By Jim Miles
Nemesis is the Greek goddess of retribution or righteous indignation, signifying that there will be retributive justice for previous actions. The United States has been undergoing this for some time, although the American public – unaware generally of the context behind 9/11 – does not yet seem to understand this, even as the destruction of Afghani and Iraqi society and their rebuilding as American corporate pawns continues under the increasing estrangement and anger of much of the rest of the world.
This particular goddess has been around for a while, expressed at first in Chalmers Johnson’s unheralded first book “Blowback” (Henry Holt and Company, 2000) that quickly gained prominence after 9/11. The goddess Nemesis had already touched the hearts and minds of many, as was expressed by one of my students on that September day, “The U.S. is only getting back what it does to others.” In Blowback, written presciently in 2000, Johnson concludes “World politics in the twenty-first century will in all likelihood be driven primarily by blowback from the second half of the twentieth century…from the unintended consequences of the Cold War.” All too true, as the first major event of the new century was a dramatic case of blowback; but missing the mark to a degree in the subsequent events which created a whole new paradigm of empire. But who would have known.
Not that America was not an empire before this, but its designation as such had mainly been discussed in more esoteric publications. In Johnson’s second book on the subject, “The Sorrows of Empire” (Henry Holt and Company, 2004) the discussion focuses on the increasing militarism of the United States, its associated roles in endless war, the resultant loss of liberties, and the ongoing deceit, dissimulation and lying from government and its associated businesses. Johnson recognizes “financial ruin” as the “final sorrow of empire” accompanying this militarism. He sees it as removing “capital and resources from the free market” allocating them “arbitrarily, in accordance with bureaucratic decisions uninfluenced by market forces but often quite responsive to insider influence and crony capitalism.”
What is not directly connected here – although obvious by implication of the military-industrial complex language – is the role of the military (the previously ‘hidden fist’) in guarding America’s vast corporate empire – other than oil, which is full well recognized – and its massive debt producing consumption and its finance capitalism, which currently appear to be the most significant factors in the loss of empire. He ends by indicating that if “the people could retake control of Congress” then perhaps it “could be brought back to life and cleansed of its endemic corruption.” At the time of writing, he must have known his third volume was already in the making, as his final line says “Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits impatiently for her meeting with us.”
In “Nemesis” (Henry Holt and Company, 2006) Johnson expands and updates his themes from the previous works, with his chapters clearly delineated by topic: the breakdown of constitutional government, a comparison of the fall of the Roman and British empires, the role of the CIA as the president’s personal army, an extensive update on the role of U.S. military bases representing the physical presence of empire, and ending with a discussion of space as the ultimate imperial project. In the final chapter “The Crisis of the American Republic” Johnson identifies the shaky financial position created by the military and its various enterprises, a term most appropriately applied to the monetary side of militarism. The real costs of the war, as estimated by Stiglitz and Bilmes, are over 2 trillion dollars, and rising rapidly with each passing day. That amount simply covers the cost of the current war, and does not identify the ongoing trillion dollar expenses of the Pentagon and the many hidden funds that are directed towards imperialist actions. Johnson concludes that the U.S. is “on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire,” with its accompanying dynamics “isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism and bankruptcy.”
Nemesis is already in action. Johnson correctly identifies financial ruin as accompanying the fall of empire, but mostly from the military-industrial complex perspective. Returning to his original work, “Blowback”, there is more recognition that “members of the Wall Street-Treasury complex launched an astonishingly ambitious…attempt to make the rest of the world adopt American economic institutions and norms.” Through the machinations of the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO and all their affiliated organizations and ‘think tanks’, they came very close to this realization, but Nemesis is at work here as well, evident in the current financial actions of the renewed socialism of Latin America.
That financial realization is based on the demands of the American consumer economy. Not only is there an enormous debt structure associated with the military and other government operations which lead to a large national deficit, and a large current account deficit, there are equivalent huge debt structures with personal finances, and mortgage finances, all of which are contrived to keep capital flowing to the empire’s centre, to keep the consumer happily consuming, to keep the wealthy happily wealthy. Taken in total, "All Uncle Sam’s debt, including private household consumer credit-card, mortgage etc debt of about $10 trillion, plus corporate and financial, with options, derivatives and the like, and state and local government debt comes to an unvisualizable, indeed unimaginable, $37 trillion, which is nearly four times Uncle Sam’s GDP [gross domestic product – italics added]"
Technically, the U.S. cannot lose a war if it applied the full force of its imperial military presence, its ‘full spectrum dominance’, but by doing so, and even without doing so, it will lose everything else. Nemesis has arrived, and she is working actively on the money markets of the world, starting where it will hit home the hardest, in the grossly over-valued inflationary bubble of the housing market. Chalmers Johnson is correct. Along with the dynamics of isolation, overstretch, and unitary opposition, the dynamic that is already visibly at work is bankruptcy as the finance capital bubble, largely based on mortgages and the strange workings of derivatives and debt purchases, starts to unravel.
Andre Gunder Frank, cited in Auerback, Marshall. “Giant in decline,” Asia Times. January 25, 2005. www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/GA25Dj01.html
-Jim Miles is a Canadian writer and intellectual who is a regular contributor to the Palestine Chronicle.