How America Became an Empire

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Recently by Bill Bonner: 100 Basis Points to Armageddon

     

Oh my, the young man accused of killing 93 people in Norway, isn’t the man Homeland Security and the Pentagon hoped for.

But we’ll come back to that…first the world of finance.

Republicans and Democrats are under pressure. They need to keep up appearances. Both sides want to make a debt deal – so as to give the impression that US authorities know what they are doing and are in control of the situation.

Undoubtedly, it will be like the European deal…too little and too late to make any real difference.

Meanwhile, stocks fell 43 points on the Dow on Friday; no big deal, in other words. Bonds went up – showing that investors aren’t particularly concerned about the debt ceiling problem. And gold rose back over $1,600.

So, let’s move on…back to the future of the US empire.

As an empire matures, every opportunity to expand becomes a matter of national defense. (In America, the word “empire” is never mentioned.)

Ever since 9/11 “defense” industries have been peddling the idea that Islamic terrorism is a threat to national security. Their spirits must have lifted when they first heard the news from Oslo over the weekend. Finally, after 6 years of relative quiet, here comes more evidence that there really are some Islamic terrorists!

But now we discover; he isn’t an Islamic terrorist at all. He’s a Christian terrorist; he thinks he’s defending Christendom from the Islamic Threat.

Oh la la…the valiant knights of the military industrial complex now have Christian terrorists on the right…and Islamic terrorists on the left. Or vice versa.

But wait, their story was that they were defending the USA and its empire against Muslim bad guys who want to destroy it. Are they also defending the empire against Christian bad guys who want to protect it?

Ay yi yi…what a tangled web we weave…

“Bill, you’re telling only a part of the story. I mean, the story of how America became an empire and what it means.”

The speaker was a weekend visitor, from Washington, DC, a man active in conservative politics.

“First, winning the Cold War was the biggest setback of our lifetimes. There was probably nothing we could do about it, but it unleashed 3 billion people to compete against us.

“But then, the US was still in a position to protect itself. We were providing a protective umbrella to Europe and Japan. Basically, we guaranteed their safety…with our nuclear arms. We also guaranteed their access to oil.

“We did this without getting anything in return. When the Europeans proposed to put up an airplane company that could compete with Boeing, we were still in a position to stop it. But the US was told that unless it went along with the Airbus program, NATO would be a dead issue. NATO was the means for the US to project power in Europe. Rather than let the empire go, the US gave up much of its aircraft industry.

“Same thing in Japan…and now in China. In order to finance the empire’s spending, the US had to give up its own manufacturing industry. That was the imperial bargain. ‘We’ll protect you and let you sell stuff to us…but you have to finance our empire.’”

“Are you saying the US shouldn’t allow foreign cars or foreign-made planes to be sold in the US,” we asked?

“No, I’m just saying that an empire is not a free market enterprise. It makes deals. The deals it made in Europe and Asia doomed its own manufacturers to failure and doomed its middle classes to poverty.

“All I’m saying is that this is part of the story of the empire. Yes, the zombies have taken over, as you put it. But it’s really an empire story. That’s the important part.

“It didn’t matter who was in the White House, Republican or Democrat. Liberal or conservative. They all did the same thing. They followed the imperial agenda. There were stupid leaders, such as George W. Bush. And there were smart leaders, such as Barack Obama. The stupid ones liked sending troops to Iraq, for example, and sent them. The smart ones didn’t like sending troops, but they sent them too. They all do the same thing. Because their real mission – whether they realize it or not – is to build out the empire.

“All of them do what they need to do. As you say, ‘people come to think what they need to think when they need to think it.’

“And now the conservatives are faced with an historic choice. I’ve attended those Tea Party meetings and the meetings of CPAC, the conservative political action committees. There are two currents of thought.

“But first you have to understand what has happened in the conservative movement. The Tea Party has shaken things up. But it’s just beginning. And the Tea Partiers don’t quite know what they think. Their reactions are emotion, not well thought out. Not always coherent or logical.

“There are the principled, old conservatives – people like Ron Paul, who are consistently against expanding the power of government and consistently in favor of reducing the cost of it. And there are the new conservatives, much of the religious right, and the neo cons.

“Both groups say they are in favor of the same things – basically cutting big government down to size. But conservatives have to decide what this means. The obvious and fastest way to balance the federal budget is to renounce the imperial agenda. It costs about $1.2 trillion a year to maintain troops all over the globe, to run Homeland Security, participate in 3 wars…and all the other things that go into being an empire. Congress and the president could simply announce that they no longer believed the empire was a worthwhile project. Presto, the budget would be balanced. Problem solved.

“And I’m not talking about undermining national defense. I’m just talking about eliminating spending on things that actually make the nation less safe. That’s what an empire does. By involving itself in everyone else’s business, it makes enemies.

“I know a gal who lives part of the year in Morocco. She told me that she had a friend who is tall, with curly blond hair. Apparently, he’s always getting attacked on the streets because people think he’s an American.

“And it’s no wonder. Bush didn’t tell Americans the truth about the terrorists. They were over here because we were over there, not the other way around. I mean, we’re not over there because they were over here.

“And when I talk about cutting the Pentagon budget and the costs of running an empire, I’m just talking about the part of the defense and other budgets that have nothing really to do with providing real security. They’re just about imposing US authority on the rest of the world.

“There’s always a trade off. It’s either politics or markets. You see that in the business world too. There are people who want control. And there are people who are trying to provide a good service or product at a profit. The politicians in a business care more about controlling things. They’ll ruin a business if you let them.

“Either you’re letting people work out their own problems…between willing buyers and sellers. Or you’re telling them what to do. Politics, especially, imperial politics is all about controlling the rest of the world.

“Trouble is, politics is expensive and unproductive. The more of it you have – either at home or abroad – the poorer you become…until you can no longer afford it. That’s the situation we’re in now. We’re already way beyond the point of no return…the point where the debt depresses growth. It’s only a matter of time before we can’t go on.

“The real question is whether we do something about it now…bringing our spending in line with our ability to spend…or whether the market forces us to do it. As Ayn Rand said, you can ignore the market. But you can’t avoid the consequences of ignoring the market. Now, we’re facing the consequences.

“And what I’m proposing is to eliminate the deficit by renouncing the empire. Of course, this would come as a huge shock to the public. They thought the Pentagon was defending them from something. They don’t even realize that we have an empire. They have no idea what it costs, what it means, or what might happen if we didn’t have one. We’ve never had that debate. Woodrow Wilson launched the nation directly on the path of empire, but there was never any discussion of it. No debate in Congress was ever held. Instead, every time we went further and further away from real national defense – such as when Wilson sent troops in WWI – it was always justified in defense terms. Even then, we were supposedly ‘making the world safe for democracy.’

“But that’s just the way it works. Every empire transforms its own expansion into self defense measures. Germany invaded the Sudetenland, and then Poland largely to secure its own frontiers. Japan marched down Southeast Asia to secure its lifeline of resources. Britain conquered half the world to protect its manufactures….and Napoleon invaded Russia to remove the threat on the East.

“The US didn’t have any real enemies – after the Soviet Union folded up – so it had to invent this whole terrorism thing. Now, we have our forces all over the Mideast and now North Africa, to protect the USA from terrorism. That’s what they say.

“And here’s the scary thing. In all the many examples of empires, none…not one…ever backed up. None ever renounced its imperial destiny. None ever thought better of it. Instead, they all went headlong…forward…until they finally got their butts kicked.

“Some people in the Tea Party…and even in the Republican Party…see what has happened. They understand how the nation has become addicted to cheap credit, cheap money, and to expensive imperial adventures. They are afraid that if they don’t get control of it now, it will soon be too late.

“And my hope for the nation is that they will be successful. I believe there is hope. I think that if we can make the link clear – between the imperial, big spending, big credit, big government project…and the coming bankruptcy of the nation…we might be able to turn the country around.

“At best, it will be a close run. Because the military is about the only institution in America that people still trust. They don’t trust Congress or the banks…or the political parties…or the rich…or the big corporations. And we have no national church, they might trust.

“So, when push comes to shove, the Tea Partiers – like everyone else – are likely to back the military and the empire. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction; when you’re faced with adversity, you back your military, no matter what they’re doing. Even when it brings you close to extinction. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Tea Party get mixed up and hijacked by the neo-cons and the big-government imperialists in the conservative movement.

“Just the other day, I heard Rush Limbaugh make the argument. He said we should give the Pentagon our full support, because it was the only institution we can still believe in. A lot of Tea Partiers feel the same way. They don’t make the connection between central planning, big budgets, unlimited credit and the big, imperial agenda.

“So, I know I might lose this fight. The Tea Partiers will probably choose the Empire over the Republic…they’ll probably prefer politics to markets. They’ll probably back the troops…and let the country go broke. But if I’m going to live in the United States of America I’ve got to take a stand…I’ve got to do something. And this is all I can do.”

Bill Bonner is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and The New Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis and the co-author with Lila Rajiva of Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (Wiley, 2007). His latest book is Dice Have No Memory. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind The Daily Reckoning.

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