Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Blogging Through Blowback, Chapter 3 - Stealth Imperialism

One of the justifications pedaled by the advocates of empire is that U.S. hegemony over the rest of the world is needed in order to provide stability, and tame the violent impulses of otherwise natural enemies in the wilds of global politics. America, it would seem, has been crowned by destiny to inherit this “White Man’s Burden”, and it would be patently irresponsible to shirk this responsibility.

But the question needs to be asked: at what point does a policy of American hegemony, along with the bureaucratic interests and associated rent seekers that evolve there from, become a threat to the world security that is the stated mission of the empire? This is the subject of the third chapter of Chalmers Johnson’s book, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.

From reading the next chapter, one really gets a sense that the Pentagon, and the Defense Department overall, has grown so unimaginably large, that it has become a government unto itself. With its budget in the hundreds of billions, it has created a physical presence on the world stage that has become the metaphorical equivalent of the 900 lb gorilla sitting in the living room. With its various programs to help train elite paramilitary units for other countries (which invariably are then employed as terror and death squads for repressive, but “friendly” regimes), and its influence in helping to facilitate multi-billion dollar business deals to sell weapons to regimes, indeed, if one worries about weapons proliferation and geopolitical instability, one need look no further for the root cause than America’s own military bureaucracy.

Much of this cannot help but force one to wonder how truly unsafe these policies make American citizens. As we help to buttress various regimes under the guise of helping them to defend themselves against attack from aggression, the reality is that we turn a blind eye to the oppressive and brutal aspects of those same regimes. Case in point would be the tale of the Suharto regime of Indonesia, its rise to power, and its subsequent overthrow after years of brutal oppression of political and ethnic undesirables. Behind it all was an American presence, enabling and condoning the atrocities committed by this corrupt regime. The people of that country are aware of the American role, even if the average American is not.

In one very telling part, Johnson comments on how the secrecy of the Defense Department’s more nefarious programs are preserved: outsourcing. As former Special Forces personnel retire from active duty, they often go to work for, or start up their own, private firms, which then offer their knowledge for sale to foreign governments. This is all done with the blessing of Defense Department officials, who can avoid accountability for this because,
One reason privatization appeals to the Pentagon is that whatever these companies do becomes “proprietary information.” The Pentagon does not even have to classify it; and it becomes private property, information on the activities of such companies is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Given the extreme legalism of the American political culture, this is sufficient to shield such companies from public scrutiny, although it would not protect them from the new criminal court.
So there you have it. A runaway bureaucracy that enables oppression and terrorism of foreign peoples, while helping to subsidize a vast military industrial complex, and protecting the world against largely self-manufactured threats. This chapter has been the most powerful so far in demonstrating that blowback is probably the one of the most serious issues faced by America, and will continue to become even more so as we continue our pursuit of empire.

Reading more of this series, "Blogging Through Blowback"

Chapter 1: Blowback

Chapter 2: Okinawa: Asia’s Last Colony


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