The Greater Middle East as an American Garrison: 35 Years of Building Military Bases and Sowing Disaster

Yves here. In a bit of synchronicity, Lambert and I were discussing how bad America is at running an empire. Iraq by any standards was not doing all that well under Saddam Hussein. Growth was lousy due to Western sanctions, and he was thuggish in his methods of maintaining control. Yet he ran a secular government and hostilities between Shia and Sunni were a non-issue. After our invasion, hospitals were basically looted. Electricity barely worked in Baghdad, and wasn’t working all that well long after the US occupied Iraq. Any member of the professional classes that could leave the country did (this was well reported in Australia in 2003 and 2004). So we broke a country…as a demonstration project? For what end? The US also made a botch of the fall of the USSR, with our neoliberal reforms facilitating a plutocratic land-grab in Russia by well-placed insiders, with key Western aides participating in the plunder. OIFVet points out that, contrary to Western ideology, the lives of ordinary Bulgarians was better under the old USSR (Russia is now showing net gains; I’m told Moscow now looks to be on a par with Berlin).

The British took their imperial project far more seriously than we have ours. A big reason that they were more successful is that they built infrastructure, in the form of putting in place a British bureaucracy run by civil servants. And producing those civil servants was the top priority of the education system. C. Northcote Parkinson reports that the top Cambridge and Oxford graduates went to India. The next rank were civil servants in the UK. The ones at the bottom of the heap went into business.

Now there is a lot not to like about a British-style bureaucracy; they are stereotypically rigid and procedure-driven. The Australian Taxation Office is hugely taxpayer-unfriendly if you are a business, compared to the IRS (for instance, when I was there, you needed a receipt for every expense, and not just a credit card receipt. If you had a charge from a newsstand, they wanted to see that it really was a business periodical and not, say porn).

But the rigidity meant it was less easily corrupted, and that no one would question that the government was the paramount authority (a notion that most US regulators seem to have forgotten). Admittedly, with the rise of neoliberalism, no one seems to care about governing well any more, so there hasn’t been much thinking on how to run government in the 20th and 21st century that isn’t really about private sector profiteering.

This article looks at a symptom of the US’ misguided thinking about our imperial project: that of the role of our military bases. It isn’t much discussed in polite company, for instance, that the Saudis had repeatedly asked us to remove our base there because it was causing a lot of discord. We had ignored their request. It took 9/11 to get us to depart.

By David Vine, a TomDispatch regular, is associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Mother Jones, among other publications. His new book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, will appear in 2015 as part of the American Empire Project (Metropolitan Books). Originally published at TomDispatch

With the launch of a new U.S.-led war in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State (IS), the United States has engaged in aggressive military action in at least 13 countries in the Greater Middle East since 1980. In that time, every American president has invaded, occupied, bombed, or gone to war in at least one country in the region. The total number of invasions, occupations, bombing operations, drone assassination campaigns, and cruise missile attacks easily runs into the dozens.

As in prior military operations in the Greater Middle East, U.S. forces fighting IS have been aided by access to and the use of an unprecedented collection of military bases. They occupy a region sitting atop the world’s largest concentration of oil and natural gas reserves and has long been considered the most geopolitically important place on the planet. Indeed, since 1980, the U.S. military has gradually garrisoned the Greater Middle East in a fashion only rivaled by the Cold War garrisoning of Western Europe or, in terms of concentration, by the bases built to wage past wars in Korea and Vietnam.

In the Persian Gulf alone, the U.S. has major bases in every country save Iran. There is an increasingly important, increasingly large base in Djibouti, just miles across the Red Sea from the Arabian Peninsula. There are bases in Pakistan on one end of the region and in the Balkans on the other, as well as on the strategically located Indian Ocean islands of Diego Garcia and the Seychelles. In Afghanistan and Iraq, there were once as many as 800 and 505 bases, respectively. Recently, the Obama administration inked an agreement with new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to maintain around 10,000 troops and at least nine major bases in his country beyond the official end of combat operations later this year. U.S. forces, which never fully departed Iraq after 2011, are now returning to a growing number of bases there in ever larger numbers.

In short, there is almost no way to overemphasize how thoroughly the U.S. military now covers the region with bases and troops. This infrastructure of war has been in place for so long and is so taken for granted that Americans rarely think about it and journalists almost never report on the subject. Members of Congress spend billions of dollars on base construction and maintenance every year in the region, but ask few questions about where the money is going, why there are so many bases, and what role they really serve. By one estimate, the United States has spent $10 trillion protecting Persian Gulf oil supplies over the past four decades.

Approaching its 35th anniversary, the strategy of maintaining such a structure of garrisons, troops, planes, and ships in the Middle East has been one of the great disasters in the history of American foreign policy. The rapid disappearance of debate about our newest, possibly illegal war should remind us of just how easy this huge infrastructure of bases has made it for anyone in the Oval Office to launch a war that seems guaranteed, like its predecessors, to set off new cycles of blowback and yet more war.

On their own, the existence of these bases has helped generate radicalism and anti-American sentiment. As was famously the case with Osama bin Laden and U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, bases have fueled militancy, as well as attacks on the United States and its citizens. They have cost taxpayers billions of dollars, even though they are not, in fact, necessary to ensure the free flow of oil globally. They have diverted tax dollars from the possible development of alternative energy sources and meeting other critical domestic needs. And they have supported dictators and repressive, undemocratic regimes, helping to block the spread of democracy in a region long controlled by colonial rulers and autocrats.

After 35 years of base-building in the region, it’s long past time to look carefully at the effects Washington’s garrisoning of the Greater Middle East has had on the region, the U.S., and the world.

“Vast Oil Reserves”

While the Middle Eastern base buildup began in earnest in 1980, Washington had long attempted to use military force to control this swath of resource-rich Eurasia and, with it, the global economy. Since World War II, as the late Chalmers Johnson, an expert on U.S. basing strategy, explained back in 2004, “the United States has been inexorably acquiring permanent military enclaves whose sole purpose appears to be the domination of one of the most strategically important areas of the world.”

In 1945, after Germany’s defeat, the secretaries of War, State, and the Navy tellingly pushed for the completion of a partially built base in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, despite the military’s determination that it was unnecessary for the war against Japan. “Immediate construction of this [air] field,” they argued, “would be a strong showing of American interest in Saudi Arabia and thus tend to strengthen the political integrity of that country where vast oil reserves now are in American hands.”

By 1949, the Pentagon had established a small, permanent Middle East naval force (MIDEASTFOR) in Bahrain. In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy’s administration began the first buildup of naval forces in the Indian Ocean just off the Persian Gulf. Within a decade, the Navy had created the foundations for what would become the first major U.S. base in the region — on the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia.

In these early Cold War years, though, Washington generally sought to increase its influence in the Middle East by backing and arming regional powers like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran under the Shah, and Israel. However, within months of the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and Iran’s 1979 revolution overthrowing the Shah, this relatively hands-off approach was no more.

Base Buildup

In January 1980, President Jimmy Carter announced a fateful transformation of U.S. policy. It would become known as the Carter Doctrine. In his State of the Union address, he warned of the potential loss of a region “containing more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil” and “now threatened by Soviet troops” in Afghanistan who posed “a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.”

Carter warned that “an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America.” And he added pointedly, “Such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

With these words, Carter launched one of the greatest base construction efforts in history. He and his successor Ronald Reagan presided over the expansion of bases in Egypt, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region to host a “Rapid Deployment Force,” which was to stand permanent guard over Middle Eastern petroleum supplies. The air and naval base on Diego Garcia, in particular, was expanded at a quicker rate than any base since the war in Vietnam. By 1986, more than $500 million had been invested. Before long, the total ran into the billions.

Soon enough, that Rapid Deployment Force grew into the U.S. Central Command, which has now overseen three wars in Iraq (1991-2003, 2003-2011, 2014-); the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2001-); intervention in Lebanon (1982-1984); a series of smaller-scale attacks on Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011); Afghanistan (1998) and Sudan (1998); and the “tanker war” with Iran (1987-1988), which led to the accidental downing of an Iranian civilian airliner, killing 290 passengers. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the CIA helped fund and orchestrate a major covert war against the Soviet Union by backing Osama Bin Laden and other extremist mujahidin. The command has also played a role in the drone war in Yemen (2002-) and both overt and covert warfare in Somalia (1992-1994, 2001-). 

During and after the first Gulf War of 1991, the Pentagon dramatically expanded its presence in the region. Hundreds of thousands of troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the war against Iraqi autocrat and former ally Saddam Hussein. In that war’s aftermath, thousands of troops and a significantly expanded base infrastructure were left in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Elsewhere in the Gulf, the military expanded its naval presence at a former British base in Bahrain, housing its Fifth Fleet there. Major air power installations were built in Qatar, and U.S. operations were expanded in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.

The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent occupations of both countries, led to a more dramatic expansion of bases in the region. By the height of the wars, there were well over 1,000 U.S. checkpoints, outposts, and major bases in the two countries alone. The military also built new bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (since closed), explored the possibility of doing so in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, and, at the very least, continues to use several Central Asian countries as logistical pipelines to supply troops in Afghanistan and orchestrate the current partial withdrawal.

While the Obama administration failed to keep 58 “enduring” bases in Iraq after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal, it has signed an agreement with Afghanistan permitting U.S. troops to stay in the country until 2024 and maintain access to Bagram Air Base and at least eight more major installations.

An Infrastructure for War

Even without a large permanent infrastructure of bases in Iraq, the U.S. military has had plenty of options when it comes to waging its new war against IS. In that country alone, a significant U.S. presence remained after the 2011 withdrawal in the form of base-like State Department installations, as well as the largest embassy on the planet in Baghdad, and a large contingent of private military contractors. Since the start of the new war, at least 1,600 troops have returned and are operating from a Joint Operations Center in Baghdad and a base in Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil. Last week, the White House announced that it would request $5.6 billion from Congress to send an additional 1,500 advisers and other personnel to at least two new bases in Baghdad and Anbar Province. Special operations and other forces are almost certainly operating from yet more undisclosed locations.

At least as important are major installations like the Combined Air Operations Center at Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base. Before 2003, the Central Command’s air operations center for the entire Middle East was in Saudi Arabia. That year, the Pentagon moved the center to Qatar and officially withdrew combat forces from Saudi Arabia. That was in response to the 1996 bombing of the military’s Khobar Towers complex in the kingdom, other al-Qaeda attacks in the region, and mounting anger exploited by al-Qaeda over the presence of non-Muslim troops in the Muslim holy land. Al-Udeid now hosts a 15,000-foot runway, large munitions stocks, and around 9,000 troops and contractors who are coordinating much of the new war in Iraq and Syria.

Kuwait has been an equally important hub for Washington’s operations since U.S. troops occupied the country during the first Gulf War. Kuwait served as the main staging area and logistical center for ground troops in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. There are still an estimated 15,000 troops in Kuwait, and the U.S. military is reportedly bombing Islamic State positions using aircraft from Kuwait’s Ali al-Salem Air Base.

As a transparently promotional article in the Washington Post confirmed this week, al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates has launched more attack aircraft in the present bombing campaign than any other base in the region. That country hosts about 3,500 troops at al-Dhafra alone, as well as the Navy’s busiest overseas port.  B-1, B-2, and B-52 long-range bombers stationed on Diego Garcia helped launch both Gulf Wars and the war in Afghanistan. That island base is likely playing a role in the new war as well. Near the Iraqi border, around 1,000 U.S. troops and F-16 fighter jets are operating from at least one Jordanian base. According to the Pentagon’s latest count, the U.S. military has 17 bases in Turkey. While the Turkish government has placed restrictions on their use, at the very least some are being used to launch surveillance drones over Syria and Iraq. Up to seven bases in Oman may also be in use.

Bahrain is now the headquarters for the Navy’s entire Middle Eastern operations, including the Fifth Fleet, generally assigned to ensure the free flow of oil and other resources though the Persian Gulf and surrounding waterways. There is always at least one aircraft carrier strike group — effectively, a massive floating base — in the Persian Gulf. At the moment, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson is stationed there, a critical launch pad for the air campaign against the Islamic State. Other naval vessels operating in the Gulf and the Red Sea have launched cruise missiles into Iraq and Syria. The Navy even has access to an “afloat forward-staging base” that serves as a “lilypad” base for helicopters and patrol craft in the region.

In Israel, there are as many as six secret U.S. bases that can be used to preposition weaponry and equipment for quick use anywhere in the area. There’s also a “de facto U.S. base” for the Navy’s Mediterranean fleet. And it’s suspected that there are two other secretive sites in use as well. In Egypt, U.S. troops have maintained at least two installations and occupied at least two bases on the Sinai Peninsula since 1982 as part of a Camp David Accords peacekeeping operation.

Elsewhere in the region, the military has established a collection of at least five drone bases in Pakistan; expanded a critical base in Djibouti at the strategic chokepoint between the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean; created or gained access to bases in Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Seychelles; and set up new bases in Bulgaria and Romania to go with a Clinton administration-era base in Kosovo along the western edge of the gas-rich Black Sea.

Even in Saudi Arabia, despite the public withdrawal, a small U.S. military contingent has remained to train Saudi personnel and keep bases “warm” as potential backups for unexpected conflagrations in the region or, assumedly, in the kingdom itself. In recent years, the military has even established a secret drone base in the country, despite the blowback Washington has experienced from its previous Saudi basing ventures.

Dictators, Death, and Disaster

The ongoing U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, however modest, should remind us of the dangers of maintaining bases in the region. The garrisoning of the Muslim holy land was a major recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and part of Osama bin Laden’s professed motivation for the 9/11 attacks. (He called the presence of U.S. troops, “the greatest of these aggressions incurred by the Muslims since the death of the prophet.”) Indeed, U.S. bases and troops in the Middle East have been a “major catalyst for anti-Americanism and radicalization” since a suicide bombing killed 241 marines in Lebanon in 1983. Other attacks have come in Saudi Arabia in 1996, Yemen in 2000 against the U.S.S. Cole, and during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Research has shown a strong correlation between a U.S. basing presence and al-Qaeda recruitment.

Part of the anti-American anger has stemmed from the support U.S. bases offer to repressive, undemocratic regimes. Few of the countries in the Greater Middle East are fully democratic, and some are among the world’s worst human rights abusers. Most notably, the U.S. government has offered only tepid criticism of the Bahraini government as it has violently cracked down on pro-democracy protestors with the help of the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Beyond Bahrain, U.S. bases are found in a string of what the Economist Democracy Index calls “authoritarian regimes,” including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. Maintaining bases in such countries props up autocrats and other repressive governments, makes the United States complicit in their crimes, and seriously undermines efforts to spread democracy and improve the wellbeing of people around the world.

Of course, using bases to launch wars and other kinds of interventions does much the same, generating anger, antagonism, and anti-American attacks. A recent U.N. report suggests that Washington’s air campaign against the Islamic State had led foreign militants to join the movement on “an unprecedented scale.”

And so the cycle of warfare that started in 1980 is likely to continue. “Even if U.S. and allied forces succeed in routing this militant group,” retired Army colonel and political scientist Andrew Bacevich writes of the Islamic State, “there is little reason to expect” a positive outcome in the region. As Bin Laden and the Afghan mujahidin morphed into al-Qaeda and the Taliban and as former Iraqi Baathists and al-Qaeda followers in Iraq morphed into IS, “there is,” as Bacevich says, “always another Islamic State waiting in the wings.”

The Carter Doctrine’s bases and military buildup strategy and its belief that “the skillful application of U.S. military might” can secure oil supplies and solve the region’s problems was, he adds, “flawed from the outset.” Rather than providing security, the infrastructure of bases in the Greater Middle East has made it ever easier to go to war far from home. It has enabled wars of choice and an interventionist foreign policy that has resulted in repeated disasters for the region, the United States, and the world. Since 2001 alone, U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen have minimally caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and possibly more than one million deaths in Iraq alone.

The sad irony is that any legitimate desire to maintain the free flow of regional oil to the global economy could be sustained through other far less expensive and deadly means. Maintaining scores of bases costing billions of dollars a year is unnecessary to protect oil supplies and ensure regional peace — especially in an era in which the United States gets only around 10% of its net oil and natural gas from the region. In addition to the direct damage our military spending has caused, it has diverted money and attention from developing the kinds of alternative energy sources that could free the United States and the world from a dependence on Middle Eastern oil — and from the cycle of war that our military bases have fed.

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    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t see how you can call it “excellent” when it completely omits the trajectory, which was a sharp contraction followed by recovery, and the real reasons for the contraction.

      That account ignores all the looting that took place when the USSR fell. The plutocratic land grab played a big role in the fall in GDP, and even in male lifespans (a shocking four years).

      This story provides some much-needed perspective. A Harvard team was in the middle of all the graft:

      And that article was the reason Larry Summers resigned as Harvard president. The women in math and sciences remarks were a convenient cover story. The Institutional Investor article was stuffed in the mailbox of every Harvard faculty member the morning of the day when Summers got a vote of no confidence from the faculty.

      1. Vatch

        Even though Harvard economists were up to their ears in the plundering of post-Soviet Russia, if the Harvard folks hadn’t been involved, Russia still would have been thoroughly pillaged. The members of the former Soviet elite, the senior Communist Party members and KGB officers, had generations of experience looting the wealth of the Soviet Union. They knew how to hid money abroad, and they had the connections that enabled them to become the primary owners of Russia’s former Soviet assets. The new Russian oligarchy was primarily a Russian creation.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Did you read the article? There were specific mechanisms that greatly facilitated the process. One of my clients went to Russia with $100,000 in cash and is now worth $18 billion. He bought aluminum mines and production for pennies on the dollar. And he was not a Communist Party member nor a KGB officer. He’d only been in Russia through high school. The fact that everything was for sale was a result of Harvard neoliberal engineering.

          1. Vatch

            Did your client pay good money in bribes to the appropriate Russians, who were almost certainly ex-KGB or ex-Communist party officials? Of course the Neo-Liberals caused problems in Russia, but I suspect that mostly they just provided Russian elites with justification for what they wanted to do anyway.

            Reality is usually very complex, and the article acknowledges this near the end:

            How much did the scandal involving the Harvard Institute for International Development harm Russia?

            It’s easy to exaggerate the extent of U.S. influence. A glance at Iraq underscores how difficult it is for Washington to effect fundamental change in other countries: One can make the case that reforming Russia was more critical to the world — and more challenging. Sowing the seeds of shareholder capitalism in a country with an authoritarian history and no experience of free markets for seven decades was going to be an uphill task even for the elite of the premier U.S. academic institution.

            Notwithstanding those constraints, however, Harvard University was in a unique position to exert a powerful influence. Post-Soviet Russia turned to the West for help in rebuilding its economy and filling the vacuum left by communism’s fall. In running Harvard’s Russia Project, Andrei Shleifer and Jonathan Hay had an opportunity to preach the importance of integrity, transparency and fairness in shaping a business culture, and to work to enshrine those values in the country’s legal and financial infrastructure. Instead, their personal dealings sent a very different message.

            In other words, the Harvard people could have made a difference, but instead, they chose to be part of the problem.

            1. James

              It’s easy to exaggerate the extent of U.S. influence.

              But apparently much easier still to exaggerate the extent of Russian corruption, to which you’ve demonstrated exactly NO expertise to support your claims.

              In other words, the Harvard people could have made a difference, but instead, they chose to be part of the problem.

              Once again, more unsubstantiated bullshit. And all of this from an online dipshit that leads with this: Did your client pay good money in bribes to the appropriate Russians, who were almost certainly ex-KGB or ex-Communist party officials?

              Vatch, the Snatch? Congratulations my friend, you’ve become a cesspool!

      2. Chris Geary

        To be fair, I agree that the article omits the horrendous collapse, looting, fall in living standards etc. BUT it provides a 24-yr average growth perspective(admittedly not the best measure) which I think helps answer the fundamental question of how well the economies have been doing relative to the rich countries.

  1. not_me

    Admittedly, with the rise of neoliberalism, no one seems to care about governing well any more, Yves Smith

    Before the establishment of the Fed, which further cartelized them, the banks themselves policed each other. Any bank that created too many deposits relative to its reserves would find itself unable to meet reserve demands from other banks and quickly be in bankruptcy.

    1. proximity1

      “Before the establishment of the Fed, which further cartelized them, the banks themselves policed each other.”

      Maybe that’s a facetious comment–I can’t really tell.

      If not, then, FY-Readers’-I : some “Bankers policing each other,” circa 1900 :

      Apparently, Yves got it right where you cite her: “Admittedly, with the rise of neoliberalism, no one seems to care about governing well any more…”

      but you truncated her comment which went on to say, … “so there hasn’t been much thinking on how to run government in the 20th and 21st century that isn’t really about private sector profiteering. ”

      And, as if on cue, the criminal conspiracy which is also known by the name of “government” in Britain has just offered a fresh example in a story which Channel Four news broke exclusively in last evening’s broadcast. This scandal, though really typical in so many ways (and interesting for just that reason) is also both huge in its dimensions and promises months of deep worry and embarrassment for the political elite and many months full of billable hours for various legal firms over the next year or two.

      See : ” Big questions for Boris over billion dollar property deal ” by Michael Crick

      at this link:

      1. not_me

        The Panic of 1907 was the banks policing themselves except by then they had become TBTF without serious economic harm.

        And why were the banks TBTF in 1907? A major reason must be the negligence of the US Federal Government in NOT providing a risk-free storage and transaction service for its fiat. This occurred later in 1911 in the form of a Postal Savings Service BUT with limits on account size (initially $500).

        And who killed even that pitiful PSS? FDR did with the FDIC since

        “The system originally had a natural advantage over deposit-taking private banks because the deposits were always backed by “the full faith and credit of the United States Government.” However, because the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation gave the same guarantee to depositors in private banks, the Postal Savings System lost its natural advantage in trust.”

        Further discouragement came in the form of:

        “From 1921, depositors were fingerprinted. This was initially ‘not to be associated with criminology’ but in some instances the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar radio show in the early 1950s suggests Postal Savings account fingerprints were used for positive identification in criminal cases.”


        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Huh? The Panic of 1907 required a bailout by Treasury of $25 million, which was a ginormous number in that day. JP Morgan didn’t rescue them; he brokered a deal. The consternation over the rescue is what led to the creation of the Fed in 1913.

          So I have no idea what your point is. Your argument about “no serious economic harm” is on a par with “the TARP was paid back.”

          1. not_me

            I don’t see where we disagree here unless you think the banks in 1907 and in 2008 were NOT TBTF?

            The consternation over the rescue is what led to the creation of the Fed in 1913. Yves Smith

            Huh? How is creating a fiat creator/lender of last resort FOR THE BANKS an improvement over Federal bailouts for them except to replace bank crises with “stable” steady looting of the population?

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              You keep acting as if the period from 1933 through the later 1970s, when we had both government backstopping of deposits, strict regulation of banks, and a financial system that was subordinate to broader social purpose, did not exist. You treat all backstopping as looting. Sorry, we had a period when banks were treated as public utilities and regulations served to contain their risk-taking and profits.

              1. not_me

                And you keep ignoring that Watts and other urban areas burned during that period. So much for stable, prudent, well-regulated government-subsidized banking?

                What part of “the publics’ credit should be used for the general welfare ONLY” or at least not for the sake of the rich so eludes you guys?

                You want to hand out money to the poor and to 18 years starting out so they can buy cars and houses? Then go ahead, that’s legitimate. But subsidizing credit for the rich because they are always so-called “creditworthy” is disguised welfare for them.

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  You are going off the deep end. Watts had nothing to do with banking. It has to do with housing discrimination. It was the DEVELOPERS and rental landlords that ghettoized blacks in LA, not banks. They thought that if they let blacks into a new subdivision, no whites would buy houses there.

                  Are you now going to try telling me that state support of banking is responsible for discrimination too? And do I need to remind you that top tax rates were well over 70% in the 1960s, the economy was not financialized, and banks weren’t keen about giving personal loans to the wealthy? In fact, even the rich looked down on people who borrowed personally (which would include their peers), with the exception of home mortgages.

                  You’ve also managed to bring this issue in on a thread that has to do with America’s policy in the Middle East. This is thread-jacking on an utterly unrelated topic.

            2. skippy

              The ludicrous thing is Beardo, your preferred societal matrix is the ultimate looting system. The looting would get so bad and detrimental to society, as a whole, that the big jubilee button had to be pushed, before societal collapse occurred. And contrary to your professed hatred of the gold standard, you attempt to imbue the same quality’s of it and the utilization, to fiat by equivocation.

              Which is compounded by your equity payment system e.g. scraps from the masters table some how stops conclusion between market participants.

              Skippy… at the end of the day it all boils down to an esoteric premiss of – what humans should be – and then attempts to paint it what ever objet d’art wins over the crowd. Spontaneous order memes… barf~

      2. James Levy

        The “best” government we seem capable of getting is one where those in charge have the patience and good taste to wait for their pay-offs after they leave office. This gives them a little breathing room to make a decent decision or two while broadly channeling things the Power Elite’s way. “Bad” government comes when they can’t wait to get their snouts in the trough and start selling things to the highest bidder while they are still in office.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            That was the norm for most of the history of this country. Money is a way of buying status. If selling political favors is seen as crass and dishonest, it discourages most office holders from doing that. Prior to Reagan, who left office and pretty much immediately gave a speech in Japan for which he was paid $2.5 million, which would be tantamount to more like $5 million, it was seen as utterly unseemly for a major politician to make meaningful money from his time in office. His presidential pension was more than adequate.

            Indeed (and I need to check when it kicked in) but the presidential pension is pretty recent. For instance, Ulysses S. Grant was impoverished in his post presidential years. Similarly, Churchill, who despite being one of the most prolific and well paid journalists of the 20th century, nevertheless kept a large household and was always fending off creditors. He faced bankruptcy after his first stint as Prime Minister. A group of wealthy men who learned of his distress bought his house, Chartwell, for him to save him from losing it.

            1. proximity1

              “Indeed (and I need to check when it kicked in) but the presidential pension is pretty recent.”


              See also :

              Herbert Hoover was, by far, the oldest surviving retiree. But, before he died in 1964 the pension was in effect. He lived all but the last six years of his retirement ( 31.6 years in all) prior to the pension. Harry Truman’s case is similar–lived many years after leaving office and spent some on both sides of the pension divide. Millard Filmore and, even more, John Adams, lived quite a long time and never enjoyed the federal pension. Wm. Howard Taft lived a long time after leaving the White House but, from July 1921 until his death in 1930 he had the income of a U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice.

  2. David Lentini

    Good article and summary of how we got here.

    But I find using the word “empire”, like “progressive”, to be so vague and strained as to be unhelpful, because it keep us from defining the real problem.

    We don’t have an empire. We have a lot of military bases, which are some of the outward trappings of an empire. But those military bases don’t function to keep Washington in direct control of the lands in which they reside. The bases largely function as a means for protecting U.S. corporate interests. As Kevin Philips argued in his book, American Theocracy, much of our military activity in the Middle East functions to keep various economic relationships operating for Wall Street.

    Perhaps, following Sheldon Wolin’s great work, we should call this “Inverted Empire”.

    The difference with a real empire is crucial. Warts and all, the British (as well as every other real empire in history) sought from the beginning to control the foreign lands they claimed as their own. As Yves pointed out, that meant providing infrastructure and governance. In as sense, as the British and French know well today, and the ancient Romans learned, empire means a melding of cultures.

    We largely have none of that. Our military bases serve, as Smedly Butler put it so well, as part of a racket. We don’t want to control and territory as part of some American empire. We certainly don’t want “those” people coming here. But our corporate overlords want the resources and financial benefits of being able to “dominate” the area with violence when it suits us. In short, our foreign policy is a protection racket. It is the use of the government’s military power for the private benefit of corporate sponsors. It is inverted empire.

    Of course, no one in the U.S. would vote for that. Instead, as Phillips points out, we use two canards to keep the game going. First, we often couch these efforts in religious terms, in order to appeal to the evangelical strains of American culture. This was most prominent in China during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Second, we appeal to a definition of “national security” that is so broad as to be useless; but the appeal is made to a fear of attack that rivals the old Soviet need for a Warsaw Pact buffer zone.

    So, the great irony is that the country that calls itself a freedom-loving capitalism in reality practices a mechantilist cronyism that is draped in sentimentality and fear mongering.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      But the British were far more efficient. I need to track down the reference, but I believe they had all of 800 civil servants running the entire subcontinent of India. They brought lots of locals into the project. By contrast:

      The Embassy of the United States of America in Baghdad is the diplomatic mission of United States of America in the Republic of Iraq. At 104 acres (42 ha), it is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, and is nearly as large as Vatican City….

      The embassy complex employs 15,000 people and cost $750 million to build.,_Baghdad

      So we have much less formal control at far greater cost.

      1. James

        Definitely a feature from the Inverted Empire’s point of view. That’s 15K+ more people in on the graft.

      2. Katniss Everdeen

        I think that as envisioned, this was supposed to be far more than merely an “embassy.”

        More like Washington, D. C./ Baghdad Campus.

      3. Clive

        Yes, that’s a widely accepted view. Exact figures vary (the “800 running India” is probably apotherical but not an order of magnitude out) — even the most toppy estimate says we ran the whole Empire with 120,000 and that is kitchen sinking the estimate to count everyone and anyone including military forces then adding a big multiplier as a contingency for the estimate. The Empire included about 1/3 of the landmass of Africa, the whole of Australia, Canada, India and HK which puts the 15,000 just to “manage” Iraq into perspective. The link above notes the importance of establishing localised “support” of one kind or another (referred to in the link as “local elites” which probably puts it very well) in making the whole thing feasible. Which it was, for quite a long time. Until, like all empires, it wasn’t.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, I recall Churchill was garrisoned in India when he was young and spent his time playing polo and reading great speeches from Parliament to work on his rhetoric. So those troops, which look to have been a lot less active than our military in the Middle East, should be included in the total.

          1. Jonny Dingoestious

            Very very few of the 2.2 million service men are involved in fighting the enemy on a daily basis.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I suggest you read up on what is happening to active duty service people IN THE MIDDLE EAST, which is what we are talking about. Suicide is at record levels thanks to the stress.

          2. Roland

            At least he learned how to speak Urdu while he was over there.

            One of the depressing thing about the West’s protracted occupation of Afghanistan is how few officers or officials have learned to speak any of the languages in that country.

      4. Carolinian

        As it happens I’ve been reading a book called The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon. The Brits with their classical educations were very cognizant of comparisons with the Roman Empire and in many ways tried to emulate that model of efficient administration and use of local proxies. They were also extremely racist and casually violent toward their charges. In Kenya–for many years an obscure backwater–the Europeans would shoot natives for sport when not stealing their land. For many years British imperialism was, particularly as embodied by FDR, the thing we were against. Lentini is right that we’ve never been an empire in the formal sense and back in the 60s just the phrase “American Imperialism” was considered by many to be an outrageous slur.

        The Brits with their “white man’s burden” (the very phrase says it all) did bring modern civilization to many areas but in end left chaos in their wake when WW2 finally killed off their empire. Clearly this, at least, is one aspect of the British Empire we are doing our damnedest to reproduce.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, their conduct towards native people was often deplorable, particularly in Africa, but the idea that we can hold ourselves as so much more virtuous after what we did to Native Americans and black slaves reflects a rather large blind spot. And we weren’t too nice to Chinese immigrants work on railroads either. And some US companies trafficked in coolies to South Africa and South America, which unlike Chinese immigrants to the US, were virtually slaves.

          1. James Levy

            A Japanese diplomatic rather undiplomatically back in the 1930s pointed out that if the American West was not an Empire, what was? It was either bought from France (and who in hell gave France the right to it in the first place) or stolen from Mexico (which had a better claim than the French, but not much). America in the 19th century was like Russia–a contiguous, continental empire rather than an overseas empire. The last person to stand up to the tide of Empire was Grover Cleveland, who refused to acknowledge the “white” takeover of Hawaii by accepting their call for annexation by the United States. McKinley reversed that, and succumb to the wild calls for war and Empire in 1898 (modern historians now believe rather against his will–TR never ceased doubting poor McKinley’s “virility”). America has since then preferred what political economists call “the imperialism of free trade” (see Open Door), but no major political office holder has seriously stood against the drive for global domination (maybe Bryan when he was Secretary of State, maybe).

            1. Carolinian

              Of course historically Americans shared many of the attitudes of the English since lots of us were English. Which is not to slag the English since I’m of the opinion that people act pretty much the same wherever they come from (those native Americans we exploited had their own empires). I’m just saying that Americans have always been shy, or if you will hypocritical, about embracing colonialism since we were the colony that first revolted.

              As for Roosevelt, by the mid 20th century there was a broad belief that colonialism was finished. Churchill resented this greatly but couldn’t openly oppose FDR who was saving his bacon.

              All of which is to say America is undoubtedly an empire but a somewhat different sort of empire from the British.

              Incidentally if nobody has linked this–somewhat amusing.


          2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            Thus today, one can enjoy Chifa (Chinese Peruvian food) in Machu Picchu.

            And the oldest Chinese restaurant is said to be by the Panama Canal.

            I think the saying is ‘if you can build a great wall, you can build anything…a transcontinental railroad, a canal or an Inca palalce.’

      5. David Lentini

        Agreed. Inefficiency is a feature, not a bug, of our inverted empire. It arises from the graft, corruption, and general lack of national strategy (which is subordinated to cronyism). That’s consistent with my point—a real empire would be far better for the nation has a whole when compared to our current inverted empire. The British ran thier empire better, because they sought to have a true empire.

        But we don’t seek a real empire, since that woul require a national goal and serious governance. Our policies are driven for the benefit of the corporate power structure, which seeks to use public resources for selfish private benefit. The neoliberal harangue over “inefficient” government provides a great cover, since no one can see what’s really happening through all the smoke.

        1. Paul Niemi

          You are right, David, we don’t have an empire per se. The test is collection of taxes in the occupied state, used to pay for an imperial administration. We don’t do that, and we generally pay for use of the bases. What we do have is a form of hegemony, a word I didn’t see in the passage above, and we do prop up regimes. The key here is it is unnecessary, and the money could be better spent at home. The long supply lines of the military bases will become increasingly costly as technology evolves, because eventually someone will put drone technology into mines or torpedoes and start sinking ships anonymously. Then the game will be over. I’ll have to ask Craazyboy about idea of robot submarines.

        2. Nathanael

          This is interestingly similar to the long collapse phase of the Roman Empire, when each legion was operated primarily for private looting… and eventually the looting legions turned their eyes on the most prestigious prize, which was Rome.

    2. Moneta

      Something tells me that somewhere along the way, the mercenaries had more control of the faraway conquests than Rome did…

      I find it intriguing how, when in the middle of something blatant, a game of semantics typically kicks in.

      The US is an empire. Since the 70s it has been using its reserve currency status and military to force its might on the ROW.

      Maybe because for the average American it hurts to think they are not benefitting the way they would like to and hate to think about how their world could come crashing down if America lost this position. But I’m sure many Romans and slaves felt the same way.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          The Mongols built several empires through military might alone.

          The Yuan Dynasty empire in China didn’t last long…less than one hundred years.

    3. Moneta

      Here in Canada, the British were focused on the resources. In their laissez-faire style, they actually got the church to lead and control the French speaking colonists so they did not have to waste time doing it.

      But as we know with US independence, what was successful short-term, was a failure long term.

      1. EoinW

        Maybe not a total failure. English speaking Canadians didn’t hesitate to support the fight in two world wars, which had nothing to do with Canada. Even Canadian volunteers for the South African War(1899-1901) were significant. With November 11th just past it is pretty obvious we still glorify our military in the best British tradition. The psychological scars of empire are long term. Just try suggesting taking the queen’s image off our money. The legacy of Empire remains.

    4. Banger

      Not only a racket but an Orwellian racket at that. It won’t last–they’re beginning to tread on thin ice.

  3. Katniss Everdeen

    Apparently this “garrison strategy” has been deemed so successful that it has been “reimported” to our beloved homeland, with mini-garrisons masquerading as police departments–from every big city to every hamlet and burg across this mighty land.

    It’s a good thing too, since there may be a significant amount of anti-Americanism about to be unleashed in that homegrown Anbar Province known as Ferguson, MO.

    Tigris and Euphrates. Mississippi and Missouri. Hammer and nail.

      1. proximity1

        The song all this brought to mind for me is the beautiful and esquisitely poetic “All Her Favorite Fruit” from those geniuses called “Camper Van Beethoven”

        …And I’d like to take her there, rather than this train
        And if I weren’t a civil servant, I’d have a place in the colonies
        We’d play croquet behind white-washed walls and drink our tea at four
        Within intervention’s distance of the embassy
        The midday air grows thicker with the heat
        And drifts towards the line of trees
        When negroes blink their eyes, they sink into siesta
        And we are rotting like a fruit underneath a rusting roof
        We dream our dreams and sing our songs of the fecundity
        Of life and love
        Of life and love
        Of life and love

        1. proximity1

          Oooops. What an embarrassment! Not a great transcription of the lyrics–
          I copied and pasted in haste-d from a pre-fab site which gets both words and rhythm wrong. A pity to do that to such a fine song.

          The ridiculous “When negroes blink their eyes, they sink into siesta

          is really Where (i.e. the line of trees–beyond, of course, the whitewashed walls behind which the colonists are playing croquet)

          The midday air grows thicker
          with the heat
          And drifts towards
          the line of trees
          Where negroes blink their eyes,
          They sink into siesta …

  4. Banger

    This is the imperial critique-lite similar to the work of Chalmers Johnson and others. It isn’t “wrong” because it offers us an accurate picture that contradicts the Washington Consensus/MSM propaganda line that has been in place, officially, since the days of the Creel Committee. The policy has been a sort of disaster. Like Yves, I admired the British Empire ability to actually rule countries (even though it looted India in the 18th century, it later provided some sane structure to the sub-continent).

    However, Vine’s narrative is flawed and misses the main point many of us have made here for some time. The “mistakes were made” trope is nonsense–the policy is not a bug but a feature. First of all, we need to deconstruct that the United States Government is a government of a nation-state–it is partly that but it has evolved into far more than that. Let’s put it into perspective here and start on basics. First, the U.S. military does not exist to primarily provide the nation-state with secuirty, i.e., protect borders make sure the shipping lanes remain open and even make sure oil flows from the ME. Those tasks are a minor task that could be accomplished with no more than 20% of current U.S. Defense expenditures. The main focus of the MIC is to provide jobs for people in important Congressional districts and make outlandish profits for government contractors of all kinds. This has been exhaustively documented for decades even by the MSM when it was a bit more independent in past decades. I repeat–security is a secondary (at best) mission of the MIC and the National Security State (NSS) or Deep State. The CIA/NSA and other intel organizations who are, for the most part, immune from regulation or oversight even by Congress run their own “show” or their own “national” agenda. I won’t go into detail since people are frightened by going “deep” but let me put it in as simple a way as possible. To those of you familiar with Game Theory you might grasp this: if you set up a game where one actor has the advantage of acting secretly while the other actors must make their intentions and policies clear to everyone in the game that entity, no matter how badly run, will over many iterations of that game have a huge competitive advantage. Why this is hard for people to understand when it is so bloody obvious, I will never understand. To put it another way the covert operators can do almost whatever they want. They can maintain an criminal network, deal drugs, assassinate leaders, and threaten any of us they please.

    So, I believe that wars and threats are mainly Orwellian shows meant to keep us paying for the protection racket that is solidly ensconced in this country. The ME is a convenient playing field for these people and they are only limited by the cooperation of other powerful forces in Washington–mainly, the MSM and the Wall Street plutocrats and other corporate barons. These forces check the more extreme tendencies of the NSS. Washington is a balance of power within an Imperial capital that features powerful forces foreign and domestic where they gather to negotiate for a piece of the Imperial pie. There actually are people in that Star Wars cafe rouges gallery of characters who do care about the country as a whole and their influence keeps things from getting even worse though they have a very tenuous hold on power. That’s why people like Elizabeth Warren tread very, very, very carefully because the heavy hitters mean business and will kill you without flinching like Frank Underwood did to one of the characters in The House of Cards–that’s the reality few progressive have the courage to face.

    I also object to the idea that Islamic fundamentalism is a result of “blowback.” Certainly that is part of it particularly at this point as we can see from ISIL (though I think there is also a major component of more traditional motivations for warfare like raping and looting). However, the overwhelming evidence is that the U.S. and it’s chief ally Saudi Arabia have been encouraging and overtly and (mainly) covertly supporting Islamic fundamentalists since the 1950s as a check to Arab Nationalism (Nasserism) and socialism. This fact is unassailable and most graphically demonstrated by the support of those forces in Afghanistan that were fighting the Soviet Union. We forget, btw, that the socialist regime that the SU supported was a thousand times more progressive (if heavy handed) than all subsequent governments and our policy of arming the fundamentalist forces was strictly in line with creating more conflict, more misery, more hate–though at that time the policy was still more in the hands of actual strategists who were able to united the disparate forces in Washington with the goal of toppling the SU, as long as they could continue their criminal activities (importing cocaine and heroin).

    I believe, as most of you know, that the 9/11 events were not mainly carried out by Osama Bin Laden but as part of an intel operation he may or may not have been involved in (the evidence is scant for his involvement) to create a national mood of fear and loathing that would “unite” the public with common purpose and fulfill what people like Adam Smith considered the virtue of war–train young people to become mature adults (go read his Theory of Moral Sentiments) and kept up a nationalist fervor that would get people to request that the Constitution would be suspended in a perpetual war without end. Whoever was involved in this operation knew that even if there was obvious evidence of it being a covert op no one would believe it and that the American intellectual class would remain supine and uncurious about those events. That assertion I just made disqualifies me or anyone that makes it (despite overwhelming evidence in my favor) from being taken seriously. Seldom do our critics engage us in dispute about facts–it’s either that these facts are irrelevant to the issue (as if history is irrelevant!) or those of us who make these statements are deluded and paranoid. But, I don’t see how it is possible to critique U.S. policy in the region without a close examination of the events of 9/11 where jets were sent in the opposite part of North America on that day–the Arabs involved had to have known at least that fact.

    1. proximity1

      RE: …I believe, as most of you know, that the 9/11 events were not mainly carried out by Osama Bin Laden but as part of an intel operation he may or may not have been involved in….”

      Fine, except that that dds nothing either interesting or necessary to David Vine’s picture as presented. In effect, you adopt VIne’s views and then tag on, gratuitously, your above-cited claims. But that view doesn’t give us any additional insights into the already generally accepted and entirely unflattering picture of the M.I.C. here. Nowhere do you even suggest what we’re supposed to expect in the days and years ahead that is, essentially due to your views and is also, without them, neither explicable nor predictable.

      1. Banger

        My point is that the ME situation cannot be understood without understanding the U.S. and Saudi involvement in using fundamentalism to destroy non-fundamentalist regimes and create general chaos in the region. 9/11 is part and parcel of that project–without it there would have been no Afghanistan and Iraq Wars in contradistinction to the “blowback” argument.

        Anyway, I don’t get your argument which restates what I critique–the notion that U.S. covert activities “don’t matter” substantially in the politics of our time. I don’t buy this and we have, in my view, an honest disagreement on this.

        If the Gulf Royals are responsible for ISIL (along with Turkey which is glaringly obvious) then that should give us pause to think a little about what sort of policy to pursue and who the actual enemies are. Is it the Royals in the Gulf, Turkey, Israel (always meddling) or is the enemy closer to home? And, as the main character in The King and I used to say, etc., etc., etc.

        1. proximity1

          RE : “My point is that the ME situation cannot be understood without understanding the U.S. and Saudi involvement in using fundamentalism to destroy non-fundamentalist regimes and create general chaos in the region. ”

          Since the U.S. government has shown a capacity to both make and un-make both fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist regimes as their (or its if you prefer) needs may require, the (now “clarified” / revised) rationale of your point as stated there falls apart.

          Just in Iran alone and in the 20th century, the U.S. got rid of a non-fundamentalist ( Mohammad Mosaddegh), saw him replaced by the Shah (Reza Shah Pahlavi ), opposed the Shah’s fundamentalist successor ( Ayatollah Khomenei ) with no less zeal than it felt against Mohammad Mosaddegh and, since then has blown both hot and cold concerning the people who have come since then. I don’t see any useful application of the conspiracy theory you’re touting here (in this instance).

          1. Banger

            Well, don’t compare Sunni extremism with the Shia variety. The first has broad imperial ambitions (the Caliphate) that are not present in Shia fundamentalism. The Saudi royals were the ones who bankrolled the maddrassas in Pakistan and allied with the ISI to form the Taliban. Iran, in contrast, (in Afghanistan) mainly acted as a moderating force. It was not Iran who attacked Iraq but Iraq, at the urging of the U.S., that invaded Iran. The Iranian regime of Mullahs as obnoxious as they are are way more moderate and democratic than any of the U.S. client states in the region–and that’s what pisses of a lot of neocons. Again, I’m saying that the U.S. manufactures enemies and wars in order to achieve particular objectives–though these days I believe those “objectives” are vague and confused and mainly exist to create chaos so that contractors can profit all this because of power-struggles within the NSS or so it appears.

    2. James

      The true beauty of 9-11 is that it was a lie so big that very few could believe it (and likewise, no one that didn’t could believe anyone else would be stupid enough to believe it either). Even now, it seems surreal to think that anyone could pull off something so utterly audacious. But once you get over that, you realize the enormity of the forces we’re dealing with, and it damn sure makes you think twice about stepping out of line and crossing them. If Kennedy, King, and Kennedy didn’t get your attention back in the 60s, then 9-11 will damn sure put a hitch in your liberal giddy up. Whoever’s responsible definitely laid down a marker for the generations to come.

    3. Paul Niemi

      There you go again. I was reading down your large post, thinking I was in agreement with every point. It was welcome. Then in the last paragraph you twist to the idea 9-11 was a government conspiracy. All I can say is, if you want to persevere in that, show the proof; name the names, and take it to the logical conclusion, because you are describing treason, and every purported fact to support that has been refuted.

      1. lightningclap

        Not the government. A faction within the government, able to utilize resources of the government. Like the events of 11/22/63, there is ample evidence that the official version is false; yet assigning blame to particular individuals is almost impossible based on available information.

      2. Banger

        Well, usually people don’t want proof because that kind of stuff takes time to look into. But here is a 5 minute amusing video that may whet your appetite–the rest is up to you. But let me ask you why the planes that could have intercepted the hijacked planes weren’t there? And why wasn’t there ever a forensic-based investigation of the events–the actual “investigation” was nothing of the sort if you actually read the book–nowhere do they deal with the routine analysis of the forensic evidence. All other plane crashes and building collapses are carefully investigated but not that series of events.

        Finally, in reference to James’ comment above–I will repeat in defense of “conspiracy theories” in general how is it possible that Thomas Noguchi’s autopsy of RFK found he had been shot at point blank range (1 inch) from the back and below while Sirhan was in front and fired 13 shots out of a 9 shot revolver as speeds (audio evidence) that no one can shoot (try it)? That is an open and shut case that “somebody” other than Sirhan shot RFK and that it was covered up. I always cite that because it is the easiest one to easily state in a comment because of the obvious nature of the evidence. Everyone is aware of police-procedure shows and the centrality of the Coroner’s report.

        1. Paul Niemi

          You are employing the complex question fallacy, which the video does also. For an explanation:

          Other than loaded questions, you offer no witness, evidence, or explanation to support your allegations. It is disingenuous, and I think disrespectful to those who lost their lives in 9-11 and their families. I’m willing to excuse young people their quick opinions, who may be gullible to this sort of rhetoric, but I think you are old enough to know better. Perhaps you have been carried away in confabulation of facts sometimes, but those who enjoy most of what you write would probably like to have you return to solid earth.

          1. James

            Other than loaded questions, you offer no witness, evidence, or explanation to support your allegations. It is disingenuous, and I think disrespectful to those who lost their lives in 9-11 and their families.

            There’s plenty of witnesses, evidence, and explanation for those who are willing to hear it. The fact that many think it disrespectful to those who lost their lives is, of course, one of the extremely strong points of the original conspiracy. The dead are dead, they could care less. It’s for the living to decide the truth now. Don’t be deceived!

          2. Gaianne

            Paul Niemi–

            No complex question. No fallacy.

            The facts are plain, the laws of physics are clear and cannot be suspended or over-ruled.

            With no doubt whatever the following can be concluded:

            1) The official story was and is false.

            2) This is not an accident, or a mistake.


            3) The official story is a deliberate falsehood–a lie.


            3a) People can repeat the lie, without knowing that it is a lie.

            Nonetheless the original liars were completely knowing and deliberate.

            Item 3 reaches in several different directions. But that is not at issue in today’s thread as we are not interested here in who pulled what triggers, misdirected which American air defenses, or why the liars lied or any other such (very interesting) matters. Today we are only concerned with the evidence that the part of the Government that operates in public, and is in theory and often in practice accountable to its citizens–as in a democracy, it must be for that democracy to function–is in fact constrained and occasionally superseded by by political forces that are more powerful, secret, and unaccountable.

            You seem to want to deny these facts. Much good may it do you! But that is your problem.

            It is not my problem.


      3. James

        The sad thing about “treason” is that we’ve learned quite a bit about it these past few years since 9-11. We’ve learned that it’s quite a malleable word, to those who get to define it anyway, and we’ve learned that those who get to define it increasingly reside within the narrow confines of the Executive Branch of the US Government (although the legislative branch is laughingly compliant with those whims as well), and that further, their judgments aren’t open for appeal or rebuttal, at least not in what any reasonable observer could possibly construe as a timely or transparently fair manner. So even if 9-11 wasn’t an inside job, and I know it’s hard to believe if you grew up like I did believing in the basic goodness of the US (I’m retired military by the way), 9-11’s still been most bountiful in its many blessings bestowed on the National Security State, a fact that in itself I find more than a little bit troubling.

    4. Jim


      I really liked the 2nd paragraph of your essay where you state that “We need to deconstruct that the United States Government is a government of a national state. It is partly that but it has evolved into far more than that.”

      That sentence, from my perspective, raises some key cultural and political issues.

      I would argue that there is plenty of empirical material to support the hypothesis that the modern state developed(think especially England, France, US) as a result of the emergence of national consciousness and a sense of national identity.

      This emergence of national consciousness and national identity redefined the nature of political reality after about 1600. Of course political identities existed earlier (think relationship of vassals to Feudal lords) but the emergence of national consciousness seemed to change the ballgame–a new political/economic order based on a new form of consciousness was created.

      This historically new experience of national consciousness seemed to promote the type of social structure which the emerging modern economy needed in order to develop ( stratified yet somewhat open in terms of mobility as well as an appreciation of the dignity of national identity among the member population).

      In sum, nationalism is not, at its foundation a social structure, but rather a modern form of consciousness which led to particular types of social structure.

      There is so much more to all this, especially your point about the nation-state evolving into something far more–of which I completely agree.

      For now I just wanted to get out there what I consider to be a powerful cultural argument for the creation of capitalism–it was perhaps nationalism not the Protestant ethic that was the key motivating phenomena.

  5. camelotkidd

    I like to describe the US imperial project as greedy/ideology, which is a large reason that our foreign policy appears to be so chaotic and dysfunctional. The description of the US as an inverted-empire is spot on. While not beneficial to the vast majority of Americans, this inverted empire is very profitable for the wealthy and the corporations they control.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      And the global reserve currency does that – it requires trade deficits so the wealthy can use it to subjugate the world.

  6. NotTimothyGeithner

    The British Empire had access to superior technology and luxury goods for a much longer time, and more importantly, the British were in competition with the French who really were a bunch of thugs. In Europe, the two powers were growing closer, but colonial hostilities were still all the rage.

    I think the U.S. is behaving how the British would have behaved if the U.S. had not told them to cut it out. British civilian populations like Americans weren’t at risk from retaliation. The UK knew the state of every colony. Locals in colony X would naturally be behind. Withholding information would be easier than it is today. Nehru couldn’t send a fleet up the Thames to raid London, so I think the more competent anti-colonial forces recognized there was an all or nothing aspect to the conflict.

    The U.S. doesn’t enjoy the tech advantages the British had over the colonies and doesn’t have a competitor to keep them honest anymore*. After all, the “brilliant” British bureaucrats replaced lemons with limes to save money and faced a scurvy epidemic as a result. Keynes rose to prominence for suggesting that the ineffectual British postal system model itself on the U.S. post office which had the curious distinction of delivering mail. The British seem more competent because there was less reporting.

    * Besides the French, the British were worried local governments would make deals with the Germans before World War I.

    1. James Levy

      Um, if you’ve read Janet Browne’s magisterial biography of Darwin you will note that in the 1850s the Royal Mail was a superlative institution and without it Darwin’s ability to sit in Down House and converse with experts throughout the world would have been impossible. The Royal Mail was still working beautifully in the 1990s when I lived there. And Keynes, like so many others in the early 20th century, was likely bamboozled by things American, because America meant progress and modernity, don’t you know.

      The British did plenty of things poorly, but it would be a mistake to imagine that they were just lucky or it was all just technology. Military historians have shown pretty clearly that the big advantage Europeans had was in organization, training (cadence and close order drill being key), logistics, and bloody-minded stick-to-it-iveness. After 1860 technology just made it all a lot cheaper. And Europeans much earlier developed a way of looking at war as a process, not an event (Americans have reverted to seeing war as an event with a clear beginning, middle and end, good guys and bad guys, and resolution, ergo like a Hollywood film).

    2. I.G.I.

      Well, if Hobsbawm is to be believed the French were never a competitor of the British. True, both powers were suspicious of each other, but they operated largely in different domains – while France influence was mostly limited to Continental Europe, Britain exercised global control over trade and financial transactions.

  7. Jim

    I wanted to briefly lay out the implications of my comment above( which is primarily based on the three major texts of Liah Greenfeld)–which gets into another major theme of this particular thread–the issue of best government?

    What may be fundamentally needed if we are critical of modern capitalism is a new cultural paradigm to replace nationalism (which is a form of human consciousness that originated in the 16th century( and became a key motivating factor– as the “spirit” of capitalism– in the sense that it was capable of generating economic growth as a consequence of a collective rivalry inherent in nationalism’s nature.

    So best government might be partially linked to a different political theory of the State, not a nationalistic theory, but a theory of real federalism which would have the potential to dramatically democratize the US as well as eventually take on the totalitarian National Security State.

    But most importantly a structural system decentralization of both Big Capital and Big State might open space for the emergence of a new cultural pluralism that might eventually replace an outmoded national identify and an outmoded capitalism that had been based on an increasingly outmoded nationalism.


    1. James

      Sounds pretty ambitious! Not to rain on that parade, but I think Global Capitalism has even more ambition though, and it’s largely already in place. And as we’re all witnessing everyday now, Global Capitalism, allied with the various and sundry “National Security States,” which are themselves increasingly little more than thinly veiled mercenary armies for hire, plays for keeps! On the plus side, Global Capitalism’s mostly OK with cultural pluralism. It’s monetary consolidation that it seeks.

      1. Jim

        Many NC readers are a part of what I would call the more traditional left. The tend to favor a powerful centralized State as a key instrument to contain capitalism. But my reading of the origins and evolution of capitalism is that it was inspired by a national consciousness which then lead to the eventual creation of the impersonal bureaucratic State. The creation of this impersonal State has primarily served to strengthened capitalism not weakened or contained it.

        From my perspective this project is not that ambitious just the minimum needed.

        What do we have to lose?

        1. James

          Good points Jim. What I’m saying is that Global Capitalism has basically leapfrogged the ideas you propose and superseded them.

  8. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    In a way, US military bases and troops stationed there are the ‘illegal alien’ problem of those host nations, who have an open-border problem.

    These countries fail in their duty to protect their borders.

    1. James

      Granted. But in defense against what? The unquestioned global military and economic hegemon who dictates terms at will?

    2. Nathanael

      The Islamic State is doing quite will at eliminating US invaders.

      This is, of course, why it’s popular.

      There’s been a process of natural selection going on among groups fighting to oust Americans. Each time the US breaks up one group, the next group to arise is tougher, stronger, cleverer.

      Since the US military is *not* undergoing natural selection, eventually the US military will just lose outright to one of these groups.

  9. Trousers Rolled

    In the seventeenth century England was a small, poor, backwards, disease-ridden and malnourished country. India in the seventeenth was large and rich. The process of Empire was simply transfer of wealth. That transfer was massively inefficient. The original sources of wealth were destroyed. The goose that laid the golden egg was killed.

    The biggest con of Empire was the notion that white skin was supeior. The natives fully bought into that con. Apparently the con still goes on. Readers here apparently know nothing of the history of colonialism in spite of inheriting all the wealth. The myth of the wonders of the British Civil Service is just that. Please read any post-Kipling history.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? English yeoman farmers who had access to common pasture land (most of them) lived comfortably with very little work, between hunting, having a few animals, and farming on their own modest plot of land. Women did embroidery and lace work or home weaving to bring in extra cash. Trade with India wrecked the home textile industry. The gradual removal of common rights (hunting and to the commons) was a deliberate effort by the emerging merchant classes to create a pool of cheap exploitable labor. Income and living conditions fell among the English working classes in the first two generations after the Industrial Revolution started. This is well documented and not controversial if you are familiar with the history of that period (I studied it in college, FWIW).

      Here is a recent recap, courtesy Yasha Levine:

      One thing that the historical record makes obviously clear is that Adam Smith and his laissez-faire buddies were a bunch of closet-case statists, who needed brutal government policies to whip the English peasantry into a good capitalistic workforce willing to accept wage slavery.

      Francis Hutcheson, from whom Adam Smith learned all about the virtue of natural liberty, wrote: ”it is the one great design of civil laws to strengthen by political sanctions the several laws of nature. … The populace needs to be taught, and engaged by laws, into the best methods of managing their own affairs and exercising mechanic art.”

      Yep, despite what you might have learned, the transition to a capitalistic society did not happen naturally or smoothly. See, English peasants didn’t want to give up their rural communal lifestyle, leave their land and go work for below-subsistence wages in shitty, dangerous factories being set up by a new, rich class of landowning capitalists. And for good reason, too. Using Adam Smith’s own estimates of factory wages being paid at the time in Scotland, a factory-peasant would have to toil for more than three days to buy a pair of commercially produced shoes. Or they could make their own traditional brogues using their own leather in a matter of hours, and spend the rest of the time getting wasted on ale. It’s really not much of a choice, is it?

      But in order for capitalism to work, capitalists needed a pool of cheap, surplus labor. So what to do? Call in the National Guard!

      Faced with a peasantry that didn’t feel like playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

      “The brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves might seem far removed from the laissez-faire reputation of classical political economy,” writes Perelman. “In reality, the dispossession of the majority of small-scale producers and the construction of laissez-faire are closely connected, so much so that Marx, or at least his translators, labeled this expropriation of the masses as ‘‘primitive accumulation.’’

      Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.

      1. Trousers Rolled

        After this I will drop it. And probably not post on this site again.

        To get back to the main point I attempted to make. Colonialism was about pillage and plunder. The Civil Service put a fine job of makeup on a pig. To the ‘natives’ colonial administration looked like Death and like the End Of The World. If you want to valorize English colonial administration you must also valorize the Opium Wars and the slave trade. The English did nothing better in the colonies than the slave trade. Except to write fairytales about the experience and sell them with great success.

        And Native Americans definitely thought those sturdy yeoman were puny and sickly.

  10. Roland

    The USA levies doesn’t rule directly. That has little to do with whether we call it an “empire.”

    Many empires, including the Roman, Athenian, British, Soviet etc. often characterized themselves in whole or in part as alliances or federations. If you tried to colour a map to show every separate technical class of political relationship contained within the Roman Empire, at least before the third century AD, you might run out of crayons. Centuries afterward, seen in broad historical perspective, we usually simply shade the whole zone as “The Roman Empire.” The future will regard the USA’s global hegemony from a similar perspective.

    It is also claimed that the USA imposes no tribute. That claim is mistaken.

    The USA’s world reserve fiat currency, with its concomitant huge chronic current account deficits, is a system of real wealth extraction. People all around the world produce vast amounts of real goods and services for the US metropole to consume, and the imperial centre rewards much of the labour of the world with mere effortless fiat, electronic impulses of Pure Will!

    The typical negotiation in today’s global marketplace could be scripted thus for the USA:

    “Oh, I guess we owe you, since we are maintaining the lovely illusion of a global free market that invisibly benefits everybody. So here, by all means, please acknowledge, with our sincerest compliments, a token of our burgeoning debt, which we both really know is never going to be repaid at anything like its current purchasing power! We are forever in your debt, and on these terms, we intend to never stop borrowing!

    “And just to remind you, in the fine print as it were, if you should ever attempt to stop lending to us on the terms we alone define, we shall employ the manifold trade alliances and financial networks which we dominate, to systematically sanction and choke off all your other commerce, and drive your people headlong into poverty, until they are made meek and ready to welcome some of our approved local compradores to govern them, in a renewed condition of freedom.

    “Moreover, if your obtuse unwillingness to interact with our world order lasts too long, we may lose our imperial patience and instead of staging a cute little ‘colour revolution,’ we will put together one of our famous coalitions, of some sort or another, to simply shatter your country altogether.

    “For we will not permit any who defy us to stand as an example of peace or prosperity. Instead, vivid examples will be made of the sort of protracted chaos and misery which inevitably await all who fail to subscribe themselves enthusiastically to the one true final modern world system, whose historic will we, at its acme, uniquely embody and express.

    “Our world system, although of course proudly secular and rational in its origin, under our auspices becomes something more, with metaphysical value added–the sacred market space within which all the peoples of the world will interact with one another for the rest of time. Who could not find meaning for all current life and future evolution, within such a glorious interactive space? Why any past life, except to fully capitalize the world, and thus make everything fittest for the ubiquitous market to come?

    “We will allow no peer rivals in the field of global systems provision, and we reserve the right to preventively war upon any who dare nourish such pretensions.

    “Indeed our unmatched capacity to inflict sudden destruction and disorder upon any region of the world, whenever and wherever we choose, is what truly underwrites the value of the electronic impulses of pure will, with which we reward your humble real productive efforts.

    “Therefore should you not lend us whatever we demand, and be grateful for all the useful occupations in which we, under our vision, have decided to employ you? We make you rich in experiences. We foster your diversity, within the comfort of a uniform global market discipline.

    “We can together delight in the elaborate contractual rituals of exchange which characterize our daily microcultural interactions. All you think and do is the ultimate result of what we, by fiat, declare will be done.

    “Why would you ever, except in a condition of unhappy barbarism and blindness, attempt to frustrate the historic utility which we represent?

    “May the Invisible Hand assist you always, in managing the pace of change in our exciting global opportunity system!”

    When we look at the USA of our time, we regard an “empire.” That is what we are talking about here. It is not anything else. It is not an inverted, converted, or transpolyunsaturated empire. The USA’s empire is a system of real military and political domination, underlain by considerable worldwide real wealth extraction. The empire is overlain by a cultural–indeed nearly religious–narrative that defines all its imperial activities as being natural, necessary, inevitable, and without end.

    Like other empires, many people all over the world assimilate to the imperial culture, and embrace its system and its values as their own. It is not unusual for an empire to end up ruled by provincials who are more earnest than anyone in the metropole.

    Even those who detest the empire still find themselves stuck with all the sunk costs of its system, and are reluctant to pay the price of altering it. Even those who repudiate the imperial religion, may still find themselves intellectually and perceptually impaired by its orthodoxies, and thus unable to conceive of the remedy to what ails them.

    Inertia will sustain an empire long after its greed, violence, and wastefulness should have ended it. But this should be unsurprising, since empire is more often a testimony to the frailty and confusion of a world that is ruled, than to the strength or integrity of its rulers.

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