Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire

Best of TomDispatch: Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire

Here’s the question that comes to mind at least once a week, when some particularly outrageous or absurd piece of news arrives from somewhere in the American imperium: What would Chal think?

“Chal” was Chalmers Johnson, who died in November 2010.  I was the editor of his bookBlowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which, with its prophetic hit on American policy abroad, leaped onto bestseller lists after the attacks of 9/11. It embedded in our political language both the CIA tradecraft term “blowback” and the phrase “unintended consequences.” In fact, that phrase has gone so deep that the other day, in one of our sadder moments, it made an appearance in Army Private First Class Bradley Manning’s apology to a military judge. Facing a possible 90 years in jail, he told her, “I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions.  When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.” And then in the saddest line of all and one that could be read as a kind of grim epitaph for the possibilities of changing our American imperial world, he added that he now wonders, “How on Earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better.’”

Chal would have appreciated the deep ironies buried in that line. I’ve regularly wished that I could just pick up the phone and get his mordant take on the vast global surveillance state Washington is building, another instance of what he called “military Keynesianism” run amok.  He undoubtedly would have been grimly amused by “Alexander the Geek” and the other (potentially indictable) “leaders” of our secret world and would have found their remarkably absurd preparations to spy on everyone and everything yet another step in the bankrupting of this country.  And how tickled he would have been by our president’s brave decision, in response to the recent massacre in Egypt, to cancel an upcoming joint exercise with that country’s military which no one had ever heard of, but not cut the $1.3 billion in “aid,” most of which never even leaves this country.  It is instead regularly sent from the U.S. Treasury directly to American arms manufacturers to subsidize their deliveries of advanced weaponry to the Egyptian military.

Chal’s acerbic wit and, as a former consultant to the CIA, his deep sense of how the national security state worked provided me with a late education.  My association with him was one of the special experiences of my life.  We desperately need him now and if I could bring him back, I would. The second best option is, as I try to do at least once a year at TomDispatch, to bring back an example of his good sense about where the former American republic should go and what it should do to get there.  Of course, I also know full well that those in power will never listen, and that, if permitted by the American people, they will continue on their path of delusion and folly until hell freezes over. 

So here, today, as a summer “best of TomDispatch” pick, is one of Johnson’s final pieces for this site, his call for the U.S. to begin dismantling what, back in 2004, he first termed our “empire of bases,” those perhaps 1,000 or more garrisons, mega to micro, still scattered around the planet a decade later. It couldn’t be better advice, which is surely why no one is listening. Tom

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire
And Ten Steps to Take to Do So
By Chalmers Johnson

However ambitious President Barack Obama’s domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there — 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony — that is, control or dominance — over as many nations on the planet as possible.


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About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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