Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dreams of Empire

The following is excerpted from my book, America and the Mythology of Greatness

It would be mistaken to presume that the concept of an American empire is a wholly new one. In the early nineteenth century, nations in Central and South America were beginning to free themselves from Spanish imperialism. The United States government had its eye on these countries and, under the leadership of President Monroe, issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. The doctrine served notice to overseas powers that Latin America was under the American sphere of influence. The successful war with Mexico in 1854 resulted in the addition of the territories of California and the Southwest to the American real estate. During the remaining years of the nineteenth century, there were many instances of militaristic adventurism on the part of the United States government. These are documented in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. They involved military expeditions against countries like Argentina, Nicaragua, Japan, Ryukyu and Bonin Islands, Uruguay, China, Angola, Portuguese West Africa and Hawaii.

By 1890, the Native American population had been subdued, contained and subjugated. Following the severe economic depression of 1893, there was a move to find foreign markets for American made goods. This certainly set the stage for America’s involvement in the Spanish American War, and the subsequent acquisition of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba acquired through force of arms.

Many Americans were troubled with the nation’s imperialistic designs. Notable among them was Mark Twain, who was vehemently opposed to the Philippine-American War. He served as vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League during that time. In a letter written to Joseph H. Twichell on January 10, 1901, he wrote, “…This nation is like all others that have been spewed upon the earth—ready to shout for any cause that will tickle its vanity or fill its pocket. What a hell of a heaven it will be, when they get all these hypocrites assembled there!“You are supposing that I am supposing that I am moved by the Large Patriotism, and that I am distressed because our President has blundered up to his neck in the Philippine mess; and that I am grieved because this great big ignorant nation, which doesn’t know even the A B C facts of the Philippine episode, is in disgrace before the sarcastic world—drop that idea! I care nothing for the rest—I am only distressed and troubled because I am befouled by these things.”

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appeared before Congress and requested a declaration of war against Imperial Germany. In November of the same year, the Bolshevik revolution changed the political landscape. The U.S. had placed its hopes on the Provisional Government that ultimately was to fall to the Bolsheviks. On November 11, 1917, the Russian ambassador to the United States, Bakhmetev, declared that he would not accept the authority of the newly installed Bolshevik regime. Bakhmetev ultimately became, in fact, an agent of the U.S. government. Lenin was determined to get Russia out of the war and eventually made a separate peace with Germany embodied in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. This treaty threatened to jeopardize the Allied war effort. This taken together with the anti-capitalist doctrine of the Bolsheviks convinced President Wilson to authorize a secret war against the Russian government. The plan was to join Japanese forces in Vladivostok, Siberia. This strategy obviously did not succeed, for the Bolsheviks remained in power. The United States has repeatedly attempted to intervene in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations whenever it felt its own interests at stake. The arrogance of power that is so evident in contemporary American foreign policy is nothing terribly new.

Following World War II, the United States effectively supplanted Great Britain as the major imperialist power embracing the capitalist model of economic development. Throughout this recent history, corporate power has gained greater and greater ascendancy. In this model, progress is seen as a relentless production of new products, and of securing and maintaining market share for these products. This pursuit of ever increasing productivity requires prodigious amounts of energy and resources. The fact that Americans consume 40 percent of the world’s resources while they constitute only 5 percent of the world’s population is a testament to this analysis.

The United States has been engaged in many conflicts (as detailed earlier) that have been associated, one way or the other, with this quest for energy and resources. In order to maintain its ascendancy, the foreign policy of the United States has been geared to control the political and economic direction of a good part of the world. In addition to brute military force, many other means are at its disposal, the most effective being the corrupting influence of money. The IMF, the World Bank, the WTO and the financial markets are some of the means by which the democratic evolution of other cultures has been successfully thwarted. The policies of these institutions, under the guise of promoting a global economy, often lead to the establishment of political oligarchies populated by members of the affluent classes and possessing the trappings of democracy but not its substance. The sum total of these activities can be equated with imperialism at the service of furthering the goals of empire.

What makes the activities of the George W. Bush regime so troubling is the extremist ideological view upon which all of its policies are formulated. Bush is rooted in a Christian fundamentalism that has an essentially myopic view of existence, and sees the world in stark black and white terms. There is no gray as far as he is concerned. It is important to remember that his frame of reference is severely limited by how little he does read. He is surrounded by advisers and colleagues that share the same ideology and effectively filter out any information that does not conform to his understanding. It is, of course, very convenient that the world that he sees is divided into good and evil camps; the United States is not only on the “good” side, but it is also represented as the moral leader of all the countries that align themselves in this way. He has become, in his own eyes, a kind of new world messiah and emperor. This way of thinking ignores the real nature of human culture and society, and wholly rejects the lessons that can be learned from history. This fundamentalist view of the world and its people is essentially irrational and terribly dangerous. George W. Bush is an ideologue, and, for this reason, is a cause for concern.

Beneath the ideological rationalizations for extremist policies, there exists quite a different set of interests. George W., his family, his colleagues and friends have benefited directly and substantially from the policies initiated by both himself and his father. The involvement of George Bush Sr. in the Carlyle group has been discussed previously. The corporate interests that have benefited greatly from the government contracts awarded them for the reconstruction of Iraq have been major contributors to the Bush 2004 presidential campaign fund that is predicted to reach 200 million dollars.

In addition, George W. Bush’s economic ties to the Saudi government has resurfaced especially in regard to the events immediately following September 11. There is also additional evidence that he depended upon Saudi investors to salvage some of his business ventures when he was dabbling in the oil industry as a younger man. It is a considerable coincidence that the world view he embraces, brings to him, his friends and family such substantial financial rewards.

The fact that he sees the policies of the United States as representative of a moral universe, in spite of the real cost in human lives that these policies have wrought throughout the world suggests either an extraordinary dissociation from reality, or a deep and underlying cynicism. I suspect that his extreme ideological constructs prevents him from acknowledging the real nature of power and its consequences in the world.

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