The US has long sought to deny its hegemonic character while emphasizing its democratic character. It now seems all such pretense has been abandoned.
“False face must hide what the false heart doth know,” Shakespeare writes, in words that for time immemorial should have sat pride of place under the Great Seal of the United States on front of the podium whenever any president, cabinet member, congressman, or indeed any US official proclaimed their country a champion of democracy.
Now, with the US Department of Defense amending the mission statement of the US military from a ‘deter war’ stance to a ‘sustain American influence abroad’ stance all pretense, as mentioned, is over, allowing the country’s political and military elite to bask in the warm glow of hegemony unmasked.
According to Task & Purpose – a news site tailored to US veterans – this semantic shift in mission statement ‘seems a significant change for the department [Department of Defense] under President Donald Trump.’ But though perhaps for some it may constitute a ‘significant change’, students of US history will no doubt counter this particular assertion with the point that though it may constitute a change in form, it is anything but when it comes to content.
How could it otherwise when imperialism and hegemony are the very fulcrum of US foreign policy, and always have been? Both, in fact, lie at the very foundations of the country’s existence, reinforcing a muscular identity rooted in nationalism, exceptionalism and supremacy – a toxic brew responsible for some of the most heinous crimes in human history.
From the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, resulting in the US seizing half of Mexico at that time – an episode lambasted by former slave and famed US abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, as a “disgraceful, cruel, and iniquitous war with our sister republic” – all the way up to the war for regime change in Libya in 2011, under the rubric of NATO, the US has been the single greatest threat to peace, stability, and justice around the world.
That champions of US expansionism wave the banner of democracy, human rights, and liberty to justify its objectives only adds an extra layer of mendacity to the character of what has proved an insatiable beast of conquest and domination.
Writing in the introduction to his classic work – ‘Rogue State’ (Zed Books, 2014) – author William Blum identifies the influence of the national propaganda which accompanies US hegemony: “No American has any difficulty believing in the existence and driving passion for expansion, power, glory, and wealth of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or the British Empire. It’s right there in their schoolbooks. But to the American mind…‘The American Empire’ is an oxymoron.”
And lest anyone lapse into the mistake of believing that US foreign policy differs according to the occupant of the White House; this is a fatuous misreading of reality on the same level of absurdity as the claim that the character of a crocodile differs according to the colour of its eyes.
Perhaps the most unabashed and unapologetic encomium to US expansionism of recent times was that proclaimed by prominent US newspaper columnist Thomas Friedman in the pages of the New York Times in 1999. At a time when the US was wallowing in post-Soviet triumphalism, Friedman encouraged the notion that America truly was the world’s one indispensable nation.
Friedman writes: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist – McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”
When it comes right down to it, it really isn’t rocket science. After all, those 800 US military bases in over 70 countries across the world are not there for ornamentation, and certainly not to help make the world safe for democracy. Instead, per Friedman, those bases exist to make the world safe for Western global corporations to plunder and exploit the world’s human and natural resources untroubled by the inconvenience of national sovereignty and self-determination.
Similarly, the gargantuan US military budget, which earlier this year was increased by Washington to over $700 billion for year 2019, is more dedicated to offense, rather than defense. The US military could be viewed less as a shield, and more a sword against states which dare assert their right to independence and which dare to resist or defy US domination.
That the ethos of ‘might is right’ is incompatible with a world organised on the principles set out in the UN Charter is self-evident. That the ethos of ‘might is right’ underpins and drives US foreign policy is also self-evident. Thus we have the abiding contradiction of our time.
In the last analysis, constraining the powerful has always been the most pressing and important challenge confronting humanity. For regardless whether it has come dressed in the clothes of ancient Greek civilisation, the Roman Republic, Western enlightenment, European totalitarianism or Western liberal democracy, the unfettered power of empire has exacted a price of such monumental devastation and suffering it can only ever be the enemy of progress. In 2018 this enemy is Washington.