Book Review: Naked Imperialism

Reviewed by Jim Miles

Naked Imperialism – The U.S. Pursuit of Global Dominance.  John Bellamy Foster.  Monthly Review Press.  New York, 2006.

With a clear majority of the American people not supporting the war in Iraq, not supporting George Bush’s presidency or the man himself, and not supporting the decidedly ignorant “surge” of troops into Baghdad it should be transparently obvious that the current American government, Democrats included now, are operating separately from the wishes and desires of the people.  It is definitely not a government of the people, by the people, for the people, but a government that is continuing the overall American pursuit of empire that has been ongoing since the inception of the country for the business elite of the country.   

Depending on the era, the empire has excused itself variously as ‘settling a wilderness’, ‘redeeming the savages’, bringing ‘civilization’ to the frontier (an ever expanding frontier, first across the continent, and then overseas); later these apologetics became protecting the world from the ‘evil’ communists, ‘godless communism’, further transformed into bringing ‘freedom and democracy’ with ‘free market capitalism’ being the ultimate form of democracy.  This rhetoric tries to cloak the actions Americans in wonderful rhetoric, but that cloak has many rents and tears in it, revealing the ugliness underneath, the wars, killings, murder, torture, manipulations that have all been the true force behind the expanding American empire.

In general, the imperial nature of the country has been denied, or has only been allowed to enter into discussion with the Spanish defeat at the turn of the Nineteenth Century, and then flared again with the collapse of the Soviet Empire and talk of a unipolar world – a wonderfully innocent euphemism for empire if there ever was one.  Since the events of 9/11 the rhetorical cloak has been ripped to shreds by the winds of war, and underneath the ugly hide of “Naked Imperialism…” has displayed itself – bloated and syphilitic to the point of insanity (sorry, just trying to stay within the ‘surge’ metaphor).   As much as they try, no excuses will validate what the United States and its people are doing today, it is fully revealed as all out imperialism, “…The U.S. Pursuit of Global Dominance.”

Taking a more specific approach to the nature of imperialism, John Bellamy Foster postulates “It is the systematic result of the entire history and logic of capitalism.”  The end product of that history is closing in with “nuclear proliferation and …increased chances of the outbreak of nuclear war, and planetary ecological destruction.”  Certainly the history of the American Empire fits within that definition, although the broader view of empires throughout history is based more on the accumulation of wealth and resources towards the central power, from a dependent or occupied periphery, capitalist or not.  That argument aside, one of a more semantic nature than of the facts on the ground, Foster supports his contention well, using a significant dose of economic theory and philosophy from Marx and Lenin.

The essays in the book follow chronologically from after the 9/11 attack.  The essays effectively outline the sequence of the main events, providing an analysis of what is happening from the perspective of empire described as “globalized monopoly capital and hegemonic imperialism, led by the United States,” leaving us with “a stark choice between deadly barbarism or a humane socialism.” 

Within the essays some common themes are recognized.

Foster discusses the media, “a superior propaganda organ for militarism and empire”, reflecting “the weakness of professional journalism” and “the control of our major news media by a very small number of very large and powerful profit-seeking corporations.”

Globalization represents another classical form of capitalist endeavour, familiar with the British Empire, revitalized with the economic structures of the WTO, World Bank, the IMF, as the over-ridding institutions.  An integral part of this “economic globalization” is the “global expansion of military power [by] the hegemonic state of world capitalism.”

The more recent trend of  “finance capitalism” is discussed, the stage of empire when wealth and growth are maintained and manipulated by chasing money and capital around the globe without any creation of real wealth, being a product, commodity, or service of actual value. 

The venture into Iraq, far from being to find WMDs or more latterly for freedom and democracy, has three goals; first to show “that the U.S. is now prepared to use its power at will”; secondly, to secure oil supplies for U.S. consumption; and finally, to guard geopolitical concerns with Israel/Palestine and  “to project its power beyond the Middle East,” with Russia, and China.  Current events only strengthen these arguments, with renewed attacks in Somalia, the upcoming Iraqi law to privatize the oil sector with American companies lined up to secure all the contracts, all the sabre rattling towards Iran and Syria that plays fully on the side of Israeli interests in the region and the series of obviously permanent bases that are being constructed in Iraq.

Throughout the essays as well is the emphasis that the empire is not the result of a ‘cabal’ or a particular set of government leaders but “reflected deep-seated tendencies within U.S. foreign policy that had roots in capitalism itself.”  It is not, as conceived by the media, a “policy” of an administration, but a “systematic reality [italics in original] arising from the very nature of capitalist development.”

Foster returns to the idea of “barbarism”, but instead of being the heroes, the United States presents “a barbarism emanating from a single powerful country” with “a doctrine of pre-emptive…war…threatening to destabilize the entire globe…always associated with torture.” 

The last essay from November 2005 discusses “The Failure of Empire”, reiterating the idea that “Capitalism is by its very nature a globally expanding system geared to accumulation on a world scale.”  He does not dwell on conjecture, but ends by recognizing the unintended consequences of any military action, “The full repercussions of the failure of the U.S. empire…have yet to be seen.”

For those familiar with current events in the Middle East, “Naked Imperialism” provides a good record of events combined with an interpretation that would be difficult to refute.  The most significant lack from these essays is any perspective on the role played by religion and the Christian influence within government, in general from the Puritans through to Wilsonian idealism, in particular within the Republican party, where a particular set of people has had a large influence in promoting the turn of current events, not to mention Bush’s continuing dogmatism in the face of an ever increasingly violent insurgency and civil war.  As Marx and Lenin recognized religion as an “opiate of the people”, this lack needs addressing, it certainly is an opiate for George Bush.  Although some of the early essays carry some obtuse philosophical presentations that might prove difficult to work through, for those wanting more background familiarity this work would serve as a good starting point, providing solid examples and a good chronological sequence of imperial events. 

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. 

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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