[Marxism] Masks of Empire

Sukla Sen suklasenp at yahoo.co.uk
Wed Oct 17 08:06:42 MDT 2007


Rationalising imperial conquest
A review of "Selling US wars"
Praful Bidwai
Frontline, 5 May 2007

The book "Selling US wars" is a devastating critique
of the U.S. Empire-building project and its principal
rationalisations, writes Praful Bidwai.

Five and a half years after the United States launched
its Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) in response to the
attacks of September 11, 2001, by invading
Afghanistan, the world has become considerably more
insecure, and terrorism has become more menacing than
ever before. A study for Mother Jones magazine in the
U.S. by the Centre on Law and Security at the New York
University (NYU) Foundation finds that there has been
a 607 per cent increase in the incidence of terrorism
between September 2001 and March 2003, and March 2003
and September 2006.

One of the biggest failures of GWOT strategy is none
other than Iraq, where over 150,000 U.S. troops are
deployed. A country free of religious extremism and
terrorism until its invasion four years ago, Iraq now
reports the world's largest number of terrorist and
violent incidents, week after week. Over 650,000
civilians have perished in Iraq, besides 3,000-plus
U.S. troops. The occupation forces there have no grip
on the fast-deteriorating situation despite the
"surge" in U.S. troops.

Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq has seen any of the
promised "stabilisation" or "democratisation". In
Afghanistan, there is a strong resurgence of the
Taliban amidst rampant warlordism, and a serious
danger that President Hamid Karzai's regime may come
unhinged altogether. Opium production is booming as
never before and now accounts for well over one half
of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Worse, GWOT has alienated and antagonised large
numbers of people in the Islamic world. The U.S. has
lost all credibility in their eyes, as well as among
growing numbers of people in the West. Discontent in
the Islamic world, in particular West Asia, is growing
along with the expanding cesspools of unaddressed
grievances — further feeding violence,
counter-violence and terrorism.

The U.S. is now increasingly perceived as a power in
search of an Empire, to be built primarily by military
means. It presents a new, ugly, aggressive and
belligerent face in the post-Cold War era. New
apologists have also emerged for the new imperialism
of the post-Cold War era. During the Cold War, U.S.
hegemonism was based on "saving the world from
communism", and presenting a benevolent face to the
"free world". Today's Empire needs different, if
equally irrational, justifications or

Six of these rationalisations or banners and apologies
for Empire are important: (i) the global war on
terror; (ii) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the
`wrong hands'; (iii) failed states; (iv) the necessity
and justice of external and forcible humanitarian
intervention; (v) regime change in the name of
democracy; and (vi) the war on narcotics.

The present book, an initiative of the Transnational
Institute, an Amsterdam-based radical fellowship, and
authored mainly by its Fellows, is a devastating
critique of the U.S. Empire-building project and its
principal rationalisations. Its greatest merit is that
it centrally confronts the reality of post-Cold War
U.S. imperialism and tries to analyse it
comprehensively. It persuasively argues that each of
the slogans and premises through which U.S.
Empire-building is sought to be legitimised is
fundamentally flawed.

The book's authors make their case on a broad canvas,
which includes a discussion on the purposes of Empire
(themselves related to specific regimes of economic
power and to furthering inequality-enhancing
neoliberal capitalism); the manufacture of
intellectual opinion in favour of neoliberal ideas;
and the special role played by American exceptionalism
in legitimising Empire-building through its assertion
that the U.S. is unique as the world's "natural"
leader, in that "it is the one country whose pursuit
of its national interest is, at one and the same time,
the pursuit of a cosmopolitan universal interest".

These essays are followed by six chapter presentations
on the six ideological banners. As important as these
sections are the Introduction and Conclusion, both by
Achin Vanaik, who weaves together the different themes
and illuminates numerous connections between them.

To begin with, Walden Bello analyses the economics of
Empire by postulating a massive crisis of
over-accumulation: overproduction and building up of
excess capacities, whose output the economics of the
industrial North cannot absorb. He argues that recent
attempts by international capital to develop new
communications technologies; to colonise public
spheres such as health, education, power, water supply
and transport; to "financialise" itself; and to tap
China's rapid growth to finance a debt-led consumption
boom in the U.S. will not adequately remedy the causes
of this crisis. Walden Bello presents U.S. post-Cold
War belligerence as a consequence of economic
weakness, not strength.

Susan George presents a critique of the neoliberal
doctrine, rooted in a combination of conservative
interpretation of neoclassical economic theory, and
libertarian and ultra-individualist legal-political
ideas. Susan George convincingly shows that the
dominance of neoliberalism owes little to its
intrinsic merit; nor was it a "natural" outcome of
intellectual debate.

Rather, it followed a systematic and lavishly funded
effort to "sell" the ideology through think tanks,
select university departments, policy institutes and
key individuals in the media. She explores and exposes
the institutional framework through which this $1
billion enterprise was conducted.

Mike Marquesee's chapter is a searing critical
analysis of American exceptionalism and its historical
roots in settler colonialism. This notion sees the
U.S. not just as a territorial entity, but as a "great
social experiment", which must be propagated — if
necessary, through colonial wars and the Monroe
Doctrine. American exceptionalism sees the U.S. as the
ultimate telos and goal of modernity itself.

Marquesee explains how this exceptionalism survives
despite the blows delivered by the U.S.' ignominious
defeat in the Vietnam war and the visible inferiority
of the U.S. model of capitalism in relation to its
Western European variants in respect of, say, public

The six chapter presentations that follow delve into
the rationalising banners, by analysing their
provenance and purpose, and their structural
weaknesses and deceitful nature. They also suggest
some alternative approaches.

Vanaik argues that the one-sided view of terrorism
contained in the dominant discourse in the U.S. (which
excludes state terrorism altogether), and the
militarised solutions offered to it through GWOT, is
an excellent "framing device" for the imperial project
and "possesses the greatest capacity to mobilise
domestic support for the U.S. pursuit of Empire

Vanaik, however, dissects GWOT's failure. He holds
that demonisation of Islam and Muslims is "an
inevitable corollary" of GWOT. Vanaik offers the
International Criminal Court as an alternative
framework within which to prosecute and punish
terrorist acts.

Zia Mian takes apart the WMD argument as an excuse for
waging war on Iraq. Washington deliberately concocted
falsehoods about Saddam Hussein's pursuit of WMD and
manipulated the media. The "in the wrong hands"
proposition is a means of selectively rewarding
friends, allies or client-states, while attacking
enemies and "Axis of Evil" states.

Mian documents the U.S.' spectacular hypocrisy in
developing new uses for and designs of nuclear weapons
and ballistic missile defence systems, while preaching
disarmament to others. He also shows how the mystique
built around the bomb comes back repeatedly to haunt
the U.S. through its spread to other countries. This
is the inevitable consequence of the "Empire of Fear".

The U.S. claims that its wars in Central and West Asia
were rationally calculated to promote regime change in
the interests of "democracy"; or they were
humanitarian interventions, necessitated by the
failure/paralysis of the multilateral system (the
United Nations, in particular). This argument has some
resonance outside the U.S., especially given the
context of the former Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda —
although the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty
Organisaion (NATO) allies failed to act in these very

But as Mariano Aguirre shows, unilateral, offensive,
armed intervention mocks at international law and
weakens multilateral institutions that ought logically
to intervene and honour their obligation to protect
threatened civilians.

Aguirre persuasively argues that the Left "should not
abandon the moral imperative to protect victims, nor
the principles of democracy and international law...
We need to recognise that there are massive violations
of human rights, that there are dysfunctional states
that do not protect their people... Also, that the
U.N. system lacks the administrative capacity and
flexibility to respond and that power politics limit
its capacities, and that, therefore, the international
community has a role to play."

Phyllis Bennis writes a blisteringly critical account
of how the U.S. first contemptuously bypassed the U.N.
Security Council, and then cynically manipulated it to
obtain a carte blanche in Afghanistan and Iraq. She
criticises the U.S.' mollycoddling of regimes with
dubious human rights records (for instance,
Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Russia), its setting up of
puppet regimes in the occupied countries, and its
policies of creating or widening sectarian divides and
of promoting the outright loot of Iraq's wealth
through corporatisation and privatisation.

Bennis presents a scathing analysis of the effects of
U.S. policy in West Asia, including promoting
authoritarian allies, legitimising Israel's brutal
occupation of Palestine, and the negative examples all
this has set for West Asia as a whole.

David Sogge exposes state weaknesses, fragility or
"failure" as a dishonourable pretext for

Most characterisations of failing states totally
ignore the causes of failure, typically rooted in the
structure of the global economy, neoliberal policies
imposed by international financial institutions or
Western governments, and absence of democracy and
accountability. Military interventions rarely offer a
solution, nor does the "shell of elections".

Last but not least is a discussion by David
Bewley-Taylor and Martin Jelsma of the "war on
narcotics" as yet another excuse for Empire. The
U.S.'s supply-side approach to the drugs problem
emphasises physical interdiction, although this has
proved a failure. In practice, as "Plan Colombia"
shows, the "war on narcotics" provides a convenient
excuse for attacking Left-wing insurgents and
maintaining a heavy U.S. military presence in select
Third World countries. The authors argue for an
alternative "harm reduction" and "decriminalisation"
approach to drugs.

Vanaik concludes with a final summing up, which takes
a bird's-eye view of the six legitimising themes and
their weaknesses, and argues for a comprehensive,
critical, Left-wing approach to dissecting Empire.

The book is, then, a broad-horizon yet penetrating
critique of the rationalisations for Empire in the
post-Soviet era. One wishes it had explored some
themes (for instance, the economics of Empire, the
relations between the U.S. and its allies, the
manufacture of domestic consent in different
countries, and alternative international arrangements,
and so on) in greater depth.

Above all, one wishes it had devoted some space to a
discussion of the growing resistance to Empire through
the anti-war and peace movements, themselves linked to
the global justice agenda.

Despite these shortcomings, the book remains one of
the sharpest critical analyses of contemporary
imperialism published recently. It is highly

The book was published in India as Masks of Empire
Tulika Books, March 2007

Praful Bidwai is a Fellow of the Transnational
Institute. He co-authored with Achin Vanaik South Asia
on a Short Fuse: Nuclear Politics and the Future of
Global Disarmament, Oxford University Press, New
Delhi, 1999.


Masks of Empire assembles a series of important
critiques of the new US imperialism by some of the
finest minds working in contemporary political and
social theory.

It aims for the first time anywhere to delineate
analyse and evaluate the legitimizing discourses of
the imperial agenda of the United States. By
uncovering the economic conditions as well as the
ideological facade of the neoliberal US regime, it
exposes the various ways through which the United
States seeks to extend its hegemony.

Further, it suggests how one can morally and
practically address the real problems behind the
smokescreen created by this empire project.

 Table of Contents




The Capitalist Conjecture: Overaccumulation, Financial
and the Retreat from Globalization

Manufacturing 'Common Sense' or Cultural Hegemony for

The Iron Click: American Exceptionalism and US Empire

Political Terrorism and the US Imperial Project

The Empire of Fear

Humanitarian Inervention and US Hegemony: A

'And the Name for Our Profits is Democaracy'

Something Out There: State Weakness as an Imperial

The Internationalization of the War on Drugs:
Illegal Drugas as a Moral Evil and a Useful Enemy




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