American Empire is Failing –
A Good Thing for America
And the World
By Kevin Zeese
19 May, 2007
Terry Paupp is the author
of Exodus from Empire: The Fall of America's Empire and the Rise of
the Global Community. The book examines the downfall of the American
Empire, its impact on the world community and what world order will
take its place. Paupp has been a professor of philosophy and international
law at Southwestern College, National University, San Diego City College.
He served as the National Chancellor of the U.S. for the International
Association of Educators for World Peace from 2001-2005. His previous
books include “Achieving Inclusionary Governance: Advancing Peace
and Development in First and Third World Nations (2000). He is currently
a Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
Exodus from Empire is an exhaustive book, 423 pages long, covering a
wide array of empire-related issues. It must have taken you a geat deal
of time and effort to write it. Why did you write this book?
Yes, you're right. A 423-page long book on empire related issues is
quite an undertaking. I can honestly say that I have worked on, thought
about, and read about these issues for the last 37 years of my life.
So, starting as a freshman in college and continuing on through my years
in higher education and teaching, I have wrestled with the reality of
a mutating and violent American Empire. In high school I mourned the
death of my hero, Robert F. Kennedy. In college, I was involved in the
anti-war movement and an active participant in Vietnam War teach-ins
and protests. After college I obtained a Master of Theological Studies
in Chicago – doing my thesis on liberation theology in Latin America.
It was at that time that I started viewing religion, politics, economics,
and social life from the perspective of those on the bottom of society
– the poor, oppressed – most of who live in the Global South
(Third World). After teaching philosophy and comparative religion courses
for 6 years, I went to law school and obtained a Juris-Doctor in Law.
Soon thereafter, I returned to academics and writing books and articles
about what I have termed "Inclusionary Governance" –
juxtaposing that ideal for human rights and social justice to all forms
of "Exclusionary Governance" and "Exclusionary States."
In my professional determination,
the United States itself was hardly a democratic polity because of exclusionary
policies based on race and after the 1870s policies increasingly based
on the priorities of capital---the most privileged and wealthy classes
of the elite. Further, after the Reagan era it has become clear to me
that the US was increasingly becoming more like the oligarchies of Latin
American dictators and its large landowners.
Certainly since George W.
Bush stole the elections of 2000 and 2004 it is clear that voter suppression,
the US Patriot Act, the corruption of the US Justice Department for
partisan political gain, the death of a Constitutional framework of
effective checks and balances, illegal wiretapping and spying on Americans
in violation of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, has all contributed
to the defense of corporate wealth and a corporate agenda that is inherently
ant-democratic. These are features which are similar to a Latin American
oligarchy---a so-called banana republic. Of course the main difference
in the case of the US was its huge military budget and the military-industrial
complex that drove it. This reality is what inspired me to write the
book – especially after the Bush-2 regime invaded Iraq in 2003
and began and illegal occupation of that nation. For me, it was clear
from the start that it would be another Vietnam – justified by
the American Establishment with a phony pretext for war (9/11) just
as the Gulf of Tonkin incident gave the Johnson administration a green
light for introducing combat troops into Vietnam. On this matter, please
refer to Chapter 5 of Exodus from Empire.
I have devoted Chapter 5
of Exodus from Empire to a discussion of this "hidden politics
of empire." In short, this book came about out of a sense of rage
and a sense of injustice against an empire that could sanction tremendous
degrees of hunger, poverty, and inequality around the world while creating
a global network of military bases for the defense of corporate interests
only interested in their own profits to the exclusion of every other
human and humane consideration.
book faces up to a key question that is rarely discussed in the U.S.
media -- American Empire. I expect many in the media and the public
do not think of the U.S. as an empire. Please explain why you call the
U.S. an empire?
are quite correct in noting that the U.S. media fails to even acknowledge
that Americans live in an empire. I call the U.S. an empire because
it is clear to any serious student of history that it became one in
the aftermath of World War II when England surrendered its colonies
and accepted the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella from the beginnings
of the Cold War.
The entire period of the
late 1940s through the early 1960s was an age of de-colonization from
the empires of Britain, France, and Germany. Yet, during this period
the Cold War provided the context for the U.S. to embark upon neo-colonialism
and neo-imperialism in order to protect the so-called "Free World."
The reality is that the Free World is not really "free" in
terms of civil liberties and human rights. It is free to open access
by U.S.-based corporations and multinational/transnational business
To assist in this structuring
of the world economy in line with the American Establishment, the IMF,
World Bank, and WTO have been established to govern the world economy
and as many countries as possible within its orbit. To that end, both
Wall Street and the U.S. Treasury Department – as the centers
of U.S. finance and capital – give the rest of the world within
its "sphere of influence" their marching orders. We see this
as Third World nations have structural adjustment programs shoved down
their throats by the IMF. These structural adjustment programs--- SAPs---that
are imposed by the IMF function so as to order the governments who are
the recipients of these loans to break up labor unions, suspend wage
structures that benefit workers, and condone the rape of the environment.
All of this is undertaken
by the U.S. Global Empire in the furtherance of its corporate allies
and in its strategic search for obtaining natural resources –
such as oil, tungsten, ore – to shore up its domination of the
planet. In fact, the Pentagon has said as much in its planning documents
since 2001 when it writes of "full spectrum dominance." What
is that? It is the control of not only land, air, and sea by the American
Empire, but outer space as well.
The weaponization of space
is a high priority for the Bush-2 regime – as exemplified by its
unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty and its spending billions
of dollars every year for "National Missile Defense" (NMD).
It is a program born in the Reagan years under the name of the "Strategic
Defense Initiative" (SDI) which its critics later referred to as
"Star Wars." So, the military and economic components of the
American empire are all in place or being developed to be put in place
so as to turn the 21st Century into the "Next American Century."
Just as the 20th Century
has been referred to by historians as the "American Century,"
it is the hope and wet-dream of the Neo-Conservatives and their allies
to make the 21st Century into their own. Hence, the invasions of the
Middle East for oil, the building of U.S. military bases throughout
Eurasia and the soft underbelly of Russia, and the ever sought after
control of the Persian Gulf are all designed as a geopolitical strategy
to reinforce the American Empire against all possible contenders for
its dominant or "hegemonic" position. Therefore, both Russia
and China are seen as new potential enemies insofar as they might develop
the capacity to become competing hegemons---threatening American and
British access to oil supplies and energy resources.
The entire geopolitical strategy
of the Pentagon and the Bush-2 regime is dedicated to maintaining American
hegemony at all costs. The only significant difference between the Bush-2
regime and the Pentagon is that the Pentagon admits that Global Warming
and Climate Change could be an even greater threat than terrorism, while
the members of the Bush-2 regime are still arguing that there is "no
real science" to support the data and findings of those who have
studied the phenomena we call Global Warming.
also claim that the American empire is falling. What evidence do you
have of that?
TP: I do
claim that the American Empire is falling. To begin with, the U.S. Governments
borrows $2-billion dollars a day from China just to keep the American
economy going. China is basically borrowing worthless U.S. Treasury
Bonds that are backed up by nothing more than the promise of the "full
faith and credit" of the U.S. Government. Ever since the U.S. went
off the gold standard during the Nixon presidency, the dollar is not
backed by anything---except the military strength of the nation and
its worldwide domination over most foreign currencies. However, those
days might well be ending as the Euro takes its place as the dominant
currency of the European Union and Europe begins to follow different
policy choices and paths from the architects of the American Empire.
Additionally, the breakdown
of the so-called "Washington Consensus" in the late 1990s
means that the economic model of Neo-liberalism is no longer a viable
model for the developing nations of the Third World and those nations
– such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Ecuador that want to walk an independent
path from that proclaimed by the architects of the empire and expressed
through the policies of the IMF, World Bank WTO, and Free Trade Agreements
(such as NAFTA and CAFTA).
The reality of globalization
under the sway of the U.S. Global Empire and international capitalism
has used the Neo-liberal economic model to subordinate Third World nations
into debt traps and then leave their peoples vulnerable to market fluctuations
and the fleeting fortunes of economic practices premised upon the promise
of greater wealth through strategies of privatization and deregulation.
In 1999, the East Asian Miracle
became a nightmare with an economic meltdown followed by the witches
brew made up by the IMF. The World Bank's former head economist and
Nobel Prize Winner, Joseph Stiglitz, wound up fired from his position
at the World Bank by Bill Clinton and Larry Summers (his Treasury Secretary)
when he dared to criticize the failed policies of the IMF, the failures
of the Neo-liberal model and its orthodoxy, and the absurd dogmas that
surrounded the "Washington Consensus."
In Chapter 6 of Exodus from
Empire, I differentiate between Neo-liberal globalization on the one
hand, and the path of "inclusive human rights based development
on the other (pp. 287-297). I claim that the American Empire is falling
because it has engendered global resistance movements throughout the
entire Global Community. Further, I argue that this emerging and rising
Global Community has the capacity to develop national, regional, and
international alliances across the Global South – thereby beginning
to undermine the sway and threat of the American Empire. I call this
a "counter-hegemonic alliance."
Also, there are struggles
within the Global North as well in the form of social movements that
are dedicated to eliminating the Neo-liberal model and those Bush-sanctioned
policies of resurgent militarism that seek to enforce it. After 2001,
the entire economy of Argentina collapsed under the IMF formulas for
economic "growth" – just as the East Asian economies
went into meltdown and then were decimated by the IMF's structural adjustment
programs in the period of 1999-2001.
In Exodus from Empire, I
examine the arguments for relief from "odious debt" and examine
how nations from Africa to Latin America are seeking their year of Jubilee---debt
forgiveness and reparations for the injustices imposed on them by the
American Empire and its cronies. The principles of this "counter-hegemonic
alliance" are of a new historical magnitude – coming at a
time when the American Empire is over-extended by what Paul Kennedy
has termed "imperial overstretch."
The roots of these principles
may be traced back to 1955 when the Bandung Conference produced its
10-basic principles---the product of the work of 29 Third World Nations
that were intended to govern the relations between Third World States
(p. 310). At the present time, Latin American states are beginning to
effectively move toward making their region an independent regional
power – increasingly immune from the dictates of the American
Empire and its institutional appendages.
Further, within the U.S.
itself the lawlessness of the Bush-2 regime is catching up with the
realities of Constitutional law as a new Democratic Congress seeks to
re-establish oversight of the federal government, bring an end to illegal
wiretaps and violations the FISA law, curtail the excesses of the Patriot
Act, the illegal use of torture in violation of the Geneva Conventions
and U.S. law, and to restore habeas corpus. Yet, it remains to be seen
if the fascist drift of the Bush-2 regime can truly be stopped and the
American Republic repaired after almost eight years of lawless rule.
These are the questions I address in Chapter 3 of Exodus from Empire.
The challenge is what to do “when the law of the land becomes
lawless.” The real problem, of course, is that the empire has
developed its own law – "Empire's Law" – that
is accountable only to the dictates of Empire and to the furtherance
of the imperial project.
In short, all laws are not
equal because the new reality declares that all activities and laws
shall be subject to harmonization to fit the smooth progress of the
empire's activities. Noting is supposed to stand in the way of the unrestrained
movement of capital and the dictates of the architects of the American
Empire. Yet, there cannot be nor has there ever been a "Superpower
Democracy" and there is no "Constitution of the American Empire."
It is an unbounded reality and force that – like fascism itself
– is a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the
extreme Right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership
together with belligerent nationalism (See: pages 83-84, 234 of Exodus
the U.S. empire end? From the perspective of Americans, is it bad for
us? Don't we get cheap products, a variety of produce, and access to
critical resources? What do we lose by being an empire? Do we have to
choose between empire and democracy -- are they, in the end, mutually
the U.S. Empire end? Yes, it should end because it is not sustainable
for either the average American or for the rest of the world. It is
equally bad for Americans as it is for billions of people trapped in
poverty throughout the Global South.
The tragedy is that the average
American does not know how bad it is or that he/she is an expendable
subject within the empire. Certainly the middle-class is starting to
see the effects of this empire when jobs are "outsourced"
to cheap Third World labor markets and are not replaced, when the tax
structure favors the richest two percent while gaps in national inequality
continue to grow, when the education system continues to collapse, when
political action becomes irrelevant within a two-party system that is
owned and paid for by the same corporate elite.
The question becomes: "What
do we lose by becoming an empire?" The short answer is that we
lose our democracy. That is because empire and democracy are mutually
exclusive. A choice has to be made between the two – either consciously
or by default. I wrote Exodus from Empire in the hope that enough Americans
would read it in order to prevent the choice being made by default.
For example, in Chapter 5
(pp. 200-201) I address the Congressional surrender of the war power
– under the U.S. Constitution – to Bush on the eve of the
Iraq War. From that surrender of its war power, the congress allowed
Bush to revitalize the "imperial presidency" – a reality
we see in Bush's claim that he can function as a "Unitary Executive"
without guidance by either the courts or the Congress. As a result of
this situation, the vast majority of the American people are left un-represented.
Even when Bush's poll numbers fall it no longer matters – because
he does not care and there are no effective checks-and-balances in place
to stop him. Hence, illegal spying and wiretapping by the NSA is sanctioned
by Bush in the name of "fighting the war on terror." As a
result, the FISA courts become meaningless appendages of "an earlier
era" – just as the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture
are, according to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, "quaint"
artifacts of the past.
Americans are directly harmed
by the fact that their civil liberties under the Bill of Rights have
been shredded. Further, America's place in the world is diminished by
the fact that as U.S. Corporations – operating under the protection
of the American Empire – repress wages and workers throughout
the Global South – so too, wages are depressed in the United States
itself. Higher levels of inequality throughout the entire period of
the Bush years are a testament to that reality – as is the absence
of affordable health care for most Americans. As a result, Medicare
is going bankrupt because the insurance companies and AMA lobby and
the pharmaceutical industry-lobby remain protected enclaves of capitalist
profit and exploitation. Congress is either powerless to rectify the
situation or simply too corrupted by pay-offs to correct the situation.
In Exodus from Empire, I
make three central points on this matter: (1) First, the fate of the
Global North is linked to the fate of the Global South; (2) Second,
trade and investment policies must benefit the citizenry of both the
Global North and the Global South and, (3) Third, Neo-liberal globalization
increases global inequality (pp. 230-233). Therefore, I argue that we
must build what I call a "Post-Imperial America" (pp. 228-230,
Exodus from Empire). In short, we need to realize that empire is antithetical
to democracy and to our national and global civil society. The good
news is that we are starting to witness the rise and newly emerging
power of global civil society---as well as social movements across the
Global South---which represent a direct challenge to the U.S. Global
Empire (SEE: pp. 344-345, Exodus from Empire).
from the perspective of the world, isn't the American empire a good
thing? Don't we bring stability and democracy to the world? Wouldn't
the world be a more violent place without us? Wouldn't there be more
poverty, disease and income disparity?
the perspective of the rest of the world, the American Empire is not
a good thing – it is a curse. It deserves resistance, opposition,
and overthrow. Why? Because it is a thing – a creation divorced
from law and the moral codes of the teachings of all of the world's
great religious traditions.
In Chapter 4 of Exodus from
Empire, I address this directly by critiquing Professor Samuel Huntington's
thesis that there is a "Clash of Civilizations" going on and
that clash and conflict are inevitable. The problems with his position
are many – and I address them all in this chapter. But what I
want to emphasize is that at the heart of his thesis resides a strong
"American Empire First" concern. He wants to see the protection
of the current global power arrangements no matter who gets hurt and
regardless of the fact that over 2-billion people on this planet attempt
to live on less than a dollar a day and espite the fact that his clash-thesis
serves to justify a “war without end” in the name of fighting
“terrorism.” For Huntington, like the military planners
in the Pentagon and the economic elite on Wall Street, in the IMF, World
Bank, WTO, and the U.S. Treasury Department – these 2-billion
people are nothing more than "collateral damage." Yet, what
is at stake is a moral issue – a human rights issue – an
issue of democracy rising in the world or fading into the sunset under
the auspices of a Neo-liberal economic model combined with a fascist
polity of control called the American Empire.
In contrast, I argue that
there is an emerging unity of religions and civilizations. I call it
a “convergence.” Further, from an international law perspective,
I maintain that the evolution of customary international law reveals
a normative standard that is shared globally – between and among
nations – that is capable of moving humanity toward a "convergence"
and "healing" of peoples and of nations and of civilizations.
Hence, my counter-thesis to Huntington’s “clash thesis”
is that war is not inevitable and that peace and harmony can be our
collective destination if we re-order our mental-maps, our conceptual
categories, and learn to recognize the propaganda of the American Empire
for what it is---propaganda.
In short, the "clash
thesis" is nothing more than an ideological construction for proceeding
with business as usual. The clash-thesis is a cruel hoax that is employed
to justify huge expenditures on a so-called "war on terror"
while continuing to wage war on the weak and vulnerable. What I am calling
"the rise of Global Community" means that we are actually
witnessing global integration, nonviolent resistance, and the rise of
global civil society in an era where terror and terrorism (as a strategy
of resistance) is really representative of less than one-percent of
the world's population. The real sources of terror are found in the
projects of the American Empire along with its tragic consequences.
The consequences of empire include higher levels of poverty, disease,
inequality, and war itself. Hence, the pursuit of empire and "Empire's
Law" (p. 111) produces a situation where the potential for "clash"
and violence and terror is really the product and result of imperial
rule---the actions of empire.
In opposition to the practices
of the American Empire and the "clash thesis," I argue that:
(1) Despite attempts to claim the opposite, there exists no inherent
right, on the part of the powerful,. to govern, rule or order the weak;
(2) Regardless of the ideological claims being advanced, there exists
no unified or unifying civilizational consensus on the naturalness of
a corporate-dominated, militaristic imperialism as comprising the common
values, truth’s, visions of human futures that prescribe a universal
course for humanity's social evolution; (3) Notwithstanding attempts
to convince otherwise, there exists no preordained rationale for eternal
truth of inevitability regarding forms of socially constructed orders
that form the institutions of governance, including the form of "law."
In fact, the very existence
of nuclear weapons is a violation of the moral code of all of the major
world religions and a violation of international law since the findings
and final judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the
1990s (See: p. 111, Exodus from Empire). In short, in a world without
the American Empire, the world would be less violent, less prone to
suffer poverty, disease or income disparity. Chapters 1 through 3 make
this point quite clear. The American Empire is dangerous not only for
the world, but dangerous for American democracy itself. If we wish to
see DEMOCRACY RISING, we must see the setting sun on the American Empire
and its projects.
kind of country would the U.S. be if it were not an empire? What would
take the place of the U.S. empire in the world?
TP: If the
U.S. were not an empire what kind of country would it be? I have suggested
in Chapter 5 that a "post-Imperial America" would reject the
policies, practices, and rationales that have characterized the hidden
politics of empire.
A post-Imperial America would
learn to embrace the dynamics of a rising Global Community in which
America no longer engages in the fantasies of global domination that
have characterized the thought and policies of the architects of the
In its place, a post-Imperial
American needs to find a path toward social, political, economic and
spiritual liberation for both its own people and the peoples and governments
of the rest of the world. The path of a post-Imperial America is a revolutionary
proposition and a revolutionary goal. Taking such a path is the only
way to re-democratize America and, at the same time, supply the necessary
means to achieve an interdependent human rights oriented world under
the rule of law (See: pp;228-229, Exodus from Empire). That is when
we shall truly see DEMOCRACY RISING.
is Director of Democracy Rising (www.DemocracyRising.US)
and co-founder of Voters for Peace (www.VotersForPeace.US).
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