Did anyone ever stop and think how protest movements could grow so vibrantly fast in Tunisia and Egypt? Not that there was nothing to protest, quite the contrary. But how did they organize and blossom under such repressive regimes?
On December 17, 2010 Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, after being abused by police and unsuccessfully seeking redress through his government, immolated himself.
David Rovics sings Tunisia 2011.
A month later a government topples.
On November 3, 2006, antiwar activist Malachi Ritscher, distraught over his government’s illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, poured gasoline over himself on Chicago’s busy Kennedy Expressway and self-immolated next to a sign saying, “Thou shall not kill.” His action was ignored by the corporate media and few outside of the local antiwar movement even knew it happened.
Any discussion of world events must be done in the context of empire. For this understanding of empire, I am indebted to Past President of the Organization of American Historians William Appleman Williams [Empire as a Way of Life, Oxford University Press 1980].
Traditionally empire is used to describe “two associated, but nevertheless different relationships.”
- “The union of initially separate but physically and politically and socially related units of population under one central authority.” Examples would be the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales and the United States under the Constitution.
- “The forcible subjugation of formerly independent peoples by a wholly external power, and their subsequent rule by the imperial metropolis” Examples would be England’s assault on Ireland and the United States’ assault on the First Americans.
In the colonial era people were sent out from the metropolis (seat of the Empire) to rule an indigenous society by setting limits on the choices of the natives. Examples: British in India and Africa, and the U.S. in Cuba and the Philippines.
With the breakup of traditional colonial empires after the two great wars of the last century, it became necessary for the elite capitalist class to devise another way for the big boys on the block to continue to dominate and exploit the Third World or Global South. Neoliberal globalization (free trade, free markets, no regulations and tax cuts for the wealthy) was but a pipe dream of the ruling class when Williams wrote his last book on Empire in 1980, but it fits in perfectly with his description of imperialism below.
The irreducible meaning of imperialism is “the loss of sovereignty—control—over essential issues and decisions by a largely agricultural society to an industrial metropolis . . . the essence of imperialism lies in the metropolitan domination of the weaker economy (and its political and social superstructure) to ensure the extraction of economic rewards.” Domination of the weak by the strong, always with the extraction of economic rewards from the weak to the strong.
Neoliberal globalization allows for the formerly dominated agricultural societies to now become partially industrialized colonies, something Williams was unable to predict in this definition.
The United States has from its inception been an Empire. Fourth U.S. President James Madison, attributed to have written much of the Constitution, advocated for an empire and likened it to an ever expanding sphere. Third President Thomas Jefferson concurred “I am persuaded no constitution was ever before as well calculated as ours for extensive empire and self-government.” [Letter to Madison]
Creating the empire has been a bit messy though. Not so much for the creators and their successors. But the others. The African people brought here to labor for the captains of empire and the First Americans, exterminated without even the dignity given to hunted wild game, might refrain from joining in the celebration of U.S. empire. Then there are the victims of our wars, economic exploitation and covert subversion. They also may not be joining in the applause anytime soon.
David Swanson in his new book, War Is a Lie, reports that since our founding the U.S. has taken military action abroad 250 times. This figure does not include covert actions and building overseas bases, now estimated at well in excess of 700. For only 14 percent of our history (31 of 222 years) we have not been involved in significant military actions abroad.
Coups & Hypocrisy
Military action can only be taken so many times without embarrassing the Empire. After WWII and the creation of the United Nations we did agree to outlaw fighting with our global neighbors unless sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council. It then became necessary to do things outside the spotlight of world opinion. Thus the creation of the CIA.
Our Declaration of Independence in claiming our right to self-government also acknowledged that others had the same right, yet our actions throughout history have been diametrically opposed to this principle. The first glaring example of this duplicity was our failure to recognize Haiti after the black Haitians had defeated both their slave masters and Napoleon’s army. They then established Haiti as the “First Black Republic” in 1803. The U.S. refused to recognize Haiti until 1862 and continued to withhold diplomatic relations until 1886. Even then the Haitian Ambassador was treated with disdain and not allowed in Washington D.C. but forced to stay in New York. The very existence of Haiti was always a threat to the U.S. capitalist slave society.
After WWII clandestine actions by the CIA, subverting the right of others to self determination, allowed us to expand the sphere of Empire while piously claiming the opposite. This is a list of military coups supported by the CIA against democratically elected governments:
- Cuba (1952)
- Iran (1953)
- Guatemala (1954)
- Zaire (1961, 1965)
- Dominican Republic (1963)
- Brazil (1964)
- Indonesia (1965)
- Greece (1967)
- Laos (1967–1973)
- Ecuador (1961, 1963 and unsuccessfully 2010)
- Chile (1973)
- Nicaragua (1979–1990)
- Haiti (1991, 2004)
- Venezuela (unsuccessful 2002)
- Honduras (2009)
Each one of these events is a huge crime, the antithesis of our founding document the Declaration of Independence that claimed the right of self determination for all peoples. Those deposed weren’t tin pot dictators, but legitimate democratically elected governments. It’s possible I may have missed some since these actions are done in secret. If so I apologize. Of course, there is a whole other list of non democratically elected governments also deposed with the assistance of our CIA. It makes one feel warm and fuzzy to be an American, knowing our boys, both in uniform and disguise, are busy around the clock expanding the sphere of U.S. Empire.
In the seventies a confluence of events (defeat in Vietnam, Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua resulting in a socialist government and the general bad press from supporting dictatorships across the globe while piously espousing freedom) caused our elite capitalist ruling class to change our foreign policy. We went from a policy of supporting any dictator who lined up with us against the Soviet Union to one of “democracy promotion.”
Supporting dictators made us look bad so we began supporting U.S. style democracy across the globe. On the surface this sounds great, but is U.S. style democracy really democratic? Political scientists call the U.S. a polyarchy; elite rule with an emphasis on elections of pre screened candidates supporting a continuation of the same power structure. Plutocracy (rule of the wealthy), oligarchy (rule of a dominant class or clique) and kleptocracy (rule by thieves) would all be appropriate monikers for what passes as democracy in the U.S. Our dominant ruling class of wealthy capitalist thieves has made the U.S. the most unequal industrial democracy on earth. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)
Putting this type of democracy (polyarchy, plutocracy, oligarchy, kleptocracy) in place around the world became the mission of U.S. foreign policy. A whole alphabet soup of NGOs (non government organizations) was created by the U.S. government, the corporate sector, their political parties and the leadership of organized labor to accomplish this. A partial list:
- AID Agency for International Development
- ACLD Advisory Committee on Labor and Diplomacy
- ADF America’s Development Foundation
- AIFLD American Institute for Free Labor Development
- APF American Political Foundation
- CFD Center for Democracy
- CIPE Center for International Private Enterprise
- DPI Democratic Pluralism Institute
- FBIS Foreign Broadcast Information Service
- FTUI Free Trade Union Institute
- FH Freedom House
- IFES International Foundation for Electoral Assistance
- INSI Institute for North South Issues
- IRI International Republican Institute
- NED National Endowment for Democracy
- NDI National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
- ODI Office of Democratic Initiatives
- OPD Office of Public Diplomacy
- USAID see AID
William Robinson’s book Promoting Polyarchy—Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 1996) describes the use of the above NGOs by our government, business and labor leadership to subvert grassroots democracy across the globe in favor of local elite rule and call it democracy promotion.
Neoliberal globalization (free trade, free markets, no regulations, tax cuts for the wealthy) is the result of this democracy promotion. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund under the guise of reducing poverty in the developing world actually restructure nation states into neoliberal states, indebted to the capitalist financiers. An Empire based on debt is thus created.
Nicaragua’s restructuring after the successful U.S. supported military and political overthrow of the Sandinistas resulted in more than 43 percent of all aid used to pay off foreign debt and 26 percent to purchase imported consumer goods. It would be shocking indeed if more than a pittance of the remaining 31 percent of aid actually made its way to the working class. Peasants were forced to sell their land which had previously supplied almost 100 percent of domestic food production and thousands of small manufacturers and agricultural producers were forced into bankruptcy. (Robinson) This was done because the U.S. could not allow Nicaragua or any other socialist country to exist and be an inspiration and example to others. Far from being an isolated example, neoliberal globalization has been visited on almost every other country across the globe with equally disastrous results.
Stephen Lendman has written extensively on the effects of neoliberal globalization on the various peoples of the world. After Muabak: What’s Next? poses the question what the U.S. role is behind the revolution in Egypt. He then reports on the devastating effect of neoliberal globalization on the people of South Africa after apartheid, Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and Haiti after the U.S. ousted democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide not once, but twice (1991 and 2004).
Nicaragua, South Africa, Russia, Haiti; none of these are remarkable, they are just examples of the new norm of predatory U.S. capitalism gone amuck, creating a New World Order of transnational corporate neoliberal globalization. The nation states remain (U.S. included) but they are but hollow shells of their former selves as they are all forced to dance to the tune of transnational capital. The New World Order is thus the reduction of the nation states to being little more than supporters of and echo chambers for the predatory rule of transnational corporations.
It was refreshing and uplifting to see organized labor join in denouncing neoliberal globalization and the repressive structural reforms handed down on the working class in Greece, Spain, Brussels, Lithuania, Ireland etc this past year. But where is organized labor in the U.S.?
Labor leadership’s role in empire
Kim Scipes’ new book AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers (Lexington Books, 2010) documents the history of AFL-CIO leadership in supporting the U.S. government policy of Empire in the developing world. AFL-CIO leadership, in secret and completely without the consent and support of their rank and file membership, has worked to thwart popular bottom-up organic democracy in the developing world and instead supported elite top-down democracy, friendly to U.S. corporate interests.
Specifically what is Scipes charging labor with?
“ . . . that since the end of World War II, U.S. Labor has intervened in a number of countries. These interventions fall into three categories:
- directly operating to help undermine democratically elected governments which, in each case, led to the establishment of a reactionary military dictatorship, the death and/or imprisonment of thousands, and decimation of respective labor movements (as in Guatemala during 1954; in Brazil in 1964; and Chile in 1973);
- supporting reactionary governments and their affiliated labor movements against workers and their organizations seeking democratic changes (Indonesia during the 1970s-late 1990s; El Salvador throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s; the Philippines, 1980s-early 1990s; and South Korea, 1970s-late 1980s;
- indirectly operating with local labor movements to attack pro-labor, progressive governments (in Guyana in 1963; Dominican Republic in 1965; Nicaragua in the late 1980s; and Venezuela in the late 1990s to 2002–03 . . .
“Each of these interventions, ironically, limited if not destroyed militant labor movements in these countries, providing safe haven for U.S. corporate investment. Thus, the foreign policy activities of the AFL-CIO provided places for U.S. corporations to invest, taking jobs from and/or providing increased competition to companies that had American employees.” [A Union Activist’s Call for Change, Dec. 31, 2010]
Scipes documents the AFL-CIO leadership, unbeknownst to the rank and file, working in and with the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Advisory Committee on Labor and Diplomacy (ACLD) in support of neoliberal globalization at the expense of popular democracy and grass roots labor organizations. Labor’s leadership has done this because they support U.S. Empire and capitalism as long as they are given a seat at the foot of the table to occasionally affirm consent to the horrific crimes of Empire.
Color revolutions promote U.S. style democracy
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh compares the Green Revolution in Iran with the other color revolutions that furthered U.S. foreign policy of “democracy promotion” vs. actual democracy or taking care of the needs of the common people. Iran’s presidential election one year later, why the greens failed:
“An attractive feature of Mr. Mousavi’s initial campaign was his apparent promotion of democratic values and individual liberties. However, his purported advocacy of democracy sounded hollow as he cavalierly defied the will of the people by so brazenly disregarding the results of the majority vote in favor of Ahmadinejad. Furthermore, it was obvious that, in light of his Neoliberal economic agenda, Mr. Mousavi’s vague and abstract utterances about individual liberty and human rights did not include the right to basic human needs such as food and shelter, or the right to affordable healthcare and public education.
“Mr. Mousavi’s abstract, narrow and, indeed, disingenuous promises of democratic rights resemble those of the leaders of other color-coded revolutions—for example, of Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia and of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine. Had he succeeded in carrying out his “green revolution,” his promises of democracy would have proven as empty as those of his counterparts in Georgia and Ukraine—who, by the way, have by now been exposed by the Georgian and Ukrainian peoples for what they really stood for, and thrown out of office.”
Progressives in the U.S. couldn’t supplicate fast enough in agreeing that the Iranian election had been stolen simply because Mr. Mousavi had made the allegation before the votes were counted with no credible proof and in direct contravention with all pre election polls that had shown he would be defeated. Why did progressives fall for this? Because our government through the CIA and the alphabet soup of NGOs has been pursuing a policy of regime change in Iran for years and the U.S. corporate media echoes this on a daily basis. Unless a citizen was getting information from international sources and not U.S. television and newspapers, he would in fact think that the Iranian election was stolen.
Professor Hossein-Zadeh also draws the parallel between the attempted Green Revolution in Iran and the other color revolutions, how these have been creations of the CIA and NGOs, not to further democracy but to stifle it.
Back to Egypt and those brave people calling for an end to the dictatorial rule of Hosni Mubarak that the U.S. Empire has backed to the tune of more than $50 billion in military aid over the years. The U.S. has over the years, while officially supporting Mubarak, used its alphabet soup of NGOs to undermine and lead astray those opposing Murarak. Freedom House and the NED have been the leading culpirts. Michael Chossudovsky reports on devastation of IMF backed neoliberal globalization and the use of NGOs to undermine the popular democratic movement in Egypt The Protest Movement in Egypt: Dictators Do Not Dictate, They Obey Orders
In Egypt, a devastating IMF program was imposed in 1991 at the height of the Gulf War. It was negotiated in exchange for the annulment of Egypt’s multibillion dollar military debt to the US as well as its participation in the war. The resulting deregulation of food prices, sweeping privatisation and massive austerity measures led to the impoverishment of the Egyptian population and the destabilization of its economy. The Mubarak government was praised as a model “IMF pupil” . . .
Meaningful political change can only be ensured if the neoliberal economic policy agenda is thrown out.
If the protest movement fails to address the role of foreign powers including pressures exerted by “investors,” external creditors and international financial institutions, the objective of national sovereignty will not be achieved. In which case, what will occur is a narrow process of “regime replacement,” which ensures political continuity.
The cooptation of the leaders of major opposition parties and civil society organizations in anticipation of the collapse of an authoritarian puppet government is part of Washington’s design, applied in different regions of the World.
The process of cooptation is implemented and financed by US based foundations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Freedom House (FH). Both FH and the NED have links to the US Congress. the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the US business establishment. Both the NED and FH are known to have ties to the CIA.
Elite rule, be it in the U.S., Haiti or Egypt pays huge dividends. Recent news reports claim Egypt’s Murabak to have a net worth between $40–70 billion. Egypt is the second leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid. With the widespread poverty in Egypt and with the economic devastation visited upon the American people from neoliberal globalization this is simply obscene.
Released WikiLeaks’ documents describe the appointed vice president and heir apparent to Mubarak, Omar Suleiman as the favorite of Israel for the job and as one who spoke daily to the Israeli government via a secret hotline. Further that Suleiman had advocated Israeli soldiers entering Egyptian soil to stop smuggling into Gaza in violation of the joint Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Speaking for the Obama Administration, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is on record supporting a transitional Suleiman government until the regularly scheduled elections. [The Telegraph: WikiLeaks: Israel’s secret hotline to the man tipped to replace Mubarak]
A Zogby Poll from the summer of 2010 shows 90 percent of Egyptians feel that the U.S. and Israel are the two greatest threats to Egypt. Suleiman is Israel’s lackey. How can the U.S. support putting him in power against the wishes of the Egyptian people, while piously calling for “democracy”?
James Petras’ Washington Faces the Arab Revolts: Sacrificing Dictators to Save the State makes the case that the U.S. strategic relationship in propping up dictators is really an imperial interest in maintaining the coercive state apparatus in our various client states:
In the past, Republican and Democratic presidents worked closely for over 30 years with the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic; installed the autocratic Diem regime in pre-revolutionary Vietnam in the 1950’s; collaborated with two generations of Somoza family terror regimes in Nicaragua; financed and promoted the military coup in Cuba 1952, Brazil 1964, Chile in 1973, and in Argentina in 1976 and the subsequent repressive regimes. When popular upheavals challenged these US backed dictatorships, and a social as well as political revolution appeared likely to succeed, Washington responded with a three track policy: publically criticizing the human rights violations and advocating democratic reforms; privately signaling continued support to the ruler; and thirdly, seeking an elite alternative which could substitute for the incumbent and preserve the state apparatus, the economic system and support US strategic imperial interests.
For the US there are no strategic relationships only permanent imperial interests, name(ly) preservation of the client state. The dictatorships assume that their relationships with Washington is strategic: hence the shock and dismay when they are sacrificed to save the state apparatus. Fearing revolution, Washington has had reluctant client despots, unwilling to move on, assassinated (Trujillo and Diem). Some are provided sanctuaries abroad (Somoza, Batista),others are pressured into power-sharing (Pinochet) or appointed as visiting scholars to Harvard, Georgetown or some other “prestigious” academic posting.
Petras tells of the tangled web subverting popular democracy:
While the US has supported the Mubarak government for the last thirty years, US foundations with ties to the US State department and the Pentagon have actively supported the political opposition including the civil society movement. According to Freedom House: “Egyptian civil society is both vibrant and constrained. There are hundreds of non-governmental organizations devoted to expanding civil and political rights in the country, operating in a highly regulated environment.” (Freedom House Press Releases).
In a bitter irony, Washington supports the Mubarak dictatorship, including its atrocities, while also backing and financing its detractors, through the activities of FH, the NED, among others.
Under the auspices of Freedom House, Egyptian dissidents and opponents of Hosni Mubarak were received in May 2008 by Condoleezza Rice at the State Department and the US Congress. They also met White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who was “the principal White House foreign policy adviser” during George W. Bush’s second term.
Petras lays out the dilemma for Obama:
As the pressure of the movement intensifies, Obama cross pressured by the pro Mubarak Israel Lobby and its Congressional entourage on the one hand, and on the other by knowledgeable advisors who call on him to follow past practices and move decisively to sacrifice the regime to save the state while the liberal-clerical electoral option is still on the table.
But Obama hesitates and like a wary crustacean, he moves sideways and backwards, believing his own grandiloquent rhetoric is a substitute for action . . . hoping that sooner or later, the uprising will end with Mubarakism without Mubarak: a regime able to demobilize the popular movements and willing to promote elections which result in elected officials following the general line of their predecessor.
Nevertheless, there are many uncertainties in a political reshuffle: a democratic citizenry, 83 percent unfavorable to Washington, will possess the experience of struggle and freedom to call for a realignment of policy, especially to cease being a policeman enforcing the Israeli blockage of Gaza, and providing support for US puppets in North Africa, Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Secondly free elections will open debate and increase pressure for greater social spending, the expropriation of the seventy billion dollar empire of the Mubarek clan and the crony capitalists who pillage the economy .The masses will demand a reallocation of public expenditure from the overblown coercive apparatus to productive, job generating employment. A limited political opening may lead to a second round, in which new social and political conflicts will divide the anti-Mubarak forces, a conflict between the advocates of social democracy and elite backers of neo-liberal electoralism. The anti-dictatorial moment is only the first phase of a prolonged struggle toward definitive emancipation not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world. The outcome depends on the degree to which the masses develop their own independent organization and leaders.
The first stage of Egypt’s democratic revolution is complete with the resignation of Murabak. The real struggle begins now, as the Egyptian people are arrayed against not just the military who has seized power, but also the vast array of U.S. organizations dedicated to the New World Order of Empire and Neoliberal Globalization.
Nick Egnatz is a Vietnam veteran. He has been actively protesting our government’s crimes of empire in both person and print for some years now and was named “Citizen of the Year” for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his peace activism by the National Association of Social Workers. Contact Nick at email@example.com.