generations. But in the US only the immoral can seize power, and so it has done nothing since 1952 but subvert or bomb little countries with idiotic rationales, trebling the problems.

    The US does this because it’s former democracy is now controlled by economic concentrations. It’s right wing oligarchy controls the mass media and pays for the election of demogogues who use fearmongering and foreign wars to recruit the bully boy faction and promise rewards to their supporters in the MIC and Israel. That’s the way things work here: democracy is gone and cannot be recovered because the tools are the same mass media and elections.

    The US oligarchy and its overgrowth of military and security agencies can be fought by challenging the false assumptions of its groupthink and propaganda:
    1. That simple technology will triumph in areas of intractable long term problems;
    2. That force will solve the complex problems of basic needs, cultural and political development, and conflict resolution in developing nations;
    3. That the moral responsibility of the developed nations to provide for the great need of the world’s population for progress can be ignored by painting them as a security threat;
    4. That hypothetical foreign threats override the need of the people to control state power;
    5. That the surrender of individual power to a tyranny of unseen economic and political organization will provide more of the US economic and political gains that were made through individual power itself.

    But this has been known for generations. Our efforts of education help a few in each new generation to see the truth, but they remain powerless within the empty suit of armor within which tyranny has digested democracy. That armor will stand until toppled by superior force, likely economic, and likely unprotected against oligarchy, or another oligarchy already, Democracy has never been further in the future.

  6. F. G. Sanford
    October 14, 2014 at 04:07

    There are all kinds of theories of empire; a simplified framework includes empires of consent – Rome, empires of conquest – Ottoman, and empires of commerce – Britain. But to be fair, they all involve an element of coercion, so I’m not sure I can subscribe to these wordy interpretations. If alliteration were the operative variable, I suppose corruption, collusion, conspiracy and confederacy would fall in there somewhere – confederacy, of course, being properly and correctly defined as an alliance of persons for illegal or immoral purposes, as occurred in the treason committed against the United States by the slave owning plutocrats – who kept the poor white landless poverty stricken illiterate masses in a state of deprivation not much better than their logical ‘companions in misery’, the African slaves. But today, who is it that most laments and yearns nostalgically for those good old, “Gone with the Wind” glory days? Why, it’s the descendants of those same ignorant white people. The victims of empire are remarkably loyal. Except for Spartacus and his army of 125,000, slave uprisings are surprisingly rare. The victims of empire usually go quietly to the slaughter. The railway siding at Auschwitz, designed and decorated to look like an authentic train station, raised little suspicion among compliant passengers. But perish the thought anyone should mention the fact that “conspiracy” and “confederacy” are near perfect synonyms, at least according to Merriam Webster.

    What empires really have in common is the accumulation and concentration of wealth, regardless of the mechanism employed to acquire it. The coercion part is useful to retain it, and no transgression against humanity is too vile or too atrocious to contemplate. What ALWAYS happens in empire, and the thing that its subjects NEVER consider, is that violence projected abroad is a reminder of what may be imposed at home. Madeline Albright sanctimoniously quipped that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was “worth it”. Nobody even blinked. Could not such a morally corrupt cabal decide that the sacrifice of three thousand Americans was “worth it”, perhaps even a bargain? Such a thought would never cross the minds of the domestic victims of empire. History tells us it should.

    When Spartacus was defeated, 6,000 of his followers were captured and crucified along the Appian way between Rome and Capua. After sunset, their bodies were doused with creosote and set afire; no doubt some of them were still alive. In the days before streetlights, the spectacle was visible for 120 miles. None of Rome’s allies objected. Pax Romana, or “Roman Peace” lasted an additional 500 years. Most of its victims were Romans. Australians and Europeans will happily imitate Rome’s vassal states as long as their owners continue to profit. In America this year, dozens of people have been executed by the police, and billions have been confiscated through “civil forfeiture”. The empire is strong, and the “New Centurions” are keeping the peace. Those who object are, “Speaking truth to power”. The Romans called that “cretinism”. I have to say, I agree.

  7. Zachary Smith
    October 14, 2014 at 00:39

    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

    Good start, but the author proceeds to tell us we’re supposed to somehow defeat these people with the “death grip” on our society.

    How that’s supposed to happen is left as an exercise for the reader.

    The shock came when I got to his link titled Project Hammer.

    Deanna Spingola ought to have graduated from high school in 1962. I was unable to uncover any indication she had any more education. Her qualifications, to the extent I could find them, were that she is an expert quilt designer and is quite good at researching family history.

    While looking up the woman, I found a list of books she suggested for a reading list.

    Spingola’s Suggested Reading List

    Most of them appear to be excellent. But some make a person cringe. The woman demonstrates no ability whatever to distinguish reality from fruitcake fantasies.

    On the general internet and youtube in particular, I found her denying global warming, denying the WW2 Holocaust, claiming vaccines are a government plot to kill us, and lots more stuff that’s totally insane.

    In the crazy link within the essay you’ll learn that Marcos held physical gold worth a trillion dollars! I doubt if Spingola has any idea whatever of a trillion dollars means.

    Mr. Maybury really ought to give a lot of thought before linking to gullible loons.

    • Bob
      October 14, 2014 at 08:28

      Thanks for your sober comments. It was a tremendous relief to hear a comment from a normal intelligent person who is as stunned as I about what passes for political blogging today. The only thing missing from this article was a reference to the 9-11 hoax being perpetrated by CIA supermonkeys or that Israel secretly runs the Pentagon and also has a command center underneath Yankee stadium. Good grief!

  8. historicus
    October 14, 2014 at 00:15

    The strike against Pearl Harbor was not an attack “on American soil”. Hawaii was an American colony, which had been wrested from its hereditary dynasty by American settlers less than half a century earlier. It was not a part of the Union and would not become a state until 1959.

    In the summer of 1940 the United States government moved a massive battle fleet from its home bases in California to Oahu. Japan was forced to confront the threat of an enemy invasion force now stationed two thousand miles closer to its home islands, and reacted in its own defense. This military intimidation was only one facet of FDR’s policy of treating Japan’s peace overtures with contempt, while imposing ruinous embargoes and sanctions on a nation whose only offense to America was cutting its merchants off from the lucrative China trade.

    The seeds of today’s empire were planted during “the good war”, when an ambitious imperial president was not held accountable to U.S. and international law.

    • Greg M
      October 15, 2014 at 16:53

      Historicus, you’re right of course about Hawaii, and I should have been more careful in my choice of words. but for the sake of the discussion it was an attack on America, an inescapable fact. And the post 9/11 commentary insofar as I can remember rarely distinguished the bit about ” soil”. As for the rest of what you have noted, I

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