Tag: american empire

The American Empire

America has always been an expansionist country. Just ask Native Americans. By the end of the 19th century our internal empire building reached its physical limits and America began to reach out. In the post WWII period the American Empire became a global fact. The US military failed to contract as it had following every war preceding. 

In the post WWII era, under the guise of the Cold War, the American Empire expanded with over 700 military bases and tens of thousands of troops posted in Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and Africa. The US Navy is comprehensively dominant in every ocean. The secret state of spies (CIA, NSA, and so on) add another layer of capabilities that are largely unknowable. though visible through their role in “regime change”.This almost 75 year period of the American Empire is characterized by almost continuous warfare and use of force to impose our will, at will, on every continent through direct intervention and “regime change”. 

The official American rhetoric of American exceptionalism centers around three claims. America is unique and original. America is built on ideals of egalitarianism, democracy, individualism, and laissez-fair economics. Finally, America is superior and has a duty to spread its values and system around the world.

Though not part of the official rhetoric there are schools of thought concerning the American Empire that come from the hard-nosed “real politik” diplomacy inspired by Metternich and other earlier practitioners of state craft. This is the Kissinger, Brzezinski school. Then, of course, there are the not too hard to discern influences of America’s global corporations and financial interests.


Movie – War Machine – a misplaced parable
May 28, 2017

Netflix has just released War Machine onto the streaming media waters. This movie fits into the long tradition of American media mostly puffing up our military exploits or turning them into light tragi-comedy.  Brad Pitt, applying the acting style of a trimmed down George Clooney, portrays the fictional General Glen McMahon. Broadly and obviously based on the story of the real General Stanley McChrystal who took over the War in Afghanistan in June…

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Building the New American Economy – Not
April 5, 2017

The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy. Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient…

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Defending the Homeland
April 8, 2014

Recently I stopped at the US Marine Corp War Memorial in Washington DC. Walking around the base with its lengthy list of Marine engagements since 1775, now a double row on several sides, I thought, “How many of these can faithfully be considered to be in defence of the homeland? How many expansionist wars within North America and how many imperialist ventures around the world?” Run through them yourself and…

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John le Carre - wikipedia image
John le Carré on Bush’s Iraq War – The United States of America Has Gone Mad
April 21, 2013

John le Carré, author of many beloved spy novels, e.g., Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy, wrote this piece critiquing the then upcoming War on Iraq in January 2003. Besides pointing out the very strong connections between big oil and the Bushes, many other elements of the critique continue to be applicable to current American foreign policy. Here it is reproduced in its entirety: The United States of America Has Gone Mad…

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tom lehrer
US Imperialism Redux – Tom Lehrer
March 30, 2013

The other day I stumbled on this Tom Lehrer song, “Send in the Marines”. This is as good a summary of American foreign policy as there is, though to update the lyrics for the Obama version just substitute “drones” for “Marines”. Here is a YouTube video performance, perhaps from the That Was The Week That Was (the American version on NBC not the BBC original).

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Bush on aircraft carrier declaring victory in Iraq
Ten Years After Shock and Awe – A Crime Against Peace
March 20, 2013

 On March 19, 2003 George Bush, Dick Cheney and the cabal surrounding them launched their war of Shock and Awe on Iraq. The stated purpose was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.”1 This war that no one is celebrating was based on a nest of lies and deception not only by the President but…

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Parallels and Prescience – on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 and the “War on Terror”
September 12, 2011

Having successfully avoided much of the national moment for our politicians to blather on about the true meaning of 9/11, I was struck this morning by parallel between our “War on Terror” and our longest war, the “War on Drugs” (I have written earlier about this here). Some may be offended initially by this comparison. The War on Drugs was invented for the most cynical of purposes by one of our more…

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Naomi Wolf’s The End of America – the movie
May 27, 2011

The End of America – a film by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern Here is a summary2 of the ten steps discussed and illustrated by Ms. Wolf in the movie. 10 STEPS THAT CLOSE AN OPEN SOCIETY 1. invoke an internal and external threatPeople who are afraid are willing to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do. 2. establish secret (unaccountable) prisons where torture takes…

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More Thinking about the Defence Budget and US “Security” – a letter to the editor
May 6, 2011

Submitted Today to Hudson’s Register Star Letter to the Editor May 6, 2011 As our politicians and the media continue the “debate” about our public budgets, Federal and state, we need to continue to ask that they have a debate that includes all aspects of income and expenditures. I want to focus here on our spending in the Dept. of Defense. Let’s just focus on the more than 750 military…

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Bush, Anger and Dispair Over Our Situation
January 17, 2011

New Thoughts as of 1/18/11: This month’s Atlantic Monthly has a two page piece, “The Last Stand of Ricardo Sanchez” about General Ricardo Sanchez, the first commander of US forces during the now 8 year old Bush war, Iraqi Freedom. This reports on Sanchez’s quest to bering the Bush regime to some accountability for their war. Definitely worth a read. Original Posting 11/27/10 The return of George Bush to the national…

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Remarks on President Obama’s Speech on Accepting The Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo 12/10/2009
December 21, 2009

President Obama’s speech on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2009 has generally been reviewed in the US with much glow about its rhetorical heights and appreciation of its depth of thought. I did not watch Obama give this speech. Instead, I turned to the text which I could read at my leisure and without the speechifying fireworks that Obama has clearly mastered. Although I seem stuck in…

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Whither the American Empire?
October 1, 2009

Americans do not like to use the word “empire” in reference to the country’s role in the world. Our Presidents uniformly role out rhetoric that sounds just like Obama’s. Here is a paragraph from his Inaugural speech: And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of…

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A New Thought on Terrorism
December 6, 2008

An article in today’s NYTimes about cyber crime, malware, etc. suggests to me that another line of attack may be through the Internet against our utilities, telecoms, or financial institutions. There have already been massive attacks against whole countries with successful breakdowns that lasted for hours and days. Ukraine, Lithuania, and Georgia were targets over the last year. My memory is that suspicions fell to the Russian government because the…

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Pondering at the Food Coop
November 1, 2008

November 1, 2008 So, here I am having coffee and my favorite lunch, a toasted bagel with peanut butter thinking about the approaching election. Finally this will conclude what has been an overly long campaign, but one with enormous pleasures. Assuming that Obama is not just a curiosity to all those throngs at his campaign events, we will have a President who seems bright, competent, and level-headed with an adequate…

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A Fog of War or a Fog of Ethics?
December 18, 2003

Through our friend Esther Hanig we attended a showing of Errol Morris’s new documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara. at the Kennedy Library in Dorchester on December 14, 2003. This documentary is an extended adventure into the historico-biography of Robert S. McNamara, most famous as the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The movie intersperses close up head shots of…

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A Fog of War or a Fog of Ethics?
December 18, 2003

Through our friend Esther Hanig we attended a showing of Errol Morris’s new documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara. at the Kennedy Library in Dorchester on December 14, 2003. This documentary is an extended adventure into the historico-biography of Robert S. McNamara, most famous as the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The movie intersperses close up head shots of…

Read more →
  1. http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030322.html []
  2. from the endofamericamovie.com website – 05/27/2011 []

Movie – War Machine – a misplaced parable

Netflix has just released War Machine onto the streaming media waters. This movie fits into the long tradition of American media mostly puffing up our military exploits or turning them into light tragi-comedy.  Brad Pitt, applying the acting style of a trimmed down George Clooney, portrays the fictional General Glen McMahon. Broadly and obviously based on the story of the real General Stanley McChrystal who took over the War in Afghanistan in June 2009 only to be ousted in June 2010 after a profile appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine revealed much foolishness and derogatory comments about President Obama and VP Biden. The movie has its comedic moments and the very broadly played General MaMahon is bound to either really annoy those enamored of the US military or fulfill the image of buffoonish generals that others may prefer.

Building the New American Economy – Not

The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy.

Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient fashion. If you need a primer or a tune up about the economy this is a good place to start. These include: investment in our society, infrastructure, Federal budget, income inequality, healthcare, energy, military and the empire (not his phrase), and innovation. If you have been reading my postings over the last 5 or so years much of this will seem a bit deja vu.

Election Results: The Next Ten Years

img_1844– The Morning After –

The election of Trump and the continued Republican control of both Congress and Senate guarantee that the rich will continue to get richer at the expense of the shrinking middle class and further aggravate conditions for the poor. Trickle down economics and tax subsidies will flow for the rich and corporations. The financial sector will buy its way out of the weak regulations of Dodd/Frank and lurch towards new adventures in gambling; a financial disaster will once again require the socialization of their risk at taxpayer expense.

Naomi Wolf’s The End of America – the movie

The End of America – a film by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern

Here is a summary1 of the ten steps discussed and illustrated by Ms. Wolf in the movie.

10 STEPS THAT CLOSE AN OPEN SOCIETY

1. invoke an internal and external threat
People who are afraid are willing to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

2. establish secret (unaccountable) prisons where torture takes place
In a secret system, the government does not have to provide any proof of wrongdoing by those it holds, so it can incarcerate anyone it wants.

3. develop a paramilitary force
A private military force — under the exclusive direction of the “commander in chief” with no accountability to Congress, the courts, or the public — blurs the line between a civilian police force and a militarized police state.

4. surveil ordinary citizens
People who believe they are being watched are less likely to voice opposition.  To scare a population into silence, the government need only monitor the activities of a few to make everyone fear that they are being surveilled.  Every closed society keeps a “list” of so-called opponents it tracks.

5. infiltrate citizen’s groups
Spies in activist groups put psychological pressure on genuine activists by undermining their trust in one another. They may also disrupt legal activities, undermining the effectiveness of group efforts.

6. detain and release ordinary citizens
Detention intimidates or psychologically damages those arrested and also lets everyone know that anyone could be labeled an “enemy combatant” and “disappeared.”

7. target key individuals
People are less likely to speak out when those who are highly visible, like journalists, scholars, artists, or celebrities, are intimidated or have the livelihoods threatened.  Targeting those who are especially visible makes it less likely that people will speak out and robs society of leaders and others who might inspire opposition.

8. restrict the press
The public is less likely to find out about government wrongdoing if the government can threaten to prosecute anyone who publishes or broadcasts reports that are critical of the government.

9. recast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason
People who protest can be charged with terrorism or treason when laws criminalize or limit free speech rather than protect it.

10. subvert the rule of law
The disappearance of checks and balances makes it easier to declare martial law, especially if the judiciary branch continues to exercise authority over individuals but has no authority over the Executive branch.

The movie presents these steps with lots of references to fascist and communist totalitarian history, particularly Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. According to the movie we are rapidly moving away from a democratic open society to a closed fascist one. The historical context for these changes in America is strictly the post 9/11 era and Ms. Wolf seems blind to the extent to which our society ceased being very open and veered away from democracy long ago. The seeds of our present situation in which corporatist interests joined at the hip with the American Empire and its military/security apparatus substantially dominate politics and the mass media are to be found long before 9/11.

An interesting aspect of this list, and a significant blind spot for Ms. Wolf and the makers of this movie,  is the extent to which most of these “steps” have been present consistently in American life. John Adams and the Federalist’s Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 speak directly to steps 8 and 9. Cold War America used Steps 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 throughout this period. The post WWII security state has consistently treated the Constitution and Bill of Rights as rhetorical cannon fodder for propaganda to be ignored or more forthrightly nullified when found inconvenient.   For the most part, Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps really stand out because they have been the subject of enormous intensification and institutionalization since 9/11. The American domestic security state is now united with the war making operations of the DOD to make the reach of American government truly comprehensive globally and domestically.

The government and the mass media, in a self-serving and cynical fashion, blew the 9/11 attacks into a gigantic existential threat. To this day 9/11 is treated as though it were a 21st century Pearl Harbor. In practical terms, 9/11 was a mere pin prick to an elephant. Though this attack wounded our self-perception of invulnerability and offended our sense that we are the saviors of the democratic world, it was just a terrorist attack, an incident to be dealt with proportionally, not by passing draconian Patriot Acts and building a gigantic addition onto the US security apparatus. Not to mention using this as a pretext to launching wars in two countries that have now lasted more than ten years and cost in the $ trillions.

On top of that, the government, in a completely bi-partisan display of unity, seized the opportunity to build whole new empires of security. We have the Department of Homeland Security with a $57 billion budget for fiscal 2012 and more than 200,000 employees (third largest department). 60,000 employees are in the TSA, that wonderful institution of airport silly business.

We now have to remove our shoes to get on an airplane, but do not have control of the hundreds of thousands of shipping containers that come to our ports each year. Better to demonstrate to the American populace the cost of our security by conducting invasive pat downs than to undertake real protection measures that might slow down commerce or even increase the expenses of corporations. I have been having a recurring bad dream of a small container ship floating into one of our harbors with a dirty bomb on it that we seem to have no effective means to prevent or detect.

Viewed from the perspective that Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps are not new, but simply an intensification of fifty years of the American Empire, I think only the brutish forces of history will undo this mess.

 

  1. from the endofamericamovie.com website – 05/27/2011 []

Whither the American Empire?

Americans do not like to use the word “empire” in reference to the country’s role in the world. Our Presidents uniformly role out rhetoric that sounds just like Obama’s. Here is a paragraph from his Inaugural speech:

And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.  And we are ready to lead once more.

This is heart warming.  But, turning to some of the facts on the ground, as the generals and policy wonks like to say, we have to note that in justus_vs_world-miltary-spending the military dimension alone, there is solid evidence that there is an American empire.

For instance, the US defense budget is not just the largest in the world, our military spending is larger that nearly all of the other countries in the world combined at 48%. See the graph to the left. 1

Are we really spending all of this money for “defense”? Or is it something else that comes closer to empire that is consuming these resources?

Perhaps another statistic will suggest something further of the scope of our empire. Lets look at the enormous, and growing, array of military bases covering the globe. As the Pentagon’s Base Structure Report shows, we have over 750 military bases outside of the US. Leaving aside our bases throughout Europe, Japan, South Korea, and various islands, new bases are being added in Africa and Central Asia as this is written.


  1. The image borrowed without permission from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/policy/securityspending/articles/fy09_dod_request_global/ []