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It won’t be business as usual for very much longer.  The mantle of world power is quite possibly changing hands within my life time.  Lovely.  Alfred McCoy tackles the large geopolitical issues that we will all be facing in the future.

 

The Bipartisan Nature of U.S. Decline

America’s decline started at home as a distinctly bipartisan affair. After all, Washington wasted two decades in an extravagant fashion fighting costly conflicts in distant lands, in part to secure the Middle East’s oil at a time when that fuel was already destined to join cordwood and coal in the dustbin of history (though not faintly soon enough). Beijing, in contrast, used those same years to build industries that would make it the world’s workshop.

In 2001, in a major miscalculation, Washington admitted Beijing to the World Trade Organization, bizarrely confident that a compliant China would somehow join the world economy without challenging American global power. “Across the ideological spectrum, we in the U.S. foreign policy community,” wrote two former members of the Obama administration, “shared the underlying belief that U.S. power and hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking… All sides of the policy debate erred.”

A bit more bluntly, foreign policy expert John Mearsheimer recently concluded that “both Democratic and Republican administrations… promoted investment in China and welcomed the country into the global trading system, thinking it would become a peace-loving democracy and a responsible stakeholder in a U.S.-led international order.”

In the 15 years since then, Beijing’s exports to the U.S. grew nearly fivefold to $462 billion annually. By 2014, its foreign currency reserves had surged from just $200 billion to an unprecedented $4 trillion — a vast hoard of cash it used to build a modern military and win allies across Eurasia and Africa. Meanwhile, Washington was wasting more than $8 trillion on profitless wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa in lieu of spending such funds domestically on infrastructure, innovation, or education — a time-tested formula for imperial decline.

When a Pentagon team assessing the war in Afghanistan interviewed Jeffrey Eggers, a former White House staffer and Navy SEAL veteran, he asked rhetorically: “What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth a trillion? After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.” (And keep in mind that the best estimate now is that the true cost to America of that lost war alone was $2.3 trillion.) Consider it an imperial lesson of the first order that the most extravagantly funded military on Earth has not won a war since the start of the twenty-first century.

Donald Trump’s presidency brought a growing realization, at home and abroad, that Washington’s world leadership was ending far sooner than anyone had imagined. For four years, Trump attacked long-standing U.S. alliances, while making an obvious effort to dismiss or demolish the international organizations that had been the hallmark of Washington’s world system. To top that off, he denounced a fair American election as “fraudulent” and sparked a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, functionally making a mockery of America’s long history of promoting the idea of democracy to legitimate its global leadership (even as it overthrew unfriendly democratic governments in distant lands via covert interventions).

In that riot’s aftermath, most of the Republican Party has embraced Trump’s demagoguery about electoral fraud as an article of faith. As it happens, no nation can exercise global leadership if one of its ruling parties descends into persistent irrationality, something Britain’s Conservative Party demonstrated all too clearly during that country’s imperial decline in the 1950s.

It doesn’t really matter who is at the helm in the US, the foreign policy remains the same.  Central/South America has been deemed within the sphere of influence of the United States and states resisting vassal status are punished for their crimes.

I’m guilty of not looking past the news coverage on this one was getting the impression that Maduro was not only suspect in this leadership of the country, but that his election was somehow illegitimate.  However the electoral system in Venezuela is quite doing well and possesses a fair amount of resiliency, if we are to take the Carter Centre’s word for it:

“Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored,” said former President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Centre is a respected monitor of elections around the world, “I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” By way of contrast, said Carter, the US election system, with its emphasis on campaign money, “is one of the worst”.

The picture presented to us by more mainstream media doesn’t seem to reflect the Carter Centre’s statement.  There are other incongruities in coverage as well as evinced by much of what John Pilger writes in his article on Counterpunch.

“A war has been declared on Venezuela, of which the truth is “too difficult” to report.

It is too difficult to report the collapse of oil prices since 2014 as largely the result of criminal machinations by Wall Street. It is too difficult to report the blocking of Venezuela’s access to the US-dominated international financial system as sabotage. It is too difficult to report Washington’s “sanctions” against Venezuela, which have caused the loss of at least $6billion in Venezuela’s revenue since 2017, including  $2billion worth of imported medicines, as illegal, or the Bank of England’s refusal to return Venezuela’s gold reserves as an act of piracy.

The former United Nations Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, has likened this to a “medieval siege” designed “to bring countries to their knees”. It is a criminal assault, he says. It is similar to that faced by Salvador Allende in 1970 when President Richard Nixon and his equivalent of John Bolton, Henry Kissinger, set out to “make the economy [of Chile] scream”. The long dark night of Pinochet followed.

The Guardian correspondent, Tom Phillips, has tweeted a picture of a cap on which the words in Spanish mean in local slang: “Make Venezuela fucking cool again.” The reporter as clown may be the final stage of much of mainstream journalism’s degeneration.

Should the CIA stooge Guaido and his white supremacists grab power, it will be the 68th overthrow of a sovereign government by the United States, most of them democracies. A fire sale of Venezuela’s utilities and mineral wealth will surely follow, along with the theft of the country’s oil, as outlined by John Bolton.

Under the last Washington controlled government in Caracas, poverty reached historic proportions. There was no healthcare for those could not pay. There was no universal education”

The situation in Venezuela is indeed looking grim.  We are being misdirected (again) as to how and why events are unfolding as they are.   We not forget the lessons of Chile (1974) and should be wary of our media coverage that is filtered through the ideological lens of American foreign policy directives.

Chalmers Johnson wrote this piece for Tom’s Dispatch in 2009.  I think the prescription remains as accurate, perhaps even more so in today, as we witness the untrammelled bellicose behaviour of the US on the international stage.  The interesting part of the current republican administration’s method is that, in fact, the bluntly brutish bulling behaviour of the American empire is not a new feature of the American geopolitical strategy.  Trump knows not of the (small) mailed fist in the velvet glove, as we witness US foreign policy initiatives bash their way across the globe imprudently applying sanctions and threats.  It’s just that this imperial behaviour has almost been cloaked in diplomatic language and carefully scrubbed for domestic consumption in the past.  It is just so much easier to see now.

The Era of the American Empire is coming to a close.  I just hope that they realize they can drawn down voluntarily(ish) as Britain did, and not choose option B – internal dissolution and collapse – which is the route the Soviet Union chose.

Here are what Chalmers Johnson believes to be the way out for the USA.

 

“1. We need to put halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.a

2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the “opportunity costs” that go with them — the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can’t or won’t.

3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.

4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters — along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth — that follow our military enclaves around the world.

5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.

6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world’s largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army’s infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)

7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.

8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.

9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.

10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.”

Tough sell politically speaking, but necessary if the US wishes to be an important power in the world.

 

    Ethics are what make people stand against tyranny.  Saying “no” to the crowd is one of the most difficult challenges we face as social animals.  Bradley Manning had the courage to make an ethical stand, we all possess similar characteristics, we just choose to dismiss these ethical impulses.  When we do so, our the moral fabric of our society degrades.

Washington, DC – Private Bradley Manning was just 22 years old when he allegedly leaked hundreds of thousands of US State Department cables and video evidence of war crimes to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. For that act of courage that revealed to the world the true face of the American empire, he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.”

Making an ethical stand always has consequences; I’m surprised Mr.Manning has not been executed yet for his actions.  The international media, not heard in the US of course, is picking up the story and telling a significantly different narrative than what the White House would like you to believe.

All one needs to know about American justice is that if he had murdered civilians and desecrated their corpses – if he had the moral capacity to commit war crimes, not the audacity to expose them – he’d be better off today.”

Not exactly good for the recruiting posters.

“Indeed, if Manning had merely murdered the nameless, faceless “other”, as his Army colleagues on the notorious Afghan “Kill Team” did, he would not have had his right to a speedy trial blatantly violated. If Manning had intentionally killed unarmed civilians, posed for pictures with their dead bodies and slashed their fingers off as souvenirs, he would not have had his guilt publicly pronounced by his own commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, months before he so much as saw the inside of a military court. If he had killed poor foreigners instead of exposing their deaths, he might even stand a chance of getting out of prison while still a young man.”

War brings a different set of rules to the table, but we in the West would like to think that we possess some noble spirit that sets us apart from the rest.  Yo-ho, it is they who are savages, the brutes who kill indiscriminately.  What bullocks.

“This isn’t really a head-scratching development.  While killing unarmed civilians for sport may not be officially sanctioned policy, it doesn’t threaten the functioning of the war machine as much as a soldier standing up and refusing to be complicit in mass murder. From the perspective of a Washington establishment much more concerned with maintaining hegemony than its humanity, the former – murder – is much less troubling a precedent than the latter.

And so the US government is making an example of Manning, lest any other cogs in the machine start thinking about listening to their consciences instead of their commanders.”

The mirroring of foreign policy onto this case bears further investigation.  The bullshite you here about the domino theory and the various red-scares starts with the implicit assumption that the “threat of a good-example” must be quashed at all costs.  The illegal terrorist war waged by the United States on Nicaragua is a prime example of a country using resources for its people instead of the multinationals.  Raises the poor a few steps out of abject poverty is the “good example” that must be utterly destroyed so “stability” can be restored.  Stability being shorthand for globalized corporate control.  Focusing on the individual case of Mr.Manning we can observe the same pattern.

    Manning’s actions speak of a human conscience, a sense that what was going on was horribly wrong and it needed to stop.  Acting on his conscience as a decent human being, Manning took action.  Having people empathically relate to official enemies is a big no no in the armed forces, you might start questioning the rational, as such, of what you’re doing there and that, gentle readers, is not allowed.

“Had Manning – instead of exposing the crime – been the one pulling the trigger in the US Apache helicopter that in 2007 murdered at least a dozen unarmed people in Baghdad, he wouldn’t be facing any legal consequences for his actions. Had Manning authorised a 2009 missile strike in Yemen that killed 14 women and 21 children, instead of releasing the State Department cable that acknowledges responsibility for the killings, we wouldn’t even know his name.

But Manning didn’t kill anybody. Rather, he was outraged by the killing he saw all around him and angered at the complicity of his higher-ups who weren’t prepared to do a damn thing about. So, the system having failed to ensure accountability, Manning took it upon himself to share the inconvenient facts his government was withholding from the world.

“I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy”, he explained in a chat with hacker-turned-informant Adrian Lamo. As an Army intelligence analyst, Manning witnessed firsthand the American empire in action – and it changed him. “I don’t believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore”, he lamented, “only a plethora of states acting in self-interest”.

Transparency, accountability, responsibility are all hallmarks of a functioning democracy.  The people of a democracy have the right to know what is being done in their name.

“Confronted with the reality of institutional evil, Manning risked his career – and his freedom – in order to expose everything from mass murder and child rape in Afghanistan to US support for brutal dictators across North Africa and the Middle East. His actions were heroic, and Amnesty International has even credited them as the spark for with jump-starting the Arab Spring. And yet a president who proclaims his commitment to transparency while on the campaign trail is determined to go down as the one whose administration mentally tortured, prosecuted and jailed the most famous whistle-blower in half-a-century.”

Officially we want heroes from war, but what we really get are ‘made-men’ who, with the consent of the state, parrot the institutional truths back to the public to keep them in the dark.  Outside of the borders of the USA, the notion of ‘defending freedom’ has a much different definition, one much closer to the harsh truth that Bradly Manning chose to share.

Manning said,”I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy”.  – Perhaps if the American public could share a similar sentiment democracy might begin to flourish once again in the USA.

 

 

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