Chalmers Johnson on ending the Empire - the time is now !

15 May 2007.
  • As humans, we exhibit a propensity to compare and order more or less disparate entities into categories and, within each category, to make choices as to the excellence of the elements found therein. We see this in everything from the Nobel prizes awarded annually to persons judged to have, in their respective fields, «during the preceding year, ... conferred the greatest benefit on mankind», to Miss XX contests, and judgements as to the «100 best books of the last 1000 years». That such rankings, despite more or less serious attempts to lend them some sort of universal validity and objectivity, are deeply subjective is obvious upon even the most cursory consideration. But if I were to dare to take upon myself the parlous enterprise of selecting candidates for the «best» political article of 2007 after scarcely more than four and a half months of that year have passed, I should place my bets on Professor Chalmers Johnsons's Ending the Empire, published today on Tom Engelhardt's invaluable TomDispatch. Below, slightly edited, the letter of appreciation that I sent to Tom :
Dear Tom,
Just as I thought you would, you - and Tom Dispatch - have come up with the goods - and in so brilliant and timely a fashion ! But then again, you could hardly have had better help : Professor Johnson seems to be one of the few (several other names, among them those of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, come also to mind) in the United States able to grasp the uncomfortable truth - that the current problem cannot be reduced to one of the persons of Messrs Bush and Cheney, as many would have it, nor can it be adequately addressed by a simple change in the political party in power, even if that must be a part of any solution. The issue, rather, is the much larger one of Republic or Empire, Democracy at home or Tyranny both at home and abroad. As Professor Johnson puts it :
    ... the war itself is the outcome of an imperial presidency and the abject failure of Congress to perform its Constitutional duty of oversight. Had the government been working as the authors of the Constitution intended, the war could not have occurred. Even now, the Democratic majority remains reluctant to use its power of the purse to cut off funding for the war, thereby ending the American occupation of Iraq and starting to curtail the ever-growing power of the military-industrial complex. ...

It is you, the residents of the United States who must make this fearful choice ; we in the rest of the world have little say in the matter, as our ability to resist the military power exercised in your name is limited, and attempts to do so risk setting off the very conflagration we wish to avoid. Or, in Professor Johnson's words :
    The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force.
    For the U.S., the decision to mount such a campaign of imperial liquidation may already come too late, given the vast and deeply entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. To succeed, such an endeavor might virtually require a revolutionary mobilization of the American citizenry, one at least comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
    The American approach to diplomatic relations with the rest of the world would also require a major overhaul. We would have to end our belligerent unilateralism toward other countries as well as our scofflaw behavior regarding international law.
    In terms of the organization of the executive branch, we need to rewrite the National Security Act of 1947, taking away from the CIA all functions that involve sabotage, torture, subversion, overseas election rigging, rendition, and other forms of clandestine activity. The president should be deprived of his power to order these types of operations except with the explicit advice and consent of the Senate. The CIA should basically devote itself to the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence. We should eliminate as much secrecy as possible so that neither the CIA, nor any other comparable organization ever again becomes the president's private army.
    Normally, a proposed list of reforms like this would simply be rejected as utopian. I understand this reaction. I do want to stress, however, that failure to undertake such reforms would mean condemning the United States to the fate that befell the Roman Republic and all other empires since then. That is why I gave my book Nemesis the subtitle "The Last Days of the American Republic."

    When Ronald Reagan coined the phrase "evil empire," he was referring to the Soviet Union, and I basically agreed with him that the USSR needed to be contained and checkmated. But today it is the U.S. that is widely perceived as an evil empire and world forces are gathering to stop us. The Bush administration insists that if we leave Iraq our enemies will "win" or -- even more improbably -- "follow us home." I believe that, if we leave Iraq and our other imperial enclaves, we can regain the moral high ground and disavow the need for a foreign policy based on preventive war. I also believe that unless we follow this path, we will lose our democracy and then it will not matter much what else we lose. In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

To those who ask «What is to be done ?», Professor Johnson has spelled out the alternatives clearly. Will it be done ? I am not optimistic. But thank you once again for publishing Professor Johnson's clear-sighted and moving analysis....


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