Chalmers Johnson's book 'Nemesis'
a book review by Stephen Lendman,
Chalmers Johnson is professor emeritus
of the University of California, San Diego where he taught for
30 years as well as at UC, Berkeley (where he was educated).
At Berkeley, he was chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies
and its Department of Political Studies. He's currently president
of the Japan Policy Research Institute (JPRI), a not-for-profit
research and public affairs organization involved in public education
relating to Japan and international relations in the Pacific region.
Johnson is also a prolific writer and author of 17 books, numerous
articles and various other publications.
From 1967 through 1973, he served as well
as a consultant to the Office of National Estimates (ONE) within
the CIA, and during the Cold War years was, by his own characterization,
a former "spear-carrier for the empire." At least since
the age of George Bush, however, Johnson radically transformed
himself into one of the nation's sharpest and most important intellectual
critics of the current administration having now completed the
third and last volume of his "inadvertent trilogy" in
his newest book Nemesis that's the subject of this review.
The previous two he refers to are Blowback
based on 1953 CIA terminology in the aftermath of the spy agency's
first ever engineered overthrow of a foreign leader - democratically
elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq ushering in the
26 year tryannical rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi who was himself forcibly
ousted in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Volume two was The Sorrows
of Empire - Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.
Volume three is Nemesis - The Last Days of the American Republic
and subject of this review that hopefully will encourage readers
to get the book and read the others in Johnson's trilogy to get
the full picture of his powerfully vital message.
Combined, the three volumes show how imperial
hubris and overreach have undermined the republic. Johnson characterizes
it as dealing "with the way arrogant and misguided American
policies have headed us for a series of catastrophes comparable
to our disgrace and defeat in Vietnam or even to the sort of extinction
that befell....the Soviet Union (that he believes is) now unavoidable."
In his view, the present state of the nation is dire, and it's
"too late for mere scattered reforms of our government or
bloated military to make much difference."
Our democracy and way of life are now
threatened because of our single-minded pursuit of empire with
a well-entrenched militarism driving it that's become so powerful
and pervasive it's now an uncontrollable state within the state.
History is clear on this teaching we can choose as could all
empires before us. We can keep ours and lose our democracy, but
we can't have both. Rome made the wrong choice and perished.
Britain chose more wisely and survived. We must now choose,
and so far the signs are ominous. Our current behavior under
all administrations post-WW II requires resources and commitments
abroad that in the end, Johnson believes, "will inevitably
undercut our domestic democracy and....produce a military dictatorship
or its civilian equivalent." We're perilously close already
because a hyper-reactionary statist administration hijacked the
government and is driving the nation to tyranny and ruin.
The evidence post-9/11 shows it:
-- A nation facing no outside threats
permanently at war.
-- Secret torture-prisons around the world
with no accountability to which anyone, anywhere for any reason
can be sent never to return or receive justice.
-- The most secretive, intrusive and repressive
government in our history and a president who's a congenital,
-- Social decay at home.
-- An unprecedented wealth disparity and
extent of corporate power. Former US Supreme Court Justice Louis
Brandeis warned years ago: "We can either have democracy
in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the
hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- A de facto one party state with two
wings and a president claiming "unitary executive" powers
ignoring the rule of law and doing as he pleases in the name of
national security on his say alone.
-- The absence of checks and balances
and separation of powers with no restraint on a reckless "boy-emperor"
Executive on a "messianic mission."
-- A secret intelligence establishment
with near-limitless funding operating without oversight.
-- A dominant corporate-controlled media
serving as a national thought-control police and collective quasi-state
ministry of information and propaganda glorifying imperial wars
to "spread democracy" without letting on they're for
conquest, domination and repression.
-- An omnipotent military-industrial complex
Dwight Eisenhower couldn't have imagined when he warned us nor
could George Washington, to no avail. In his Farewell Address
in September, 1796, Washington said: "Overgrown military
establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to
liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican
liberty." He meant large standing armies leading to an
imperial presidency. They destroy our system of checks and balances
and separation of powers and in the end our freedom.
-- A weak, servile Congress acceding to
a dominant president under a system of authoritarian rule keeping
a restive population in line it fears one day no longer will tolerate
being denied essential services so the nation's wealth can go
for imperial wars and handouts to the rich.
-- A cesspool of corruption stemming from
incestuous ties between government and business mocking any notions
of government of, for or by the people.
Johnson points out America is plagued
with the same dynamic that doomed other past empires unwilling
to change - "isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local
and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end bankruptcy"
combined with authoritarian rule and loss of personal freedom.
Hence, the title of the book - Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance
and punisher of hubris and arrogance in Greek mythology. She's
already here among us, unseen and patiently stalking our way of
life as a free nation awaiting the moment she chooses to make
her presence known that won't be pleasant when she does. Johnson
compares her to Wagner's Brunnhilde in his opera cycle Der Ring
des Nibelungen. Unlike Nemesis, she collects heros, not fools
and hypocrites. But she and Nemesis both announce themselves
the same way - "Only the doomed see me," even though
we'll all feel her presence and suffer her sting.
Our present crisis isn't just from our
military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's from growing
international anger and revulsion that America is no longer trusted
with a president showing contempt for the law including our treaty
obligations Article 6 of the Constitution says are the "supreme
Law of the Land." They include the Third Geneva Convention
(GCIII) of 1949 covering the treatment of prisoners in time of
war and Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV) the same year on protection
of civilians in wartime in enemy hands or under occupation by
a foreign power.
No authority gives presidents, governments
or militaries the right to ignore them, but this president and
government flaunt them openly, almost gleefully They practically
boast about it, enraging people everywhere including allies and
the entire Muslim world this country collectively demonizes as
terrorists, militants and Islamofascists in its concocted "war
on terror" the Pentagon now calls the "Long War"
that won't end in our lifetime.
In early 2003, Johnson warned us about
"the sorrows already invading our lives....to be our fate
for years to come: perpetual war, a collapse of constitutional
government, endemic official lying and disinformation, and finally
bankruptcy." Then and now, he still hopes Americans will
see the threat and act before it's too late, but time, he believes,
is short, and overall, he's not hopeful. His newest book explains
how we got here, and what we must do to avoid our appointment
with Nemesis who's very patient, but even hers has limits and
we're approaching it.
This review covers the essence and flavor
of Johnson's case he makes in seven powerful chapters. They're
not recommended at bedtime.
Militarism and Breakdown of Constitutional
Johnson begins by noting other 20th century
empires that rose and fell with parallels to our situation today.
He cites among others the Brits, Soviets, Nazis, Japanese, and
Ottomans to press his case that we like them, and ancient Rome
earlier, "are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and
are about to plunge over it." He quotes historian Kevin
Baker's fear we're perilously close to the day when our Congress,
like the Roman Senate in 27 BC, will use its power for the last
time before turning it over to a military dictator. Based on
the past six years, it's arguable it's already with a civilian
The Bush-Cheney administration brought
us to this point, but the crisis didn't start with them. It began
at the beginning when Benjamin Franklin warned us we have a Republic
if we can keep it. It advanced gradually but accelerated post-WW
II when we emerged as the only dominant nation left standing and
planned to keep it that way causing the "sorrows" we
now face - an imperial presidency, erosion of checks and balances
and separation of powers, and a culture of militarism that's a
power unto itself that today who would dare challenge.
The Founders tried preventing the kind
of tyranny colonists endured under King George III. They invented
a system of constitutionally mandated republican government with
a federal authority sharing power with the states and three separate
branches in Washington able to check and balance each other with
the single most important power put in the hands of Congress so
presidents would never have it - the ability to declare war.
James Madison, Father of the Constitution, said it's because:
"Of all the enemies to liberty war is, perhaps, the most
to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every
other.... (Delegating) such powers (to the president) would have
struck, not only at the fabric of the Constitution, but at the
foundation of all well organized and well checked governments."
The last times Congress used its sole
power were on December 8, 1941 after the Japanese attacked Pearl
Harbor and on December 11 after Germany and Italy declared war
on America because their Axis Power obligations required them
to do it and Hitler's and "Il Duce's" imperial eyes
were bigger than their realpolitik stomachs.
Today more than two centuries later, Benjamin
Franklin's warning hits home harder than ever as the Founders'
constitutional framework has nearly disintegrated. The president
is more powerful than a monarch. Along with the military, he
has his own private army in the form of a clandestine CIA plus
control of all 15 extraconstitutional intelligence organizations.
They and the military answer to no one including the Congress
because they operate secretly with undisclosed budgets (even the
Pentagon has in part), and the law of the land is just an artifact,
powerless to constrain them.
In Nemesis, Johnson concentrates on the
power of the military and a single intelligence agency, the CIA.
He says upfront he believes "we will never again know peace,
nor in all probability survive very long as a nation, unless we
abolish the CIA, restore intelligence collecting to the State
Department, and remove all but purely military functions from
the Pentagon." Even if we do it, he now believes it's too
late as the nation once called a model democracy "may have
been damaged beyond repair (and) it will take a generation or
more (at best) to overcome the image of 'America as torturer'"and
rogue state showing contempt for international law, human rights,
and ordinary people everywhere. It's not what the Founders conceived
nor how things should have been in a democratic state Lincoln
said at Gettysburg was "of the people, by the people, for
the people...." Today it's only for the privileged.
It turned out badly because power corrupts
those getting too much of it, and since 1941 that power grew as
the nation prepared for wars it never stopped mobilizing for since.
It comes with a price - the end of democracy and loss of freedoms
that can't coexist with imperialism on the march for conquest
and dominance that turned America the beautiful into a nation
to be feared and hated. We emerged from WW II haughty and confident
as the world's unchallengeable economic, political and military
superpower almost like we planned it that way which we did. We
weren't about to give it up and intended taking full advantage
to rule the world, tolerate no outliers, and demand fealty and
deference from all nations with hell to pay to ones that balk.
The mislabeled "good war" launched
our global imperium now on the march for "full-spectrum dominance"
meaning absolute unchallengeable control of all land, surface
and sub-surface sea, air, space, electromagnetic spectrum and
information systems - no small aim indeed for rulers with larger
than possible ambitions and no intention backing off, so help
It makes the cost painfully high with
more military spending than the rest of the world combined, but
never enough for a voracious military-industrial establishment
and complicit government going along meaning finding justification
for it. September 11, 2001, dubbed the "New Pearl Harbor,"
served it up like room service ushering in an intense and contrived
climate of fear allowing the country to go on a rampage to solidify
control through aggressive wars against enemies always easy to
invent to assure we won't run out of them. Heading the list are
resource-rich countries or ones like Afghanistan because they're
strategically located near energy-rich areas like the Caspian
Basin. But any leader forgetting "who's boss" gets
in the target queue for regime change, even model democrats like
Hugo Chavez needing reminders our sovereignty comes ahead of theirs.
And who'll dare challenge the notion that
might makes right so international laws, norms and "supreme
Law of the Land" treaties can be dismissed to get on with
the business at hand. It doesn't matter to a rogue empire on the
march and a president believing the law is what he says it is,
the national security is just rhetoric for I'll do as I please,
and the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper."
What he and those around him lack in subtleness, they make up
for big time in brazenness, but that kind of attitude paves the
road to hell we're on for our appointment with Nemesis.
Johnson reviews our campaign against Iraq
since the Gulf war in 1991. That conflict, killer-sanctions for
the next dozen years, and the Iraq war since 2003 all violate
international laws and are clear instances of war crimes and crimes
against humanity, but what power will hold the world's only superpower
to account. The toll on Iraq and its people for the past 16 years
has been devastating. The US campaign destroyed a once prosperous
nation and its priceless heritage leaving in its wake a surreal
lawless armed camp wasteland with few or no essential services
including electricity, clean water and sanitation facilities,
medical care, fuel and most everything else needed for sustenance,
public safety and survival.
Johnson quotes experts saying the looting
of the National Museum of Baghdad and burning of the National
Library and Archives and Library of Korans at the Ministry of
Religious Affairs and Endowments amounted to "the greatest
cultural disaster of the last 500 years (and some say since the)
Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258 to find looting on this scale."
Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon went to great pains protecting
the Oil Ministry, but were indifferent, almost gleeful seeing
priceless treasures looted and burned. It detroyed a "whole
universe of antiquity" Iraqis and civilized people everywhere
won't ever forgive us for.
In all, the Gulf war and US-imposed sanctions
caused 1.5 million or more Iraqi deaths up to March, 2003 plus
another 3.5 million or more refugees to the present outside Iraq
or internally displaced. In addition, the shocking 2006 Lancet
published study estimated the joint US-British invasion caused
another 655,000 violent deaths since then through mid-2006, although
they readily admitted the true figure might be as high as 900,000
because they were unable to survey the most violent parts of the
country or interview thousands of families all of whose members
Already the US-inflicted devastation on
Iraq and its people since 1991 amounts to one of the great war/sanctions/and
occupation related crimes in human history. Their effects keep
mounting exponentially with no way to know how great the toll
will be when it's over. One day it will be because Iraqis won't
stop fighting for their freedom till it is, but none of this gets
reported in US media and precious little anywhere in the West.
So far, war continues because America's on the march, and Johnson
notes US soldiers in Iraq are only accountable to their superiors
in the field or the Pentagon, and an estimated 100,000 civilian
contractors are only accountable to themselves.
The darkest side of our adventurism is
our global network of military prisons (authorized by the Secretary
of Defense and Pentagon) where physical and mental torture are
practiced even though it's known no useful information comes from
it. Instead it's used for social control, vengeance and a policy
of degrading people regarded as sub-human because they happen
to be less-than-white Arab or Afghan Muslims. It's also a symbolic
act of superpower defiance daring the world community to challenge
us. International Geneva Convention laws and the 1984 UN Convention
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment no longer matter for the lord and master of the
universe. The US is accountable under them, but clever lawyers
and a lawless Attorney General rewrite the rules of engagement
claiming justification even when they don't have a leg to stand
Imperial Pathologies - Comparing America
to Rome and Britain
Johnson makes his case citing ancient
Rome to show how imperialism and militarism destroyed the Republic.
He notes after its worst defeat at the hands of Carthaginian
general Hannibal in 216 BC, Romans vowed never again to tolerate
the rise of a Mediterranean power capable of threatening their
survival and felt justified waging preemptive war against any
opponent it thought might try.
That was Paul Wolfowitz's notion as Undersecretary
of Defense for Policy in the GHW Bush administration in 1992 that
he began implementing as Deputy Secretary of Defense in 2001 and
made part of the National Security Strategy in 2002. It was an
ancient Roman megalomanic vision called Pax Romana that post-WW
II became Pax Americana with illusions of wanting unchallengeable
dominance to deter any potential rival, and, like ancient Rome,
wage preemptive or preventive war to assure it.
A culture of corruption and militarism
eroded the Roman Republic that effectively ended in 49 BC when
Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in Northern Italy plunging
the country in civil war that left Caesar victorious when all
his leading opponents were dead. The Republic died with them
as Caesar became the state exercising dictatorship over it from
48 to 44 BC when his reign ended on the Ides of March that year
after his fateful meeting in the Roman Senate with Brutus, Cassius
and six other conspirators whose long knives did what enemy legions
on battlefields couldn't. It led to the rise of Caesar's grandnephew
Octavian. In 27 BC, the Roman Senate gave him his new title,
Augustus Caesar, making him Rome's first emperor after earlier
ceding most of its powers to him. He then emasculated Rome's
system of republican rule turning the Senate into an aristocratic
family club performing ceremonial duties only.
It was much the same in Nazi Germany only
much faster. The German Reichstag made Adolph Hitler Reichschallcellor
on January 30, 1933 ceding its power to him March 23 by enacting
the Enabling Act or Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and
the Empire establishing a Nazi dictatorship and allowing the Weimar
Republic to pass quietly into history. With a whimper, not a
bang, it gave Hitler absolute power and the right to enact laws
and constitutional changes on his own with little more than rubber-stamping
approval from an impotent Reichstag that anointed him Reichsfuhrer
a year later allowing him supreme power to destroy the state he
only got to rule for 12 years.
Like Nazi Germany and other empires, Johnson
explains the "Roman Republic failed to adjust to the unintended
consequences of its imperialism (and militaristic part of it)
leading to drastic alterations in its form of government"
that was transformed into dictatorship. It's constitution became
undermined along with genuine political and human rights its citizens
once had but lost under imperial rule. Rome's military success
made made it very rich and its leaders arrogant leading to what
Johnson calls "the first case of what today we call imperial
overstretch." It didn't help that a citizen army of conscripts
got transformed into professional military warriors. It grew
large and unwieldy becoming a state within a state like our Pentagon
today. It created a culture of militarism that turned into a culture
of moral decay leading to the empire's decline and fall.
The US Republic has yet to collapse, but
an imperial presidency now places great strain on it with a dominant
Pentagon and culture of militarism undermining Congress, the courts
and our civil liberties. Ancient Rome proved republican checks
and balances aren't compatible with imperial dreams and a powerful
military on the march for them. The US may have crossed its own
Rubicon on September 18, 2001 with the passage of the Authorization
for Use of Military Force (AUMF) by joint House-Senate resolution
authorizing "the use of United States Armed Forces against
those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the
United States (and) giving the President....authority under the
Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international
terrorism against the United States...."
By this act alone, George Bush got congressional
authority to seize near dictatorial power in the name of national
security, ignore constitutional and international law, be able
to wage aggressive war to protect the nation, and get repressive
laws passed threatening citizens and others alike with loss of
our freedoms. Then in October, 2002, Congress voted the president
unrestricted power to preemptively strike Iraq whenever he believed
it "appropriate" meaning he was free to wage aggressive
war against Iraq or any other nation he henceforth called a threat
using tactical nuclear weapons if he chooses.
This kind of unrestricted power isn't
just dictatorial authority. It's insanity courtesy of the Congress
and supportive right wing courts. It's taking us the same way
as ancient Rome assuring our fate will be no different unless
it's stopped and reversed. It's the inevitable price of imperial
arrogance making leaders feel invulnerable till they no longer
are, and it's too late.
We may still have a choice, and Johnson
cites the one Britain took to explain. They sacrificed empire
to preserve democracy knowing they couldn't have both. They earlier
took up the "White Man's Burden" in a spirit of imperial
"goodness" we now call "spreading democracy"
believing Anglo-Saxons deserved to rule other nations, especially
ones of color they thought inferior. Johnson explains "successful
imperialism requires that a domestic republic change into a tyranny."
It happened to Rome, and he sees it happening here under an imperial
presidency with militarism taking ever greater root in society.
Britain was spared by a democratic resurgence followed WW II.
People finally freed from the scourge of Nazism said never again
and chose democracy to assure it.
We must now choose whether to return to
our founding roots or stay on our present path heading to imperial
tyranny. For Johnson, Rome and Britain are the "archtypes"
defining where we stand and what we face. Rome chose empire,
lost its Republic and then everything. Britain went the other
way choosing democracy despite the Blair government's disgraceful
post-9/11 imperial indiscretions acting as Washington's pawn in
service to our adventurism. Now late in the game, we must choose
one way or the other. We can either have our democratic "cake"
or "eat it" and suffer the consequences. We can't have
it both ways.
The CIA - The President's Private Army
Imperial Rome had its elite praetorian
guard to protect and serve its emperors. The CIA here works the
same way as a private army for the president that in the end will
go his way as it did producing phony intelligence the Bush administration
used to justify war with Iraq. It proved its loyalty by its willingness
to lie, but it does lots more than that - the kinds of extrajudicial
things it gets away with because everything about "the company"
is secret, including its budget. It puts CIA beyond the law making
it unaccountable to the public and Congress that have every right
to know in a "democracy" but none under imperial rule.
Johnson stresses that US presidents have "untrammeled control
of the CIA (and it's) probably (their) single most extraordinary
power" as it puts them beyond the check and balancing powers
of Congress and courts constitutionally required in republican
systems of government. Not in our "Republic," at least
since 1947 when the National Security Act created the CIA under
Harry Truman to succeed the wartime OSS dissolved in 1945.
Johnson explains CIA originally had five
missions. Four dealt with collection, coordination and dissemination
of intelligence. The fifth one was vague allowing the agency
to "perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence
affecting the national security as the National Security Council
(overseeing it) may....direct." This mandate caused the
problem turning "CIA into the personal, secret, unaccountable
army of the president" and making secret covert, often mischievous
illegal, operations its main function. Their duties include overthrowing
democratically elected governments, assassinating foreign heads
of state and key officials, propping up friendly dictators, and
snatching targeted individuals for "extraordinary rendition"
on privately-leased aircraft to secret torture-prisons for not
too gracious treatment on arrival that may include "destroying"
the evidence after completing interrogation.
We claimed justification for it during
the Cold War even though extrajudicial activities are never permissible
under republican constitutional government. Today under George
Bush, things are further complicated as CIA is one of 15 intelligence
agencies under a director of National Intelligence (DNI). But
even with this realignment, CIA remains the president's private
praetorian guard army accountable only to him with tens of billions
of secret budget power to do plenty of damage.
It now lets CIA be more active than ever
as under Bush it's got double the number of covert operatives
making Johnson believe the spy agency's original purpose is history
with DNI now handling most intelligence gathering functions. CIA
is now a mostly global hit squad Mafia with Bush its resident
Godfather sending it off to do "assassinations, dirty tricks,
renditions, and engineering foreign coups. In the intelligence
field it will be restricted to informing our presidents and generals
about current affairs." In all it does, the agency's secrecy
shields the chief executive from responsibility giving him plausible
deniability if anything leaks out. Johnson explains "CIA's
bag of dirty tricks....is a defining characteristic of the imperial
presidency. It is a source of unchecked power that can gravely
threaten the nation....(Its) so-called reforms....in 2006 have
probably further shortened the life of the American republic."
"The company" is a menace to democratic rule. Either
it goes or our freedoms do.
US Military Bases Around the World
People in US cities would be outraged
if another country garrisoned its troops close by with all the
resulting fallout: unacceptable noise, pollution, environmental
destruction, appropriation of valued public real estate along
with drunken soldiers on the loose violating laws, causing damage
and raping local women. Not the kinds of neighbors we choose,
especially when they're mostly unaccountable for their actions.
We don't generally give other nations
basing rights here. But the Pentagon practically demands other
countries allow us the right to put our troops on choice parts
of their real estate around the world. That's real heavy-handed
imperial arrogance mindful of an earlier time when imperialism
could be measured by an empire's colony count. Military outposts
are our version set up to operate by our own rules when we show
up. Locals have no say and neither does the host country once
a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is finalized that gives the
US "guest" freedom from host country laws and restraints
governing civilian life and exemption from any inconvenient environmental
cleanup obligations. That subject is covered in the next section.
Only one superpower remained after the
Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and the Russians never posed a
serious challenge before it did. All along we greatly outclassed
and outgunned them, and Moscow only wanted a standoff if it came
to that. During the Cold War, we had many military outposts around
the world supposedly aimed at them, but how do we justify them
now. They're not for defense. They're for offense in contrast
to home-based ones to defend the nation.
Johnson reviews the known number of US
bases in other countries by size and branch of service. According
to the Department of Defense's Base Structure Report through 2005,
the official total of all sizes is 737, but so many were built
in recent years, Johnson believes the actual number exceeds 1000
and is rising. Unlisted ones includes dozens in Iraq, 106 garrisons
in Afghanistan, the gigantic Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo built after
the Yugoslav war in 1999, and others in Eastern Europe, Israel,
Qatar and other Gulf states plus ongoing negotiations all the
time to build new bases in new locations in new and currently
It takes a lot of resources maintaining
an operation this sized. Just the facilities and staff alone
make the cost truly staggering. Included are the number of military,
civil service and locally hired personnel, facilities, acreage,
weaponry and munitions (including thousands of nuclear weapons)
and everything else needed to keep a worldwide operation this
size functioning. And this only covers what's open to the public
and Congress excluding what the Pentagon and host countries keep
secret. There's plenty of that including information about bases
the US uses to eavesdrop on global communications or our nuclear
deployments violating treaty obligations. The Pentagon keeps
much of this hidden deploring any oversight as part of its culture
of secrecy concealing from Congress and our NATO allies the true
extent of our strength, breath and intentions.
Once Donald Rumsfeld got to the Pentagon
he fit right in and served there once before under Gerald Ford.
He didn't hide how he wanted to restructure the military to make
it lighter, more agile and high tech but no less secret. The
result was Department of Defense's Global Posture Review first
mentioned by George Bush in November, 2003. It divides military
installations into three types:
-- (1) Main Operating Bases (MOBs) having
permanently stationed combat forces, extensive infrastructure,
command and control headquarters and extensive accommodations
for families including hospitals, schools and recreational facilities.
The Pentagon calls these bases "little Americas."
-- (2) Forward Operation Sites (FOSs)
that are major installations smaller than MOBs and over which
the Pentagon tries maintaining a low profile. They exclude families,
and troop rotations in and out are for six months, not three years
as at MOBs.
-- (3) Cooperative Security Locations
(CSLs) - they're the smallest, most austere and are called "lily
pads" to cover the entire planet's "arc of instability"
that could include countries earmarked for future military action.
Preparation here includes prepositioned weapons and munitions.
The new global repositioning plan comes
with a huge price tag. The Overseas Basing Commission estimates
it at $20 billion and would be much higher but for the Pentagon's
standard practice getting host countries to pay their share of
the tab allowing us basing rights on their territory. It's called
"burden sharing" or our notion of a country we occupy
helping pay the cost of deterring potential common enemies. At
a time when only US militarism poses a threat to world peace,
one day countries like Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain and
others no longer will tolerate our garrisoning troops on their
soil. Ecuador under its new president, Raphael Correa, already
served notice his country won't renew the US base lease in Manta
when it expires in 2009 unless Washington allows his country comparable
basing rights in Miami that's impossible. Other countries may
follow suit just like the East Europeans kicked out the Soviets
after their nations broke away in 1991.
Today the Middle East commands center
stage with the Pentagon building major military installations
in Iraq similar to the permanent kind in Germany and Japan. Iraq
is key to US imperial plans because of its vast and easily accessible
oil reserves but for a covert reason as well. Johnson believes
it's part of our "empire building" - to shift major
Saudi bases to the country making it a "permanent Pentagon
outpost" to control the area's "arc of instability"
and region's oil reserves that comprise 60% or more of the world's
Add together all Muslim nations everywhere
and their combined known oil reserves are between two-thirds to
three-quarters of total world supply. If we control it all, it
gives Washington enormous veto power over all nations wanting
accessing to the vital juice economies run on. And if we keep
demonizing Muslims as enemies and people believe it, it's easy
justifying our state-sponsored terror wars on them for all the
wrong reasons we say are the right ones.
Headquarters for what's planned in the
Middle East are now on four or more permanent Iraq "super-bases"
with possible others to come. Many billions of dollars went into
them, and they're anchor fixtures in the country along with 100
or more others ranging from mega to micro showing the extent of
our digging in for the long haul in a country and region we're
not planning to leave in a hurry.
It also shows in the kind of embassy we're
building inside the four square mile Green Zone in central Baghdad.
Critics call it "Fortress Baghdad" because it's to
be the largest US embassy in the world by far, encircled by 15-foot
thick concrete walls and rings of concertina wire along with protective
surface-to-air missiles. Large numbers of private-sector bodyguards
and US military guard its vast facilities, there's modern infrastructure
comparable to any large US city with all the comforts and luxuries
of home, Saddam's private swimming pool is for GIs and others
to frolic in, hometown comfort food abounds, and staff and officials
are planned to number around 1000. It's larger than Vatican City,
six times the size of the UN New York compound, and has become
a hated symbol of imperial occupation, death and destruction it
caused, and the oppressive dominance Iraqis are committed to end.
Iraqi history shows an intolerance to
occupation, and Iraqis are convinced they'll maintain tradition
proving again that notions of permanency are in the eyes of the
beholder and their end may come sooner than planned. Our super-facilities
may end up just like their mega-predecessors in Danang, Cam Rahn
Bay and the Saigon embassy housing the last remnants of US presence
helicoptered off its rooftop in defeat and humiliation. We left
them and much more behind when the Vietmanese kicked us out, even
though we never go anywhere planning to leave in a hurry if ever.
US Imperialism at Work - Status of Force
Agreements (SOFAs) and How They Work
SOFAs are formal contractual arrangements
the US negotiates with other countries implementing basic agreements
we first agree to with host nations allowing us the right to garrison
troops and civilian personnel there either on a new base we build
or an existing one. They follow once the Pentagon arranges a
contractual "alliance" with a host country usually based
on "common objectives" and "international threats
to peace." In final form, they're intended to put US personnel
as far outside domestic law as possible and spell out host nation
obligations to us. Except for our reciprocal NATO agreements
with member countries, they also give our military and civilian
personnel special privileges unavailable to ordinary citizens
of the host nation. It doesn't work that way with western European
states. They have collective clout and won't tolerate the types
of one-way deals we impose on smaller, weaker nations that can't
stand up to our kind of bullying.
For host nations, SOFAs come with problems
along with perceived benefits. They result in unacceptable noise,
pollution, environmental damage with no remediation obligation,
and they use valuable real estate unavailable to the host or their
people who can't avoid the kinds of fallout problems showing up
after we do. They include foreigners on their soil accountable
to US military rules and justice but not to theirs even when crimes
are committed against innocent civilians like local women being
abused and raped by drunken unruly troops believing away from
home they can do as they please and get away with it. They nearly
Johnson cites between 1998 and 2004 in
Japan, US military personnel were involved in 2,024 reported crimes
or accidents on duty. Only one led to a court-martial, 318 to
"administrative discipline, and the remainder were apparently
absolved even though at least some of these crimes involved robberies,
rapes, reckless homicide, assaults and other kinds of abuses no
one would get away with at home. The result abroad is growing
public anger and discontent Johnson illustrates with a prominent
It's on the island of Okinawa, Japan's
southern-most and poorest prefecture and a place Johnson knows
well from his time in the Navy and as an expert on the country
and region that includes a book he co-wrote and edited called
Okinawa: Cold War Island. The US has its way with Japan having
defeated its empire in 1945, wrote its constitution in the aftermath,
and has occupied the country ever since. It's well dug in for
the long haul with 88 bases on the Japanese islands, a country
smaller than California. Thirty-seven of those bases are on Okinawa,
a tiny sliver of land about the size of a large US city. It's
easy understanding why Okinawans are justifiably angry. They've
been practically pushed into the Pacific to make way for US occupation
of their island taking over most of its valued real estate and
not treating it too well or the people.
Okinawans' greatest outrage, however,
is over SOFA-related article 17 covering criminal justice. It
states "The custody of an accused member of the United States
armed forces or the civilian component (shall) remain with the
United States until he is charged." It means when US personnel
commit crimes, Japanese investigative authorities have no exclusive
access to suspects until they're indicted in court. That hamstrings
investigations enough to make prosecutors often reluctant to press
charges because they can't get enough evidence to go to trial.
Johnson cites a particularly grievous
example he calls the "most serious incident to influence
Japanese-American relations since the Security Treaty was signed
in 1960." It happened in September, 1995 when two marines
abducted a 12-year old girl, beat and raped her, then left her
on a beach going back to their base in a rented car. In October,
85,000 Okinawans protested in a park demanding Japanese and American
authorities address their grievances after the US military refused
to hand over the suspects to Japanese police. This may be a notable
example, but it illustrates what Okinawans have endured for over
60 years. The US military runs their territory without accountability
to Japanese law. As a result, US personnel get away with rapes,
drunken brawling, muggings, drug violations, arson and criminal
homicide - because they're superior white-skinned Americans, not
yellow-skinned Japanese judged inferior.
Things likely can't get much worse for
Okinawans, but if the US gets its way they probably will for all
Japanese. It relates to Washington's growing concern over China's
explosive growth and increasing dominance in the Pacific region.
That makes the Chinese a major US regional rival and potential
superpower challenger some day. Bush officials won't tolerate
it and are pressuring Japan to revise article 9 of its constitution
renouncing force except for self-defense. The US wants Japan
to be our "Britain of the Far East" or "cop on
the beat" to use the country as a front line regional proxy
against China, North Korea or any other East Asian state forgetting
But that notion doesn't set well with
Japanese people resulting in mass protests throughout the country
in opposition. They know how destructive WW II was and want no
reoccurrences of it even though already Japan again is a military
power. It has the most powerful navy in the world after the US,
a total force size of nearly one-quarter million in uniform, 452
combat aircraft and a military budget equalling China's.
After long and difficult negotiations,
the Japanese cabinet finally agreed to approve a planned US realignment
of forces in their country that won't please its neighbors or
its own people. Former prime minister Koizumi and his right-wing
supporters yearn to make their country a formidable power again
and thus agreed to various unpalatable US basing decisions despite
popular opposition to them. It shows Japanese and US officials'
insensitivity to deep-seated feelings on the ground that will
only lead to further heightened tensions in the region with China
and North Korea facing off against their US and Japanese rivals.
The Ultimate Imperial Project in Space
The notion of "full spectrum dominance"
spelled it out. The US considers outer space part of its territory,
claims sole right to dominate it, and won't tolerate a challenger
interfering with our plans to militarize the heavens reigning
supreme over planet earth from them. The whole idea is chilling
having grown out of Ronald Reagan's March 23,1983 speech calling
for greater defense spending during the Cold War. He wanted a
huge R & D program for what became known as "Star Wars"
- an impermeable anti-missile shield in space called the Strategic
Defense Initiative (SDI). It hardly mattered that the whole idea
was fantasy, but a glorious one for defense contractors who've
profited hugely on it since. From inception, the program's funding
ebbed and flowed with a tsunami now going into it for an administration
addicted to all things military and a friendly Federal Reserve
acting as "pusher" printing up all the ready cash to
The Clinton administration only gave it
modest support, but that all changed once George Bush became president
and Donald Rumsfeld returned to the Pentagon for his second tour
as Secretary of Defense with fewer restraints than the first time.
He wanted the US prepared for space warfare as insane as the idea
is. What's not insane is how hugely defense contractors profit
from an open-ended boondoggle padding their bottom lines as long
as no future president and Congress halt the madness. Rumsfeld
had his own ideas about committing the country to building and
deploying space-based weapons to destroy nuclear-armed missile
launches even though it can't be done now or ever.
MIT's Theodore Postal is a leading authority
on ballistic missile defenses. He's spent years debunking notions
that any useful defensive shield will ever work. He flatly states:
"the National Missile Defense System has no credible scientific
chance of working (and) is a serious abuse of our security system."
Nonetheless, the program is ongoing and running strong under Robert
Gates' new management at the Pentagon as he's not known as one
to buck his White House bosses that's one reason he got the job.
Johnson says all the "rhetoric about
a future space war is ideological posturing" similar to the
"missile gap" nonsense beginning in the Kennedy years.
The notion of wars from or in space are self-defeating because
the adverse consequences from them affect us as well as any adversary.
Waging one would be like firing a gun exploding in our face harming
us as much as anyone hit by it. Dangerous orbiting space debris,
already a growing problem, is just one of many serious consequences
space wars would produce. Enough of it would threaten military
and commercial spacecraft that, in turn, would threaten activities
in space. Johnson notes the Air Force currently tracks 13,400
man-made space objects, only a few hundred of which are orbiting
satellites. We also know of more than 100,000 smaller pieces
of untrackable junk, each the size of a marble and millions more
even smaller fragments.
The problem isn't their size. It's the
speed they travel at - up to 17,500 miles per hour (same as the
space shuttle), meaning when they strike an object they pack a
wallop that can be lethal if large enough debris hits an orbiting
spacecraft or satellite. Johnson quotes UC Santa Cruz professor
of physics Joel Primack saying: "Weaponizing of space would
make the debris problem much worse, and even one war in space
could encase the entire planet in a shell of whizzing debris that
would thereafter make space near the Earth highly hazardous for
peaceful as well as military purposes....(and) will jeopardize
the possibility of space exploration."
Johnson concurs on how ill-conceived our
missile defense schemes and notions of real star wars are that
need to come off the table but won't under warrior leadership.
He says: "The conclusion is unavoidable: Washington has
given us the best illusion of protection against nuclear attack
without reducing the odds of such an attack." He goes on
adding the whole program is fraught with insurmountable problems
from space debris to the inability to distinguish between a hostile
missile launch and a decoy plus a record of endless test failures
proving they'll only continue as long as the charade does. He
then speculates about what's likely true. The whole business
of missile defense is just a PR ploy plus another scheme to enrich
defense contractors who return the favor with big campaign contributions
and plush job offers whenever politicians retire to move on to
The amount of money spent since the 1980s
has been enormous without a single success to show for it - between
$92 and $130 billion with an estimated cost by a theoretical completion
date of 2015 of $1.2 trillion. One analyst called it "Pork
Barrel in the Sky," but it boils down to one of the most
extreme cases of corruption in Washington adding to the vast cesspool
of it there. It played heavy on voters' minds in mid-term elections
with public outrage a major factor in them demanding change that
always ends up getting none. Voters never learn new faces don't
mean new policies, at least not in Washington where the criminal
class is bipartisan and one back gets scratched to assure others
It adds up to further trouble ahead and
the greatest danger we now face - our imperial adventurism heading
from one conflict to another in an endless cycle harming us as
much as any adversary. The longer it continues, the worse things
get making only one solution obvious. On responsibly using space
Johnson puts it this way, but it applies to all our actions if
we plan on surviving: "....we must relearn how to cooperate
with our fellow inhabitants of the planet and take the lead in
crafting international agreements on the rules of the road in
space....We should outlaw all weapons that are designed to destroy
other nations' (space assets). If one side blinds the other,"
it will conclude the worst and retaliate, and one way would be
to detonate a nuclear weapon in space that would have an electromagnetic
pulse instantly "fry(ing) the electronics in all orbiting
That would produce a level global playing
field the hard way meaning - no more "smart bombs,"
electronic battlefields, global positioning systems, secure communications
from field to commanders or any satellite communications. Instead
of crafting multilateral agreements to prevent this, the US instead
continues acting hostilely by pushing full steam ahead on space-based
antisatellite weapons and driving the nation to bankruptcy doing
it. Johnson notes space is another "arena for American hubris
and one more piece of evidence that Nemesis is much closer than
most of us would care to contemplate."
The Crisis of the American Republic
George Bush wasn't our first president
to abuse his power. Other far more notable predecessors also
did it like Lincoln suspending habeas rights during the Civil
War and FDR's home front war against the Japanese - the ones who
were honorable, decent Americans whose only "crimes"
were their ancestry and skin color. It made them less human and
denied them justice. Instead, it got them incarcerated for the
remainder of the war they had nothing to do with or wanted, even
though the ones allowed to fight against the Nazis did it courageously
The difference between then and now was
checks and balances were in place and the separation of powers
worked restraining presidents from abusing their authority. That
ended the day five arrogant Supreme Court justices annulled the
popular vote letting George Bush steal the office Al Gore won
at the polls including in Florida. It's been straight downhill
since the way it was for Rome when it passed from Republic to
repressive empire. The freedoms we've long take for granted have
eroded and democracy in America is an endangered species hovering
somewhere between life support and the crematorium unless a way
is found to resurrect it.
As things now stand, Bush and Cheney rule
a rogue state working cooperatively in a corrupted two-party alliance
assuring the skids are greased and fix is in. The US Congress
is no different than the kind of social club for aristocrats the
Roman Senate became when it gave its power to the Caesar it hailed.
It lets the administration conduct affairs of state according
to what it calls the "unitary executive theory of the presidency"
that's a simple "ball-faced assertion of presidential supremacy....dressed
up in legal mumbo jumbo" written by clever lawyers easily
finding lots of ways getting around pesky laws in the name of
national security for a nation at war against enemies invented
to justify schemes now playing out around the world.
It boils down to despotic rule or a national
security police state all repressive regimes become in the end
including the fascist kinds we're now on the tipping edge of.
Unless it's stopped, things won't be pretty when the final mask
comes off and jackboots are in the streets along with tanks when
needed. And when the public resists, as it surely will, expect
South Chicago to look like Baghdad today and its North side too.
Johnson notes it's possible the US military
one day will usurp authority and declare a military dictatorship
the way it happened in Rome, but he thinks it's unlikely. If
dictatorship comes, he expects the civilian kind with military
power backing it up. Most likely, Johnson thinks things will
muddle along and continue drifting under an illusion of constitutional
cover until fiscal insolvency unravels it all. But that won't
end the nation state any more than it did to Germany in 1923 or
Argentina in 2001-02. It might even herald a new beginning even
though transitioning to it would mean lots of turbulence, a lower
standard of living and a much different relationship between this
country and others including ones supplanting us as most dominant.
Johnson concludes his narrative returning
to where it all began starting with volume one of his unintended
trilogy. He says in "Blowback" he tried explaining
why people around the world hate us. It's not just our government's
actions against others but refers to retaliation for the kinds
of acts we commit like ousting outlier regimes not willing to
play by our imperial management rules meaning we're "boss,"
and what we say goes. It's a simple law of physics that there's
no action without reaction. If we slap them enough, they start
slapping back. Volume two was "The Sorrows of Empire"
written while America prepared the public for wars against Afghanistan
and Iraq. It covered the country's militarization since WW II
best symbolized by our sprawl of bases across the planet assuring
hegemony over it but guaranteeing more blowback from our "indiscretions"
any time we decide reminders are needed who's "boss"
and those reminded get cranky.
Volume three is Nemesis and the subject
of this review. In it, Johnson "tried to present historical,
political, economic, and philosophical evidence of where our current
behavior is likely to lead." He believes our present course
is a road to perdition in the form of fiscal insolvency and a
military or civilian dictatorship. Our Founders knew the risk
and tried preventing it with our constitutional republican government
now in jeopardy. It's come from our commitment to large standing
armies, constant war, reckless stimulative military Keynesianism
spending causing an erosion of democracy and growth of an imperial
presidency. Once a nation goes this way, its fate is the same
as all others that tried - "isolation, overstretch, the uniting
of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy." It's
symbol is that patient Greek goddess now visiting our shores awaiting
the tribute she'll demand - "our end as a free nation."
It's now our choice. We can continue
the same way as imperial Rome and lose our democracy or chose
the British model keeping it at the expense of sacrificing empire.
Johnson ends his book citing Japanese scholar and journalist Hotsumi
Ozaki as a role model example. Ozaki understood his country's
occupation of China would fail and lead to the kind of blowback
caused by the Chinese Communist revolution. He tried warning
his government, but was hanged as a traitor for his efforts late
in WW II. Johnson hopes he won't meet a similar fate but is as
certain as Ozaki "that my country is launched on a dangerous
path that it must abandon or else face the consequences."
We should hope we never see them, but wishing alone won't make
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can
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Chalmers Johnson page