Review Of Chalmers
By Stephen Lendman
02 March, 2007
Chalmers Johnson is professor
emeritus of the University of California, San Diego where he taught
for 30 years as well as at UC, Berkeley (where he was educated). At
Berkeley, he was chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies and its
Department of Political Studies. He's currently president of the Japan
Policy Research Institute (JPRI), a not-for-profit research and public
affairs organization involved in public education relating to Japan
and international relations in the Pacific region. Johnson is also a
prolific writer and author of 17 books, numerous articles and various
From 1967 through 1973, he
served as well as a consultant to the Office of National Estimates (ONE)
within the CIA, and during the Cold War years was, by his own characterization,
a former "spear-carrier for the empire." At least since the
age of George Bush, however, Johnson radically transformed himself into
one of the nation's sharpest and most important intellectual critics
of the current administration having now completed the third and last
volume of his "inadvertent trilogy" in his newest book Nemesis
that's the subject of this review.
The previous two he refers
to are Blowback based on 1953 CIA terminology in the aftermath of the
spy agency's first ever engineered overthrow of a foreign leader - democratically
elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq ushering in the 26
year tryannical rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi who was himself forcibly ousted
in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Volume two was The Sorrows of Empire
- Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. Volume three is
Nemesis - The Last Days of the American Republic and subject of this
review that hopefully will encourage readers to get the book and read
the others in Johnson's trilogy to get the full picture of his powerfully
Combined, the three volumes
show how imperial hubris and overreach have undermined the republic.
Johnson characterizes it as dealing "with the way arrogant and
misguided American policies have headed us for a series of catastrophes
comparable to our disgrace and defeat in Vietnam or even to the sort
of extinction that befell....the Soviet Union (that he believes is)
now unavoidable." In his view, the present state of the nation
is dire, and it's "too late for mere scattered reforms of our government
or bloated military to make much difference."
Our democracy and way of
life are now threatened because of our single-minded pursuit of empire
with a well-entrenched militarism driving it that's become so powerful
and pervasive it's now an uncontrollable state within the state. History
is clear on this teaching we can choose as could all empires before
us. We can keep ours and lose our democracy, but we can't have both.
Rome made the wrong choice and perished. Britain chose more wisely and
survived. We must now choose, and so far the signs are ominous. Our
current behavior under all administrations post-WW II requires resources
and commitments abroad that in the end, Johnson believes, "will
inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and....produce a military
dictatorship or its civilian equivalent." We're perilously close
already because a hyper-reactionary statist administration hijacked
the government and is driving the nation to tyranny and ruin.
The evidence post-9/11 shows
-- A nation facing no outside
threats permanently at war.
-- Secret torture-prisons
around the world with no accountability to which anyone, anywhere for
any reason can be sent never to return or receive justice.
-- The most secretive, intrusive
and repressive government in our history and a president who's a congenital,
-- Social decay at home.
-- An unprecedented wealth
disparity and extent of corporate power. Former US Supreme Court Justice
Louis Brandeis warned years ago: "We can either have democracy
in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands
of a few, but we can't have both."
-- A de facto one party state
with two wings and a president claiming "unitary executive"
powers ignoring the rule of law and doing as he pleases in the name
of national security on his say alone.
-- The absence of checks
and balances and separation of powers with no restraint on a reckless
"boy-emperor" Executive on a "messianic mission."
-- A secret intelligence
establishment with near-limitless funding operating without oversight.
-- A dominant corporate-controlled
media serving as a national thought-control police and collective quasi-state
ministry of information and propaganda glorifying imperial wars to "spread
democracy" without letting on they're for conquest, domination
-- An omnipotent military-industrial
complex Dwight Eisenhower couldn't have imagined when he warned us nor
could George Washington, to no avail. In his Farewell Address in September,
1796, Washington said: "Overgrown military establishments are under
any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded
as particularly hostile to republican liberty." He meant large
standing armies leading to an imperial presidency. They destroy our
system of checks and balances and separation of powers and in the end
-- A weak, servile Congress
acceding to a dominant president under a system of authoritarian rule
keeping a restive population in line it fears one day no longer will
tolerate being denied essential services so the nation's wealth can
go for imperial wars and handouts to the rich.
-- A cesspool of corruption
stemming from incestuous ties between government and business mocking
any notions of government of, for or by the people.
Johnson points out America is plagued with the same dynamic that doomed
other past empires unwilling to change - "isolation, overstretch,
the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in
the end bankruptcy" combined with authoritarian rule and loss of
personal freedom. Hence, the title of the book - Nemesis, the goddess
of vengeance and punisher of hubris and arrogance in Greek mythology.
She's already here among us, unseen and patiently stalking our way of
life as a free nation awaiting the moment she chooses to make her presence
known that won't be pleasant when she does. Johnson compares her to
Wagner's Brunnhilde in his opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Unlike
Nemesis, she collects heros, not fools and hypocrites. But she and Nemesis
both announce themselves the same way - "Only the doomed see me,"
even though we'll all feel her presence and suffer her sting.
Our present crisis isn't
just from our military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's from
growing international anger and revulsion that America is no longer
trusted with a president showing contempt for the law including our
treaty obligations Article 6 of the Constitution says are the "supreme
Law of the Land." They include the Third Geneva Convention (GCIII)
of 1949 covering the treatment of prisoners in time of war and Fourth
Geneva Convention (GCIV) the same year on protection of civilians in
wartime in enemy hands or under occupation by a foreign power.
No authority gives presidents, governments or militaries the right to
ignore them, but this president and government flaunt them openly, almost
gleefully They practically boast about it, enraging people everywhere
including allies and the entire Muslim world this country collectively
demonizes as terrorists, militants and Islamofascists in its concocted
"war on terror" the Pentagon now calls the "Long War"
that won't end in our lifetime.
In early 2003, Johnson warned
us about "the sorrows already invading our lives....to be our fate
for years to come: perpetual war, a collapse of constitutional government,
endemic official lying and disinformation, and finally bankruptcy."
Then and now, he still hopes Americans will see the threat and act before
it's too late, but time, he believes, is short, and overall, he's not
hopeful. His newest book explains how we got here, and what we must
do to avoid our appointment with Nemesis who's very patient, but even
hers has limits and we're approaching it.
This review covers the essence
and flavor of Johnson's case he makes in seven powerful chapters. They're
not recommended at bedtime.
Militarism and Breakdown
of Constitutional Government
Johnson begins by noting
other 20th century empires that rose and fell with parallels to our
situation today. He cites among others the Brits, Soviets, Nazis, Japanese,
and Ottomans to press his case that we like them, and ancient Rome earlier,
"are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are about to
plunge over it." He quotes historian Kevin Baker's fear we're perilously
close to the day when our Congress, like the Roman Senate in 27 BC,
will use its power for the last time before turning it over to a military
dictator. Based on the past six years, it's arguable it's already with
a civilian one.
The Bush-Cheney administration
brought us to this point, but the crisis didn't start with them. It
began at the beginning when Benjamin Franklin warned us we have a Republic
if we can keep it. It advanced gradually but accelerated post-WW II
when we emerged as the only dominant nation left standing and planned
to keep it that way causing the "sorrows" we now face - an
imperial presidency, erosion of checks and balances and separation of
powers, and a culture of militarism that's a power unto itself that
today who would dare challenge.
The Founders tried preventing
the kind of tyranny colonists endured under King George III. They invented
a system of constitutionally mandated republican government with a federal
authority sharing power with the states and three separate branches
in Washington able to check and balance each other with the single most
important power put in the hands of Congress so presidents would never
have it - the ability to declare war. James Madison, Father of the Constitution,
said it's because: "Of all the enemies to liberty war is, perhaps,
the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of
every other.... (Delegating) such powers (to the president) would have
struck, not only at the fabric of the Constitution, but at the foundation
of all well organized and well checked governments."
The last times Congress used
its sole power were on December 8, 1941 after the Japanese attacked
Pearl Harbor and on December 11 after Germany and Italy declared war
on America because their Axis Power obligations required them to do
it and Hitler's and "Il Duce's" imperial eyes were bigger
than their realpolitik stomachs.
Today more than two centuries
later, Benjamin Franklin's warning hits home harder than ever as the
Founders' constitutional framework has nearly disintegrated. The president
is more powerful than a monarch. Along with the military, he has his
own private army in the form of a clandestine CIA plus control of all
15 extraconstitutional intelligence organizations. They and the military
answer to no one including the Congress because they operate secretly
with undisclosed budgets (even the Pentagon has in part), and the law
of the land is just an artifact, powerless to constrain them.
In Nemesis, Johnson concentrates
on the power of the military and a single intelligence agency, the CIA.
He says upfront he believes "we will never again know peace, nor
in all probability survive very long as a nation, unless we abolish
the CIA, restore intelligence collecting to the State Department, and
remove all but purely military functions from the Pentagon." Even
if we do it, he now believes it's too late as the nation once called
a model democracy "may have been damaged beyond repair (and) it
will take a generation or more (at best) to overcome the image of 'America
as torturer'"and rogue state showing contempt for international
law, human rights, and ordinary people everywhere. It's not what the
Founders conceived nor how things should have been in a democratic state
Lincoln said at Gettysburg was "of the people, by the people, for
the people...." Today it's only for the privileged.
It turned out badly because
power corrupts those getting too much of it, and since 1941 that power
grew as the nation prepared for wars it never stopped mobilizing for
since. It comes with a price - the end of democracy and loss of freedoms
that can't coexist with imperialism on the march for conquest and dominance
that turned America the beautiful into a nation to be feared and hated.
We emerged from WW II haughty and confident as the world's unchallengeable
economic, political and military superpower almost like we planned it
that way which we did. We weren't about to give it up and intended taking
full advantage to rule the world, tolerate no outliers, and demand fealty
and deference from all nations with hell to pay to ones that balk.
The mislabeled "good
war" launched our global imperium now on the march for "full-spectrum
dominance" meaning absolute unchallengeable control of all land,
surface and sub-surface sea, air, space, electromagnetic spectrum and
information systems - no small aim indeed for rulers with larger than
possible ambitions and no intention backing off, so help us all.
It makes the cost painfully
high with more military spending than the rest of the world combined,
but never enough for a voracious military-industrial establishment and
complicit government going along meaning finding justification for it.
September 11, 2001, dubbed the "New Pearl Harbor," served
it up like room service ushering in an intense and contrived climate
of fear allowing the country to go on a rampage to solidify control
through aggressive wars against enemies always easy to invent to assure
we won't run out of them. Heading the list are resource-rich countries
or ones like Afghanistan because they're strategically located near
energy-rich areas like the Caspian Basin. But any leader forgetting
"who's boss" gets in the target queue for regime change, even
model democrats like Hugo Chavez needing reminders our sovereignty comes
ahead of theirs.
And who'll dare challenge
the notion that might makes right so international laws, norms and "supreme
Law of the Land" treaties can be dismissed to get on with the business
at hand. It doesn't matter to a rogue empire on the march and a president
believing the law is what he says it is, the national security is just
rhetoric for I'll do as I please, and the Constitution is "just
a goddamned piece of paper." What he and those around him lack
in subtleness, they make up for big time in brazenness, but that kind
of attitude paves the road to hell we're on for our appointment with
Johnson reviews our campaign
against Iraq since the Gulf war in 1991. That conflict, killer-sanctions
for the next dozen years, and the Iraq war since 2003 all violate international
laws and are clear instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity,
but what power will hold the world's only superpower to account. The
toll on Iraq and its people for the past 16 years has been devastating.
The US campaign destroyed a once prosperous nation and its priceless
heritage leaving in its wake a surreal lawless armed camp wasteland
with few or no essential services including electricity, clean water
and sanitation facilities, medical care, fuel and most everything else
needed for sustenance, public safety and survival.
Johnson quotes experts saying
the looting of the National Museum of Baghdad and burning of the National
Library and Archives and Library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious
Affairs and Endowments amounted to "the greatest cultural disaster
of the last 500 years (and some say since the) Mongol invasion of Baghdad
in 1258 to find looting on this scale." Donald Rumsfeld and the
Pentagon went to great pains protecting the Oil Ministry, but were indifferent,
almost gleeful seeing priceless treasures looted and burned. It detroyed
a "whole universe of antiquity" Iraqis and civilized people
everywhere won't ever forgive us for.
In all, the Gulf war and
US-imposed sanctions caused 1.5 million or more Iraqi deaths up to March,
2003 plus another 3.5 million or more refugees to the present outside
Iraq or internally displaced. In addition, the shocking 2006 Lancet
published study estimated the joint US-British invasion caused another
655,000 violent deaths since then through mid-2006, although they readily
admitted the true figure might be as high as 900,000 because they were
unable to survey the most violent parts of the country or interview
thousands of families all of whose members were killed.
Already the US-inflicted devastation on Iraq and its people since 1991
amounts to one of the great war/sanctions/and occupation related crimes
in human history. Their effects keep mounting exponentially with no
way to know how great the toll will be when it's over. One day it will
be because Iraqis won't stop fighting for their freedom till it is,
but none of this gets reported in US media and precious little anywhere
in the West. So far, war continues because America's on the march, and
Johnson notes US soldiers in Iraq are only accountable to their superiors
in the field or the Pentagon, and an estimated 100,000 civilian contractors
are only accountable to themselves.
The darkest side of our adventurism
is our global network of military prisons (authorized by the Secretary
of Defense and Pentagon) where physical and mental torture are practiced
even though it's known no useful information comes from it. Instead
it's used for social control, vengeance and a policy of degrading people
regarded as sub-human because they happen to be less-than-white Arab
or Afghan Muslims. It's also a symbolic act of superpower defiance daring
the world community to challenge us. International Geneva Convention
laws and the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment no longer matter for the lord and
master of the universe. The US is accountable under them, but clever
lawyers and a lawless Attorney General rewrite the rules of engagement
claiming justification even when they don't have a leg to stand on.
America to Rome and Britain
Johnson makes his case citing
ancient Rome to show how imperialism and militarism destroyed the Republic.
He notes after its worst defeat at the hands of Carthaginian general
Hannibal in 216 BC, Romans vowed never again to tolerate the rise of
a Mediterranean power capable of threatening their survival and felt
justified waging preemptive war against any opponent it thought might
That was Paul Wolfowitz's
notion as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the GHW Bush administration
in 1992 that he began implementing as Deputy Secretary of Defense in
2001 and made part of the National Security Strategy in 2002. It was
an ancient Roman megalomanic vision called Pax Romana that post-WW II
became Pax Americana with illusions of wanting unchallengeable dominance
to deter any potential rival, and, like ancient Rome, wage preemptive
or preventive war to assure it.
A culture of corruption and
militarism eroded the Roman Republic that effectively ended in 49 BC
when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in Northern Italy plunging
the country in civil war that left Caesar victorious when all his leading
opponents were dead. The Republic died with them as Caesar became the
state exercising dictatorship over it from 48 to 44 BC when his reign
ended on the Ides of March that year after his fateful meeting in the
Roman Senate with Brutus, Cassius and six other conspirators whose long
knives did what enemy legions on battlefields couldn't. It led to the
rise of Caesar's grandnephew Octavian. In 27 BC, the Roman Senate gave
him his new title, Augustus Caesar, making him Rome's first emperor
after earlier ceding most of its powers to him. He then emasculated
Rome's system of republican rule turning the Senate into an aristocratic
family club performing ceremonial duties only.
It was much the same in Nazi
Germany only much faster. The German Reichstag made Adolph Hitler Reichschallcellor
on January 30, 1933 ceding its power to him March 23 by enacting the
Enabling Act or Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Empire
establishing a Nazi dictatorship and allowing the Weimar Republic to
pass quietly into history. With a whimper, not a bang, it gave Hitler
absolute power and the right to enact laws and constitutional changes
on his own with little more than rubber-stamping approval from an impotent
Reichstag that anointed him Reichsfuhrer a year later allowing him supreme
power to destroy the state he only got to rule for 12 years.
Like Nazi Germany and other
empires, Johnson explains the "Roman Republic failed to adjust
to the unintended consequences of its imperialism (and militaristic
part of it) leading to drastic alterations in its form of government"
that was transformed into dictatorship. It's constitution became undermined
along with genuine political and human rights its citizens once had
but lost under imperial rule. Rome's military success made made it very
rich and its leaders arrogant leading to what Johnson calls "the
first case of what today we call imperial overstretch." It didn't
help that a citizen army of conscripts got transformed into professional
military warriors. It grew large and unwieldy becoming a state within
a state like our Pentagon today. It created a culture of militarism
that turned into a culture of moral decay leading to the empire's decline
The US Republic has yet to
collapse, but an imperial presidency now places great strain on it with
a dominant Pentagon and culture of militarism undermining Congress,
the courts and our civil liberties. Ancient Rome proved republican checks
and balances aren't compatible with imperial dreams and a powerful military
on the march for them. The US may have crossed its own Rubicon on September
18, 2001 with the passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force
(AUMF) by joint House-Senate resolution authorizing "the use of
United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent
attacks launched against the United States (and) giving the President....authority
under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international
terrorism against the United States...."
By this act alone, George
Bush got congressional authority to seize near dictatorial power in
the name of national security, ignore constitutional and international
law, be able to wage aggressive war to protect the nation, and get repressive
laws passed threatening citizens and others alike with loss of our freedoms.
Then in October, 2002, Congress voted the president unrestricted power
to preemptively strike Iraq whenever he believed it "appropriate"
meaning he was free to wage aggressive war against Iraq or any other
nation he henceforth called a threat using tactical nuclear weapons
if he chooses.
This kind of unrestricted
power isn't just dictatorial authority. It's insanity courtesy of the
Congress and supportive right wing courts. It's taking us the same way
as ancient Rome assuring our fate will be no different unless it's stopped
and reversed. It's the inevitable price of imperial arrogance making
leaders feel invulnerable till they no longer are, and it's too late.
We may still have a choice,
and Johnson cites the one Britain took to explain. They sacrificed empire
to preserve democracy knowing they couldn't have both. They earlier
took up the "White Man's Burden" in a spirit of imperial "goodness"
we now call "spreading democracy" believing Anglo-Saxons deserved
to rule other nations, especially ones of color they thought inferior.
Johnson explains "successful imperialism requires that a domestic
republic change into a tyranny." It happened to Rome, and he sees
it happening here under an imperial presidency with militarism taking
ever greater root in society. Britain was spared by a democratic resurgence
followed WW II. People finally freed from the scourge of Nazism said
never again and chose democracy to assure it.
We must now choose whether
to return to our founding roots or stay on our present path heading
to imperial tyranny. For Johnson, Rome and Britain are the "archtypes"
defining where we stand and what we face. Rome chose empire, lost its
Republic and then everything. Britain went the other way choosing democracy
despite the Blair government's disgraceful post-9/11 imperial indiscretions
acting as Washington's pawn in service to our adventurism. Now late
in the game, we must choose one way or the other. We can either have
our democratic "cake" or "eat it" and suffer the
consequences. We can't have it both ways.
The CIA - The President's
Imperial Rome had its elite
praetorian guard to protect and serve its emperors. The CIA here works
the same way as a private army for the president that in the end will
go his way as it did producing phony intelligence the Bush administration
used to justify war with Iraq. It proved its loyalty by its willingness
to lie, but it does lots more than that - the kinds of extrajudicial
things it gets away with because everything about "the company"
is secret, including its budget. It puts CIA beyond the law making it
unaccountable to the public and Congress that have every right to know
in a "democracy" but none under imperial rule. Johnson stresses
that US presidents have "untrammeled control of the CIA (and it's)
probably (their) single most extraordinary power" as it puts them
beyond the check and balancing powers of Congress and courts constitutionally
required in republican systems of government. Not in our "Republic,"
at least since 1947 when the National Security Act created the CIA under
Harry Truman to succeed the wartime OSS dissolved in 1945.
Johnson explains CIA originally
had five missions. Four dealt with collection, coordination and dissemination
of intelligence. The fifth one was vague allowing the agency to "perform
such other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the
national security as the National Security Council (overseeing it) may....direct."
This mandate caused the problem turning "CIA into the personal,
secret, unaccountable army of the president" and making secret
covert, often mischievous illegal, operations its main function. Their
duties include overthrowing democratically elected governments, assassinating
foreign heads of state and key officials, propping up friendly dictators,
and snatching targeted individuals for "extraordinary rendition"
on privately-leased aircraft to secret torture-prisons for not too gracious
treatment on arrival that may include "destroying" the evidence
after completing interrogation.
We claimed justification
for it during the Cold War even though extrajudicial activities are
never permissible under republican constitutional government. Today
under George Bush, things are further complicated as CIA is one of 15
intelligence agencies under a director of National Intelligence (DNI).
But even with this realignment, CIA remains the president's private
praetorian guard army accountable only to him with tens of billions
of secret budget power to do plenty of damage.
It now lets CIA be more active
than ever as under Bush it's got double the number of covert operatives
making Johnson believe the spy agency's original purpose is history
with DNI now handling most intelligence gathering functions. CIA is
now a mostly global hit squad Mafia with Bush its resident Godfather
sending it off to do "assassinations, dirty tricks, renditions,
and engineering foreign coups. In the intelligence field it will be
restricted to informing our presidents and generals about current affairs."
In all it does, the agency's secrecy shields the chief executive from
responsibility giving him plausible deniability if anything leaks out.
Johnson explains "CIA's bag of dirty tricks....is a defining characteristic
of the imperial presidency. It is a source of unchecked power that can
gravely threaten the nation....(Its) so-called reforms....in 2006 have
probably further shortened the life of the American republic."
"The company" is a menace to democratic rule. Either it goes
or our freedoms do.
US Military Bases
Around the World
People in US cities would
be outraged if another country garrisoned its troops close by with all
the resulting fallout: unacceptable noise, pollution, environmental
destruction, appropriation of valued public real estate along with drunken
soldiers on the loose violating laws, causing damage and raping local
women. Not the kinds of neighbors we choose, especially when they're
mostly unaccountable for their actions.
We don't generally give other
nations basing rights here. But the Pentagon practically demands other
countries allow us the right to put our troops on choice parts of their
real estate around the world. That's real heavy-handed imperial arrogance
mindful of an earlier time when imperialism could be measured by an
empire's colony count. Military outposts are our version set up to operate
by our own rules when we show up. Locals have no say and neither does
the host country once a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is finalized
that gives the US "guest" freedom from host country laws and
restraints governing civilian life and exemption from any inconvenient
environmental cleanup obligations. That subject is covered in the next
Only one superpower remained
after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and the Russians never posed
a serious challenge before it did. All along we greatly outclassed and
outgunned them, and Moscow only wanted a standoff if it came to that.
During the Cold War, we had many military outposts around the world
supposedly aimed at them, but how do we justify them now. They're not
for defense. They're for offense in contrast to home-based ones to defend
Johnson reviews the known
number of US bases in other countries by size and branch of service.
According to the Department of Defense's Base Structure Report through
2005, the official total of all sizes is 737, but so many were built
in recent years, Johnson believes the actual number exceeds 1000 and
is rising. Unlisted ones includes dozens in Iraq, 106 garrisons in Afghanistan,
the gigantic Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo built after the Yugoslav war in
1999, and others in Eastern Europe, Israel, Qatar and other Gulf states
plus ongoing negotiations all the time to build new bases in new locations
in new and currently "occupied" countries.
It takes a lot of resources
maintaining an operation this sized. Just the facilities and staff alone
make the cost truly staggering. Included are the number of military,
civil service and locally hired personnel, facilities, acreage, weaponry
and munitions (including thousands of nuclear weapons) and everything
else needed to keep a worldwide operation this size functioning. And
this only covers what's open to the public and Congress excluding what
the Pentagon and host countries keep secret. There's plenty of that
including information about bases the US uses to eavesdrop on global
communications or our nuclear deployments violating treaty obligations.
The Pentagon keeps much of this hidden deploring any oversight as part
of its culture of secrecy concealing from Congress and our NATO allies
the true extent of our strength, breath and intentions.
Once Donald Rumsfeld got
to the Pentagon he fit right in and served there once before under Gerald
Ford. He didn't hide how he wanted to restructure the military to make
it lighter, more agile and high tech but no less secret. The result
was Department of Defense's Global Posture Review first mentioned by
George Bush in November, 2003. It divides military installations into
-- (1) Main Operating Bases
(MOBs) having permanently stationed combat forces, extensive infrastructure,
command and control headquarters and extensive accommodations for families
including hospitals, schools and recreational facilities. The Pentagon
calls these bases "little Americas."
-- (2) Forward Operation
Sites (FOSs) that are major installations smaller than MOBs and over
which the Pentagon tries maintaining a low profile. They exclude families,
and troop rotations in and out are for six months, not three years as
-- (3) Cooperative Security
Locations (CSLs) - they're the smallest, most austere and are called
"lily pads" to cover the entire planet's "arc of instability"
that could include countries earmarked for future military action. Preparation
here includes prepositioned weapons and munitions.
The new global repositioning
plan comes with a huge price tag. The Overseas Basing Commission estimates
it at $20 billion and would be much higher but for the Pentagon's standard
practice getting host countries to pay their share of the tab allowing
us basing rights on their territory. It's called "burden sharing"
or our notion of a country we occupy helping pay the cost of deterring
potential common enemies. At a time when only US militarism poses a
threat to world peace, one day countries like Germany, Japan, South
Korea, Spain and others no longer will tolerate our garrisoning troops
on their soil. Ecuador under its new president, Raphael Correa, already
served notice his country won't renew the US base lease in Manta when
it expires in 2009 unless Washington allows his country comparable basing
rights in Miami that's impossible. Other countries may follow suit just
like the East Europeans kicked out the Soviets after their nations broke
away in 1991.
Today the Middle East commands
center stage with the Pentagon building major military installations
in Iraq similar to the permanent kind in Germany and Japan. Iraq is
key to US imperial plans because of its vast and easily accessible oil
reserves but for a covert reason as well. Johnson believes it's part
of our "empire building" - to shift major Saudi bases to the
country making it a "permanent Pentagon outpost" to control
the area's "arc of instability" and region's oil reserves
that comprise 60% or more of the world's proven total.
Add together all Muslim nations
everywhere and their combined known oil reserves are between two-thirds
to three-quarters of total world supply. If we control it all, it gives
Washington enormous veto power over all nations wanting accessing to
the vital juice economies run on. And if we keep demonizing Muslims
as enemies and people believe it, it's easy justifying our state-sponsored
terror wars on them for all the wrong reasons we say are the right ones.
Headquarters for what's planned
in the Middle East are now on four or more permanent Iraq "super-bases"
with possible others to come. Many billions of dollars went into them,
and they're anchor fixtures in the country along with 100 or more others
ranging from mega to micro showing the extent of our digging in for
the long haul in a country and region we're not planning to leave in
It also shows in the kind
of embassy we're building inside the four square mile Green Zone in
central Baghdad. Critics call it "Fortress Baghdad" because
it's to be the largest US embassy in the world by far, encircled by
15-foot thick concrete walls and rings of concertina wire along with
protective surface-to-air missiles. Large numbers of private-sector
bodyguards and US military guard its vast facilities, there's modern
infrastructure comparable to any large US city with all the comforts
and luxuries of home, Saddam's private swimming pool is for GIs and
others to frolic in, hometown comfort food abounds, and staff and officials
are planned to number around 1000. It's larger than Vatican City, six
times the size of the UN New York compound, and has become a hated symbol
of imperial occupation, death and destruction it caused, and the oppressive
dominance Iraqis are committed to end.
Iraqi history shows an intolerance
to occupation, and Iraqis are convinced they'll maintain tradition proving
again that notions of permanency are in the eyes of the beholder and
their end may come sooner than planned. Our super-facilities may end
up just like their mega-predecessors in Danang, Cam Rahn Bay and the
Saigon embassy housing the last remnants of US presence helicoptered
off its rooftop in defeat and humiliation. We left them and much more
behind when the Vietmanese kicked us out, even though we never go anywhere
planning to leave in a hurry if ever.
US Imperialism at
Work - Status of Force Agreements (SOFAs) and How They Work
SOFAs are formal contractual
arrangements the US negotiates with other countries implementing basic
agreements we first agree to with host nations allowing us the right
to garrison troops and civilian personnel there either on a new base
we build or an existing one. They follow once the Pentagon arranges
a contractual "alliance" with a host country usually based
on "common objectives" and "international threats to
peace." In final form, they're intended to put US personnel as
far outside domestic law as possible and spell out host nation obligations
to us. Except for our reciprocal NATO agreements with member countries,
they also give our military and civilian personnel special privileges
unavailable to ordinary citizens of the host nation. It doesn't work
that way with western European states. They have collective clout and
won't tolerate the types of one-way deals we impose on smaller, weaker
nations that can't stand up to our kind of bullying.
For host nations, SOFAs come
with problems along with perceived benefits. They result in unacceptable
noise, pollution, environmental damage with no remediation obligation,
and they use valuable real estate unavailable to the host or their people
who can't avoid the kinds of fallout problems showing up after we do.
They include foreigners on their soil accountable to US military rules
and justice but not to theirs even when crimes are committed against
innocent civilians like local women being abused and raped by drunken
unruly troops believing away from home they can do as they please and
get away with it. They nearly always can.
Johnson cites between 1998
and 2004 in Japan, US military personnel were involved in 2,024 reported
crimes or accidents on duty. Only one led to a court-martial, 318 to
"administrative discipline, and the remainder were apparently absolved
even though at least some of these crimes involved robberies, rapes,
reckless homicide, assaults and other kinds of abuses no one would get
away with at home. The result abroad is growing public anger and discontent
Johnson illustrates with a prominent example.
It's on the island of Okinawa,
Japan's southern-most and poorest prefecture and a place Johnson knows
well from his time in the Navy and as an expert on the country and region
that includes a book he co-wrote and edited called Okinawa: Cold War
Island. The US has its way with Japan having defeated its empire in
1945, wrote its constitution in the aftermath, and has occupied the
country ever since. It's well dug in for the long haul with 88 bases
on the Japanese islands, a country smaller than California. Thirty-seven
of those bases are on Okinawa, a tiny sliver of land about the size
of a large US city. It's easy understanding why Okinawans are justifiably
angry. They've been practically pushed into the Pacific to make way
for US occupation of their island taking over most of its valued real
estate and not treating it too well or the people.
Okinawans' greatest outrage,
however, is over SOFA-related article 17 covering criminal justice.
It states "The custody of an accused member of the United States
armed forces or the civilian component (shall) remain with the United
States until he is charged." It means when US personnel commit
crimes, Japanese investigative authorities have no exclusive access
to suspects until they're indicted in court. That hamstrings investigations
enough to make prosecutors often reluctant to press charges because
they can't get enough evidence to go to trial.
Johnson cites a particularly
grievous example he calls the "most serious incident to influence
Japanese-American relations since the Security Treaty was signed in
1960." It happened in September, 1995 when two marines abducted
a 12-year old girl, beat and raped her, then left her on a beach going
back to their base in a rented car. In October, 85,000 Okinawans protested
in a park demanding Japanese and American authorities address their
grievances after the US military refused to hand over the suspects to
Japanese police. This may be a notable example, but it illustrates what
Okinawans have endured for over 60 years. The US military runs their
territory without accountability to Japanese law. As a result, US personnel
get away with rapes, drunken brawling, muggings, drug violations, arson
and criminal homicide - because they're superior white-skinned Americans,
not yellow-skinned Japanese judged inferior.
Things likely can't get much
worse for Okinawans, but if the US gets its way they probably will for
all Japanese. It relates to Washington's growing concern over China's
explosive growth and increasing dominance in the Pacific region. That
makes the Chinese a major US regional rival and potential superpower
challenger some day. Bush officials won't tolerate it and are pressuring
Japan to revise article 9 of its constitution renouncing force except
for self-defense. The US wants Japan to be our "Britain of the
Far East" or "cop on the beat" to use the country as
a front line regional proxy against China, North Korea or any other
East Asian state forgetting "who's boss."
But that notion doesn't
set well with Japanese people resulting in mass protests throughout
the country in opposition. They know how destructive WW II was and want
no reoccurrences of it even though already Japan again is a military
power. It has the most powerful navy in the world after the US, a total
force size of nearly one-quarter million in uniform, 452 combat aircraft
and a military budget equalling China's.
After long and difficult
negotiations, the Japanese cabinet finally agreed to approve a planned
US realignment of forces in their country that won't please its neighbors
or its own people. Former prime minister Koizumi and his right-wing
supporters yearn to make their country a formidable power again and
thus agreed to various unpalatable US basing decisions despite popular
opposition to them. It shows Japanese and US officials' insensitivity
to deep-seated feelings on the ground that will only lead to further
heightened tensions in the region with China and North Korea facing
off against their US and Japanese rivals.
The Ultimate Imperial
Project in Space
The notion of "full
spectrum dominance" spelled it out. The US considers outer space
part of its territory, claims sole right to dominate it, and won't tolerate
a challenger interfering with our plans to militarize the heavens reigning
supreme over planet earth from them. The whole idea is chilling having
grown out of Ronald Reagan's March 23,1983 speech calling for greater
defense spending during the Cold War. He wanted a huge R & D program
for what became known as "Star Wars" - an impermeable anti-missile
shield in space called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). It hardly
mattered that the whole idea was fantasy, but a glorious one for defense
contractors who've profited hugely on it since. From inception, the
program's funding ebbed and flowed with a tsunami now going into it
for an administration addicted to all things military and a friendly
Federal Reserve acting as "pusher" printing up all the ready
cash to do it.
The Clinton administration
only gave it modest support, but that all changed once George Bush became
president and Donald Rumsfeld returned to the Pentagon for his second
tour as Secretary of Defense with fewer restraints than the first time.
He wanted the US prepared for space warfare as insane as the idea is.
What's not insane is how hugely defense contractors profit from an open-ended
boondoggle padding their bottom lines as long as no future president
and Congress halt the madness. Rumsfeld had his own ideas about committing
the country to building and deploying space-based weapons to destroy
nuclear-armed missile launches even though it can't be done now or ever.
MIT's Theodore Postal is
a leading authority on ballistic missile defenses. He's spent years
debunking notions that any useful defensive shield will ever work. He
flatly states: "the National Missile Defense System has no credible
scientific chance of working (and) is a serious abuse of our security
system." Nonetheless, the program is ongoing and running strong
under Robert Gates' new management at the Pentagon as he's not known
as one to buck his White House bosses that's one reason he got the job.
Johnson says all the "rhetoric
about a future space war is ideological posturing" similar to the
"missile gap" nonsense beginning in the Kennedy years. The
notion of wars from or in space are self-defeating because the adverse
consequences from them affect us as well as any adversary. Waging one
would be like firing a gun exploding in our face harming us as much
as anyone hit by it. Dangerous orbiting space debris, already a growing
problem, is just one of many serious consequences space wars would produce.
Enough of it would threaten military and commercial spacecraft that,
in turn, would threaten activities in space. Johnson notes the Air Force
currently tracks 13,400 man-made space objects, only a few hundred of
which are orbiting satellites. We also know of more than 100,000 smaller
pieces of untrackable junk, each the size of a marble and millions more
even smaller fragments.
The problem isn't their size.
It's the speed they travel at - up to 17,500 miles per hour (same as
the space shuttle), meaning when they strike an object they pack a wallop
that can be lethal if large enough debris hits an orbiting spacecraft
or satellite. Johnson quotes UC Santa Cruz professor of physics Joel
Primack saying: "Weaponizing of space would make the debris problem
much worse, and even one war in space could encase the entire planet
in a shell of whizzing debris that would thereafter make space near
the Earth highly hazardous for peaceful as well as military purposes....(and)
will jeopardize the possibility of space exploration."
Johnson concurs on how ill-conceived
our missile defense schemes and notions of real star wars are that need
to come off the table but won't under warrior leadership. He says: "The
conclusion is unavoidable: Washington has given us the best illusion
of protection against nuclear attack without reducing the odds of such
an attack." He goes on adding the whole program is fraught with
insurmountable problems from space debris to the inability to distinguish
between a hostile missile launch and a decoy plus a record of endless
test failures proving they'll only continue as long as the charade does.
He then speculates about what's likely true. The whole business of missile
defense is just a PR ploy plus another scheme to enrich defense contractors
who return the favor with big campaign contributions and plush job offers
whenever politicians retire to move on to "greener" pastures.
The amount of money spent
since the 1980s has been enormous without a single success to show for
it - between $92 and $130 billion with an estimated cost by a theoretical
completion date of 2015 of $1.2 trillion. One analyst called it "Pork
Barrel in the Sky," but it boils down to one of the most extreme
cases of corruption in Washington adding to the vast cesspool of it
there. It played heavy on voters' minds in mid-term elections with public
outrage a major factor in them demanding change that always ends up
getting none. Voters never learn new faces don't mean new policies,
at least not in Washington where the criminal class is bipartisan and
one back gets scratched to assure others do.
It adds up to further trouble
ahead and the greatest danger we now face - our imperial adventurism
heading from one conflict to another in an endless cycle harming us
as much as any adversary. The longer it continues, the worse things
get making only one solution obvious. On responsibly using space Johnson
puts it this way, but it applies to all our actions if we plan on surviving:
"....we must relearn how to cooperate with our fellow inhabitants
of the planet and take the lead in crafting international agreements
on the rules of the road in space....We should outlaw all weapons that
are designed to destroy other nations' (space assets). If one side blinds
the other," it will conclude the worst and retaliate, and one way
would be to detonate a nuclear weapon in space that would have an electromagnetic
pulse instantly "fry(ing) the electronics in all orbiting satellites."
That would produce a level
global playing field the hard way meaning - no more "smart bombs,"
electronic battlefields, global positioning systems, secure communications
from field to commanders or any satellite communications. Instead of
crafting multilateral agreements to prevent this, the US instead continues
acting hostilely by pushing full steam ahead on space-based antisatellite
weapons and driving the nation to bankruptcy doing it. Johnson notes
space is another "arena for American hubris and one more piece
of evidence that Nemesis is much closer than most of us would care to
The Crisis of the
George Bush wasn't our first
president to abuse his power. Other far more notable predecessors also
did it like Lincoln suspending habeas rights during the Civil War and
FDR's home front war against the Japanese - the ones who were honorable,
decent Americans whose only "crimes" were their ancestry and
skin color. It made them less human and denied them justice. Instead,
it got them incarcerated for the remainder of the war they had nothing
to do with or wanted, even though the ones allowed to fight against
the Nazis did it courageously and honorably.
The difference between then
and now was checks and balances were in place and the separation of
powers worked restraining presidents from abusing their authority. That
ended the day five arrogant Supreme Court justices annulled the popular
vote letting George Bush steal the office Al Gore won at the polls including
in Florida. It's been straight downhill since the way it was for Rome
when it passed from Republic to repressive empire. The freedoms we've
long take for granted have eroded and democracy in America is an endangered
species hovering somewhere between life support and the crematorium
unless a way is found to resurrect it.
As things now stand, Bush
and Cheney rule a rogue state working cooperatively in a corrupted two-party
alliance assuring the skids are greased and fix is in. The US Congress
is no different than the kind of social club for aristocrats the Roman
Senate became when it gave its power to the Caesar it hailed. It lets
the administration conduct affairs of state according to what it calls
the "unitary executive theory of the presidency" that's a
simple "ball-faced assertion of presidential supremacy....dressed
up in legal mumbo jumbo" written by clever lawyers easily finding
lots of ways getting around pesky laws in the name of national security
for a nation at war against enemies invented to justify schemes now
playing out around the world.
It boils down to despotic
rule or a national security police state all repressive regimes become
in the end including the fascist kinds we're now on the tipping edge
of. Unless it's stopped, things won't be pretty when the final mask
comes off and jackboots are in the streets along with tanks when needed.
And when the public resists, as it surely will, expect South Chicago
to look like Baghdad today and its North side too.
Johnson notes it's possible
the US military one day will usurp authority and declare a military
dictatorship the way it happened in Rome, but he thinks it's unlikely.
If dictatorship comes, he expects the civilian kind with military power
backing it up. Most likely, Johnson thinks things will muddle along
and continue drifting under an illusion of constitutional cover until
fiscal insolvency unravels it all. But that won't end the nation state
any more than it did to Germany in 1923 or Argentina in 2001-02. It
might even herald a new beginning even though transitioning to it would
mean lots of turbulence, a lower standard of living and a much different
relationship between this country and others including ones supplanting
us as most dominant.
Johnson concludes his narrative
returning to where it all began starting with volume one of his unintended
trilogy. He says in "Blowback" he tried explaining why people
around the world hate us. It's not just our government's actions against
others but refers to retaliation for the kinds of acts we commit like
ousting outlier regimes not willing to play by our imperial management
rules meaning we're "boss," and what we say goes. It's a simple
law of physics that there's no action without reaction. If we slap them
enough, they start slapping back. Volume two was "The Sorrows of
Empire" written while America prepared the public for wars against
Afghanistan and Iraq. It covered the country's militarization since
WW II best symbolized by our sprawl of bases across the planet assuring
hegemony over it but guaranteeing more blowback from our "indiscretions"
any time we decide reminders are needed who's "boss" and those
reminded get cranky.
Volume three is Nemesis and
the subject of this review. In it, Johnson "tried to present historical,
political, economic, and philosophical evidence of where our current
behavior is likely to lead." He believes our present course is
a road to perdition in the form of fiscal insolvency and a military
or civilian dictatorship. Our Founders knew the risk and tried preventing
it with our constitutional republican government now in jeopardy. It's
come from our commitment to large standing armies, constant war, reckless
stimulative military Keynesianism spending causing an erosion of democracy
and growth of an imperial presidency. Once a nation goes this way, its
fate is the same as all others that tried - "isolation, overstretch,
the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy."
It's symbol is that patient Greek goddess now visiting our shores awaiting
the tribute she'll demand - "our end as a free nation."
It's now our choice. We can
continue the same way as imperial Rome and lose our democracy or chose
the British model keeping it at the expense of sacrificing empire. Johnson
ends his book citing Japanese scholar and journalist Hotsumi Ozaki as
a role model example. Ozaki understood his country's occupation of China
would fail and lead to the kind of blowback caused by the Chinese Communist
revolution. He tried warning his government, but was hanged as a traitor
for his efforts late in WW II. Johnson hopes he won't meet a similar
fate but is as certain as Ozaki "that my country is launched on
a dangerous path that it must abandon or else face the consequences."
We should hope we never see them, but wishing alone won't make it so.
lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site
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