The New American Century
by Arundhati Roy
The Nation magazine, February
In January 2003 thousands of us from across
the world gathered in Porto Alegre in Brazil and declared--reiterated--that
"Another World Is Possible." A few thousand miles north,
in Washington, George W. Bush and his aides were thinking the
Our project was the World Social Forum.
Theirs--to further what many call the Project for the New American
In the great cities of Europe and America,
where a few years ago these things would only have been whispered,
now people are openly talking about the good side of imperialism
and the need for a strong empire to police an unruly world. The
new missionaries want order at the cost of justice. Discipline
at the cost of dignity. And ascendancy at any price. Occasionally
some of us are invited to "debate" the issue on "neutral"
platforms provided by the corporate media. Debating imperialism
is a bit like debating the pros and cons of rape. What can we
say? That we really miss it?
In any case, New Imperialism is already
upon us. It's a remodeled, streamlined version of what we once
knew. For the first time in history, a single empire with an arsenal
of weapons that could obliterate the world in an afternoon has
complete, unipolar, economic and military hegemony. It uses different
weapons to break open different markets. There isn't a country
on God's earth that is not caught in the cross-hairs of the American
cruise missile and the IMF checkbook. Argentina's the model if
you want to be the poster boy of neoliberal capitalism, Iraq if
you're the black sheep. Poor countries that are geopolitically
of strategic value to Empire, or have a "market" of
any size, or infrastructure that can be privatized, or, God forbid,
natural resources of value--oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, coal--must
do as they're told or become military targets. Those with the
greatest reserves of natural wealth are most at risk. Unless they
surrender their resources willingly to the corporate machine,
civil unrest will be fomented or war will be waged.
In this new age of empire, when nothing
is as it appears to be, executives of concerned companies are
allowed to influence foreign policy decisions. The Center for
Public Integrity in Washington found that at least nine out of
the thirty members of the Bush Administration's Defense Policy
Board were connected to companies that were awarded military contracts
for $76 billion between 2001 and 2002. George Shultz, former Secretary
of State, was chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of
Iraq. He is also on the board of directors of the Bechtel Group.
When asked about a conflict of interest in the case of war in
Iraq he said, "I don't know that Bechtel would particularly
benefit from it. But if there's work to be done, Bechtel is the
type of company that could do it. But nobody looks at it as something
you benefit from." In April 2003, Bechtel signed a $680 million
contract for reconstruction.
This brutal blueprint has been used over
and over again across Latin America, in Africa and in Central
and Southeast Asia. It has cost millions of lives. It goes without
saying that every war Empire wages becomes a Just War. This, in
large part, is due to the role of the corporate media. It's important
to understand that the corporate media don't just support the
neoliberal project. They are the neoliberal project. This is not
a moral position they have chosen to take; it's structural. It's
intrinsic to the economics of how the mass media work.
Most nations have adequately hideous family
secrets. So it isn't often necessary for the media to lie. It's
all in the editing--what's emphasized and what's ignored. Say,
for example, India was chosen as the target for a righteous war.
The fact that about 80,000 people have been killed in Kashmir
since 1989, most of them Muslim, most of them by Indian security
forces (making the average death toll about 6,000 a year); the
fact that in February and March of 2002 more than 2,000 Muslims
were murdered on the streets of Gujarat, that women were gang-raped
and children were burned alive and 150,000 driven from their homes
while the police and administration watched and sometimes actively
participated; the fact that no one has been punished for these
crimes and the government that oversaw them was re-elected...all
of this would make perfect headlines in international newspapers
in the run-up to war.
Next thing we know, our cities will be
leveled by cruise missiles, our villages fenced in with razor
wire, US soldiers will patrol our streets, and Narendra Modi,
Pravin Togadia or any of our popular bigots will, like Saddam
Hussein, be in US custody having their hair checked for lice and
the fillings in their teeth examined on prime-time TV.
But as long as our "markets"
are open, as long as corporations like Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton
and Arthur Andersen are given a free hand to take over our infrastructure
and take away our jobs, our "democratically elected"
leaders can fearlessly blur the lines between democracy, majoritarianism
Our government's craven willingness to
abandon India's proud tradition of being non-aligned, its rush
to fight its way to the head of the queue of the Completely Aligned
(the fashionable phrase is "natural ally"--India, Israel
and the United States are "natural allies"), has given
it the leg room to turn into a repressive regime without compromising
A government's victims are not only those
it kills and imprisons. Those who are displaced and dispossessed
and sentenced to a lifetime of starvation and deprivation must
count among them too. Millions of people have been dispossessed
by "development" projects. In the past fifty-five years,
big dams alone have displaced between 33 million and 55 million
in India. They have no recourse to justice. In the past two years
there have been a series of incidents in which police have opened
fire on peaceful protesters, most of them Adivasi and Dalit. When
it comes to the poor, and in particular Dalit and Adivasi communities,
they get killed for encroaching on forest land, and killed when
they're trying to protect forest land from encroachments--by dams,
mines, steel plants and other "development" projects.
In almost every instance in which the police opened fire, the
government's strategy has been to say the firing was provoked
by an act of violence. Those who have been fired upon are immediately
Across the country, thousands of innocent
people, including minors, have been arrested under the Prevention
of Terrorism Act and are being held in jail indefinitely and without
trial. In the era of the War against Terror, poverty is being
slyly conflated with terrorism. In the era of corporate globalization,
poverty is a crime. Protesting against further impoverishment
is terrorism. And now our Supreme Court says that going on strike
is a crime. Criticizing the court is a crime too, of course. They're
sealing the exits.
Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism
relies for its success on a network of agents--corrupt local elites
who service Empire. We all know the sordid story of Enron in India.
The then-Maharashtra government signed a power purchase agreement
that gave Enron profits that amounted to 60 percent of India's
entire rural development budget. A single American company was
guaranteed a profit equivalent to funds for infrastructural development
for about 500 million people!
Unlike in the old days, the New Imperialist
doesn't need to trudge around the tropics risking malaria or diarrhea
or early death. New Imperialism can be conducted on e-mail. The
vulgar, hands-on racism of Old Imperialism is outdated. The cornerstone
of New Imperialism is New Racism.
The best allegory for New Racism is the
tradition of "turkey pardoning" in the United States.
Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented
the US President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year, in
a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the President spares that particular
bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential
pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia
to live out its natural life. The rest of the 50 million turkeys
raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving
Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the Presidential
Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be sociable,
to interact with dignitaries, school children and the press. (Soon
they'll even speak English!)
That's how New Racism in the corporate
era works. A few carefully bred turkeys--the local elites of various
countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers,
the occasional Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, some singers,
some writers (like myself)--are given absolution and a pass to
Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted
from their homes, have their water and electricity connections
cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot. But the Fortunate
Fowls in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work
for the IMF and the WTO--so who can accuse those organizations
of being antiturkey? Some serve as board members on the Turkey
Choosing Committee--so who can say that turkeys are against Thanksgiving?
They participate in it! Who can say the poor are anti-corporate
globalization? There's a stampede to get into Frying Pan Park.
So what if most perish on the way?
As part of the project of New Racism we
also have New Genocide. New Genocide in this new era of economic
interdependence can be facilitated by economic sanctions. New
Genocide means creating conditions that lead to mass death without
actually going out and killing people. Denis Halliday, who was
the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between 1997 and 1998
(after which he resigned in disgust), used the term genocide to
describe the sanctions in Iraq. In Iraq the sanctions outdid Saddam
Hussein's best efforts by claiming more than half a million children's
In the new era, apartheid as formal policy
is antiquated and unnecessary. International instruments of trade
and finance oversee a complex system of multilateral trade laws
and financial agreements that keep the poor in their bantustans
anyway. Its whole purpose is to institutionalize inequity. Why
else would it be that the US taxes a garment made by a Bangladeshi
manufacturer twenty times more than a garment made in Britain?
Why else would it be that countries that grow cocoa beans, like
the Ivory Coast and Ghana, are taxed out of the market if they
try to turn it into chocolate? Why else would it be that countries
that grow 90 percent of the world's cocoa beans produce only 5
percent of the world's chocolate? Why else would it be that rich
countries that spend over a billion dollars a day on subsidies
to farmers demand that poor countries like India withdraw all
agricultural subsidies, including subsidized electricity? Why
else would it be that after having been plundered by colonizing
regimes for more than half a century, former colonies are steeped
in debt to those same regimes and repay them some $382 billion
For all these reasons, the derailing of
trade agreements at Cancún was crucial for us. Though our
governments try to take the credit, we know that it was the result
of years of struggle by many millions of people in many, many
countries. What Cancún taught us is that in order to inflict
real damage and force radical change, it is vital for local resistance
movements to make international alliances. From Cancún
we learned the importance of globalizing resistance.
No individual nation can stand up to the
project of corporate globalization on its own. Time and again
we have seen that when it comes to the neoliberal project, the
heroes of our times are suddenly diminished. Extraordinary, charismatic
men, giants in the opposition, when they seize power and become
heads of state, are rendered powerless on the global stage. I'm
thinking here of President Lula of Brazil. Lula was the hero of
the World Social Forum last year. This year he's busy implementing
IMF guidelines, reducing pension benefits and purging radicals
from the Workers' Party. I'm thinking also of the former president
of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Within two years of taking office
in 1994, his government genuflected with hardly a caveat to the
Market God. It instituted a massive program of privatization and
structural adjustment that has left millions of people homeless,
jobless and without water and electricity.
Why does this happen? There's little point
in beating our breasts and feeling betrayed. Lula and Mandela
are, by any reckoning, magnificent men. But the moment they cross
the floor from the opposition into government they become hostage
to a spectrum of threats--most malevolent among them the threat
of capital flight, which can destroy any government overnight.
To imagine that a leader's personal charisma and a c.v. of struggle
will dent the corporate cartel is to have no understanding of
how capitalism works or, for that matter, how power works. Radical
change cannot be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced
At the World Social Forum some of the
best minds in the world come together to exchange ideas about
what is happening around us. These conversations refine our vision
of the kind of world we're fighting for. It is a vital process
that must not be undermined. However, if all our energies are
diverted into this process at the cost of real political action,
then the WSF, which has played such a crucial role in the movement
for global justice, runs the risk of becoming an asset to our
enemies. What we need to discuss urgently is strategies of resistance.
We need to aim at real targets, wage real battles and inflict
real damage. Gandhi's salt march was not just political theater.
When, in a simple act of defiance, thousands of Indians marched
to the sea and made their own salt, they broke the salt tax laws.
It was a direct strike at the economic underpinning of the British
Empire. It was real. While our movement has won some important
victories, we must not allow nonviolent resistance to atrophy
into ineffectual, feel-good, political theater. It is a very precious
weapon that must be constantly honed and reimagined. It cannot
be allowed to become a mere spectacle, a photo opportunity for
It was wonderful that on February 15 last
year, in a spectacular display of public morality, 10 million
people on five continents marched against the war on Iraq. It
was wonderful, but it was not enough. February 15 was a weekend.
Nobody had to so much as miss a day of work. Holiday protests
don't stop wars. George Bush knows that. The confidence with which
he disregarded overwhelming public opinion should be a lesson
to us all. Bush believes that Iraq can be occupied and colonized
as Afghanistan has been, as Tibet has been, as Chechnya is being,
as East Timor once was and Palestine still is. He thinks that
all he has to do is hunker down and wait until a crisis-driven
media, having picked this crisis to the bone, drops it and moves
on. Soon the carcass will slip off the bestseller charts, and
all of us outraged folks will lose interest. Or so he hopes.
This movement of ours needs a major, global
victory. It's not good enough to be right. Sometimes, if only
in order to test our resolve, it's important to win something.
In order to win something, we need to agree on something. That
something does not need to be an overarching preordained ideology
into which we force-fit our delightfully factious, argumentative
selves. It does not need to be an unquestioning allegiance to
one or another form of resistance to the exclusion of everything
else. It could be a minimum agenda.
If all of us are indeed against imperialism
and against the project of neoliberalism, then let's turn our
gaze on Iraq. Iraq is the inevitable culmination of both. Plenty
of antiwar activists have retreated in confusion since the capture
of Saddam Hussein. Isn't the world better off without Saddam Hussein?
they ask timidly.
Let's look this thing in the eye once
and for all. To applaud the US Army's capture of Saddam Hussein,
and therefore in retrospect justify its invasion and occupation
of Iraq, is like deifying Jack the Ripper for disemboweling the
Boston Strangler. And that after a quarter-century partnership
in which the Ripping and Strangling was a joint enterprise. It's
an in-house quarrel. They're business partners who fell out over
a dirty deal. Jack's the CEO.
So if we are against imperialism, shall
we agree that we are against the US occupation and that we believe
the United States must withdraw from Iraq and pay reparations
to the Iraqi people for the damage that the war has inflicted?
How do we begin to mount our resistance?
Let's start with something really small. The issue is not about
supporting the resistance in Iraq against the occupation or discussing
who exactly constitutes the resistance. (Are they old killer Baathists,
are they Islamic fundamentalists?)
We have to become the global resistance
to the occupation.
Our resistance has to begin with a refusal
to accept the legitimacy of the US occupation of Iraq. It means
acting to make it materially impossible for Empire to achieve
its aims. It means soldiers should refuse to fight, reservists
should refuse to serve, workers should refuse to load ships and
aircraft with weapons. It certainly means that in countries like
India and Pakistan we must block the US government's plans to
have Indian and Pakistani soldiers sent to Iraq to clean up after
I suggest we choose by some means two
of the major corporations that are profiting from the destruction
of Iraq. We could then list every project they are involved in.
We could locate their offices in every city and every country
across the world. We could go after them. We could shut them down.
It's a question of bringing our collective wisdom and experience
of past struggles to bear on a single target. It's a question
of the desire to win.
The Project for the New American Century
seeks to perpetuate inequity and establish American hegemony at
any price, even if it's apocalyptic. The World Social Forum demands
justice and survival.
For these reasons, we must consider ourselves