“Lives at Risk Around the World”
Reflections on the Empire’s Latest WikiLeaks Episode
Lives and American Security at Risk?
Two days ago the warmongering U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman voiced broad elite American opinion when he called for Internet companies to refuse to provide hosting for the WikiLeaks Web Site. “No responsible company – whether American or foreign – should assist WikiLeaks in its effort to disseminate their stolen materials,” said Lieberman. Amazon.com has already complied (belatedly in Lieberman’s view) with Big Brother’s (Homeland Security’s) request that it put First Amendment concerns aside by denying hosting services to WikiLeaks. According to the senator, WikiLeaks’ “illegal and outrageous, and reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world.”1
Interesting word choices. WikiLeaks puts up sources that have been given to it by whistleblowers within the U.S. government – by courageous federal employees who privilege loyalty to truth and justice over loyalty to Empire. WiKiLeaks’ materials are not stolen.
“National security” at risk? I’m not sure how much threat to American “security” is posed by the latest Wiki revelations confirming that U.S. diplomatic agencies spy on United Nations staffers (and anyone else they can snoop on), that Saudi Arabia is concerned about the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear bomb, that Israel has been agitating for military action again Iran, that the U.S. has a dim view of Vladimir V. Putin (New York Time, December 2, 2010, A1), that the U.S. bribes other countries to take Guantanamo prisoners off its hands, that the State Department knew from the start that the June 2009 right wing coup in Honduras was completely illegal (even as it and Obama claimed otherwise and later recognized the criminal Honduran regime)2 etc. Those who care already knew this and much more revealed in the latest WikiLeaks release.
“Lives as risk?” Most of the world has long believed that the greatest threat to life and liberty on the planet is the bomb- and carbon-spewing U.S. Empire, which accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending and maintains more than a 1000 military bases spread across more than 130 countries. With good reason! From the end of World War II (formally concluded by Uncle Sam’s thoroughly unnecessary and arch-criminal atom-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) through the present, the U.S. Empire has caused “the extinction and suffering of countless human beings. The United States,” John Pilger notes, “attempted to overthrow fifty governments, many of them democracies, and to crush thirty popular movements fighting tyrannical regimes. In the process, twenty-five countries were bombed, causing the loss of several million lives and the despair of millions more.”3 The leading imperial crimes include a massive U.S. assault on the peasant nation of Vietnam – an epic attack that killed 3 million Indochinese – and a continuing illegal invasion of oil-rich Mesopotamia. The latter attack has led to the premature death of 1.2 million Iraqis – this on top of hundreds of thousands killed in the first Persian Gulf “war” (one-sided imperial attack, widely described by participants as a “turkey shoot”) and more than a million killed (including more than 500,000 Iraqi children whose lives were sociopathically described as “a price worthy paying” by U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright) by U.S.-led “economic sanctions.” The U.S.-caused death count is of course still climbing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama has expanded criminal imperial violence. (The bomber of Bola Boluk accepted the prize with a speech on the necessity of war days after giving a George W. Bush-like address on behalf of escalated killing in South Asia.)
Along the way, the global state-capitalist profits system that U.S. foreign and military policy defends and advances continues its lethal top-own class war on life spans, sanity, democracy, community, and sustainability – creating a world in which more than 2.5 billion humans seek to survive on less than a dollar a day and in which ecological catastrophe deepens at an ever-escalating pace.
Since much of the world (especially outside the West) knows very well about it, this grisly record puts American lives at risk as well. Some of America’s victims are incapable of pacifist acceptance and shoot back, rarely but sometimes (as in the case of 9/11 and Fort Hood) on U.S. soil.
The Pitiful Beast Exposed
What’s really going on beneath the official nonsense on why WikiLeaks is such a dire menace? Left commentators Justin Podur and Jonathan Cook make an excellent point on the real reason Lieberman and others in the U.S. power elite are determinend to squash WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. As Cook writes:
“The new disclosures… provide a useful insight, captured in the very ordinariness of the diplomatic correspondence, into Washington’s own sense of the limits on its global power…Underlying the gossip and analysis sent back to Washington is an awareness from many US officials stationed abroad of quite how ineffective -- and often counter-productive -- much US foreign policy is….While the most powerful nation on earth is again shown to be more than capable of throwing its weight around in bullying fashion, a cynical resignation nonetheless shines through many of the cables, an implicit recognition that even the top dog has to recognize its limits.”4
The Diplomatic Cables released portray Uncle Sam as largely powerless in response to numerous situations and crises: Pakistan’s internal politics, Tel Aviv’s ambition to attack Iran, political and guerilla resistance across the Middle East and southwest Asia, the global financial meltdown, the ongoing drift of economic power away from the U.S, the global unpopularity of its vicious terror war, the developing climate-catastrophe, etc. The Cable leaks seem to portray an American Empire stretched beyond its economic and military limits, foiled yet again (ala Gabriel Kolko’s longstanding analysis of the limits of U.S. power) in its always fantastic and grandiose endeavor to rule the planet from the Potomac. This is not the sort of image of itslf – a pitiful horrid beast struggling to keep a handle on a world that keeps slipping out of its control – that the world’s leading Mafia Don wants to see disseminated. It only encourages further resistance to, and drift away, from subordination to Washington.
Of course, the third major WikiLeaks release is itself an indication of Washington’s inability to master history and control events. You can almost hear Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates et al. asking themselves how many more times the world’s only Superpower will allow itself to be exposed and humiliated (however mundane much of the information is) by its “disloyal” (loyal to law and justice over and against Empire)employees and a diminutive Australian “eccentric” (the dominant U.S. war and entertainment media has predictably joined in the campaign to smear Assange’s character) who has dedicated his life to “crushing [imperial] bastards.” The world’s leading crime boss really can’t allow itself to keep getting tweaked by this little punk!
Grimy Realities Beneath the Shining Fantasy
At the same time, the latest leaks like the previous ones tend to de-legitimize the United States’ vastly expensive foreign policy at home. Empire on the American scale (costing U.S. taxpayers well more than $1 trillion a year) is not always an easy sell in a country with an official unemployment rate of 10 percent, a real (functional) unemployment rate double that, and a poverty rate heading to 16 percent – this while American corporations (including leading “defense” firms) register all-time record (!) quarterly profits.5 “Moving forward,” the president told USA TODAY and the Detroit Free Press one year ago, “it is not gong to be possible for us to have a huge second stimulus, because, frankly, we just don’t have the money” (“Obama Sees Trend of Corporate Recover Without Job Growth,” USA TODAY, December 4, 2009). Reflective news consumers were left to wonder how true this statement was when Obama’s federal government had the money to spend trillions on the rescue of corrupt, for-profit financial institutions. Liberal policy wonks observed that the federal government could both raise more revenue and discourage the sort of excessive speculative activity that created the financial crisis and bailouts of 2008-09 by modestly taxing financial transactions – an idea that Obama economic officials were “dead against,” reflecting the fact that the new White House was deeply in what leading liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called “Wall Street’s thrall.”6
There was another problem, one that Krugman and other liberals failed to mention: government in thrall to the imperial Pentagon system. Insofar as it was true that “we just don’t have the money,” no small part of that could be attributed to the nation’s monumental “defense” or, more accurately, empire budget and to the federal government’s continuing engagement in costly colonial wars and occupations as masses lacked adequate food and medical resources – not to mention employment – at home (in "the world's richest nation") as well as abroad. In Obama’s America no less than George W. Bush’s America, the specter of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “spiritual death”7 – the privileging of military over social expenditures – continues to hang over the nation like a ghastly pall. Those “defense” expenditures were themselves state-capitalist gifts to a certain segment of the ruling business class, of course. High-tech corporate military contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, Xe Services, Halliburton and Lockheed Martin have continued to making out like bandits, reaping hidden profits of empire. Under Obama as under his predecessors, leading “defense” executives and investors “hide in their mansions, while young people’s blood flows out of their bodies and gets buried in the mud.” The costs of that empire are distributed over the entirety of American society but its profits “revert to a few within. In this respect,” Noam Chomsky noted in 1969, “the empire serves as a device for internal consolidation of power and privilege.”8
The shining justification for this regressive and authoritarian Empire has always been the fantastic notion that America is involved in the great, benevolent, and indispensable work of promoting democracy and freedom – high-minded ideals reflecting its supposed (self-proclaimed)God- and History-ordained mission to fight satanic Evil on behalf of the sacred Good. Regularly promoted for decades from State of Union Addresses down to Kiwanis Club lectures and junior high history lessons across the nation, this magical “American exceptionalist” thinking is hardly substantiated in the gritty details of the cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables depict the diplomatic representatives of “the world’s greatest democracy” – the “beacon to the world of how life should be” (according to Republican Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson in her speech in support of authorizing George W. Bush to invade Iraq) – as mired in such grimy tasks as bribing other failed states to accept illegally seized prisoners and hacking the credit card accounts of foreign officials and UN staffers. Not a pretty story.
Paul Street (www.paulstreet.org)is the author of many articles, chapters, speeches, and books, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007; Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); and The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010). Street is currently completing a book titled Crashing the Tea Party, co-authored with Anthony Dimaggio. He can be reached at email@example.com
1. New York Times, December 2, 2010, A13.
2. One important WikiLeaks cable revelation was discussed in an important recent appearance of Noam Chomsky on the left television broadcast “Democracy Now!” Amy Goodman: “Honduras. Interestingly, in these cables that have come out through the WikiLeaks release is the U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008 that says exactly what they U.S. government would not say publicly, that the coup against Manuel Zelaya was outright illegal. Your response?” Noam Chomsky: “That’s right. This is an analysis by the embassy in Honduras, Tegucigalpa, saying that they’ve done a careful analysis of the legal and constitutional backgrounds and conclude- you can read their summary, which is in the conclusion- that there is no doubt that the coup was illegal and unconstitutional. The government of Washington, as you point out, wouldn’t say that. And in fact, after some dithering, Obama finally essentially recognized the legitimacy of the coup. He supported the election taking place under the coup regime, which most of Latin America and Europe refused to recognize at all. But the U.S. did. in fact, the U.S. ambassador publicly accused the Latin Americans who wouldn’t go along as being 'seduced by magic realism', like Garcia Marquez’s novels or something, just a statement of contempt. They should go along with us and support the military coup- which is illegal and unconstitutional.”
3. John Pilger, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (New York: Nation Books, 2007), 4-5.
4. Jonathan Cook, “WikiLeaks an the New Global Order,” Counterpunch (November 30, 2010) at http://www.jkcook.net/Articles3/0536.htm#Top; justin Podur, “WikiLeaks Cablegate,” ZNet (December 1, 2010) at http://www.zcommunications.org/wikileaks-cablegate-by-justin-podur
5. As the New York Times reported last week, “The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever. …American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms.” See Catherine Rampell, “Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter,” New York Times, November 23, 2010.
6. Paul Krugman, “Taxing the Speculators,” New York Times, November 27, 2009.
7. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break the Silence,” Speech at Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967.
8 Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State (New York: New Press, 1970), 47.