No thoughtful observer of American history can be surprised at the Senate report detailing the torture carried out by the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11. The revelation of torture should be seen as the logical outcome of economic and foreign policies carried out since the US became an empire. The 9/11 attacks only turbo-charged these policies. Since then we’ve suffered the anthrax attacks, the passage of the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq, revelations of NSA spying, the massive Wall Street crime spree that threw millions of Americans out of their homes and jobs, and the appearance of a financial and political elite that is demonstrably above the law, protected by a police force that can murder with impunity. We are, as Chris Floyd says.
“Living in an age given over to state terror and elite rapine.”
Neoliberal and neoconservative ideologies have been the focus here lately in an attempt to grapple intellectually with this savage milieu. Neoliberal ideology is the force behind the economic policies that have wrecked such havoc and brought about the rampant inequalities that have become impossible to ignore. Neoconservative ideology promotes the use of force to enforce these neoliberal economic policies. Neoconservatives think-tanks proclaim that the US should control the whole world using full spectrum dominance, with the whole thing propagandized as American exceptionalism.
I’ve come to believe that neoliberalism and neoconservatism have merged into neofeudalism–a sort of all-American free market authoritarianism, where torture is just one of the many instruments of statecraft. Recently, we were privileged to see the pure essence of this neofeudal, free market authoritarianism, with former Bush campaign spokeswoman, Nicolle Wallace on TV shrieking–“I don’t care what we did.”
Examining past empires provides strong evidence that crimes and horrors perpetrated by an empire on the periphery always find their way back to the homeland. And lo-and-behold, it turns out that the US empire has been committing lots of crimes on the periphery, with torture the most shocking and egregious example.
US neoliberal economic policies came out of the University of Chicago, under the tutelage of Milton Friedman. These policies were first implemented in Chile in 1973 after the violent coup carried out by General Pinochet, with help from the CIA. Friedman and his “Chicago Boys” advised Pinochet to impose his free market wish list on the country–tax cuts, free trade, privatized services, deregulation and cuts to social spending. As Naomi Klein makes clear in The Shock Doctrine, although Chile was described in glowing term as an economic miracle, the reality was that these economic policies were imposed by force, including torture.
“Pinochet also facilitated the adjustment with his own shock treatments; these were performed in the regimes many torture cells, inflicted on the writhing bodies of those most likely to stand in the way of the capitalist transformation. Many in Latin America saw a direct connection between the the economic shocks that impoverished millions and the epidemic of torture that punished hundreds of thousands of people who believed in a different kind of society. As Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano asked, ‘How can this inequality be maintained if not through jolts of electric shock?'”
Every policy carried out by an empire on the periphery returns to the homeland. Today, Americans are treated as disposable with value conferred only if you succeed in transforming yourself into a marketable entity. Americans have become less citizens than consumers, with only consumers having a semblance of rights.(If you manage to read the fine print.) The neoliberal economic policies of the last 40 years have created a vast class of the superfluous people who are controlled by a occupying force of police, as we have recently witnessed in Ferguson.
“Neoliberal policies aim to reduce wages to the bare minimum and to maximize the returns to capital and management. They also aim to de-mobilise workers’ organisations and reduce workers to carriers of labour power — a commodity to be bought and sold on the market for its lowest price. Neoliberalism is about re-shaping society so that there is no input by workers’ organisations into democratic or economic decision-making.”
Neoliberal policies are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. This rampant inequality visible in the US today is not a bug, but a feature. Neoliberal policies are designed to rip apart civil society and leave individuals at the mercy of corporations and their wealthy owners.
“Human lives are only of interest in their transactional form. Just being alive is meaningless unless you are doing something with money or property. Just walking down the street enjoying the day is nothing. What matters is what you buy. What matters is who you do business with. What matters is working at some job, preferably for next to nothing. What matters is your investments, in financial capital, in human capital, in social capital, and how you manage those investments.”
Neoconservative full-spectrum dominance is the muscle backing up the US neoliberal economic order. New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, in a moment of candor, gives the game away.
“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other outposts of the empire, our military and intelligence agencies force compliance with American neoliberal economic policies, or punish non-compliance. Marine General Smedley Butler recognized this essential reality of what the US military did way back in 1935 when he wrote, War is a Racket:
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
Here at home not only do we have a militarized police force, witnessed in Ferguson, but our legal system is basically an enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with neoliberal economic policies, as Ian Welsh makes abundantly clear.
The legal system exists, today, to ensure compliance.
American oligarchical society rests on people not effectively resisting. All gains now go to the top 10%, with the rest of society losing ground. Incarceration rates blossom in 1980, which is also the year that the oligarchical program is voted in and becomes official. (Trickle down economics can be understood no other way.)
And the legal system is not just for the poor and downtrodden. If you are a college educated well meaning liberal who has never even had a parking ticket but are opposed to these horrible policies, it doesn’t matter. Welsh describes what happens when you persist.
“Ordinary citizens must understand that they cannot change the system if elites do not agree with the changes they want made. If they try, they will be arrested and receive a criminal sentence, meaning they can never again have a good job.”
Henry Giroux, Professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University, points out that the US has long practiced torture, using plausible deniability. What was different after 9/11 was that the US openly embraced torture. He too connects torture to our economic system.
“Maybe it is time to treat the Senate torture report as just one register of a series of crimes being committed under the regime of a savage neoliberalism. After all, an economic policy that views ethics as a liability, disdains the public good, and enshrines self-interest as the highest of virtues provides a petri dish not just for state sanctioned torture abroad but also for a range of lawless and cruel policies at home.”
Giroux makes the obvious point from his reading of the Senate report:
“Torture is as American as apple pie.”
So be a good neo-serf: Keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t complain.
Update: If you want to understand just how lawless America has become, contemplate this: “No one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.”