Earlier in his reign, Barack Obama told an audience in Egypt that “America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.” Despite much evidence to the contrary, many people, especially Americans, believe this to be true. Whether or not Obama is one of them I don’t know, but it’s not his opinion that matters. It’s the opinion of the people of the world. And more importantly for the purposes of US anti-imperialists, the opinion of people in the US. If Washington doesn’t act out of self-interest, then what does it act out of? Altruism? Their dependence on the machinery of death denies that argument–after all, killing healthy people living their own lives is not an altruistic act.
After Obama reversed his decision to end military tribunals and release the pictures of US torture, and the Democrats refused to close Guantanamo, liberal and progressive pundits in the media began wringing their hands asking how this could be. After all, they say, this is the neocon agenda, not the agenda for change that Obama got elected on. How can we change this?
What kind of hold do Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and the rest of the rabid rightwingers have on the liberals we voted for? The question none of these handwringers have asked is a very simple, indeed, a very radical one. That question is, is the foreign policy of Washington the same no matter which party is in power? The reason why this question isn’t asked is as simple as the answer (which is of course, yes)– it is not a policy, it is an economic and political system that incorporates both political parties, the media, the educational system, and the commercial life that is the US.
The accepted understanding since September 11, 2001 is that the events that day changed everything in the world. The truth is the opposite. Nothing changed at all. Nothing, that is, except for the justification used by the Pentagon and Wall Street to continue their rigged game against the world. Instead of communism or the yellow hordes, it became terrorism.
The war on drugs. This exercise in futility (if one accepts its premise that it is being fought to end the influx of illegal drugs into the US) hasn’t ended illegal drug trade and its accompanying murder and mayhem, but it has put US bases in regions where there were none. It has also been used as part of the imperial struggle against national liberation and indigenous movements that are contrary to US interests–Sendero Luminoso in Peru back in the 1980s and 1990s to the narco-traffickers in Mexico of today.
The global war on terror hasn’t ended terror but has put bases in places where none were before–with the added attraction that they are in areas rich in resources and also encircle Russia and China–potential capitalist rivals. In addition, it has strengthened Israel’s position in the Middle East, leading to further and more brutal oppression of the Palestinians while increasing the possibility of war with Iran. On top of that we now have the selective bombing of various Muslim and Arab countries in the name of supposed freedom struggles whose very alignment with Washington and its NATO surrogate make the possibility of real freedom less likely with each “Made In USA” bomb dropped or missile fired. Meanwhile, Israel, that supposed beacon of freedom in the Middle East, continues to shoot Palestinian protesters at will.
The control of WMD. If nothing else has shown the vacuity of this policy, the war on Iraq has. Initially undertaken to find and destroy WMD in Iraq, it soon became apparent in the weeks after March 20, 2003 that there were no such weapons. Indeed, the previous administration had already forced the elimination of any such weaponry via its regimen of deadly sanctions, illegal flyovers and bombings and occasional missile attacks on Iraq. Although US policymakers were concerned about WMD in Hussein’s Iraq, this concern had a lot more to do with the challenge they represented to Washington and Tel Aviv’s dominance in the region than they had to do with concern for proliferation of said weapons. This is the case in the ongoing campaign of half-truths and threats against Teheran’s nuclear power endeavors. In the 1990s, northern Korea went along with the program to end its nuclear weapons development with an understanding that the US and other nations would help them develop power that could not be converted into weapons.
Washington failed to uphold its end of the bargain under Clinton and Bush put the nation into Washington’s axis of evil. Now, Pyongyang is testing the right wing government in Seoul while keeping DC at a distance. The hypocrisy of this policy against WMD is laid bare by the complete and total refusal of Washington to address either the US or Israel’s nuclear weapons program at all.
The immigration battle. US capitalism requires cheap labor. An economy that exists because of its early dependence on slavery can not readily give up labor that comes cheap. Since the end of slavery, immigrants have historically filled the lowest positions in the labor pool. They have also been subject to some of the worst violations of their rights since the time of slaves. Indeed, today a whole system of prisons exist solely to lock up immigrants primarily because they are essentially excess labor. As prisoners, they prop up another domestic part of the Empire–the prison system.
I am of the opinion, like many other folks, that prisons are the present day embodiment of the system of chattel slavery. An unneeded and unwanted part of the population is put in chains and forced to work for meals and a minimal stipend, oftentimes because they have been convicted of a crime that was written with their demographic in mind. Do the differences between the original penalties for crack cocaine and its powdered version ring any bells? The other aspect to this labor arrangement is that it is the taxpayers who make up the difference. Yes, even when the prisons are privately owned (a situation that creates another form of injustice), the taxpayers pay through the nose even while the owners make a profit.
There’s an argument that says the State needs enemies to justify its existence and, if it doesn’t have nay, it will create them. The preceding list is a clear indication of that as far as the United States is concerned.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available in print and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org