The US empire is addicted to a belief in its exceptionalism, grounded in aggression both at home and abroad, and finding it hard to admit mistakes.
This article was first published on August 11, 2021.
Apart from brief isolationist periods, the US has been almost perpetually at war. The greatest military risk we run is acting as a proxy for the US in its dispute with China.
The record is clear. Time and time again we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into the imperial wars of the UK and then the US. We have forfeited our strategic autonomy.
Over two centuries, the US has subverted and overthrown numerous governments. It has a military and business complex that depends on war for influence and enrichment. It funds our War Memorial and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and many other fronts for US military and business interests.
The US assumes a moral superiority it denies to others.
Many of our political, bureaucratic, business and media elites have been on an American drip feed for so long they find it hard to think of the world without American global hegemony. We had a similar and dependant view of the UK in the past. That ended in tears in Singapore.
In this blog (Is war in the American DNA?), I have drawn attention repeatedly to the risks we run in being “joined at the hip” to a country that is almost always at war. The facts are clear. The US has never had a decade without war. Since its founding in 1776, the US has been at war 93 per cent of the time. These wars have extended from its own hemisphere to the Pacific, to Europe and most recently to the Middle East. The US has launched 201 out of 248 armed conflicts since the end of World War II. In recent decades most of these wars have been unsuccessful. The US maintains 800 military bases or sites around the world, including in Australia. The US has in our region a massive deployment of hardware and troops in Japan, the Republic of Korea and Guam. China has one off shore naval base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa
Just think of the US frenzy if China had a string of similar bases in the Caribbean or its ships patrolled the Florida Keys.
The US has been meddling extensively in other countries’ affairs and elections for a century. It tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War. Many foreign leaders were assassinated. In the piece reproduced in this blog (The fatal expense of US Imperialism), Professor Jeffrey Sachs said:
“The scale of US military operations is remarkable … The US has a long history of using covert and overt means to overthrow governments deemed to be unfriendly to the US … Historian John Coatsworth counts 41 cases of successful US-led regime change for an average of one government overthrow by the US every 28 months for centuries.”
The overthrow or interference in foreign governments is diverse, including Honduras, Guatemala, Iran, Haiti, Congo, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently, Syria.
And this interference continued with the undermining of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine by the US-backed Maidan coup in 2014. Gorbachev and Reagan agreed that in allowing the reunification of Germany, NATO would not extend eastwards. But with US encouragement, NATO has now provocatively extended right up to the borders of Russia. Not surprisingly, Russia is resisting.
The US encouraged the recent “democratic” insurrection in Hong Kong. It almost succeeded.
Despite all the evidence of wars and meddling, the American Imperium continues without serious check or query in America or Australia.
I suggest several reasons why this record has not been challenged.
The first is what is often described as America’s “manifest destiny”; the God-given right to interfere in other countries’ affairs. This right is not extended to others because many Americans see themselves as more virtuous and their system of government better than others.
The ignorance and parochialism of ordinary America and its politicians of other countries is legendary but possibly just as important is their resistance to any relief of ignorance. That may not seem unusual — but it is dangerous for a country with overwhelming military power employed around the globe.
Anyone who has been stuck with a travel group of parochial Texans will know what I mean!!
The second reason why the American Imperium continues largely unchecked is the power of what president Dwight Eisenhower once called the “military and industrial complex” in the US. In 2021 I would add “politicians” who depend heavily on funding from powerful arms manufacturers and military and civilian personnel in more than 4,000 military facilities. Congress dares not cut the military budget. The intelligence community and many universities and think tanks also have a vested interest in the American Imperium.
This complex co-opts institutions and individuals around the globe. It has enormous influence. No US president, nor for that matter any Australian prime minister, would likely challenge it.
Australia has locked itself into this complex. Our military and defence leaders are heavily dependent on the US Departments of Defense and State, the CIA and the FBI for advice. We act as their branch offices.
But it goes beyond advice. We willingly respond and join the US in disasters like Iraq and the Middle East. While the UN General Assembly votes with large majorities on nuclear proliferation, Israel and Diego Garcia we remain locked into the position of the US and a few of its mendicants.
Our autonomy and independence are also at great risk because our defence/security elites in Canberra have as their holy grail the concept of “interoperability” with the US. This is mirrored in US official and think-tank commentary on the role they see for us in our region. So powerful is the US influence and our willing cooperation that our foreign policies have been largely emasculated and sidelined by the defence and security views of both the US and their media acolytes in Australia.
The concept of interoperability does not only mean equipment. It also means personnel, with increasingly large numbers of Australian military personnel embedded in the US military and defence establishments, especially in the Pacific Command in Hawaii.
The US military and industrial complex and its associates have a vested interest in America being at war and our defence establishment, Department of Defence, ADF, Australian Strategic Policy Institute and others are locked-in American loyalists.
The third reason for the continuing dominance of the American Imperium is the way the US expects others to abide by a “rules-based international order” that was largely determined at Bretton Woods after World War II and embedded in various UN agencies. That ‘order’ reflects the power and views of the dominant countries in the 1940s. It does not recognise the legitimate interests of such newly emerging countries as China, which now insist on playing a part in an international rules-based order.
The US only follows an international rules-based order when it suits its own interests. It cherry picks what best suits at the time. It pushes for a rules-based system in the South China Sea while refusing to endorse UNCLOS (Law of the Sea) or accept ICJ decisions. The invasion of Iraq was a classic case of breaking the rules. It was illegal. The resultant death and destruction in Iraq met the criteria for war crimes. But the culprits have got off scot-free. Only Tony Blair has suffered reputational damage.
It is a myth that democracies like America will behave internationally at a higher level of morality. Countries act in their own interests as they perceive them. We need to discount the noble ideas espoused by Americans on how they run their own country on the domestic front and look instead at how they consistently treat other countries.
The US claims about how well they run their own country are challenged on so many fronts. Alongside great wealth and privilege, over 40 million US citizens live in poverty, they have a massive prison population with its indelible racist connotations, guns are ubiquitous and they refuse to address the issue. Violence is as American as cherry pie. It is embedded in US behaviour both at home and abroad. Donald Trump incited an attack on the Capitol.
The founding documents of the US inspire Americans and many people throughout the world. “The land of the free and the home of the brave” still has a clarion call. Unfortunately, those core values have often been denied to others. When the Philippines sought US support it was invaded instead. Ho Chi Minh wanted US support for independence but Vietnam was invaded.
Like many democracies, including our own, money, media and vested interests are corrupting public life. ‘Democracy’ in the US has been replaced by ‘Donocracy’, with practically no restrictions on funding of elections and political lobbying for decades. House of Representatives electorates are gerrymandered and poor and minority group voters are often excluded from the rolls. The powerful Jewish lobby, supported by fundamentalist Christians, has run US policy off the rails on Israel and the Middle East. The powerful private health insurance industry has mired the US in the most expensive and inefficient health services in the world.
The US Congress is crippled and the Supreme Court is stacked
Many democracies are in trouble. US democracy is in more trouble than most. There is a pervasive sickness
A major voice in articulating American extremism and the American Imperium is Fox News and Rupert Murdoch who exert their influence not just in America but also in the UK and Australia. Fox News supported the invasion of Iraq and is mindless of the terrible consequences. Rupert Murdoch applauded the invasion of Iraq because it would reduce oil prices. Fox and News Corp are leading sceptics on climate change which threatens our planet.
But it is not just the destructive role of News Corp in the US, UK and Australia. Our media, including the ABC are so derivative. It is so pervasive and extensive, we don’t recognise it for its very nature. We really do have a ‘white man’s media’. We see it most obviously today in the way legacy media spew out an endless daily conveyor belt of anti-China stories.
Despite continual criminal and often unsuccessful wars, the overthrow or subversion of foreign governments and declining US economic influence, US hegemony and domination of Australian thinking continues. Despite all the evidence, why do we continue in denial?
One reason is that as a small, isolated and predominantly white community in Asia we have historically sought an outside protector, first the UK and when that failed, the US. The colonial mind set is still with us.
We are often told that we have shared values and common institutions first with the UK and now with the US. But countries will always act first in their own interests as Australian farmers are finding as the US grabs our markets in China. Hardly protecting our back!
Another reason why we are in denial about the American Imperium, is, as I have described, the saturation of our media with US news, views and entertainment. We do not have an independent media. Whatever the US media says about China or defence will inevitably gets a good run in our derivative media.
A further reason for the continuing US hegemony in Australian attitudes is the seduction of Australian opinion leaders over decades who have benefitted from American largesse and support – in the media, politics, bureaucracy, business, trade unions, universities and think-tanks. Thousands of influential Australians have been co-opted by US money and support in travel, ‘dialogues’, study centres and think tanks. That is real ‘foreign influence’. China is a minor player along side the US.
In so far as China is any sort of distant threat it would be much less so if we were not so subservient to the US. The great risk of war with China is if we continue to act as a proxy for the US. Pine Gap would be the first Chinese target.
We are a nation in denial that we are ‘joined at the hip’ to a dangerous ,erratic and risky ally. Apart from brief isolationist periods, the US has been almost perpetually at war. The greatest military risk we run is being led by the nose into a US war with China.
Joe Biden will smooth a few rough edges but his foreign affairs advisers seem mired in the old US myth of ‘exceptionalism’. Most are Obama retreads.