Intervention: Whose Gain? Whose Pain?,
Strong Empire, Weak Republic,
A Dreadful Success

excerpted from the book

Against Empire

The Brutal Realities of U.S. Global Domination

by Michael Parenti

City Lights Books, 1995, paper

Intervention: Whose Gain? Whose Pain?

Today, the United States is the foremost proponent of recolonization and leading antagonist of revolutionary change throughout the world. Emerging from World War II relatively unscathed and superior to all other industrial countries in wealth, productive capacity, and armed might, the United States became the prime purveyor and guardian of global capitalism. Judging by the size of its financial investments and military force, judging by every imperialist standard except direct colonization, the U.S. empire is the most formidable in history, far greater than Great Britain in the nineteenth century or Rome during antiquity.

A Global Military Empire

The exercise of US. power is intended to preserve not only the international capitalist system but U.S. hegemony of that system. The Pentagon's "Defense Planning Guidance" draft (1992) urges the United States to continue to dominate the international system by "discouraging the advanced industrialized nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger global or regional role." By maintaining this dominance, the Pentagon analysts assert, the United States can ensure "a market-oriented zone of peace and prosperity that encompasses more than two-thirds of the world's economy"


Since World War II, the U.S. government has given over $200 billion in military aid to train, equip, and subsidize more than 2.3 million troops and internal security forces in some eighty countries, the purpose being not to defend them from outside invasions but to protect ruling oligarchs and multinational corporate investors from the dangers of domestic anticapitalist insurgency. Among the recipients have been some of the most notorious military autocracies in history, countries that have tortured, killed, or otherwise maltreated large numbers of their citizens because of their dissenting political views, as in Turkey, Zaire, Chad, Pakistan, Morocco, Indonesia, Honduras, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Cuba (under Batista), Nicaragua (under Somoza), Iran (under the Shah), the Philippines (under Marcos), and Portugal (under Salazar).

U.S. leaders profess a dedication to democracy. Yet over the past five decades, democratically elected reformist governments in Guatemala, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Syria, Indonesia (under Sukarno), Greece, Argentina, Bolivia, Haiti, and numerous other nations were overthrown by procapitalist militaries that were funded and aided by the U.S. national security state.

The U.S. national security state has participated in covert actions or proxy mercenary wars against revolutionary governments in Cuba, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Portugal, Nicaragua, Cambodia, East Timor, Western Sahara, and elsewhere, usually with dreadful devastation and loss of life for the indigenous populations. Hostile actions also have been directed against reformist governments in Egypt, Lebanon, Peru, Iran, Syria, Zaire, Jamaica, South Yemen, the Fiji Islands, and elsewhere.

Since World War II, U.S. forces have directly invaded or launched aerial attacks against Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, North Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Iraq, (_and Somalia, sowing varying degrees of death and destruction.

An important goal of U.S. policy is to make the world safe for the Fortune 500 and its global system of capital accumulation. Governments that strive for any kind of economic independence or any sort of populist redistributive politics, that attempt to take some of their economic surplus and apply it to not-for-profit services that benefit the people-such governments are the ones most likely to feel the wrath of U.S. intervention or invasion.

The designated "enemy" can be a reformist, populist, military government as in Panama under Torrijo (and even under Noriega), Egypt under Nasser, Peru under Velasco, and Portugal after Salazar; a Christian socialist government as in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas; a social democracy as in Chile under Allende, Jamaica under Manley, Greece under Papandreou, and the Dominican Republic under Bosch; a Marxist-Leninist government as in Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea; an Islamic revolutionary order as in Libya under Qaddafi; or even a conservative militarist regime as in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, if it should get out of line on oil prices f and oil quotas.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, large U.S. investments in Central America and the Caribbean brought frequent military intercession, protracted war, prolonged occupation, or even direct territorial acquisition, as with Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Panama Canal Zone. The investments were often in the natural resources of the country: sugar, tobacco, cotton, and precious metals. In large part, the interventions in the Gulf in 1991 ... were respectively to protect profits and oil prospects.

There is the overall commitment to safeguarding the global class system, keeping the world's land, labor, natural resources, and markets accessible to transnational investors. More important than particular holdings is the whole process of investment and profit. To defend that process the imperialist state thwarts and crushes those popular movements that attempt any kind of redistributive politics, sending a message to them and others that if they try to better themselves by infringing upon the prerogatives of corporate capital, they will pay a severe price.

Reagan's invasion of Grenada served notice to all other Caribbean countries that this was the fate that awaited any nation that sought to get out from under its client-state status. So the invaders put an end to the New Jewel Movement's revolutionary programs for land reform, health care, education, and cooperatives. Today, with its unemployment at new heights and its poverty at new depths, Grenada is once again firmly bound to the free market world. Everyone else in the region indeed has taken note.

Washington's embargo against Cuba is shutting out U.S. business from billions of dollars of attractive investment and trade opportunities. From this it is mistakenly concluded that U.S. policy is not propelled by economic interests. In fact, it demonstrates just the opposite, an unwillingness to tolerate those states that try to free themselves from the global capitalist system.

U.S. leaders must convince the American people that the immense costs of empire are necessary for their security and survival. For years we were told that the great danger we faced was "the World Communist Menace with its headquarters in Moscow." The public accepted a crushing tax burden to win the superpower arms race and "contain Soviet aggression wherever it might arise." Since the demise of the USSR, our political leaders have been warning us that the world is full of other dangerous adversaries, who apparently had been previously overlooked.

When Washington says "our" interests must be protected abroad, we might question whether all of us are represented by the goals pursued. Far-off countries, previously unknown to most Americans, suddenly become vital to "our" interests. To protect "our" oil in the Middle East and "our" resources and "our" markets elsewhere, our sons and daughters have to participate in overseas military ventures, and our taxes are needed to finance these ventures.

The next time "our" oil in the Middle East is in jeopardy, we might remember that relatively few of us own oil stock. Yet even portfolio-deprived Americans are presumed to have a common interest with Exxon and Mobil because they live in an economy dependent on oil. It is assumed that if the people of other lands wrested control of their oil away from the big U.S. companies, they would refuse to sell it to us. Supposedly they would prefer to drive us into the arms of competing producers and themselves into ruination, denying themselves the billions of dollars they might earn on the North American market.

In fact, nations that acquire control of their own resources do not act so strangely. Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Libya, and others would be happy to have access to markets in this country, selling at prices equal to or lower than those offered by the giant multinationals. So when Third World peoples, through nationalization, revolution, or both, reclaim the oil in their own land, or the copper, tin, sugar, or other resources, it does not hurt the interests of the U.S. working populace. But it certainly hurts the multinational conglomerates that once profited so handsomely from these enterprises.

The governments of imperial nations may spend more than they take in, but the people who reap the benefits are not the same ones who foot the bill. As Thorstein Velbin pointed out in The Theory of the Business Enterprise (1904), the gains of empire flow into the hands of the privileged business class while the costs are extracted from "the industry of the rest of the people." The transnationals monopolize the private returns of empire while carrying little, if any, of the public cost. The expenditures needed in the way of armaments and aid to make the world safe for General Motors, General Dynamics, General Electric, and all the other generals are paid by the U.S. government, that is, by the taxpayers.

... the cost of a particular U.S. intervention must be measured not against the value of U.S. investments in the country involved but against the value of the world investment system. It has been noted that the cost of apprehending a bank robber may occasionally exceed the sum that is stolen. But if robbers were allowed to go their way, this would encourage others to follow suit and would put the entire banking system in jeopardy.

At stake in these various wars of suppression, then, is not just the investments in any one country but the security of the whole international system of finance capital. No country is allowed to pursue an independent course of self-development. None is permitted to go unpunished and undeterred. None should serve as an inspiration or source of material support to other nations that might want to pursue a politico-economic path other than the maldevelopment offered by global capitalism.

Once war comes, especially with the promise of a quick and easy victory, some individuals suspend all critical judgment and respond on cue like mindless superpatriots.

The CIA alone owns outright over 1 200 newspapers, magazines, wire services, and publishing houses in countries throughout the world.

U.S. government-funded agencies like the National Endowment for Democracy and the Agency for International Development, along with the Ford Foundation and other such organizations, help maintain Third World universities, providing money for academic programs, social science institutes, research, student scholarships, and textbooks supportive of a free market ideological perspective. Right-wing Christian missionary agencies preach political quiescence and anticommunism to native populations. The AFL-CIO's American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), with ample State Department funding, has actively infiltrated Third World labor organizations or built compliant unions that are more anticommunist than proworker. AIFLD graduates have been linked to coups and counterinsurgency work in various countries. Similar AFL-CIO undertakings operate in Africa and Asia.


Strong Empire, Weak Republic

Multinationals do not have to pay U.S. taxes on profits made in other countries until these profits are repatriated to the USA-if ever they are. Taxes paid to a host country are treated as tax credits rather than mere deductions here at home. In other words, $1 million paid to a foreign country in taxes or even oil royalties is not treated as a deduction of taxable income by the IRS (which might save the company $100,000 or so in stateside taxes), but is written off from the final taxes the company has to pay, saving it an entire $1 million in payments.

In addition, multinationals can juggle the books between their various foreign subsidiaries, showing low profits in a high-tax country and high profits in a low-tax country, thereby avoiding at least $20 billion a year in US. taxes.

The billions that corporations escape paying because of their overseas shelters must be made up by the rest of us. Additional billions of our tax dollars go into aid programs to governments that maintain the cheap labor markets that lure away American jobs. U.S. foreign aid seldom trickles down to the poor people of the recipient countries. In fact, much of it is military aid that is likely to be used to suppress dissent among the poor.

We have heard much about the "refugees from communism"; we might think a moment about the refugees from capitalism. Driven off their lands, large numbers of impoverished Latinos and other Third Worlders have been compelled to flee into economic exile, coming to the United States, many of them illegally, to compete with U.S. workers for entry-level jobs. Because of their illegal status and vulnerability to deportation, undocumented workers are least likely to unionize and least able to fight for improvements in work conditions.


For years the herbicides, pesticides, and hazardous pharmaceuticals that were banned in this country have been sold by their producers to Third World nations where regulations are weaker or nonexistent. (In 1981, President Reagan repealed an executive order signed by President Carter that would have forced exporters of such products to notify the recipient nation that the commodity was banned in the USA.)

For decades, over one hundred nuclear weapons plants have been pouring radioactive waste into the air, soil, groundwater, and rivers. The military is the single biggest consumer of fuel in this country and the greatest polluter, contaminating the environment with hundreds of thousands of tons of heavy metals, solvents, lubricants, PCBs, plutonium, iridium, fuel runoffs. and other toxic wastes.

The military creates over 90 percent of our radioactive waste and stockpiles thousands of tons of lethal biochemical agents. There are some 21,000 contaminated sites on military bases and at nuclear weapons plants.

The empire increasingly impoverishes the republic. Operational costs of global militarism may become so onerous as to undermine the society that sustains them, such as has been the case with empires in the past. Americans pay dearly for "our" global military apparatus. The spending binge that the Pentagon has been on for decades, especially the last fourteen years or so, has created record deficits and a runaway national debt, making the United States the largest debtor nation in the world. The government is required to borrow more and more to pay the growing interest on a debt that is owed to rich creditors at home and abroad.

Between 1948 and 1994, the federal government spent almost $11 trillion on its military-more than the cumulative monetary value of all human-made wealth in the United States. The current Pentagon budget plus the military projects of the Energy Department and NASA, foreign military aid, veterans' benefits, and interest paid on past military debt comes to almost $500 billion a year. The annual Pentagon budget is more than the gross national product of almost every country in the world.

Most of our domestic financial woes can be ascribed to military spending. The enormous scale of that spending is sometimes hard to grasp. The cost of building one aircraft carrier could feed several million of the poorest, hungriest children in America for ten years. Greater sums have been budgeted for the development of the Navy's submarine rescue vehicle than for occupational safety, public libraries, and daycare centers combined. The cost of military aircraft components and ammunition kept in storage by the Pentagon is greater than the combined federal spending on pollution control, conservation, community development, housing, occupational safety, and mass transportation. The total expenses of the legislative and judicial branches and all the regulatory commissions combined constitute less than 1 percent of the Pentagon's yearly budget.

industries, and other areas of concentrated military investment. r Because of the disproportionate amount spent on the military, Americans must endure the neglect of environmental needs, the financial insolvency and decay of our cities, the deterioration of our transportation, education, and health care systems, and the devastating effects of underemployment upon millions of households and hundreds of communities. In addition, there are the frightful social and psychological costs, the discouragement and decline of public morale, the anger and suffering of the poor and the not-so-poor, the militarization and violence of popular culture, and the application of increasingly authoritarian solutions to our social ills. Poverty can be found in the rich industrial nations as well as in the Third World. In the richest of them all, the United States, the number of people below the poverty level grew in the last dozen years from twenty-four million to almost thirty-five million, according to the government's own figures, which many consider to be underestimations, thus making the poor the fastest growing social group in the USA, rivaled only by the dramatic growth of millionaires and billionaires.

In recent years, tuberculosis-a disease of poverty-has made a big comeback. The House Select Committee on Hunger found that kwashiorkor and marasmus diseases, caused by severe protein and calorie deficiencies and usually seen only in Third World countries, could now be found in the United States, along with a rise in infant mortality in poor areas.

Those regions within the United States that serve as surplus labor reserves or "internal colonies," such as Appalachia, poor Latino and African American communities, Inuit Alaska, and Native-American Indian communities, manifest the symptoms of Third World colonization, including chronic underemployment, hunger, inadequate income, low levels of education, inferior or nonexistent human services, absentee ownership, and extraction of profits from the indigenous community. In addition, the loss of skilled, good-paying manufacturing jobs, traditionally held by white males, has taken a toll of working-class white communities as well.

So when we talk of "rich nations" and "poor nations" we must not forget that there are millions of poor in the rich nations and thousands of rich in the poor ones.

... propagandists dismiss criticisms of U.S. imperialism as manifestations of a "Hate America" or "Blame America" syndrome. But when we voice our disapproval of militarism, violent interventions, and other particular policies, we are not attacking our nation and its people; rather we are maintaining that we deserve something better than the policies that currently violate the interests of people at home and abroad.


A Dreadful Success

U.S. foreign policy has been remarkably successful in undermining popular revolutions and buttressing conservative capitalist regimes in every region of the world.

Many Americans recognize that politicians lie ... they loudly proclaim a dedication to the people while quietly serving powerful interests.

One repeatedly hears that U.S. leaders oppose communist countries because they lack political democracy. But ... successive administrations in Washington have supported some of the most repressive regimes in the world, ones that regularly have indulged in mass arrests, assassination, torture, and intimidation. In addition, Washington has supported some of the worst right-wing counterrevolutionary rebel cutthroats: Savimbi's UNITA in Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique, the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and in the 1980s even the Pol Pot lunatics who waged war against socialist Cambodia.

Consider the case of Cuba. We are asked to believe that decades of U.S. hostility toward Cuba-including embargo, sabotage, and invasion-have been motivated by a distaste for the autocratic nature of the Castro government and a concern for the freedoms of the Cuban people. Whence this sudden urge to "restore" Cuban liberty? In the decades before the Cuban Revolution of 1959, successive U.S. administrations backed a brutally repressive autocracy headed by General Fulgencio Batista. The significant but unspoken difference was that Batista was a comprador leader who left Cuba wide open to U.S. capital penetration. In contrast, Fidel Castro did away with private corporate control of the economy, nationalized U.S. holdings, and renovated the class structure in a more collectivized and egalitarian mode. That is what made him so insufferable.

... capitalism is much more comfortable with fascism than with social democracy.

... the question of foreign aid. It is misleading to say that the United States, as a nation, gives aid to this or that country. A nation as such does not give aid to another nation as such. More precisely, the common citizens of our country, through their taxes, give to the privileged elites of another country. As someone once said: foreign aid is when the poor people of a rich country give money to the rich people of a poor country. The transference is across class lines as well as national lines, representing an upward redistribution of income.

... the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Conference, and the Trilateral Commission, all corporate-dominated, elite policymaking bodies ...

... military spending happens to be one of the greatest sources of domestic capita accumulation. represents a form of public expenditure that business likes. When the government spends funds on the not-for-profit sector of the economy such as the postal service, publicly-owned railroads, or affordable homes and public hospitals-it demonstrates how the public can create goods, services, and jobs and expand the tax base, without need of private investor gain. Such spending competes with the private market.

In contrast, missiles and aircraft carriers constitute a form of public expenditure that does not compete with the civilian market. A defense contract is like any other business contract, only better. The taxpayers' money covers all production risks. Unlike a refrigerator manufacturer who has to worry about selling his refrigerators, a weapons manufacturer has a product that already has been contracted, complete with guaranteed cost overruns. In addition, the government picks up most of the research and development costs.

Defense spending opens up an area of demand that is potentially limitless. How much military security or supremacy is enough? There are always new weapons that can be developed. The entire arms industry has a built-in obsolescence. Not long after a multibillion-dollar weapons system is produced, technological advances make it obsolete and in need of updating or replacement.

Furthermore, most military contracts are awarded without competitive bidding, so arms manufacturers pretty much get the price they ask for. Hence, the temptation is to develop weapons and supplies that are ever more elaborate and costly-and therefore ever more profitable. Such products are not necessarily the most efficient or sensible. Many perform poorly. But poor performance has its own rewards in the form of additional allocations to get weapons to work the way they should.

In sum, defense contractors enjoy a rate of return substantially higher than what is usually available on the civilian market. No wonder corporate leaders are in no hurry to cut military spending. What they have is a limitless, low-risk, high-profit, multibillion-dollar cornucopia. Arms spending bolsters the entire capitalist system, even as it impoverishes the not-for-profit public sector. These, then, are the two basic reasons why the United States assiduously remains an armed superpower even though lacking the pretext of an opposing superpower: First, a massive military establishment is needed to keep the world safe for global capital accumulation. Second, a massive ) military itself is a direct source of immense capital accumulation .

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