Empires, Old and New
Empires, Old and New
Michael Parenti received a PhD in Political Science at Yale University. He is one of the nation's leading progressive thinkers, an uncompromising advocate for political, economic, and social justice. He has written seventeen books, including: Democracy for the Few, Dirty Truths, Against Empire, and The Terrorism Trap. His latest book is titled, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: The People's History of Ancient Rome. His website is www.michaelparenti.org.
David Ross (D.R.): What are the similarities and differences between the Roman Empire and the U.S. Empire?
Michael Parenti: Both empires are directed by a ruling class that wants it all, a ruling class that gives less and less to the people, making them pay all the taxes, while those at the top pocket all the wealth; a ruling class that prefers maximizing its wealth rather than protecting or serving the needs of the common people. We see that in the United States today, where there is a basic antagonism between democracy and multinational corporate, finance capital. The plutocracy treats everything we have-the land, labor, natural resources, markets, and technology for one primary purpose-the maximization of profit, as opposed to the democratic idea that all those things are for the use and welfare of the people and for maintaining a sustainable environment.
D.R: What is the scope of the U.S. Empire?
Michael Parenti: Militarily, it is the most powerful empire that has ever existed on the face of the earth in its striking power and destructive force. It has an unanswerable military superiority over every other country. Every year, we now hand over $400 billion dollars of our tax money, including money we don't even have to the military-industrial complex. George Bush has gone back to deficit spending, which means, in effect, borrowing money on the future-on future taxes, and future services. It's an empire that has over 300 major military bases all over the world. It has giant fleets making port in about 30 or 40 different countries. In recent years, it has attacked and invaded Grenada, Panama, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq twice, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. It's got troops now stationed in Kyrgyzstan, Turkistan, Uzbekistan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, South Korea, Japan, Iraq, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. Currently, it's got troops fighting in Colombia, the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan, and various other places. Its purpose is to make the world safe for the giant multinational companies. And it targets any country that tries to use its land, labor, and resources for its own self-development. The imperial goal is to transform the entire world into a free-market New World Order.
That's not my analysis; they have been saying it themselves for years. They say: We now have an unprecedented opportunity to transform the entire world, to rule the entire planet, to make the United States the only superpower, to prevent any other superpower or regional power from arising, and to make sure that subordinate countries will be compliant states.
We ordinary Americans don't gain from it. We pay the costs of empire, but we don't get the benefit. The profits go to a few, while the costs are sustained by the general populace, and that's been true of every empire, by the way.
D.R: Last time we talked, the Bush administration had just invaded Afghanistan, and you talked about a "very repetitive, rather obvious, and predictable formula" Now the Bush administration has attacked Iraq and it appears like another "very repetitive, rather obvious, and predictable formula."
Michael Parenti: That's right. After attacking Iraq, Michael Ledeen and Paul Wolfowitz immediately made similar noises about Iran and Syria, declaring that Iran may have weapons of mass destruction and harbors terrorists, and the same with Syria. Now they are saying this about North Korea. But the North Koreans have responded: Hey, we were cooperating with you. We were going to proceed with nuclear disarmament, but now we see what happens. You use the United Nations to disarm a targeted country. The country cooperates with the U.N., hoping to avoid being attacked by you. But then you ignore the U.N. resolutions and unilaterally attack the country anyway. And we notice that the countries you attack are countries that are the most helpless, the ones that cannot retaliate. We notice that for 30 years you never attacked the Soviet Union, and the reason you didn't was because they had nuclear weapons and could retaliate. So we're going to have to do the same-develop a nuclear deterrence.
People all over the world opposed the attack on Iraq with record-breaking, unprecedented, demonstrations. They were demonstrating, partly out of sympathy for the people of Iraq, but also because they were opposed to the idea that one country, one leader-the president of the United States-can appoint himself world monarch and rule over the entire planet, with the power to decide who shall live and who shall die. And if he can attack any country, unilaterally, without any regard for international law, then no one is safe.
International law states that you cannot attack another country unless that country is committing acts of aggression against you or a very close ally, or endangering you in some way. But there was no evidence of such endangerment or imminent threat. Iraq was a battered country. It had already been pulverized and destroyed by the 1991 Gulf War and the dozen years of sanctions. It was vastly weaker in 2003 than it was in 1991. But George W. Bush found it necessary to attack. And the first thing the American forces secured and protected were the oil well heads, while bombing just about everything else.
D.R: The right contends that if the U.S. government doesn't rule the world, a more totalitarian government will-a social Darwinistic ideology of sorts between nation states. How would you respond to this?
Michael Parenti: What gives George Bush-a draft dodger, who went into the Air Force National Guard, but didn't even show up for two years (and is still legally AWOL), who had a drug and drinking problem most of his life, and is now a born-again Christian-what gives this character the right to decide to bomb and kill people in other countries? And what gives him the right to lie to the American people and not tell them that, in fact, it was the United States that put Saddam Hussein in power. It was the United States who backed him when he killed every democrat, progressive, and communist who was trying to make reforms in Iraq after the Iraqi revolution of 1958. Saddam Hussein's party came into power in the late 1960's, and started killing these people. He even exterminated the left wing of his own Ba'ath Party. But he was Washington's poster boy in those days. The United States gave him the chemical weapons that he used against Iran. The United States also gave weapons to Iran, which they used against Iraq. But we are not told this in our "free and independent press."
It was only when Saddam Hussein and his cohorts took control of Iraq's oil, and when they started using their oil resources, not to fatten the capital accumulation of global free market multinational corporations, but for the development of their own country-only then was he marked as an enemy of America. The Iraqis sold the oil on the world market. They sold it to us at as reasonable a price as Exxon would sell it to us. We could get oil from them. We would get enough gasoline for our cars. The Bush administration is not fighting to protect the American consumer like they sometimes say. Oil-rich countries are happy to sell their oil to us, and they sell it at a more reasonable price, usually, than the big corporations do.
But what the U.S. leadership wants is not only to be able to buy that oil, but to own it; that is much more profitable. They want to be the people that are selling the oil, who own it as it's coming out of the ground. You see, you don't have to pay the earth for that oil. So if you own it, it's yours. It's your wealth, and then you get to sell it for beaucoup bucks. This is why they hated Iraq. It was becoming a self-developing, self-defining country. Even though Saddam Hussein killed most of the people on the left, he kept some of their programs. He trained cadres of engineers and built health clinics and schools in Iraq. And just about the entire economy was government run. He turned out to be not a puppet ruler in the way that Pinochet was in Chile, or Fujimora in Peru, or Batista in Cuba before Fidel Castro came in, or Marcos in the Philippines, or Suharto in Indonesia.
Such comprador rulers say: "Come on in boys. It's all yours. Anything you want. Bring in your corporations. There'll be no taxes on you. There are no minimum wage laws. There are no child labor laws. There's no environmental or occupational safety laws, no pension funds. Your profits will be terrific. And you can take our people, pay them whatever few pennies you want, and work them as hard as you want, just as long as you give me mine. It's all yours on terms that you want." That's the pure comprador leader, the puppet leader who throws his country wide open to the Western global investors and speculators, who throws opens the markets, land, natural resources, and labor.
Saddam Hussein didn't do that, and that is why he was demonized. It is a set formula: You demonize the leader. You start talking about how bad he is, how he hates us, how he's a threat to our security, to the security of his neighbors and to the peace, and what a tyrant he is. They said that Saddam was worse than Hitler. They said that about Noriega in Panama; he's an admirer of Hitler. They said that about Kaddafi of Libya, and President Aristide in Haiti. The minute any leader stands up to U.S. government, he is subjected to ad hominem attacks.
D.R: Are corporations forced to further exploit labor and the environment so they don't lose profits, and therefore, investors?
Michael Parenti: Every corporation has to maximize profits. Occupational safety does not maximize profits; you're spending money in the workplace to safeguard workers, and that cuts into your profit. And when you hoist your dis-economies onto the environment you save money and you increase your profits. That's why we need regulation, and need to force all corporations to abide by occupational and environmental standards. The environment cannot defend itself. It is reaching the point of no return with the ecology of the entire globe at risk. This is all the more reason why you need government to impose regulations in accordance with the democratic will.
D.R: Many anarchists believe that because of hierarchy, any state governing system will inherently be exploitive. How would you respond to this proposition?
Michael Parenti: Essentially, the anarchist position is that the state, itself, is the enemy. That's not my position. A state can be used for good things. In fact, given the realities of private economy and the power of private capital, a democratic state is about the only hope we have of reining in these kinds of moneyed powers. In Venezuela, for instance, the problem is not the power of the state; it's the power of the giant cartels, private capital, and the affluent class that doesn't want to see the slightest concession given to the poor. So that's where the struggle is: It's called class struggle, and the state is part of the arena in which class struggle takes place.
I feel our biggest enemies are the people who actually own most of the world and who are oppressing, killing, conquering, destroying, impoverishing and expropriating the peoples of the world. Our enemies are in the White House, the people who are expropriating the world's resources and the land, who are determining the quality of the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. They are setting up more and more police states, paramilitary forces, military forces, and police forces in countries all around the world. That's the enemy: those in the White House who are literally killing people, either by direct military force or by economic systems that exploit, impoverish, and sicken people, destroying the conditions that make life livable for them.
Our hope is that people are waking up to this global threat. In Iraq, a people's resistance has developed that has become politically costly for the empire-builders. Maybe we can start turning things around by organizing, educating, agitating, and resisting-it's called democracy.
David Ross is a grass-roots activist that hosts a talk show on KMUD radio in Redway, CA.