Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The New American Imperialism

The New American Imperialism: Bush’s War on Terror and Blood for Oil. Vassilis K. Fouskas and Bülent Gökay (Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger Security International, 2005. Pp. xi, 247.
Various concepts like the Spirit of Independence, Manifest Destiny, and the Frontier that codify and edify the trajectory of the American cultural rubric in the nineteenth-century America are still today ingrained in the daily lives of American people, and predominant in both the domestic and international policies of the US government.1 These phenomena have characterized and pedestaled as American values the ontogenesis and reinforcement of the so-called cult of masculinity.2 Now that the ideology and rhetoric of masculinity were constructed, they have been chiseled out further into the American ego, and accompanied by oedipal complex in military, political, cultural and literary spheres to establish a patriarchal, and hegemonic American identity yet in the making.3 The century is one of transition, if not of equilibrium, ideologically rooted in the eighteenth century when, following the War of Independence, Oedipal America was gradually trying to shake off the influence of the colonial complex, and equivocally assuming the role of the imperial colonizer per se not only within the territories in the American continent, but also across the continents in the twentieth century.4
The emergence of the concept of “Manifest Destiny” in particular earmarks an important factor in the development of American culture. The significance of the neologism lay not in its originality of coinage, but in the socio-political ideology the phrase epitomized. Although the conceptual framework can be traced back to Puritan epistemology, 5 the phrase was first used by the American journalist and diplomat John Louis O'Sullivan, in an editorial supporting the annexation of Texas.6 “Manifest Destiny” was thus refurbished with secular overtones to minister to fledgling expansionist, and even imperialistic aspirations of the political elite. Earlier the concept furnished Puritan historiography with both a consolation and rationalization for why the immigrants had to migrate to the New World, interpenetrating history with a sacrosanct ideal.7 The Puritans acutely felt that they were reenacting the biblico-historical hardships, torment and tyranny that the Ancient Israelites experienced until they reached the Promised Land, whose imagery figured prominently in shaping English colonial thought.8 The Pilgrims identified themselves with the ancient Hebrews: they saw in the New World the New Canaan; they were God's chosen people headed for the Promised Land. Other colonists believed they, too, had been
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divinely called. This self-image of being God's Chosen People called to establish the New Israel became an integral theme in America's historical self-interpretation.
The Manifest Destiny Doctrine was based on the idea that America had a divine providence. It was God's will that Americans spread over the entire continent, and to control and populate the country as they see fit. It also had a future that was destined by God to expand its borders, with no limit to area or country. All the traveling and expansion were part of the spirit of Manifest Destiny. Many expansionists conceived God as having the power to sustain and guide human destiny. During the revolutionary period, the idea emerged with a new force. In 1776, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wanted the Promised Land images for the new nation's Great Seal. Franklin proposed Moses, based on the Biblical model of Exodus, dividing the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army being overwhelmed by the closing waters. Of course, the British King stood for the Egyptian Pharaoh, in whose palace Moses grew up. Jefferson urged a representation of the Israelites being led in the wilderness by the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day. Later, in his second inaugural address (1805), Jefferson again recalled the Promised Land, evoking the Puritan memory of America as “a City upon a Hill,” the “New Israel.” All this imagery evidences how inherent the Bible and Biblical imagery and figures were in the socio-political and cultural heritage of America.
The colonists had seen a profoundly Biblical significance in their voyages to and settlements in America. It is also interesting to observe that the Edenic notion of America emerged in reference to the Biblical paradise. The Puritans thought that they were going to recover from the bondage and persecutions of the past to establish a Puritan theocratic paradise like the ancient Israelites. To voyagers and explorers the country had offered an exciting vision of Edenic America--an immense “virgin” continent. Several early writers focus on America in this vein. For instance, In Gods Promise to His Plantations John Cotton (1584-1652) writes that “He hath appointed the times and places of our habitation, that we might seeke and grope after the Lord.” In Of Plymouth Plantation Bradford ascribes the causes of immigration to divine calling that “the truth” should prevail and “the churches of God revert to their ancient purity and recover their primitive order, liberty and beauty.” John Smith’s Description of New England portrays the land in terms of cornucopia and differentiates between the Old and the New World as follows: “This is the difference betwixt...the golden age and the leaden age, prosperity and miserie, justice and corruption, substance and shadowes, words and deeds, experience and
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imagination.” Increase Mather also considered America a Kingdom of Christ “restored to its Paradise state.” Hence, the new continent, for the Pilgrim Fathers, meant separation from the past, a new adventure, a new history, and a new beginning.
When it appeared in the July-August 1845 edition of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review with its new semantic turn, the term “Manifest Destiny” had already been divested of its religious garb, and came to put on military uniform to transform American demography forever.9 The phrase later became a shibboleth used by all political parties to legitimize the acquisition of California, and the Oregon Territory, which included the extermination of the Native Americans.10 From President Monroe11 to President Bush, doctrines and ideologies have focused on both the idea of isolating the New World from the Old World interventions, and the zeal of commingling imperial expansionism with religious veneer.12 By the beginning of the twentieth century the same phrase was being indefatigably applied to the proposed annexation of various islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Taking new semantic turns en route, “Manifest Destiny” turned into ever-receding bivouac the American eagle perched on, ranging from Alaska to the Far East, i.e. from coast to coast and from pole to pole, from the national to the transnational frontier, legitimizing all that the American empire has intended to do.13 Puritan theocracy was long since gone, but the Puritan rhetoric has lingered on in secular disguises such as “the frontier” or “the West,” The Great American Dream” the “New World Order,” and “Globalization.”14 The hand of God, the principles of social-cultural and economic Darwinism, the hegemonic sense of dominating and subduing the “other,” now sugarcoated with a messianic mission of democracy, now egregiously adamant tour de force,. Deliberate ambiguity and sophistic approach toward similar events has come to identify American imperialism.
Unlike historically “real” events, of course, mythmaking and nation-building ideologies are not tangible. Manifest Destiny is a phenomenon that cannot be pegged to a single date and event or even a specific period of time. It has always existed in American history as an intangible ideology that created American politics, history, life and culture. It has ethno-centric and even racist connotations in its conceptual framework. Above all, it considers imperialistic expansionism as rightful destiny and legitimate necessity ordained by God, required and foreshadowed by history. Though American government has chosen to be constitutionally secular, this ideological euphemism has harbored in it a fundamentally religious ideology, and
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messianic eschatology.15 Thanks to this idea, several wars have broken out. For example, in 1846 the United States declared war on Mexico and proceeded to win much of what is now the Southwestern United States.16 The war with Mexico was just one out of a series of aggressive acts that can be tied to America's Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny emerged almost naturally and with a sort of inevitability out of fundamental want and need to explore, conquer new lands and establish new borders. With this growth came moral, cultural, social ideological and economical differences between people, states and countries. Manifest Destiny reflected both the prides that characterized American Nationalism in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the idealistic vision of social perfection through God and the church, both of which fueled much of the reform energy of the time. Individually, the components created separate reasons to conquer new territories.
It is against this background of mediocrity that The New American Imperialism stands. In the book Fouskas and Gökay argue persuasively that the demise of the Soviet Empire marked out not only the end of the Cold War Era, but also the beginning of the unchallenged rise of the American empire by a kind of see-saw effect. The American imperial expansionism, they argue, show different characteristics from the Western empires in history. America has essentially been attempting to remake and remodel the whole world to create a sense of order compatible with American socio-economic and political system, thus giving liberalism a distinctively American shape. The imperialist motive in American politics, according to the authors, have been reinforced after World War, and spurred on by 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
A very striking point Vassilis and Fouskas discuss in their book is that the USA has seized the attacks of 9/11 as almost a long-sought-for opportunity “to expand and increase its military and economic grip on the resources of Eurasia, and that this reaction to 9/11 is the product of a general decline of American economic power in the world’s political system.” It is the decline of economic power and “relative retreat of its dominant position in the world economic system” that has “promoted a militarist drift in U.S. foreign policy” (71). They expound that the American economic decline was “well under way before the attack (5).” The “Dollar hegemony” was decreasing, and so was the American strategy for global dominance. Earlier the attempt was to replace the British pound with the American Dollar, which would also imply that the American Empire was replacing the British as well (16). The idea was kicking already in OPEC in 1970s, which finally resulted in OPEC’s agreement that all oil pricing would be “exclusively” in dollars Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol. 6, No.1&2, Spring & Summer 2007 196
(18). The creation of the Euro in 1999 was to some extent a challenge to the dollar as well as American currency hegemony. By mid-2003, the Euro had increased its share of money markets to almost 46 percent (25). The authors also point out that currently the Euro accounts for “one-quarter of the global market.”
Fouskas and Gökay also elaborate on another fundamental issue that America has explicitly solidified: the alliance between Washington and Israel in the post-Cold War era. Unconditional support for Israel has proved to be the vulnerability of the American Empire at the expense of the American tax-payers and at the risk of international community’s taciturn disagreement. It is more than mutual interests, as scholars of international relations would be wont to say, that have welded together the two promised lands. “Pax Americana” has actually promoted the Zionist targets of Israel. In this sense, former US President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (2006) is harping on the same strings as The New American Imperialism.17 In the Palestine-Israeli conflicts, the US has always tipped the scale in favor of Israel. According to the authors, neoconservative clique that has paved the way for the strategies to seize America’s grip on energy resources of Eurasia, has also collaborated with the Zionists, considering all as grain to their mill.
The authors brilliantly and meticulously delineate the links between Christian and Jewish ideologists. To power and global reach can therefore be added another imperial characteristic: a hidden desire coated with political rhetoric of democracy and globalization to hurry forth and act. Even before America was attacked on September 11, 2001, influential forevoices were calling for a more activist foreign policy. Several groups were impatient with the constraints imposed by treaties, multilateral action and America's membership of international clubs like the UN. They wanted to see America immediately hit back when attacked. George W. Bush sympathized with them. It was on the assertive nationalists—along with men like Dick Cheney, his vice-president, and Donald Rumsfeld, his secretary of defense, not bilateral and multilateral agreements, which George G. Bush relied. Bush even boasted after 9/11 that he was “a war president” quoting passages from the Bible to shed light on the current issues. His second term, in particular, has witnessed a Manichean dichotomy between good and evil, and those who “are either with us or against us.” This period also marks out a new strategic alliance between the Christian
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Fundamentalist and neo-Zionists” (115). The president's instincts were to take robust action if necessary, but to avoid foreign entanglements. In particular, even as a candidate, he had been hostile to the idea of satellite building abroad, an ambition more closely identified with the democratic imperialists, also known as neoconservatives. For them, Afghanistan and Iraq were just the start. The transformation of the entire Middle East—Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, would later ensue.
Fouskas and Gökay, in sum, draw a grim picture of the world after the collapse of the Russian Empire. At a time when the world has essentially been keeping mum about what the Bush administration has been doing, they have documented in their book a highly readable, and remarkable, if not unique, account of America’s imperialist strategies, which paradoxically intends to “liberate the world in rhetoric while actually it has been attempting to “liberate” several countries and regions across the world from their natural resources, and even territorial rights unlike the “good Samaritan.”


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