The US-led aggression in the Middle East and the three failed attempts to oust Venezuela's Hugo Chavez since 2002 (with a fourth now planned and likely to be implemented soon) are just the latest examples of this country's imperial agenda and the "new world order" it has in mind. The way this country now engages throughout the world isn't much different than what it's done close to home and worldwide since inception. Only the venues chosen, the scope of our aims, and the extent of our power have changed. This article in two parts gives some historical perspective and then concentrates on the imperial grand strategy of the Bush administration under which regime change is a central element.
In Part II, the focus is on the war in Iraq as a case study of imperial madness and its consequences. It also covers a possible little discussed economic motive behind what's now being called "the long war."
Maybe it's something in the air or water around the Capitol that makes it happen - causing the men and women elected or appointed to high office to do bad things. It may in part be going along to get along for some of them. But mostly it's the dangerous and deadly sickness or syndrome of power corrupting and absolute power doing it absolutely. That's bad enough, but when it happens to rulers of a superpower and those in league with them, it can inflict immeasurable harm and human suffering. In cost/benefit analysis terms: what serves the interests of a superstate comes at the expense of the public welfare.
The US Has Always Been A Warrior, Imperial Nation
There's no longer a dispute that the US pursues an imperial agenda. What once was hidden behind a politically correct facade and would never be admitted publicly is now seen as something respectable and even an obligation to advance "western civilization." How low we've sunk in coming so far. But how different is today from the past? Not much for those who know the country's true history that's quite different from the proper and polite version of it taught in school at all levels. Expansionism and militarism have always been in our DNA since the early settlers first confronted the nation's original inhabitants and then over the next few hundred years slaughtered about 18 million of them to seize their land and resources. We may even have put language in our sacred Declaration of Independence to give us a birthright to do it. In it we called our native people "merciless indian savages," and with that kind of framing gave ourselves a moral justification to remove them. It's a code based on the notion of might makes right and what we say goes. It didn't matter that our original inhabitants lived mostly in peace for 20-30,000 years on the lands we took from them. There also was no concern that the native peoples treated the early settlers graciously, helping them survive through the early years of struggle and hard adjustment. We showed our gratitude with hostility, open warfare and genocidal extermination. It never ended and continues in less conspicuous ways today as the current unstated national policy is to eliminate native cultures through assimilation into our own. It's hardly a testimony to the benefits of "western civilization" Gandhi thought would be a good idea when asked what he thought of it.
Our belligerence wasn't just directed against the indian nations as we always were apparently willing to pick a fight. It's hard to believe that this country since inception has been at war with one or more adversaries every year without exception to this day. That's in addition to all other attempts to destabilize or overthrow governments of nations whenever their leaders weren't willing to sacrifice their national interest in service to ours. Imperialists don't ever tolerate that, especially one that happens to be an unchallengeable superpower.
But long before we gained that status, we pursued a land-grab policy throughout the 19th century to expand the new nation from "sea to shining sea" including taking the half of Mexico we wanted along the way. It's surprising we didn't take all or most of Canada as well and nearly did twice in the past: during the War of 1812 with the British when our interest was more on expansion than the British impressment of our seamen and again in 1920 when we eyed Canada for the same reason we're waging two wars today - O-I-L. Only fate may have prevented it from happening. A few cooler heads also likely prevailed, and our attention both times got diverted to other "adventures" and priorities.
But despite our tradition of imperial expansion, we stated our aims carefully and diplomatically and still do. The closest we came early on to an open admission of our true intent was in code language like "manifest destiny" or being willing to heed Rudyard Kipling's racist call to ally with Britain, take up the "White Man's Burden," and engage in "savage wars" to bring civilization to dark-skinned people in countries like The Philippines we decided didn't have any. So in our imperial wisdom, we came, stole, and conquered "for their own good" and in the process left lots of bodies around to prove our good intentions.
Theodore Roosevelt welcomed Kipling's call, publicly supported an expansionist foreign policy before he became president and during most of his time in office. He wanted colonies to make over in our own image and was willing to go to war for it if that's what it took to do it. He won a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts and was the only US president to get one until Jimmy Carter (another dubious man of peace) received the award in 2002. While president, TR's foreign policy was to solidify the country's world position it gained from the Spanish-American war during which and after he had a hand in extending the US empire to The Philippines, Cuba, Haiti, Guam, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Canal Zone area part of Colombia that broke away to become the new nation of Panama. Building the canal there across its isthmus fulfilled TR's dream to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans even though it took devious tactics to arrange the deal, manage to begin construction during his time in office, and finally see it completed about four and a half years before he died. TR also ironically allowed the number of US possessions to shrink during his second term in office - maybe out of guilt over what he did in his first four years and earlier.
Woodrow Wilson was another of the "noted" presidents we now revere as one of our greatest who came to office with noble promises of wanting to reform national politics and have an enlightened presidency only to fall far short. While proclaiming all nations had the right of self-determination, he believed that America had a duty to see they all had the kind we practiced even if we had to bring it to them at the point of a gun. The result during his tenure was the military occupation of Nicaragua, Haiti (beginning 20 oppressive years) and the Dominican Republic. He also had his problems with Mexico and did what any good US president would do. He sent in the Marines to invade the country, seize and occupy Veracruz, the country's main seaport, manage to resolve that dispute and then do it again with Army regulars under General John Pershing (the Dwight Eisenhower of WW I in charge of the American Expeditionary Force sent to Europe) to hunt down Pancho Villa as payback for Villa's cross-border incursion into the US killing 19 Americans. Pershing didn't find him but nearly began a full-scale war with Mexico trying before Wilson decided the whole adventure was a bad idea and called it off.
But all this was prologue to what Wilson wanted most while claiming otherwise - getting the US into WW I to further our undeclared imperial ambitions. In 1916 Wilson was reelected on a platform promise of: "He Kept Us Out of War" - referring to the one raging in Europe since 1914. Of course, he had to promise that as the US public overwhelmingly wanted nothing to do with it. But he no sooner was reelected than he began making plans to get into it. He established the Committee on Public Information under George Creel which was able to turn a pacifist nation into raging German haters resulting in the Congress overwhelmingly declaring war on Germany in April, 1917. Once in the war, he managed to control most public anti-war sentiment with the help of the outrageous Espionage and Sedition Acts that outlawed criticism of the government, the armed forces or the war effort, imprisoned or fined violators and censored or banned publications daring to publish what the Wilson administration wanted suppressed. It all has a familiar ring to it.
After the war, Wilson failed to create the new world order he had in mind. The vengeful Treaty of Versailles set the stage for the greater conflict to follow in 20 years, and Wilson left office a defeated, broken and very ill man. Despite it all, we hail him as one of our greatest presidents, even though with an honest assessment it's clear he fell far short. It's also clear there's a thin line between the ones we call our best and those we rate our worst. It hardly matters as the only qualification for the job is to faithfully pursue the interests of the power brokers who get to choose the ones they think will serve them best. It was true for Theodore Roosevelt, his younger cousin Franklin (who had a little Great Depression to deal with and had to give some to save capitalism), Woodrow Wilson and the current undistinguished incumbent in Washington.
At the heart of those interests is the pursuit of wealth and power and a system of governance beholden to capital, now more than ever dominated by giant predatory corporations that control and decide everything - who governs and how, who serves on our courts, what laws are enacted and even whether wars are fought, against whom and for what purpose. It's for the profit, of course, because wars are good for business, which is why we wage so many of them. Corporations have to keep growing. They're mandated by law to do it to maximize shareholder value for their owners, and the only way they can is by increasing profits. They do it by growing sales, keeping costs low, expanding their market share when possible and always seeking new opportunities globally for their products and services. It doesn't matter how they get them as long as they do, and the surest way when others fail is through strong-arm imperialism. The easy kinds through favorable (one-way) trade agreements or other market-opening arrangements are always preferred. But if those methods fall short, the alternative is direct confrontation or all out aggressive war. When it happens, corporations are the winners as long as the adventure doesn't harm the economy. It usually harms the public interest asked to sacrifice butter for guns and their civil liberties in the name of greater security (never gotten), and then having to pick up the tab.
It's part of the same dirty business Senator Henry Cabot Lodge noted in his 1885 unguarded moment comment that "commerce follows the flag." Today it's more true that the flag goes where commerce directs it to secure new markets and a corporate friendly environment once they've been opened for business. That's how imperialism works and why war is an effective geopolitical way to pursue it. War, of course, is just geopolitics by other means, and powerful capital-controlled countries like the US use it freely because it works so well most often. The great political economist Harry Magdoff wrote of it this way in his Age of Imperialism in 1969: "Imperialism is not a matter of choice for a capitalist society; it is a way of life of such a society." He also knew the only way our system can work is through repression, institutionalized inequality and militarism all camouflaged in the deceit of serving the public interest. Magdoff knew those elements are in the DNA of our capital-controlled society that thrives and prospers best by pursuing a global predatory policy that assures continued economic growth at the macro level, geopolitical control, and greater wealth for the rich and powerful at the expense of all others.
Our tradition of imperialism began at the republic's birth, but until the end of the "cold war" wasn't discussed in polite society or acknowledged publicly. But that changed in the 1990s, and now it's seen as something respectable, a matter of national pride and contributing to the advance of civilization. It shows in our new language that portrays us as agents of a humanitarian mission (a benign Pax Americana or modern "white man's burden") still hiding the cold reality that what we're really up to is keeping the world safe and profitable for corporate America. Those on its receiving end need no explanation, but the public at home does as it harms them too. They must be convinced that what's good for business also serves them, but it's never stated in those terms. It's always sold at home as an effort to achieve national security, make the world safe for democracy, or bring our form of rule to other parts of the world we decided need our version of it. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, just that we say it is and can convince people to believe it. Based on our track record, that's not a problem as time and again the public is willing to swallow most any reasons government officials tell them (reinforced, of course, by the corporate media trumpeting them like gospel) to get them to go along with the schemes they have in mind, no matter how outrageous they are. They're never told the truth because it's so unpalatable it's has to be suppressed, especially in time of war when it's the first casualty.