We Need to Stop Acting as Means to Politicians' Imperial Ends

The ruling elite's machinations bear no relationship to the general interest of Americans. Think what the American empire would be if we refused to cooperate.


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U.S. politicians across the spectrum—including non-politician politicians like Donald B.S. Trump, Doctor Ben Carson, and Carly H.P. Fiorina—insist they love the American people. Of course they love us: they need us. What would they do—what could they do—without us?

Think what the American empire would be if we refused to cooperate. I use empire in its broadest sense to include domestic as well as foreign domination. The empire needs functionaries and soldiers and workers and entrepreneurs and intellectuals to keep the machinery running smoothly. It needs wealth. We, after all, are the geese that lay the golden eggs, and the politicians—no matter what else they may be—are not stupid. They know better than to alienate or kill (too many of) the geese.

Our rulers also know better than to destroy the systemic incentives for the production of wealth. Admittedly, this has them treading nervously along a tightrope. They need to maximize wealth extraction without discouraging us from producing more than subsistence. As Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister of finance under France's King Louis XIV, understood, "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing." (That apparently makes him an early supply-sider.)

If enough of us got it into our heads that we were mere means to the politicians' (and their "private"-sector cronies') imperial ends, we might rise up, or sit down, and that would be it. We outnumber them, don't we? In the final analysis, don't we hold ourselves in bondage? (See my article "Subjugating Ourselves" on Étienne de La Boétie and his The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude.)

The competition between conservatives and progressives is actually just a contest over who has the upper hand. But we must not let this contest deceive us. Neither side wants to see the system junked and the people liberated from its grasp. Neither would want to defeat the other by toppling the machinery of exploitation. The two sides have a simple difference of opinion over who should ultimately call the shots and who should occupy the junior position. Aside from that, they are happily united in their program of goose-plucking so that they may pursue their larger aims of wealth and power. (We should take care not to overemphasize the former at the expense of the latter. Human beings live not by bread alone.)

You can find confirmation of this thesis in the U.S. government's conduct on the world stage. The partisan debate over foreign policy is between those who support imperialism and those who support imperialism. With rare honorable exceptions, conservatives (not all of them neoconservatives) fault Barack Obama for "leading from behind" and even retreating from global battlefield, as though he were some kind of pacifist. How absurd. This is the guy whose policy of murder-by-drone makes George W. Bush almost look like Robert Taft. This is the guy who bombed Libya into regime change, who backs a military dictatorship in Egypt, who facilitates the Saudis' barbaric war against the Yemenis (aiding al-Qaeda), who supports the Israeli regime to the hilt at the expense of the long-suffering Palestinians, who conducts bombing raids in Iraq and Syria, and who threatens a war of aggression against Iran despite the nuclear deal.

And let's not forget that his neocon-led State Department coup in Ukraine, which consciously provoked the Russians so that the administration could step up its ludicrous but useful demonization of Vladimir Putin, as though he were a threat to Americans. (The Nobel Peace Prize-winner further promotes peace by staging war games at Russia's doorstep with recently inducted NATO members that used to be in the Soviet orbit.)

To take one example, what interest do Americans have in who rules Syria? And even if they had an interest, how could that justify a policy which wittingly or unwittingly assists gangs—the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates—that force feed their brand of religion and behead their prisoners? (The rise of a radical caliphate as a result of U.S. policy was anticipated by the Defense Information Agency.)

What's that you say? Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a nasty guy? But so are the guys trying to overthrow him, and between the two poisonous sides, Syria's Christians, other minority sects, and even many Sunnis prefer Assad. (The Russians seem to understand this—but then they are not obsessed with Syria's ally Iran.)

And speaking of nasty rulers, what about those who run Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel—not to mention a few dozen other American allies?

What's that you say? The Islamic State is Assad's fault? Right. That's the official line of the war party—which includes the neoconservatives, the overlapping Jewish/Israel Lobby, and the "humanitarian interventionists"—but it is sheer nonsense. The Islamic State grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which did not exist before George W. Bush invaded Iraq and overthrew secular nasty guy (and former ally) Saddam Hussein, upsetting the balance (however unpleasantly procured) between Sunni and Shia. (Just as the Obama crew overthrew secular nasty guy and former ally Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, turning that place into a Islamist free-fire zone.)

The Islamists moved into Syria from Iraq after Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that Assad (formerly a loyal ally-in-torture in the "war on terror") had to go (by what authority?), aborting conciliatory efforts to head off the then-emerging civil war. (For documentation of how U.S. policy helped make Syria the hellhole it is, see Jonathan Marshall's reporting here and here.) Suffice it to say here that the war party's narrative—faithfully amplified by the supplicant Fourth Estate—is false and self-serving. And just when you thought U.S. policy in the Levant couldn't get worse, it now risks conflict with Russia, that insignificant nuclear nation.

Syria is just one example. Many more could be described. The point is that the ruling elite's machinations bear no relationship to the general interest of Americans and the rest of the world. If the American people ever wake up to that fact, they will reject the militarist politicians' professions of love—along, one hopes, with the state that empowers them.

This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.