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The conclusion of Paul Street’s essay is important in naming the situation the US currently inhabits.  “You cannot maintain democracy at home while conducting an authoritarian empire abroad” is the idea that lies at the bottom of the problems plaguing the United States.  The notion that there are people, by default, undeserving of the same rights you grant to your citizenry, who don’t deserve the access to the rights/responsibilities (liberty, equalty, happiness) is eroding those very same ideals within the United States itself.

 

What Goes Around: “Trampling on the Helpless Abroad” Comes Home

     A final matter concerns the problem of imperial chickens coming home to roost. Liberals don’t like to hear it, but the ugly, richly documented historical fact of the matter is that their party of binary and tribal choice has long joined Republicans in backing and indeed crafting a U.S. foreign policy that has imposed authoritarian regimes (and profoundly undemocratic interventions including invasions and occupations) the world over. The roster of authoritarian and often-mass murderous governments the U.S. military and CIA and allied transnational business interests have backed, sometimes even helped create, with richly bipartisan support, is long indeed.

     Last fall, Illinois Green Party leader Mike Whitney ran some fascinating numbers on the 49 nation-states that the right-wing “human rights” organization Freedom House identified as “dictatorships” in 2016. Leaving aside Freedom House’s problematic inclusion of Russia, Cuba, and Iran on its list, the most remarkable thing about Whitney’s research was his finding that the U.S. offered military assistance to 76 percent of these governments. (The only exceptions were Belarus, China, Central African Republic, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria.). “Most politically aware people,” Whitney wrote:

     “know of some of the more highly publicized instances examples of [U.S. support for foreign dictatorships], such as the tens of billions of dollars’ worth of US military assistance provided to the beheading capital of the world, the misogynistic monarchy of Saudi Arabia, and the repressive military dictatorship now in power in Egypt… apologists for our nation’s imperialistic foreign policy…try to rationalize such support, arguing that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are exceptions to the rule.  But my survey…demonstrates that our government’s support for Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not exceptions to the rule at all. They are the rule.”

     The Pentagon and State Department data Whitney used came from Fiscal Year 2015.  It dated from the next-to-last year of the Obama administration, for which so many liberals recall with misplaced nostalgia. Freedom House’s list should have included Honduras, ruled by a vicious right-wing government that Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped install in a June 2009 military coup.

     The problem here isn’t just liberal hypocrisy and double standards. The deeper issue is that, as the great American iconoclast Mark Twain knew, you cannot maintain democracy at home while conducting an authoritarian empire abroad.  During the United States’ blood-soaked invasion and occupation of the Philippines, Twain penned an imaginary history of the twentieth-century United States. “It was impossible,” Twain wrote, “to save the Great Republic.  She was rotten to the heart.  Lust of conquest had long ago done its work; trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home.”

     “Just a decade after Twain wrote those prophetic words,” the historian Alfred W. McCoy has observed, “colonial police methods came home to serve as a template for the creation of an American internal security apparatus in wartime.” The nation’s first Red Scare, which crushed left and labor movements during and after World War One, drew heavily on the lessons and practices of colonial suppression in the Philippines and Cuba. As McCoy shows in his latest book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power,the same basic process – internal U.S. repression informed and shaped by authoritarian and imperial practices abroad and justified by alleged external threats to the “homeland” – has recurred ever since.  Today, the rise of an unprecedented global surveillance state overseen by the National Security Agency has cost the US the trust of many of its top global allies (under Bush43 and Obama44, not just under Trump45) while undermining civil liberties and democracy within as beyond the U.S.

    “The fetters imposed on liberty at home,” James Madison wrote in 1799, “have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers abroad.” Those are wise words well worth revisiting amidst the current endless Russiagate madness, calculated among other things to tell us that the FBI, the CIA, and the rest of the nation’s vast and ever more ubiquitous intelligence and surveillance state are on our side.

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