WikiLeaks: The Banality of Evil and Imperial Over-Reach
by Charles Hugh Smith
Posted originally December 14, 2010
The WikiLeaks controversy speaks to Imperial Hubris and insecurity; we have forgotten that the U.S.A. stands separate from the American Empire.
A number of readers have asked me to comment on WikiLeaks and the release of “secret” diplomatic/government cables and documents. (How “secret” were they if up to 3 million people had access to them?) I am going to connect a number of issues here by identifying the core contexts of the WikiLeaks controversy.
That every nation requiries diplomacy and a diplomatic corps is not in question, nor is the need for confidentiality in pursuing diplomacy. The need for Armed Forces to defend the nation against aggression is also not in question. What is in question is whether the American Empire is acting in the best interests of the U.S. and its citizenry.
1. The U.S. operates the sole Global Empire on the planet
The words “American Empire” offends some readers, who claim “That’s not what America is about.” You can make up your own version of what America’s about, but you cannot deny the existence of the Empire unless you insist on ignoring facts.
As I wrote in Survival+, I make no value judgment in describing the American Empire–it is simply a fact that no other nation has the military, diplomatic, intelligence and financial reach of the U.S.
When I describe the small portion of the Empire which is visible to those of us without security clearances, I get emails (some from veterans) accusing me of “saber-rattling.” I do not intend a value judgment, yet simple statements of fact are obviously triggering emotional responses.
Other readers are offended that the U.S. hasn’t yet crumbled, and they list various strengths of China and Russia in an attempt to discount the Empire’s scope and scale.
Once again: the American Empire is simply a matter of record. To deny its existence, to claim that the mere description of it is saber-rattling, to assert that China and Russia are almost as powerful as the Empire – these are value judgments and wishful thinking. I look at the U.S. Empire the same way as I do the Roman Empire: it was a real structure, and whether it was “good” or “bad” is another matter altogether.
At the risk of boring readers, I will once again go over the basic context of Empire, some of which I addressed in The Great Game: Geopolitics and Oil (October 19, 2010).
China and Russia are land powers, the U.S. is a global maritime power. The navies of China and Russia are designed not to project power but to thwart the power projection of the U.S.
Neither China nor Russia have the capabilities to project power beyond their borders. If Canada stops exporting shale oil to China, there is nothing China can do to force Canada’s hand except bluster.
China and Russia have long borders with potentially hostile states. The U.S. does not.
Historically, China and Russia possessed land empires. The U.S. has historically been a maritime, trading/mercantilist nation.
2. World War II forced the U.S. into global geopolitics
The U.S. began as a weak, vulnerable maritime nation focused on trade. It’s foreign policy was simple: promote trade, limit permanent alliances, avoid “foreign entanglements,” and deter European interventions in the Americas.
In 1940, the American people remained solidly isolationist. They wanted no part in the wars that were enveloping Europe and Asia. It required setting up Japan to be the aggressor against the U.S. to trigger America’s entrance into global war. The American Power Elites were awakening to the uncomfortable realization that what happened in Europe and Asia could eventually impact the U.S.
The U.S. had dabbled in Imperialism, taking control of Spain’s old Imperial holdings in the Philippines and the Caribbean via the “Splendid Little War” of 1898, but there was significant domestic opposition to such global meddling; even the President was appalled by the annexation of Hawaii by American residents’ force of arms.
This discomfort with global Empire evaporated in the titanic struggle to defeat the German and Japanese Empires. Once the war was won, America tried to return to its isolationist past; the military rapidly demobilized, maintaining a large force only in Europe to defend against Soviet expansion. The Soviet’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and German missile technology changed the context irrevocably; now the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were no longer bulwarks against attack.
The context of the Cold War was fundamentally military, with a generous side helping of diplomacy and propaganda to win or defend allies against the Soviet Bloc. Intelligence, especially photo and signal intelligence, became of paramount importance, as the secretive Soviet and Chinese societies left few transparent clues about their leaderships’ intentions or their capabilities.
With the advent of the Corona/Keyhole photo satellites, the U.S. began to receive useful intelligence from space-based assets. The U.S. continues to devote massive resources to signal collection intelligence.
For more on the U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities, please see The Satellite Wars. To say we civilians have little idea of the scope of such operations is an understatement.
This context remains in place today. The American Power Elites retain the Cold War context of military superiority, global intelligence and signal gathering and diplomatic efforts to set the agenda. (Foreign policy of the United States.)
As a result, it seems entirely “conventional” for the U.S. to spend $1 trillion prosecuting military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds of billions more on GWOT (global war on terror) and a vast, shadow Empire of signal collection and analysis.
3. Unfortunately, “nation building” is not part of the American Imperial Elites’ context
According to the founder of the private non-profit Room to Read, a mere $100 million could fund the building of 20,000 libraries in impoverished developing-world communities. The Imperial Elites have no interest in libraries, however, as was made clear in the aftermath of the Afghan conflict in 1989, as described by the 2003 film Charlie Wilson’s War. ( Wilson Discusses ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’.)
The U.S. Empire will gladly fund various militaries around the world and devote trillions of dollars to the tasks fof military superiority and global intelligence gathering, but global projects like educating illiterate women and children do not exist in the Imperial Project except as minimalist “do-good” displays pursued for propaganda purposes.
4. The Cold war policy of secrecy and keeping the civilians safely ignorant remains a key goal of the Imperial Project
Once again this stems from the Cold War era’s policy that the American public is better off not knowing what the Empire is doing on their behalf. The intelligence and military empires constructed during World War II and the Cold war are self-sustaining, as are any global bureaucracies with unlimited budgets. This innate desire to expand by whatever means are available dovetails with the conventional Imperial status quo belief system: the less the domestic populace knows, the better.
Keeping the extent and actions of the U.S. Empire secret is thus a Prime Directive. Once the Draft (Selective Service) could be safely jettisoned in favor of a smaller, voluntary professional Armed Forces, then the Imperial Elites’ task of operating without civilian participation or knowledge was rendered easier.
The Elites modus operandi is to recruit “the best and the brightest” for Imperial service, and to foster a culture of secrecy throughout the Empire. Operating within a democracy, the various fiefdoms of the Empire were still vulnerable to civilian/voter outrage. So the imperative became: keep everything secret except propaganda.
The U.S. efforts in Indochina remain largely unknown to the American public. The scope of the Vietnam War beggars description: the construction of vast bases in nearby nations, the dropping of more tonnage of bombs than in all of World War II, the planting of thousands of sensors – the list is practically endless.
The same can be said of Iraq and Afghanistan. I know only what I read in the media, but I am confident that we know only a tiny sliver of what the Empire is doing in the Mideast and beyond.
5. The Imperial Elite is adept at marketing and propaganda but not in actually operating an Empire
The Bush administration’s “selling of the war” in 2002 and 2003 was masterful. Unfortunately, Imperial hubris was more pervasive than actual planning for the aftermath of military operations, and the war became the precise quagmire which its planners denied was possible. All this has been laid out in numerous books:
Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic by Chalmers Johnson
6. Despite the costly failure of the Imperial Elites’ leadership, their confidence in their own judgment and wisdom remains undimmed
Cracks are forming in the financial arm of the Empire, however; Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s recent statement that he is “100% confident” in his ability to control inflation reflects not confidence but rather feral insecurity masked by bloviated projections of grandiosity. Bernanke’s statements are latter-day versions of the same substitution of PR for real confidence which led U.S. commanders to declare there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” in the Vietnam War circa 1968.
As the failures and bodies pile up, however, the Elites’ sense of frustration is rising, and they seek an enemy to blame for their troubles: WikiLeaks, truly a godsend to an embattled Imperial Elite. Shoot the messenger, by all means, and do so quickly.
I think the Imperial Project drew the wrong lessons from the successes of the reconstruction of Japan and Germany in the Cold War. These nations had leadership and cultural elites which were mostly left intact to lead the reconstruction, and the people of each nation were culturally homogeneous, hard-working and accepting of defeat and a new political paradigm.
Attempting to apply that model to Iraq has resulted in a catastrophic series of errors. But Imperial hubris, mission creep and bureaucratic inertia have all served to prop up the illusion that the U.S. can remake the world in its own image and to its own liking.
7. War is intrinsically messy and results in massive collateral damage and death
The Empire does not want the domestic populace to know the gory realities of war, and it has actively suppressed images of war since World war II. The truth of was is always ugly; armies routinely kill their own soldiers by mistake, and civilians in combat zones are killed without intention. It just happens, and after a while you stop noticing. It’s the nature of war.
In an insurgency, combatants trying to kill you do not do you the favor of wearing an identifying uniform. So you are left with impossible choices on a daily basis.
The first Gulf War was tailor-made for a “clean” victory: combat was mostly restricted to the desert, far from civilians, and Saddam’s army dutifully lined up in classic large-scale units which could be identified and targeted.
The Second Gulf War was an entirely different war after organized resistance crumbled.
So there is little wonder that leaked video of people being shot down outrages the Imperial Elites. What the Empire does around the world “should” be kept secret from the American public because their support for the Imperial Project would falter if the truth was revealed. This is the core reason behind the Imperial outrage at the WikiLeaks leaks.
8. Few if any of the leaks are “secrets” as commonly understood
According to A defense of WikiLeaks: Some inconvenient facts, “most of the cables were accessible by up to 3 million people – diplomats, military people, agencies, staffs at all levels. Something is not all that secret, it would seem, if millions of people can pull it up on their computers.”
The outrage results from the Empire’s scope and reach being revealed to a domestic populace which the Elites fear might disrupt the Project. (After all, they’re “doing it all for your own good.”)
9. The leaks were not obtained by hacking; they were released by U.S. participants in the Imperial Project
(Secrets gained by hacking, i.e. by China, don’t seem to bother the Imperial Elites all that much.)
10. Not everyone in the Imperial Project agrees with it, once they are inside the machinery
Vast conspiracies involving thousands of people have been broken by single individuals’ release of key documents: the tobacco industry, the Pentagon Papers, and now WikiLeaks.
As I have described recently, doing evil becomes banal once you are safely enmeshed in the machinery of power doing your “day job”:
The Banality of (Financial) Evil (November 9, 2010)
The Federal Reserve and the Pathology of Power (November 18, 2010)
As I intimated above, Americans have a long history of distrusting global meddling and Imperial pretensions. Blowing up the village to “save” it runs counter to key American values.
The Imperial Elites fear these values, and hence their apoplectic fury at the public release of documents distributed to WikiLeaks by American participants in the Imperial Project.
11. WikiLeaks is a “social media” extension of the free press
Others have already commented on this, for example: Wikileaks Is “A New Form Of The Press”.
I suspect the Wiki and other social media avenues of distribution are popular not just because there are no “gatekeepers” (that is, editors who could be threatened into complicity by Imperial Elites) who might choose to withhold the data, but also because the distrust of corporate media is rising–and for good reason.
Trust in the Mainstream Media to make the right choice for the nation is fading, as the MSM’s parroting of Central State propaganda has only become more routine and shrill in the past decade.
The war was “sold,” and now the Imperial Elites are focusing on “selling” the “recovery,” largely by intervening in the stock market in a vain attempt to create an illusory “wealth effect” in the top 20% of households who actually own enough equities to see a measurable uptick in their paper wealth.
Were an insider in the Federal Reserve to suffer pangs of conscience powerful enough to trigger a release of data documenting Fed manipulation and intervention of the financial markets, then the Empire’s domestic agenda might suffer a fatal blow of truth.
12. A republic has little to fear from transparency and much to fear from Elites’ shadowy secrets
Empires have much to fear from transparency, as they depend on Elites’ control of shadow worlds kept secret from the citizenry. A republic has a public forum, an Empire has a Coliseum serving entertainment and distraction. No wonder the Imperial Project fears and loathes WikiLeaks; they fear what their citizenry might do once they know the truth.
Is the American Empire acting in the best interests of the U.S. and its citizenry? Though the two are being “sold” as identical, both to the world and to American citizens, the two are separate entities. The United States will endure if its empire vanishes.
If you you do not yet see the difference between the two, please read this quote from Patrick Henry:
“But we are told that we need not fear; because those in power, being our representatives, will not abuse the powers we put in their hands. I am not well versed in history, but I will submit to your recollection, whether liberty has been destroyed most often by the licentiousness of the people, or by the tyranny of rulers.
I imagine, sir, you will find the balance on the side of tyranny. Happy will you be if you miss the fate of those nations, who, omitting to resist their oppressors, or negligently suffering their liberty to be wrested from them, have groaned under intolerable despotism!
Most of the human race are now in this deplorable condition; and those nations who have gone in search of grandeur, power, and splendor, have also fallen a sacrifice, and been the victims of their own folly. While they acquired those visionary blessings, they lost their freedom.”
Written by aurick
20/12/2010 at 6:58 pm
Tagged with American Empire, Bernanke, Central State propaganda, first Gulf War, Imperial Elites, Imperial Hubris, new political paradigm, Pathology of Power, Patrick Henry, Roman Empire, Satellite Wars, Vietnam War, Wikileaks