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Imperialism ad nauseam: If the new name of the game is liberal humanitarianism, the obfuscation is intentional, here, the militarization of advanced-capitalist expansion in pursuit of traditional objectives, from financial-commercial penetration to industrial outsourcing, raw-materials extraction, investment outlets, and good old-fashioned establishment of spheres of influence in the context of international power politics.
One CP reader wisely cautioned me not to focus solely on Obama, who, in reality is the anthropomorphized tip of the iceberg—yet, for that, hardly blameless or inconsequential. Granted, he is the nominal head of an integrated power structure, there, in the first place, indeed, carefully groomed for the job, because he, in seemingly disarming fashion, serves so well both the needs of financial capital and the wider corporate system on one hand, the military and intelligence communities on the other, Obama therefore, whether as figurehead or puppet, or as decision-maker in his own right, performs a systemic role with objective consequences for all to see.
What Arno Mayer just referred to as “national hubris and arrogance of power,” has met its primary exponent in Obama, who presides over a National Security State and national-security council so enmeshed in the interstices of global conquest that it would be disservice to critical analysis—and perhaps humankind’s survival as well—to downgrade his significance.
The jinni is out of the bottle, now, not only serving those who summoned him, but also emerging in his own right, precisely because freedom to maneuver corresponds exactly to their needs and wishes. He adds to political-economic imperialism (e.g., in America, latter 19th century Open-Door policy) a ready willing to engage in the use of force—how many US presidents have sat down with their advisors poring over hit lists from which to personally select and authorize targeted assassination?—and the expansion of military and paramilitary operations on a vast scale for purposes of intervention and regime change, a consistency of purpose dedicated to unilateral-sponsored global architecture with the US as the pinnacle of power on all things, soup to nuts, in satisfying a counterrevolutionary vision of ideological supremacy.
This provides context for Obama’s one-week trip beginning today (Apr. 22) to Asia in implementation of his infamous Pacific-first strategy. Yes, let’s give credit where credit is due; Obama has rescued from its dormant position in the bowels of the State Department the legacy of China-firsters of the late 1940s-early ‘50s, like Sen. Knowland, bound hand-and-foot to the China Lobby, in support of an Asian policy following World War II, essentially to prevent the rise of Communist China, facilitate the backdoor bombing (when the time was ripe) of the Soviet Union, and restore French colonialism to Indochina—a geopolitical framework which, with suitable adjustments, resembles that of the present. Only now, two things: a) the framework takes on urgency given the changing character of the global system, multipolar in direct challenge to America’s supremacy, which perceives itself threatened, even thwarted, in its megalomaniac ambitions toward world dominance (a valid perception, for the US is declining in all but its military capacity—itself testimony to the more fundamental decline), and b) the framework has been conceptualized and already put into practice in broader terms.
The sky’s (no, the heaven’s) the limit—why not militarize the whole of Asia surrounding, enclosing, and, of course, ISOLATING China, just as current strategy seeks to achieve with respect to Russia. Here the Philippines and Ukraine become if not dialectically entwined then at least functional equivalents: Day one, stop in Manila, to shore up a military alliance and arrange for a sizable US military presence, while Biden, in Kiev, same day, wants to assure Ukraine of America’s steadfast protection—and throw in some nonlethal (?) further assistance as proof of our devotion. Then Obama is on to greener pastures, South Korea and Japan, delicately getting the latter to betray its postwar promises and resume its militaristic culture and ways. So many elements are intended to fall into place on the visit, a US-dominated semi-global sphere of influence to do for China what is already in the works for Russia: threaten, menace, surround the two, perhaps above all, somehow break down the growing Sino-Russian cooperation qua informal mutual security pact after decades in their contentious relations, now in realization through the Eurasian trading bloc.
Details of the visit and thoughts informing it are engrossing. The excellent article (its quality due to the privileged nature of the reporters’ access to Washington sources because their paper, the New York Times, is becoming increasingly trusted to serve as a White House propaganda organ—hence, excellence in accuracy from the horse’s mouth where the Obama people see no wrong in what they are doing, and are actually proud of this March Toward Confrontation), David Sanger and Mark Landler’s, “Obama’s Strategic Shift to Asia Is Hobbled by Pressure at Home and Crises Abroad,” (Apr. 22), is almost cavalier in describing the proto-war policy and framework, as in the brief opening paragraph: “President Obama is expected to announce an agreement with the Philippines next Monday that would give American ships and planes the most extensive access to bases there since the United States relinquished its vast naval installation at Subic Bay in 1992.” (Would that this also serve as precedent for NATO forces in Ukraine!) This “centerpiece” of Obama’s trip—and one blushes at the reporters’ own modesty—“is a modest step to reassert America’s military presence in Asia.” A mere bagatelle, which “could nonetheless antagonize China,” they dimly realize, yet worth the candle, in which Obama rises to the occasion: For him, “it is the latest example of the deepening complexities of his efforts to shore up the strategic shift to Asia he announced three years ago and has struggled to maintain because of political pressures at home and a cascade of crises elsewhere in the world.”
Perhaps a mistrustful Congress takes liberal humanitarianism at face value (it is difficult to see how) but if Obama got off the rhetorical tightrope and revealed the full majesty of his strategy, a power sweep of Asia to humble China, prevent its effective coalition with Russia, and—to boot—make all of Asia a free-market zone, political pressures at home would crumble, except for those poor misguided souls who see militarism and war as destructive of civil liberties and social welfare. As for the “cascade of crises” in the world, they of course are integrally related to what the US is doing anywhere else in the world: a unitary hegemonic policy of counterrevolutionary intent and proportions in which, e.g., what happens in, say, Ukraine, has obvious ramifications for Russia, in turn, bearing on the attitudes and policies of China, and with snowball-effect opening eyes in Latin America, Africa, and Asia to US global designs. Not even the 1950s and the height of the Cold War created such a tinderbox of interdependent circumstances which Obama blithely dances over while the nation remains in stuporous denial.
The reporters treat “China’s narrative that his [Obama’s] real motive is to contain its rise,” as irrational, when in reality, he and everybody around him are screaming to the rooftops that that is the purpose of the Pacific-first strategy. The truth is so ugly that we feel that being open about it somehow renders it invisible and masks its aggressive intent. The term “narrative” is used to suggest a deliberate Chinese fabrication, as though shoring up alliances, conducting joint-exercises and naval maneuvers, and creating via the TransPacific Partnership, an inclusive market area at China’s expense, all for starters, as nuclear carriers speed thenceforward from the European and Middle East theaters, all have no bearing on the conscious encirclement of China and reduction of its power. All is made right, and presumably non-hostile, through bringing the blessings of—consumerism: “The premise of Mr. Obama’s strategy—that American power must follow its economic interests in a region where a growing middle class yearns for everything from iPhones to the new Ford Mustang—still makes sense, his advisers say.” Pshaw. Even Obama has more in mind than marketing iPhones. The literal containment of China has a certain frisson about it which carries beyond narrow capitalist objectives. Why not the whole world, sucked into the vortex of American ideology, from which business would greatly profit and the military hold down the lid, an expansive liberalism requiring here that the US honor its commitments to friends and allies in the region, as, e.g., “Much like the 2011 agreement to deploy Marines to Darwin, Australia [on Obama’s, not Bush’s, watch], such a presence [now, the Philippines] would theoretically give America more capacity to help its allies in territorial disputes with the Chinese.”
Theoretically, and practically. The US is interested in results, the Scarborough Shoal a micro-Crimea in keeping alive tensions and generating war-feelings. But more, stirring the pot of conflict, as when, the reporters write, the Chinese response to American moves (much like the way Obama has characterized Russia’s Ukraine position as founded on weakness) “is most likely bluster; the Chinese have shown no desire for confrontation.” Ordinarily, that should be reassuring, a confirmation that America’s supposed enemies operate from weakness (code for cowardice, ascribed to any who advocate for peace), but they put a negative spin even on that: “But the administration officials and some outside experts say the Chinese may be calculating that the United States does not have the wherewithal to change its focus, particularly as it wrestles with new threats in Eastern Europe.” The lesson, get that wherewithal, as the numerous “experts” they quote strongly urge. On to the Pacific! Not least in value, the article helps us to see the role of think tanks in applauding and egging on American militarism. “Leverage” to counter China, is the operative word. For Sanger and Landler, defense guarantees with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines is not enough: “While Washington is obliged to defend all three against attack, the treaties say nothing about a clash over disputed territory, like the Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground now occupied by Chinese vessels.”
By all means, the drumbeats of war, courtesy The Times’s drum and bugle corps, led down Broadway by Obama, followed by a display of the latest nuclear-tipped missiles, and for comic relief, clowns (Brennan and Rhodes will do) astride Predator Drones, miscellaneous camp-followers bringing up the rear, an intermixture of private and public, drawn from DOJ, SEC, FDA, FBI, CIA, and, their mirror image, Goldman, Morgan, B of A, Big Pharma, assorted hedge funds—I think we all get the picture, Americans, and hence patriots, to the core.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.