America the Beautiful: The End of the American Empire
Eddie J. Girdner
Johan Galtung. The Fall of the US Empire- And Then What? Successors, Regionalization or Globalization? US Fascism or US Blossoming? Kolofon Press, 2009.
“The cause of the decline and fall of western imperialism is imperialism itself.”
Johan Galtung has predicted that the US Empire will end in a few short years, no later than 2020. If this turns out to be true, it is certainly good news. I have sometimes imagined an America which is just another normal country taking care of its own business, providing for its people, and not trying to rule the world at the expense of its working citizens. If that was the case, the rest of the world could see the truly good things about America. That would be the way the world might come to love America. Especially if some excesses of capitalist greed in America could be curbed. Americans abroad might become less arrogant and realize that there are things that they can and should learn from other countries.
Galtung says that he loves America, but like most of the world, he cannot love the US Empire. The end of the US Empire will not be the end of the USA, but rather the beginning of a period of flowering and prosperity, which will be of great benefit to the vast majority of Americans, and of course to the world. Galtung has long been involved in peace studies and has studied the life cycle of at least ten empires. He argues that the US is on a historical trajectory similar to past empires such as the Roman Empire.
This book is a refreshing approach to understanding the contemporary global order. It suggests that the world might not have to face the dreary and tiresome prospect of more wars coming from the Pentagon in Washington, but that global peace might actually be on the horizon. America might actually join the world and the human race. It might actually depart from the United States of Paranoia and become sane, just like any other country. America might actually become “America the Beautiful.” What are the prospects of America joining the human race?
The book is divided into three parts. The first part explores the present decline of the US Empire and is based on a theory in 1980 used to predict the fall of the Soviet Empire. The second part suggests what may happen after the fall, both globally and domestically. Will there be a successor global hegemon? Will the world be regionalized or globalized? Will the US become fascist or blossom with new freedoms? Part three compares processes in the growth and decline of the Roman Empire to US Imperialism, based on a l979 study.
“An empire is a trans-border, culturally legitimized, Center-Periphery structure of unequal exchange.” (p. 20) Imperialism involves the projection of economic power through capitalism; the projection of military power through militarism; the projection of political power through hegemonism; and the projection of cultural power, resulting in missionarism.
The US Empire has long since passed its peak, which was just after World War II, before the Korean War. With a Center and Periphery, the US can be described as a “tetrapus” with four sucking tentacles. These are the economic, military, political and cultural arms which penetrate deep into the far corners of the world. Economically, the Empire engages in extraction of wealth. Politically, the Empire thrives upon submission-repression. The military arm operates through intervention and wars. Finally, the cultural tentacle clones Western culture around the globe, Starbucks, Mcdonalds and the like. These operations define the phenomenon of global imperialism.
Western imperialism stirs up resentment and resistance in the periphery and runs up against barriers. An Empire has a natural life similar to a living individual. It expands and hyper-capitalism arises. To protect its enterprise, the Empire claims the right to kill, even to kill its own citizens. Eventually, however, the costs of the empire mount up higher than the benefits. We surely have seen this process in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. It was also true of Vietnam.
After World War II, the US imposed conditions on the defeated empires. Germany, Italy and Japan would be allowed to establish their own sub-empires within the global structure. The legitimacy of US global rule rested upon hyper-capitalism, militarism, hegemonism and exceptionalism. But Korean resistance began in 1948 leading to the Korean War (l951-1953). Little was gained for the Hegemon. The US was defeated by Vietnam by 1975. With the Vietnam Syndrome, faith in US military force became weakened. The Empire scrambled to repair the damage so the Empire could advance to new enterprises in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With the invasion of Iraq, the US used the tactic of “shock and awe.” Massive force would be used to force the opposition to give up the effort to oppose the superpower. But this was not the tactic that was needed, as the Iraqis had also changed to a new strategy of resistance. The US also moved to use underclass people as soldiers, promising them a green card and life in the center of the Empire, if they survived the war. To control coverage of the war in the press, journalists were embedded with the military. Independent journalism was largely avoided. Inside the US, protests would be policed and dissidents punished.
Nevertheless, the invasion and occupation of Iraq turned out to be a disaster in significant ways. Iraqis figured out how to defend themselves by using guerrilla tactics, IEDs and suicide attacks. But the massive killing yielded massive profits for American corporations. The reaction to the US war and state terrorism was counterforce in a borderless war.
Galtung faults Americans for not being able to see the big picture. There is no holistic thinking about how the four dimensions of empire are related. They see each one separately. Americans do not relate the financial crises to war spending. There is blind support for Israel but this causes resentment among the 1.3 million Muslims in the world, as well as many others.
Dialectical thinking is also absent. The US pushes neoliberalism which feeds the profits of corporations but produces economic misery for the underclasses. The huge amount of killing in wars produces blowback. American universities under-develop the small brain of the tetrapus. In the academic literature that most Americans read in seminars, the Empire is “sanitized,” with the US seen as the provider of security and not responsible for the mass killing. It’s not so much the professor’s fault. They have to assign such material to keep their reputation and their job, even when they know how misleading and spurious it is. After all, they are hired to be a part of the system of Empire and preserve and reproduce it.
The Empire projects its magic in its early life. It has a “sense of mission.” It is seen as civilizing the barbarians in the periphery. God is on the side of the Empire so it is deserving of respect. The US is almost like God. Those who are imperialized are seen to be brought up to a higher level. The white man’s burden. But eventually the Empire fades. The ideology weakens.
Today no continent automatically submits to the US and the slip in American prestige means that the US is becoming an “anti-model” for the world. No country would want to imprison that many of its people behind bars and in debt. The US has a finance economy out of touch with domestic and global reality. The US piles insufferable burdens on students trying to better themselves and sinks them in unmanageable debt. However, the US will remain at the Center for yet some time.
Following World War II, militarism has been “built into deep culture and structure.” (p. 26) The US does not need a military coup to be a militaristic power. The US is actually a sort of junta for Galtung, which is surely correct. There was Cheney, but then Obama took up the march, lock step, even if he sounded different. In America, the military is seen as the global problem solver, wherever there is a problem, wherever there is evil. This is bred into the mentalities of Americans. To actually turn things around and understand that the US is actually the problem is far too much for most. They cannot come out of their Platonic cave and realize that they have been watching shadows on the wall. And if they do, they will be labeled as renegades or terrorists and never get a job again.
How will we know when the US Empire has ended? When the US stops exploiting, controlling, and programming others, Galtung says. Economically, the US will engage in equitable trade with mutual benefits to all. Militarily, the US will seek solutions, through discussions, not killing. Politically, there will be negotiation among equals. And culturally, the US and Americans will not assume that they have a monopoly on truth. The US will respect other cultures and allow them the freedom to promote human needs in their own ways. They will start doing the decent things they claim to do but don’t.
The US Empire operates in the world for its own hegemonic interests through penetration, conditioning, segmentation, fragmentation, and marginalization. Those in the periphery are kept apart and excluded from first-class citizenship. Regionalization is seen as threatening as also periphery-periphery cooperation. Generally, the periphery obeys the master willingly, but could engage in non-cooperation. In this case, the structure would start to collapse.
The negation of imperialism involves equity, not exploitation; reciprocity, not conditioning; integration, not segmentation; solidarity, not fragmentation; and inclusion rather than marginalization.
Substantial progress has been made in regionalization, the most obvious example being the European Union. However, it will take the countries in Eastern Europe some time to depart from being pliable pawns of the US. Regionalization is also taking place in other areas.
Galtung explains fifteen major contradictions of the US Empire in five categories. First, economic contradictions include the gap between growth and distribution, producing poverty. Secondly, the contradiction between the real economy and the financial economy produces too few jobs. Third is the contradiction between production-distribution-consumption and nature. The earth cannot long sustain neoliberal capitalism.
There are also military contradictions such as that between state terrorism and terrorism from below. Second, there is a contradiction between the US and its allies. Third is the contradiction between US-Eurasia hegemony and Russia-India-China. Fourth, there is a contradiction between the US led NATO Army and the European Union Army.
Political contradictions involve the tension between the US and the United Nations. Secondly, there is a contradiction between the US and the European Union. This was seen in Donald Rumsfeld’s hostility to what he called “old Europe,” when European states hesitated to support the imperialist invasion of Iraq.
Cultural contradictions involve the tension between US Judeo-Christian culture and Islam. Secondly, is the contradiction between US and the oldest civilizations, such as China, India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Aztecs and so on. Third, is the contradiction between US “plebian culture” and European elite culture. There is sometimes a sort of cultural arrogance in being a shabby American abroad.
In terms of social contradictions, one sees the clash between the state corporate elites and the working classes. Secondly, the contradiction between the older generation and youth worries elites. Finally, is the contradiction between myth and reality. There is no shortage of myth.
The US has an impressive record of using military power with 133 military invasions in 111 years, between 1890 and 2001. This is 1.29 invasions per year, but the rate increased to two per year after l989. Some 13 to 17 million people have been killed in overt action, what the Pentagon refers to as “a fair amount of killing.” The projection of US power, post-war, has moved from East Asia with wars in Korea and Vietnam, to Eastern Europe and Latin America and today to the Middle East. It is difficult not to see the “war against terrorism” as also a war against Islam.
Economically, the Empire attacks those countries which engage in distribution and the provision of basic needs to the most needy, such as Venezuela under Chavez. Mind sweeping operations are in order. Forget about values, except getting rich quick. In this enterprise, forty to fifty million die each year, about 125,000 per day.
There are five major approaches to the projection of political power by the US Empire. First, the US tries to undo other empires and walk into their shoes, in the latest case, the Soviet Empire. Secondly, the US supports autonomy movements in the big countries. Third, the US supports and sometimes sponsors revolutions in trouble spots, when it is to their advantage. Fourth, the US opposes regionalization independent from the US. Finally, the US works to cripple the United Nations.
Professors in the United States have lost their jobs by pointing out that the 9/11 attacks were a case of hitting back at US policies, but Galtung does not shy away from saying the obvious. Such courage, quite rare, is needed in universities.
Who will replace the US after the fall of the US Empire? Galtung believes that it is unlikely to be any single super power. He sees a strengthening of regionalization, which has some promise of being the structure for a better world. First, there must be a shift in consciousness from the cold war paradigms.
From 1950 to the end of the century, the concepts involved the East-West view and the North-South view. The East-West concept was seen in terms of conflict, while the North-South concept was seen as just a classification of states. Of course, it too was a conflict, actually the major conflict, but this was to be covered up.
In the East-West conflict, the US goal was to collapse the Soviet Union. There was also major effort to prevent any distribution of resources and development to the South. The game was pursued and sustained through the drummed-up fear of nuclear war. Eventually, the East collapsed under its inner dialectic, not from Western pressure. But if the East collapsed, the West is not far behind.
In the North-South paradigm, the West had the pride of being developed, modern, rich and the South was engaged in humping to catch up. But as Galtung says, “The North looked successful and was not.” “The South looked a failure and was not.” (p. 65) Today the term “Third World” is not a very useful term, given the diversity of the South. The first world is increasing in the third world while the third world is increasing by leaps and bounds in the first world. Neoliberalism is taking down America and Europe.
With the end of the Soviet Empire, the East-West discourse was no longer functional to the Empire. A new way had to be found to scare the hell out of the American people. Finding a credible military threat to replace the evil empire was not easy. The “clash of civilizations” also left a lot to be desired. It took the “war on terror” to provide the discourse needed to keep the Empire on track. There has also been some effort to revive Russia as a credible threat. Washington keeps harping on Iran as a nuclear menace, as they did Iraq and Libya, and Cuba, and so on. So obvious, but Americans cannot get it and it works. Nowadays, North Korea is supposed to be projecting fire and brimstone, but Kim Jong Un seems more interested in basketball than in a war. But he has to play the role of hero, the Dear Leader, to his people.
At some point, the US demolishes the country and then moves on to the next menace, if it can be plausibly created. The game goes on as long as it can go on.
With the changing world, the UN Security is also no longer viable. It excludes the 1.3 billion Muslims and the 1.1 billion Hindus. Of the permanent members, four are Christian and one Confucian-Buddhist.
One can also speak of adolescent states, adult states, retired states and pathological states. The old states of Europe are clearly over the hill. One can also speak of states driven by a megalomaniac idea of power, such as Japan and Nazi Germany in the past and the US-Israel Empire today. Like Japan and Germany, in the past, the US and Israel defy international law. This is an indication that they are on the road to “euthanasia,” Galtung believes. Seeing themselves above the law, they demonstrate a megalomania-paranoia and use others to advance their project. They demonstrate a “deep rooted mental disorder.” (p. 71) Does this mean that Americans and Israelis who support the Empire are also paranoid? It clearly seems to be the case. The leaders of the international community are clearly cracked.
The American fear is that China will be the next successor state to the US Empire, based upon its strategic military position. Galtung argues that this is not the case, as China does not have a Western world view and so the leaders do not aspire to global hegemony or an empire. They are also into building a region with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. They see the outside world as “barbarians” distanced from Chinese culture. On the other hand, Americans share their “plebian culture” with anyone. India is also not into Empire building, outside of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
The US Empire is focused upon the state system but Galtung argues that the state-system may lose its relevance as other avenues for human security emerge. These are humanization, localization, regionalization, and globalization, which are now “overshadowing states and nations.” (p. 73) So it is more likely that a region will be the successor to the US Empire. More likely a world of regions rather than a single region, such as the EU will emerge. These regions will have their own currencies, armies, foreign policies, culture and civilization.
The four existing regions are the EU, the African Union, SAARC, and ASEAN. Other regions are in the process of forming, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Latin American and Caribbean region, and perhaps a Russian region.
Culturally, the role of Asian wisdom might play a role in global peace after the collapse of the US Empire. The nonviolence principles of Mahatma Gandhi and Daoism in China could be important. There is the Panch Sheel, or five principles: mutual respect for territory, mutual and equal benefits of trade, peaceful co-existence, mutual non-aggression, and mutual non-interference.
This would be a new world order, with a shift from Christianity to Islam, toward Buddhism in the East, and from world religions to the indigenous.
What about globalization? Galtung redefines the notion to get away from the standard Western and corporate view. Globalization is not mainly economic. “Globalization is a process whereby all genders, generations, races, classes, states and nations, regions and civilizations pull together and cooperate, in a participatory and equitable way, to produce a sustainable world with human dignity for all.” (p. 78) The existing view of globalization is “a male-middle-aged-white-upper class-Western project, rooted in OECD countries, more particularly, in the Anglo-Saxon nation and countries and most particularly, so far in the USA…” (p. 78-79) It is this existing view that is being resisted by people all over the world.
Actually existing globalization has led to the collapse of the finance economy, economic misery, military interventions and war. It imposes the dominant culture of the US on the world. This is marked by the language of 3M: Mickey Mouse, Michael Jackson and Madonna. What is needed is globalization from below to undermine the Empire. This would entail local democracy, national democracy in production, curbs on companies, economics that serves people not producers and sellers, civil society with strong NGOs, the liberation of the media from corporate and state interests, global democracy, citizenship and genuine human rights.
A soft globalization is needed with global citizenship, self-sufficiency, fearlessness and local autonomy. The global citizen could expect needed goods and services for livelihood in return for labor or other goods and services. The individual would expect protection from major violence. His and her opinions would matter and they would have a duty to participate. There would be a dialogue on spiritual needs, not imposition of religion.
Today several trends undermine the Westphalia system of national states. These include the UN special agencies, regions or super states, the UN General Assembly, sub-states or nations, local authorities, corporations, NGOs, and individuals. Galtung believes the essence of democracy is accountability to the people. Within the super states there is the possibility of greater decentralization.
Is the US a fascist state or will it become a fascist state? One can clearly read Galtung as saying that the Empire makes the US a geo-fascist state. “The basic element in fascism is massive killing by the state, for economic, political and cultural purposes.” (p. 130) In its projection of violence, the US is surprised by counterattacks by non-military elements. For people to resist the US when their country is being attacked is not considered legitimate. For example, the insurgents in Iraq, defending their own country, were called “anti-Iraq forces” and “foreign elements.” The US occupation, then, within the ideology of the Empire was for the benefit of Iraq. Similarly in Vietnam.
The ideology of Empire claims that the US is “making the world safe for democracy,” as in Wilsonianism, or today neo-Wilsonianism. The promotion of good over evil as God’s chosen people. The ideology of exceptionalism, making the US above international law. Galtung says that the US stepped into “Jewish Theological Shoes.” Indeed, the US has been known as “the New Jerusalem.” There is the cult of the strong state and the strong leader, in the President. His voice is legitimate law around the world with God’s backing. This is shored up by cultural violence and structural violence globally.
There are five major elements of the ideology of Empire. “Chooseness, the vision of glory and a sense of trauma; dualism, with Manichean good and evil and impending armegeddon; the cult of the strong state leading in the fight against evil; the cult of the strong leader who turns people into followers; and winning as proof of being chosen, the fittest, and right.
The Empire then is undermined when a war, such as Vietnam, is lost. How can God’s war be lost and the fittest lose? It undermines the faith. The US seemed to be the victor in the l991 war in Iraq, but the invasion was a loss for the Empire in significant ways. Who seriously believes that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea today? George W. Bush may have been the most unpopular man on earth.
The Empire devises new tactics to fight for its survival and for its legitimation. It disregards the killing and suffering it causes around the world. It comes to also project violence inside the US. Protests are seen as terrorism. New rules were instituted after 9/11. The Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, secret prisons, secret courts, secret verdicts, secret torture, executions and disappearances. There were faked elections right inside the US. The courts are stuffed with right-wing ideologues. People are frightened. The media is timid. This works to largely silence the people. “The USA needs no military coup. The coup is already there, permanent culturally and structurally.” (p. 132)
On the other hand, Galtung makes the case for a US blossoming after the fall of the Empire. It would be foolish to say that George W. Bush was part of the problem and that Barack Obama is part of the solution. The people believe the President has great influence. This is a myth. There is a deep culture and deep structure. The President accounts for no more than perhaps twenty-five percent. Actually many statements made by Barack Obama on the Empire are identical to those made by George W. Bush.
There are at least five positive aspects of US culture. First, creativity. Every problem is thought to have a solution but the two-party system often impedes new ideas. Secondly, there is a good deal of cooperation, working together. Thirdly, there is a good deal of social equality, if not economic equality. This is very unlike Europe and some other parts of the world where high status is highlighted. Fourth, Americans are not afraid of hard work and “brainstorming.” Well, they better not be if they want a job. And last, generosity. There is much sharing with others. These aspects of the culture are useful as basis for the blossoming of the US, once the Empire is no longer the driving force. If people are punished for using their brains, then they will be afraid to use them. Witness many students in modern Turkey.
For Eisenhower in the 1950s, the driving fascist force was the military industrial complex (MIC). Absent the empire, there could be structural change in the economy. Growth in green technologies rather than new weapons systems could be pursued. There is a need for decentralization. Most of the world loves the traditional freedoms in the USA but do not love the Empire. It is just the opposite of what the Neocons claimed. People around the world do not hate US freedoms. But the Neocons and the leaders of the geo-fascist state do. And the capitalists will never miss the chance to smash the rights and freedoms of workers.
What the world hates is a US military-driven economy that produces death and misery, that produces hunger and 125,000 deaths a day, that produces preventable disease, that puts capital and the market over humans and nature. They hate the system of capitalist-imperialism that pumps wealth from the poor to the rich and increases global misery.
And at least seventy percent of Americans would benefit from the end of Empire. With too much liquidity at the top, the US gets a financial economy that feeds on short-term profit. The sick economy kills people and kills itself. Reconstruction of the US economy would mean no bailouts for the banks from the taxpayers. The massive printing of money and borrowing billions from China is no solution. The system must stop rewarding incompetence and cutting consumption for the people.
Galtung suggests a ten-point program for the US economy. First, massive Keynesianism based on upgrading the infrastructure, green energy and more jobs. There needs to be massive redistribution. Taxation for wealth and relief for seventy percent, with more subsidies to housing and health. Third, the government should take over the mortgages and keep people in their houses. This means stopping foreclosures and finding a solution for each case. Fifth, these programs can be financed by cutting the war budget. Sixth, the worst banks can be allowed to sink. Seventh, most new financial products should be outlawed, unless they really serve the people. Eighth, reward banks that keep direct client relations with their customers, and do not sell off the mortgages. Ninth, publish M2 (includes bank deposits, savings accounts and mutual funds) to make the financial system more transparent. Finally, a massive dollar devaluation from one-third to one-half. This would cut the debt burden and increase exports.
The end of Empire would mean a change in the military culture. Seeing every problem around the world as one to be solved by sending a warship and bombers and drones is part of the problem. Stop military interventions and engage in political, cultural, and social reconstruction. The government should listen to what people want. It is not Empire.
There is much to be done in the area of cultural reconstruction. The US shows the profile of a pre-modern country here. Some indications are these: ninety-two percent believe in God; eighty-five percent believe in heaven; eighty-two percent believe in miracles; seventy-eight percent believe in angels; seventy-four percent believe in hell; and seventy-one percent believe in the devil. Such a culture is surely a sound basis for Empire. This is hardly cutting edge. A little education would not hurt and more international travel by Americans could help knock some sense into their parochial heads.
On George W. Bush, “May his name be committed to well-deserved oblivion.” On Barack Obama, Galtung has said that he is a quite forgettable President. His ideas and policies are old and tired. He is not doing what should be done to change the course. He has not brought change that one could believe in. He is President and that means the president of the system that exists. His job is to keep it, not change it. That he well knows.
The last section of the book compares the US Empire to the Roman Empire. An empire has a life cycle like an individual. At some point, it declines and dies. The empire expands until it runs up against barriers.
There are several indications of the decline of the US Empire. First, ongoing geo-political decolonization. Secondly, in the periphery, there is increasing socio-economic self-reliance. Third, the native invasion of those from the Empire moving to the US. Fourth, internal warfare. Fifth, authoritarian repression. Sixth, elites are moving to the countryside and experimenting with new life styles. Anomie, a general social disruption and fragmentation. Eighth, alienation, mental disorder, observerism and clientelism. Tenth, leisurism. There is also decreasing productivity and ecological breakdown.
It would seem to take a miracle for all this to happen, but then few saw the end of the Soviet Empire coming. Galtung allows for the possibility of a period of fierce struggle to maintain the empire. One cannot see the global corporations giving up easily. Also Galtung may have overrated the European Union, which has major economic problems and monetary integration has produced too many contradictions to work.
The American people for the most part are decent and deserve better. Getting rid of the Empire would surely vastly increase their freedom as well as freedom around the world. Lift the yoke from around their necks. Lift the burden from their broken backs. They are tired, overworked and getting poorer. Millions have lost their houses. Student debt is massive. Enough is enough.
Galtung’s argument often reminds me of Ibn Khaldun’s theory of history in his Fourteenth Century Muqaddimah. Empires rise and fall, with their natural life-span, similar to the dynasties that Ibn Khaldun wrote about. An earlier version of shock and awe is used in battle. Ruling classes overtax and ruin their people. Wealth, inequality and lavish consumption by the masters bring revolts. The empire is no longer able to subdue its subjects in the periphery. The Empire loses its legitimacy and eventually collapses. Perhaps America will rise from the ashes. The handwriting is on the wall.
April 12, 2013.