Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Disasters of Imperial Power

Power, in the wrong hands, leads to disaster. 

The United States-led 'war on terror' has made the world anything but more safe and secure. Australian journalist and activist John Pilger asserts that rather than a war on terrorism, this particular war IS terrorism. Indeed, in the deeply divided Middle East, the resentment of western influence and repeated resource-related intervention solidifies. The bombings, invasions, war crimes, attempted regime change and 'state-building' have not made the powerful western backers of the destruction a whole lot of friends in the region. Suicide attacks in Iraq were unheard of before the US invasion, and are now commonplace. ISIS has arisen from a web of western-backed militia, in the grand design supposed to overthrow non-compliant leaders but now beyond control. Although terrorist attacks are still uncommon on western soil, we have seen well-publicised revenge attacks, of course most recently with France as the target. While desperate people flee the region, the West secures her borders. How willing we are to support regime change, but not take responsibility for the unthinkable losses inflicted on local populations.

Destabilisation of nations and entire regions leaves millions displaced, unemployed, hungry and thirsty, without education opportunities or any kind of security. In terms of disaster risk, imperial power continues to compound the problem. 

This power, wielded by western nations and corporations and intended to devour the resources of country after country, is something that Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi defied. Of course, the brutality of these dictators is well documented, but their countries were ultimately targeted for regime change for refusing to bow to proposed imperial masters rather than any human rights agenda. To retain any credibility for a 'humanitarian regime-change' premise, the US/UK and allies would need to not only come clean on their own human rights record, but respond appropriately to the abuses of their friends and not only their enemies. This is simply not going to happen, as weapons and goodwill continue to flow to the blatantly abusive Israel and Saudi Arabia, for example. Consolidated imperial power is 'as old as Columbus', as Pilger puts it The New Rulers of the World (p. 4), but it has taken on new robes for the 21st century. How much more destructive is this powerful club than any threat posed by ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Boko Haram?

Allied political and corporate power cares little for the vulnerable of the world, so long as they are grateful for the handouts that they receive. Decisions are purely economic, and human rights are not considered (bar as an inconvenience). The vulnerable are generally left worse of than before they were 'liberated'. 


The threat and illusion of 'necessary' endless war (remember Dick Cheney predicting 50 or more years of the 'war on terror') has been used to justify state repression and increased social control. The profiteers of disaster capitalism are gleefully rubbing their hands. Western 'patriots' say that we must blindly follow the instruction of the political elite for 'national security' and wreak eternal carnage on those countries that do not agree to serve our interests. Indeed, carnage in itself is the end game. Peace would not be profitable to the arms industry. The military industrial complex is now part of western psyche. Why are we so compliant? It does not have to be this way. Do we really subscribe to an ideology that says our lives are more valuable than those of Iraqis or Syrians? The horrors of the illegal Bush/Blair/Howard invasion of Iraq (now sold to us as a mistake rather than the obvious war crime and business decision that it was) have somehow fogged the memory of the brutal UN Security Council sanctions regime that killed half a million Iraqi children under Bush Sr. and Clinton, while barely affecting Saddam's rule. These children are the un-people of the world, and today the children of Syria and Yemen face a similar fate as collateral damage. Their deaths are 'worth it' in the scheme of things, as Madeleine Albright infamously reminded us. The delusion of imperial power is supreme.

Those annihilated by imperial power no longer face disaster risk, given their untimely demise. However, those left behind are tortured by the psychological, physical and economic impacts for generations. This risk creation runs deep. 

Richard Nixon called Indonesia 'the greatest prize in South-East Asia' and the World Bank lauded its pro-western 'reorientation' from 1967, going so far as to call it a 'model pupil' of globalization shortly before Suharto's resignation in 1998. The grisly details of another 'worthwhile' regime change are less well known, but were wholly acceptable to imperial power brokers that included the US, British and Australian governments, the IMF and World Bank and countless western corporations. Starting with a US-supplied kill list of 5000, up to a million Indonesians were murdered by the pro-western Suharto regime, while accolades flowed in from the press and western foreign offices. Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt clearly approved. "With 500,000 to a million communist sympathisers knocked off," he said, "I think it's safe to assume that a reorientation has taken place." In the wake of this genocide, the World Bank and IMF were happy to create unrepeatable debt, turn a blind eye to corruption and divide the resources of Indonesia between western corporations. A second western-backed horror in East Timor finally turned the tide on the Suharto regime in 1998.

The fate of both Indonesia and Iraq, mirrored around the world throughout the 'American Century' and today, demonstrate the destructive potential of imperial power and conquest. The human cost is unfathomable and is demonstrably far more devastating than what the west calls terrorism. 


Modern imperial power games not only kill immediately, but they significantly increase disaster risk for the most vulnerable in the societies affected. Minorities are marginalised. Inequality is actually designed to increase. Poverty is entrenched and indeed demanded under this system. Have we, as argued by the advocates of western imperialism, really witnessed such remarkable 'progress' to justify the great cost of crushing all cultures that stand in the way? When our ideas of progress include skyrocketing consumption, a throw-away consumer mindset and culture of entertainment, perhaps we have ceased to represent progress. When we measure the success of a country by GDP growth, perhaps we have ceased to represent progress.

When we see the world's most vulnerable people as collateral damage, cheap labour, a security threat or simply as 'unfortunate' (given our actions that have made them so), perhaps we have ceased to represent progress. 

Maybe we should consider the possibility, uncomfortable as it may be, that our idea of progress is as hollow as our justifications for atrocities that have enabled it.  

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