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    Front Page
     Feb 1, 2007
Page 1 of 4

DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA
Why Nemesis is at the US's door
By Chalmers Johnson

History tells us that one of the most unstable political combinations is a country - like the United States today - that tries to be a domestic democracy and a foreign imperialist.

Why this is so can be a very abstract subject. Perhaps the best way to offer my thoughts on this is to say a few words about my new book, Nemesis, and explain why I gave it the subtitle The Last Days of the American Republic. Nemesis is the third book to have grown out of my research over the past eight years. I never set out to write a trilogy on America's increasingly endangered



democracy, but as I kept stumbling on ever more evidence of the legacy of the imperialist pressures we Americans put on many other countries as well as the nature and size of our military empire, one book led to another.

Professionally, I am a specialist in the history and politics of East Asia. In 2000, I published Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, because my research on China, Japan and the two Koreas persuaded me that US policies there would have serious future consequences. The book was noticed at the time, but only after September 11, 2001, did the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) term I adapted for the title - "blowback" - become a household word and my volume a best-seller.

I had set out to explain how exactly the US government came to be so hated around the world. As a CIA term of tradecraft, "blowback" does not just mean retaliation for things the government has done to, and in, foreign countries. It refers specifically to retaliation for illegal operations carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the US public.

These operations have included the clandestine overthrow of governments various US administrations did not like, the training of foreign militaries in the techniques of state terrorism, the rigging of elections in foreign countries, and interference with the economic viability of countries that seemed to threaten the interests of influential US corporations, as well as the torture or assassination of selected foreigners. The fact that these actions were, at least originally, secret meant that when retaliation does come - as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001 - the US public is incapable of putting the events in context. Not surprisingly, then, Americans tend to support speedy acts of revenge intended to punish the actual, or alleged, perpetrators. These moments of lashing out, of course, only prepare the ground for yet another cycle of blowback.

A world of bases
As a continuation of my own analytical odyssey, I then began doing research on the network of 737 US military bases maintained around the world (according to the Pentagon's own 2005 official inventory). Not including the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the US now stations more than half a million troops, spies, contractors, dependants and others on military bases in more than 130 countries, many of them presided over by dictatorial regimes that have given their citizens no say in the decision to let the US in.

As but one striking example of imperial basing policy: for the past 61 years, the US military has garrisoned the small Japanese island of Okinawa with 37 bases. Smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, Okinawa is home to 1.3 million people who live cheek-by-jowl with 17,000 US troops of the 3rd Marine Division and the largest US installation in East Asia - Kadena Air Force Base. There have been many Okinawan protests against the rapes, crimes, accidents and pollution caused by this sort of concentration of US troops and weaponry, but so far the US military - in collusion with the Japanese government - has ignored them. My research into America's base world resulted in The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, written during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

As the US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq turned into major fiascoes, discrediting America's military leadership, ruining its public finances, and bringing death and destruction to hundreds of thousands of civilians in those countries, I continued to ponder the issue of empire. In these years, it became ever clearer that President George W Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their supporters were claiming, and actively assuming, powers specifically denied to a president by the constitution. It became no less clear that the Congress had almost completely abdicated its responsibilities to balance the power of the executive branch. Despite the Democratic Party's sweep in last year's congressional election, it remains to be seen whether these tendencies can, in the long run, be controlled, let alone reversed.

Until the 2004 presidential election, we ordinary citizens of the United States could at least claim that our foreign policy, including our illegal invasion of Iraq, was the work of George Bush's administration and that we had not put him in office. After all, in 2000, Bush lost the popular vote and was appointed president thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. But in November 2004, regardless of claims about voter fraud, Bush actually won the popular vote by more than 3.5 million ballots, making his regime and his wars ours.

Whether Americans intended it or not, we are now seen around the world as approving the torture of captives at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at a global network of secret CIA prisons, as well as having endorsed Bush's claim that, as commander-in-chief in "wartime", he is beyond all constraints of the US constitution or international law. We are now saddled with a rigged economy based on record-setting trade and fiscal deficits, the most secretive and intrusive government in our country's memory, and the pursuit of "preventive" war as a basis for foreign policy. Don't forget as well the potential epidemic of nuclear proliferation as other nations

Continued 1 2 3 4 


The writing's on the wall for Iran (Jan 31, '07)

Bush's three-front blunder (Jan 31, '07)

Iraq: State of the (dis)union (Jan 25, '07)

 
 



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