"Notes from The Face of Imperialism"

Michael Parenti, The Face of Imperialism (London: Paradigm Publishers, 2011)

Orthodoxy as “Objectivity”

“ … Upton Sinclair’s remark: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’ p. 2

“If what we call ‘objectivity’ is really little more than a conformity of mainstream bias, then isn’t one paradigm about as reliable – or unreliable – as another? Is all truth, then, nothing more than opinion and belief? If not, what makes a heterodox analysis better than an orthodox one?” p. 2

“First, radical views that are outside the mainstream generally (but not always) are more reliable than the dominant view because they are more regularly challenged and tested against evidence. They do not get to float freely down the mainstream. They cannot rest on the orthodox power to foreclose dissent, and they are not supported by the unanimity of bias that passes for objectivity.” p. 2

“Second, we can value an opinion by the functions it serves. The heterodox view has a special task: to contest the prevailing orthodoxy, to broaden the boundaries of debate, to wake people up, to unearth suppressed data. The function of orthodox or conventional opinion is just the opposite: to keep the parameters of discourse as narrow as possible, to dismiss evidence that ill fits the dominant paradigm. Hence, all opinions are not of the same value. It depends on what they are being used for, what interests they serve.” pp. 2-3

“We have all observed that if something does not fit what people believe, they marshal their reserve defenses. Rarely when faced with contrary evidence do they discard their previously held beliefs. And if they cannot challenge the validity of what confronts them, they have fallback positions that explain to their satisfaction the data that do not fit the pictures in their heads.

When the orthodox view becomes so entrenched, evidence becomes irrelevant. Broaching certain subjects casts doubt on the credibility and sanity of the dissident who dares raise a question. ...”

“[Certain] topics raise issues [such as the legitimacy of the 2004 presidential election] that cross the boundary of allowable opinion. They move into forbidden terrain and are therefore dismissed out of hand, denied the opportunity for rational discourse. Through a process of immediate assertion and intensive repetition, the universe of discourse is preempted and monopolized. This is one way the dominant paradigm is maintained. One crosses the lines beyond permissible opinion only at a risk to one’s intellectual reputation or even one’s career.” [emphasis added] p. 3

The Myth of Innocent Empires

“The presence of self-legitimating ideological boundaries is evident in the discussion about empire. ...” p. 4

“Empires also are sometimes seen as innocent unintentional accretions that arise stochastically – that is, by chance, without benefit of any kind of “conspiratorial” planning or even consistent causality. ...” p. 4

“In fact, empires are not innocent, absent-minded, accidental accretions. They are given purposive direction by rulers who consciously mobilize vast amounts of personnel and materials in order to plunder other lands and peoples.” [emphasis added]. … The Americans did not just mistakenly stumble into Iraq because of some misinformation that the Iraqis were linked to Al Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction.”p. 4

“What is missing from these kinds of analyses and even more from the public discourse in general is the political-economic content of empire. In other words, while we hear a lot about empire and militarism, we hear very little about imperialism. This is strange, for imperialism is what empires do. Imperialism is the very activity of empire (Another name for empire is imperium.)” p. 6

“For latter-day liberal converts like Chalmers Johnson, however, the word imperialism is used in the same empty way as as is the word empire: to denote dominion and control with little attention given to the powerful economic interests that operate as a motor force behind US policy. [emphasis added] … They see all this as a mindless proclivity embedded in the American psyche or culture. We are left to conclude that the US leaders are chronically deluded, stupid, and incapable of learning from past experience; they lack the splendid intelligence of their liberal critics. For the critics, empire has little to do with economic class interests and is mostly a product of aggrandizing national temperament incited by myopic overweening leaders.” pp. 6-7

Not just “Power for Power’s Sake”

“In this book, imperialism is defined as follows: the process whereby the dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear military and financial power upon another country in order to expropriate the land, labor, capital, natural resources, commerce, and markets of that other country. In short, empires do not just pursue power for power’s sake. There are real material interests at stake, fortunes to be made many times over. … The intervention is intended to enrich the investors and keep the world safe for them [emphasis added] p. 7

Instrumental “Truths” and the Dominant Paradigm

“Along with one of their eighteenth-century progenitors, Alexander Hamilton, the corporate economic elites believe that the country should be run by ‘the rich and the well-born.’ They deeply feel they are deserving of their station in life. They believe the United States should lead the world and they should lead the United States. They are convinced that the poor are the authors of their own poverty, and that the working class consists of a troublesome lot who need to be reined in along with the middle class – both of whom are admonished to ratchet down their standard of living so that those at the very top can get an ever larger portion of the pie and an ever firmer grip on the servings.” pp. 10-11

Chapter 2 – The Omnipresent Arsenal

“Like empires before it, the American imperium needs to muster immense quantities of military might. An empire finds its birth, growth, and perhaps even its eventual death in its force majeure, its irresistible armed power. Born of its own aggrandizement, an empire lives in a world of real or imagined enemies who must be subdued with force and violence.” [emphasis added] p. 13

“The imperial nation conceives of only two kinds of nations beyond its boundaries: satellites (or vassal states) and enemies (potential and actual). Among the satellites can be included ‘allies,’ those lesser powers that remain friendly by staying more or less in line with the imperial transnational investment policies of large-scale capital accumulation. The satellite is a vassal state bonded to the imperium. Among the enemies (or ‘potential’ enemies) is any country that seeks to chart an independent and self-defining course, to use its land, natural resources, capital, labor, and markets for its own development and possibly for regional hegemony.” pp. 13-14

“Each new imperial acquisition creates a broadened perimeter, yet another area to defend against some real or imagined adversary. The empire builders know no rest. They require ever larger budgets and ever more elaborate weaponry. The corporate investors batten on defense contracts, leaving the taxpayer to bear the crushing costs.” p. 14

“… Left unmentioned in the debate over the package is that the US corporate economy has been living off annual stimulus packages ever since World War II. They are called ‘defense expenditures.’ Every year the military spending package is by far the largest item in the discretionary federal budget.” p. 14

“As to be expected, these colossal allocations are encouraged by corporate America, first, because such expenditures create a military might that boosts corporate global hegemony; and second, because military contracts are risk-free, set without competitive bidding or adequate oversight. They come with guaranteed cost overruns and bring in superlative profits. Defense spending does not have to struggle with sluggish consumer demand; there are always more advanced weapons to develop, obsolete weaponry to replace, soldiers to feed and shelter, and new wars to be fought.” p. 14

“These, then, comprise the two basic reasons why the US assiduously remains an armed superpower even in the absence of a comparable opponent. First, keeping the world safe for global capital accumulation requires a massive military establishment. Second, a massive military establishment itself constitutes a source of immense capital accumulation.” [emphasis added] p. 14-15

“The centrists and liberals dare not challenge these military appropriations for fear of being seen as faltering in their devotion to ‘keep America strong.’ Obama’s 2009 stimulus package was heavily contested because it was for civilian economic purposes rather than for empire and war – in contrast to the huge 2010 defense spending bills that Congress passed with relatively little debate.” p. 15

“The enormous national debt that the United States carries, and the heavy tax burden the public bears in servicing that debt, is largely an outgrowth of the gargantuan sums expended on wars and military budgets, the cumulative multi-trillion-dollar expense of maintaining a growing global empire for the past sixty years or more.” [emphasis added] p. 15

“Some reactionaries argue that the debt is caused mostly by Social Security payments and other entitlements, all of which threaten to go broke in some years ahead. In fact, over the past half century or more the Social Security Trust Fund has been self-sufficient, taking in more money than it spends. By 2010 it contained an accumulated $2.6 trillion surplus.” [emphasis added] p. 15

Chapter 4 – Deliberate Design

• Impose crippling embargoes and trade sanctions that damage the living standards of targeted regimes. Draw them into heavy deficit spending and debt peonage to paralyze their development, forcing them to endure austerity programs in order to meet debt payments.” p. 31

[Note that this debt peonage program applies to the citizen/subjects of the “homeland” of empire, as well, namely, the working class poor of the United States, truly just one of many “marketing territories” and “population containment zones.”]

“The goal of US Reactionary Rulers is the Third Worldization of the entire world including Europe and North America, a New World Order in which capital rules supreme with no public sector services or labor unions to speak of; no prosperous, literate, effectively organized working class or highly educated middle class with rising expectations and a strong sense of entitlement; no public medical care, pension funds, occupational safety, or environmental and consumer protections, or any of the other insufferable things that might cut into profits and lead to a more egalitarian distribution of life chances.” p. 35

Chapter 5 – How Moneyed Interests Create Poor Nations

“There is a mystery we must explain. How is it that as transnational corporate investments and trade with poor countries – and international aid and loans to those same countries – have all increased dramatically over the past half century, so has world poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. In other words, poverty is spreading among the many even as wealth accumulates among the few. As the global empire grows stronger, the world’s working populations grow larger but poorer. What do we make of this?” [emphasis added] p. 49

“Only Themselves to Blame”

“… I never thought to draw a parallel between what was said about the presumed deficiencies of Third World peoples and what was said about impoverished people in America itself [emphasis added] , including my own family. We working poor were – and still are – seen as the authors of our own plight, [emphasis added] ‘culturally backward,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘having too many children,’ and just not at the top of our game. Same old story.” p. 50

“But even in the very dense jungles and frozen arctic regions, people applied themselves resourcefully in order to survive. In any case, they certainly were not lazy; they often worked just as hard or harder than people in more temperate climes.” p. 51

“… From ancient eras to more recent centuries, they had produced magnificent civilizations … superior in many respects to what was found among the ill-washed, priest-ridden, diseased populations of European Christendom.” p. 51

“Quite frequently it was contact with the western colonizers that brought poverty and disaster to the indigenous populations of Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. Once their farmlands and crops were stolen, their resources plundered, their herds slaughtered, their townships destroyed, and their people enslaved, deep poverty was the inescapable outcome, leaving them to be denounced as lazy, backward, and stupid. In fact, they were not underdeveloped but overexploited. Their development was never allowed to proceed in peace and self-direction.” p. 51

“For all its own maldevelopment, illiteracy, class oppression, and violence, Europe did enjoy one telling advantage in the world, in the realm of weaponry. Muskets, cannons, Gatling guns and gunboats, and today missiles, helicopter gunships, and fighter bombers have been the deciding factors when West meats East and North meets South. Superior firepower, not superior culture, has brought the Europeans and Euro-North Americans to positions of supremacy that today are still maintained though not by force alone.” p. 52

It Works Well for Somebody

“In their perpetual confusion, some liberal critics conclude that foreign aid and IMF and World Bank SAPs ‘do not work’ because the end result is less self-sufficiency and more poverty for the recipient nations. Why then do the rich member states continue to fund the IMF and World Bank? Are their leaders just not as intelligent as the liberal critics who keep pointing out to them their ‘failed’ policies are having the opposite effect? pp. 56-57

In fact, it is the critics who are stupid, not the western leaders and investors who enjoy such immense wealth and success and own so much of the world. They pursue their aid and forign loan programs because such programs do work. The question is, work for whom? Cui bono? (Who benefits?) p. 57

The function of overseas investments, loans, and aid is not to uplift the masses in other countries. (There is no profit in that.) It is to advance the imperial interests of the global capital accumulators, to help them take over the lands and local economies of the Third World peoples, monopolize their markets, depress their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these nations from emerging as trade competitors by depriving them of normal development. In these respects, investments foreign loans, and structural adjustment programs work very well indeed. p. 57

The real mystery is: why do come commentators find such an analysis so improbable? Why do they dismiss it as a ‘conspiracy theory’? Why are they skeptical that US rulers knowingly and deliberately pursue policies in the Third World (suppress wages, roll back environmental protections, diminish the public sector, cut back human services) designed to benefit the global corporate interests? These are the same policies that the same US rulers pursue on behalf of the same moneyed interests right here in our own country. Why would any of these players behave so differently elsewhere? p. 57

"The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development released a 2005-2006 report showing that half the world’s wealth is owned by 2 percent of the richest adults. It is time that liberal critics stop thinking that people who own this much of the world – and want to own it all – are ‘incompetent’ or ‘misguided’ or ‘failing to see the unintended consequences of their policies.’ When we think the empire builders are being stupid, we are not being very smart ourselves. They know what they are doing; they know where their interests lie – and so should we." pp. 57-58

Chapter 6 – Globalization for the Few

[note: “transnational,” means “extending or operating across national boundaries.”

“supra-” means “above, beyond, transcending”

“supranational,” means “having power or influence that transcends national boundaries or governments.”

Wikipedia: "A supranational union is a type of multinational political union where negotiated power is delegated to an authority by governments of member states. The term is sometimes used to describe the European Union (EU) as a new type of political entity." -- sounds a lot like "Federalism" in the "united states"]

“Along with corporate investment and US foreign aide, another way the empire accumulates wealth and spreads poverty is by imposing international rulings misleadingly referred to as free trade and globalization. p. 59

Introducing “Globalization

The goal of the transnational corporation is to become truly transnational, poised above the sovereign power of any particular nation, while being served by the sovereign powers of all nations [emphasis added]. Among the measures contrived by international business to achieve dominion over the entire planet is globalization. As presented to the public, globalization is just part of a natural and inevitable expansion of trade and economic development beneficial to all. In early times, there were only village markets; these eventually expanded into regional markets; then national ones, then international ones, and now finally global agreements that cover the entire world.” pp. 59-60

“With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), and numerous other multilateral international covenants, the transnational have been elevated above the sovereign powers of nation-states [making them supranational]. These agreements endow anonymous international trade committees such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), established in 1994, with the authority to overrule any nation-state laws that are deemed a burden to the investment opportunities of transnational corporations.” p. 60

“These trade panels consist of ‘trade specialists’ elected by no one, and drawn from the corporate world. They meet in secret and often have investment stakes in the very issues they adjudicate, being bound by no conflict of interest provisions. Their function is to allow the transnational companies to do whatever they wish without any regulations placed on them by any country. Not one of GATT’s 500pages of rules and restrictions are directed against private corporations; all are against governments. Signatory governments must lower tariffs, end farm subsidies, treat foreign companies the same as domestic ones, honor all transnational corporate patent claims on natural resources and obey the rulings of a permanent elite bureaucracy, the WTO.” p. 60

Should a country refuse to change its laws when a WTO panel dictates, the WTO can impose fines or international trade sanctions, depriving the resistant country of needed markets and materials [emphasis added]. The WTO has ruled against laws deemed barriers to free trade. ...”

Privatizing Nature

“What is called ‘free trade’ is neither free nor really about trade as such. Free trade is certainly not fair trade. It benefits strong nations at the expense of weaker ones, and rich interests at the expense of the rest of us, circumventing what little democratic sovereignty we have been able to achieve. Free trade elevates property rights above every other right among the nations of the world.” p. 61

Chapter 7 – Free Market Servitude

“Not long ago the veteran author and journalist John Gerassi wrote … “Honduras is run by a tight little oligarchy which includes its congress and supreme court.” The oligarchs kill those who dare to challenge their privileged exploitation. They even kill just to demonstrate their absolutist power. “When I visited the farm of such an oligarch, while researching my book, The Great Fear in Latin America,” Gerassi goes on, “I asked him why he paid his peons so little. ‘They’re pigs,’ he answered, ‘the only thing they respect is power. They have to know that I have life and death power over them. Only then will they work.’...”

… [Kill the chicken, scare the monkey] … [The poor will work for practically nothing only if desperate and terrified. The rich will only work for practically everything if offered lavish ‘incentives’ – like guaranteed extravagant bonuses and golden parachutes].

.. “In the free market society of a Third World country like Honduras or Indonesia, the peon is little more than a slave. His or her life is of no value apart from its capacity to create value for the owner through hard work at a subsistence wage. … we see how the landlord’s immense economic power translates into political and moral impunity. Conversely, the peon’s economic powerlessness translates into political impotence, the inability to make a minimum legal claim to one’s labor and even to one’s own life.” p. 74

That is what the free market is about: the freedom of plutocrats to do whatever they want to those in economic servitude whose lives have become expendable and easily replaceable.” p. 74

Free Market Pauperism

“Frequently we hear that the free market is the path to material prosperity and the laissez-faire paradise. All an impoverished nation need do is put its public services and properties (utilities, media, farmlands, transportation systems, hospitals, banks, factories) up for sale to rich investors. Along with this privatization of social capital, the destitute country should pursue a policy of deregulation, that is, liberate the entire private economy from the irksome constraints of government regulation, reducing government functions to a bare minimum. To make its economy truly laissez-faire, the country also must eliminate tariff protections and open its economy and natural resources to foreign investors and exporters.

This completely privatized and unprotected neoliberal economic model supposedly benefits all nations in all circumstances. ‘This gospel,’ Gregory Elich observes, ‘is preached by the US and Western European nations and enforced through international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization.’ Their dazzling prognostications bear no resemblance to the actual experiences endured by working people around the world.” p. 75

“… Free trade means privatization for the few and privation for the many.” p. 77

Chapter 10 – Rogue Imperium

“When US policymakers keep providing new and different explanations to justify a particular action, they are most likely lying. When people keep changing their story, you can be fairly sure it’s a story. This means that they are being not stupid but deceptive. So it is with most imperial policies.

As I have argued in this book, US global policy has been ruthlessly rational. Rather than deploring its failures, we should be deploring its successes because these “successes” do not represent the interests of the American people or the people of the world. We should spend less time talking about how ‘stupid’ and ‘short-sighted’ US foreign policy has been and more time exposing how successfully driven it is on behalf of the international plutocracy. Only then might we be able to change course.” p. 121

Above International Law

The imperium is ruled not by fools but by liars, manipulators, murderers, and other criminals – all of whom tend to believe in their own virtue. The imperial state often functions accountable to no one. Wars of aggression are a crime against international law and a crime against humanity. And such crimes were committed when US leaders launched invasions against Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Somalia, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, and various other countries; and when they sponsored wars of attrition against civilian targets in Mozambique, Angola, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatamala, Yugoslavia, and scores of other places, leaving hundreds of thousands dead. The US empire asserts the right to invade and devastate any country for preemptive reasons, under the National Security Strategy (September 2002). No communist state or ‘rogue nation’ or jihadist terror organization has a comparable record of such massive murderous global aggression.” pp. 121-122

As rulers of the planet, US leaders are inclined to pursue imperial diplomacy rather than traditional diplomacy. Traditional diplomacy is the process of settling disputes by looking for workable compromises, finding solutions that might leave both sides less than completely satisfied, but satisfied enough to avoid armed conflict.” p. 122

Imperial diplomacy is something else, something of an oxymoron. It usually begins with the issuance of a set of demands that are implicitly treated as nonnegotiable – even if presented as ‘proposals.’ The other side’s resistance or even hesitancy to accede to US demands are denounced by Washington as an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith (‘they are being uncooperative’). US leaders announce they are running out of patience – as if they had manifested any patience to being with. If concessions are made by the weaker nation, the empire then escalates its demands. Despite the other side’s attempts at accommodation and concession, in short time it is labeled as recalcitrant and belligerent and is subjected to US attack. Such was the pattern in regard to Iraq, Panama, Somalia, Nicaragua (under the Sandanistas), the Bosnian Serbs, Yugoslavia, and Iran, to name a few recent instances.”

Imperial diplomacy is inclined to ignore treaties and international law, accepting only the limitations imposed by self-interest and power. Even the New York Times, seldom critical of US overseas initiative, reported that people in many countries had ‘a widespread vision of America as an imperial power that has defied world opinion through unjustified and unilateral use of military force.” [emphasis added] p. 122

Two-Party Imperialism

The powers of the plutocracy weigh heavily upon US foreign policy regardless of the personality or political party that occupies the White House. In 2008 when the Bush/Cheney reactionaries were replaced by the reputedly forward-looking Obama administration, it proved to be more a changing of the guard than a changing of policy.” [emphasis added]

President Obama made no dramatic cuts in military spending and actually raised the Pentagon’s budget after taking office. He increased funding for the costly and bloody aggressions in Iraq and Afghanistan. By August 2010 he was claiming an end to the engagement in Iraq and supposedly had removed all combat units. But 50,000 US troops remained in that country, with an even larger number of privately contracted mercenaries whose presence kept growing as regular troops were withdrawn. While the remaining US troops were no longer to engage in combat, they would continue to “fight terrorism” and were slated to stay for years to come. In addition, the door was left open for the return of additional combat units should they be needed. Ending the war seemed to resemble continuing it.” [emphasis added] p. 124

Bleeding the Republic

“The immense cost of maintaining a global empire has left us with a republic in decline.

“… All social institutions of capitalist society have have a dichotomous tension within them. They must sustain the few while appearing to serve the many. And sometimes the many, beset and distracted as they are by so much else, do catch wise and resist. The empire is only as secure as the lies it can sell.” [emphasis added] p. 134