Imperialism by Invitation or Imitation?
US efforts in remaking the international system according to an image reflecting the US are not usually in complete vain since the track has already has already been cut. To continue with the analogy, US policy planners and military analysts are concerned about widening and then paving the track so that it becomes a permanent highway. None of the military or diplomatic documents consulted, not even those with the highest of scientific pretense, ever bothers to go into any detail about the origins, development, and constitutions of the actual people who are constructed as force multipliers. On the other hand, Harvard historian Charles S. Maier addressed these ideas under the lemma of “empire by invitation” or “consensual empire” (Maier, 2002). While US leaders speak in terms of “partners,” “alliances,” and “coalitions,” Maier is not convinced that any of these adequately describe the nature of the US as “a major actor” (in his minimalist terms) in the international system. Instead, it is more accurate to speak of “the subordination of diverse national elites who—whether under compulsion or from shared convictions—accept the values of those who govern the dominant center or metropole,” Maier maintains. What distinguishes an empire from an alliance is the inequality in terms of power, resources, and influence between leaders at the centre of empire and the national subordinates who are, at most, their nominal counterparts. Political, economic, and cultural leaders in the periphery “hobnob with their imperial rulers”. Even those who organize resistance, Maier argues, “have often assimilated their colonizers’ culture and even values”. Maier endorses the Cultural Imperialism thesis in explaining these deep ties between the US core and what V.S. Naipaul (1967) called “the mimic men” of the periphery:
“Empires function by virtue of the prestige they radiate as well as by might, and indeed collapse if they rely on force alone. Artistic styles, the language of the rulers, and consumer preferences flow outward along with power and investment capital—sometimes diffused consciously by cultural diplomacy and student exchanges, sometimes just by popular taste for the intriguing products of the metropole, whether Coca Cola or Big Mac”. (Maier, 2002, p. 28)
As for Naipaul’s “mimic men,” these tend to be members of the new national elites in “formerly” colonized territories, who have acquired the tastes and prejudices of the colonial master, who aspire to the culture and identity of the colonizer, while cringing from the culture of the colonized. Mimic men ultimately find themselves displaced, disenchanted, and alienated, not able to fully join the ranks of the master class in the colonial mother country, but divorced from the culture into which they were born and which causes them shame. It is also important to note that Naipaul’s protagonist in The Mimic Men, Ralph Singh, is a politician, and was educated in the UK.
Elsewhere I wrote in similar terms to Maier’s about the relationships between the domestic and international versions of the US (Forte, 2014). As I outlined there, one can discern what we might call a National United States of America (NUSA) and a Globalized United States of America (GUSA). NUSA is a simple reference to the current political geography of the US, filled in by places that can be specified with geographic coordinates, inhabited by people in relatively dense relations with one another. Most of the inhabitants of NUSA refer to themselves as “Americans,” or are “Americans in waiting” (immigrants awaiting eventual citizenship). GUSA is not so neatly geographic, but it can still be found and seen, concretely. GUSA’s existence can be observed (in no particular order of importance) in the adoption of US consumption patterns and standards by local elites around the world, who may also be dual US citizens. The existence of a transnational capitalist class, a large part of which is US-educated, also manifests this globalization of US power. Military leaderships formed by funding and training by the US military, must also be included, as should the tens of thousands fighting in US uniforms with the promise of getting Green Cards. Political parties funded by the US and often led by people who spent some time living and studying in the US, and who adopt the US as a model, form a part of GUSA. GUSA includes upper-class neighbourhoods, districts, and gated communities, and those whose life patterns, choices, and personal orientations have been seriously influenced or remade by US cultural imperialism, in a process commonly referred to as “Americanization”. One of my working hypotheses is that it is GUSA which is now largely responsible for sustaining and extending the imperial reach of NUSA. Leaving the critique of scientism behind, we should now move from this overview of the instrumentality of imperialist logic to consider some of the practices, tools and devices used to multiply, mirror, and extend US power globally.
Neocolonial Cargo Cults
That the so-called force multipliers of US dominance can comprise, to a significant extent, dependent and mimetic bourgeoisies in former colonies is something deeply problematic for scholars and critics such as Ali Shari’ati. As he argued, these elites consist of what has long been known and referred to as the “comprador bourgeoisie,” the functionaries who benefit from the distribution of Western imports and the export of local resources, but also those who are among the most assimilated and who encourage a “modernization” of local tastes and thus expand the market for foreign imported goods (Manoochehri, 2005, p. 297). In Shari’ati’s terms, assimilation applies to,
“the conduct of the one who, intentionally or unintentionally, starts imitating the manners of someone else. Obsessively, and with no reservations he denies himself in order to transform his identity. Hoping to attain the goals and the grandeur, which he sees in another, the assimilated attempts to rid himself of perceived shameful associations with his original society and culture”. (Shari’ati quoted in Manoochehri, 2005, p. 297)
The issue of dependency is also useful in another sense, one related to the broader, critical literature on the political economy of underdevelopment. Since the force multiplier idea is inherently an expression of the cost function of foreign action, it is appropriate to understand it in the terms of political economy as an extractive process. Extraction, and the accumulation of capital (understood in all senses) at the core, is an essential outcome of any formula that posits the use of the most strategic resources at the least expense.
Speaking of the Bulgarian case (see chapter 4), as just one example, the force multiplication of increased “Americanization” in the early 1990s could be viewed as taking on another facet, this one being a specialty of anthropologists who studied cargo cults. As explained better by Eleanor Smollett, an anthropologist with twenty years of research experience in Bulgaria,
“The thought that keeps coming to me is cargo. A mechanical analogy to cargo cults is meaningless of course. There is no cargo cult in Bulgaria. There is no charismatic leader. We are not seeing a revitalization movement (though some monarchists have appeared) or a millenarian religious movement. But still, in this secular, highly educated, industrial society, there are echoes that say ‘cargo’. The wealth that is coveted exists somewhere else, in an external society. The structure of that external society and the manner in which the wealth is produced are poorly understood. The young people who covet what they imagine is the universal wealth of the West were not suffering from unemployment, poverty or absolute deprivation under socialism (although, in the present situation, they are beginning to experience all of these). They were and are, however, experiencing relative deprivation, as compared with their external model. It is this relative deprivation that moves them, as David Aberle made clear long ago in discussion of cargo cults. And as Eric Hobsbawm pointed out in contrasting these movements with revolutions, the leadership of such movements has no clear programme or plan of implementation for a new social system. The expected improvement to society is based on faith. If we strip away the old institutions, then the foreign aid, the investment, the development, the cargo will come”. (Smollett, 1993, p. 12)
The Mexican philosopher of liberation, Enrique Dussel, like Shari’ati, wrote on the fabrication of culture in the image of imperial culture that is represented by the new national elites, those he sees as historically the most assimilated. Dussel notes that imperial culture is,
“particularly refracted in the oligarchic culture of dominant groups within dependent nations of the periphery. It is the culture that they admire and imitate, fascinated by the artistic, scientific, and technological program of the centre….On the masks of these local elites the face of the centre is duplicated. They ignore their national culture, they despise their skin color, they pretend to be white…and live as if they were in the centre”. (quoted in Manoochehri, 2005, p. 294)
Dussel, however, does not see this culture as being confined to the oligarchic minority alone. Instead, a “pop” version is produced, “the kitsch vulgarization of imperialist culture,” one that is encouraged, reproduced and distributed by the elites who thus help to expand the imperialist economy by supplying a willing market for its goods—which resonates in the research of Smollett in Bulgaria. The process then is one where the imperial culture is “refracted by oligarchical culture and passed on for consumption. It is by means of the culture of the masses that ideology propagates imperialist enterprise and produces a market for its product” (Dussel as quoted in Manoochehri, 2005, p. 294).
Shari’ati described the culmination of assimilation as being the creation of monoculture. However, we can add that matters do not stop there, since there is also the growth of something resembling a “monoeconomy” under neoliberal tutelage, and a “monopolitics” that absorbs the nation-states of the global periphery as the new wards and even outright protectorates under UN, EU, and NATO auspices. Thus are US strategists able to speak of growing “alliances” and the spread of “universal values”—monoculture is the smoothest path to acquiring the most efficient machines: the force multiplier.
On the other hand, in US military and diplomatic papers there is no exegesis, no treatment, description or interpretation of the nature of those reduced in their roles to functional force multipliers. One wonders who US writers think these people are, what image of these human beings exists in their minds. It would appear, from the unspoken assumptions, that the average force multiplying person is conceived as being idealistic, one who associates the US with his/her highest ideals, and thus one who suspends judgment, and defers questioning. Above all, the force multiplier, being on the front line, is willing to sacrifice. These are to be sensed then as the perfect Christian Soldiers, in the Church of American Divinity, and the reader’s job is to have faith in these force multipliers.
There is also an “ecological fallacy” at work in US writings about “civil society” and “youth” or other social collectivities as force multipliers. The ecological fallacy is, “a confusion of the forest and the trees or, more accurately, the observing of one and the drawing of inferences about the other” (Stevenson, 1983, p. 263). One result of this fallacy is drawing conclusions about individuals, on the basis of their membership in social groups. Specifically, this fallacy emerges as such in State Department documents that automatically cast “civil society” worldwide as opposed to the state, as pro-US democracy, and as a natural ally of the US. In the writings and speeches that emanate from the State Department, there never can be a “civil society” that comprises ideological adversaries of US power–no such thing exists, they would have us believe.
The Instruments of Imperial Practice
Both the US Departments of State and Defense have created multiple programs for “targeting” foreign audiences and “winning hearts and minds”—a subject that is far broader than what is presented below (or even in previous volumes in this series). Hillary Clinton’s “21st century statecraft” has been mentioned before. The approach involved using communications technologies “to connect to new audiences, particularly civil society” as part of an “engagement” strategy (DoS, 2010, p. 65). As parts of its “public diplomacy,” the State Department created “Regional Media Hubs” in Miami, London, Brussels, Pretoria, Dubai, and Tokyo, in order to “increase official U.S. voices and faces on foreign television, radio, and other media, so that we are visible, active, and effective advocates of our own policies, priorities, and actions with foreign audiences…serving as a resource and tool for amplifying the regional dimension of our message” (DoS, 2010, pp. 60-61). In addition, the State Department created the “Virtual Student Foreign Service,” enlisting the aid of US university students to support US diplomatic missions (DoS, 2010, p. 66). Also dealing with students, the State Department expanded the “ACCESS Micro-scholarships” program so that, “teenagers, particularly in the Muslim world,” could be funded “to attend English classes and learn about America” (DoS, 2010, p. 61), thus utilizing conventional techniques of cultural imperialism, targeting Muslim youths and enforcing the dominance of the English language. While some would say that these programs are “peaceful,” the State Department also announced it was partnering with the Pentagon, in particular by using USAID in support of the Pentagon’s regional Combatant Commands (DoS, 2010, p. 54).
One of the more central and consistent tools used to deepen US intervention has arisen from the exploitation of gender issues to win “hearts and minds” as part of the US’ globalization of its counterinsurgency practices (see Byrd & Decker, 2008, p. 96; Pas, 2013; King, 2014). The State Department itself officially announced that the “protection and empowerment of women and girls is key to the foreign policy and security of the United States….women are at the center of our diplomacy and development efforts—not simply as beneficiaries, but also as agents of peace, reconciliation, development, growth, and stability” (DoS, 2010, p. 23). As “women are increasingly playing critical roles as agents of change in their societies,” the US would, “harness efforts and support their roles by focusing programs to engage with women and expand their opportunities for entrepreneurship, access to technology, and leadership” (DoS, 2010, p. 58). Also, as Pas points out under the heading of “security feminism,” the fetishizing of oppressed women is used as an opportune asset to ideologically advance the cause of imperialist intervention: “the war becomes about her. In this process the host country is also feminized and the American heterosexual pursuit becomes about gallantly ‘saving’ the Muslim woman from Islam. While America strives to save the Muslim woman from her alleged theological oppression she is effectively put on the front lines” (Pas, 2013, p. 56).
The CIA has also instrumentalized gender issues as part of a covert campaign to bolster international support for US wars. In 2010, after the Dutch government fell in part because of the issue of its participation in the war in Afghanistan, the CIA began to worry about a possible electoral backlash in the upcoming elections in France and Germany, both of which suffered mounting casualties among their forces in Afghanistan. According to a confidential CIA memorandum made public by WikiLeaks,
“Some NATO states, notably France and Germany, have counted on public apathy about Afghanistan to increase their contributions to the mission, but indifference might turn into active hostility if spring and summer fighting results in an upsurge in military or Afghan civilian casualties and if a Dutch-style debate spills over into other states contributing troops”. (CIA, 2010, p. 1)
A CIA “expert on strategic communication” along with public opinion analysts at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) came together to “consider information approaches that might better link the Afghan mission to the priorities of French, German, and other Western European publics” (CIA, 2010, p. 1). This was critical to the US since Germany and France respectively commanded the third and fourth largest troop contingents in Afghanistan, and any withdrawal would have been a significant blow not just to military operations but especially to the public image of the US-led occupation effort, leading to a crumbling in the credibility of the US-led NATO alliance and its “International Security Assistance Force” in Afghanistan. The CIA was already aware that, though not a top election issue, the majority of public opinion in Germany and France was against participation in the Afghan war (CIA, 2010, p. 1). The CIA’s strategic information exercise in Europe was based on the following logic,
“Western European publics might be better prepared to tolerate a spring and summer of greater military and civilian casualties if they perceive clear connections between outcomes in Afghanistan and their own priorities. A consistent and iterative strategic communication program across NATO troop contributors that taps into the key concerns of specific Western European audiences could provide a buffer if today’s apathy becomes tomorrow’s opposition to ISAF, giving politicians greater scope to support deployments to Afghanistan”. (CIA, 2010, p. 2)
The question of girls in Afghanistan was thus brought to the fore: “The prospect of the Taliban rolling back hard-won progress on girls’ education could provoke French indignation, become a rallying point for France’s largely secular public, and give voters a reason to support a good and necessary cause despite casualties” (CIA, 2010, p. 2). The CIA proposed that,
“Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission”. (CIA, 2010, p. 4)
The CIA thus advanced the idea that, “media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences” (CIA, 2010, p. 4).
While there is no chain of leaked documents to show that this CIA-organized strategy session led to the formulation and then implementation of a specific propaganda effort that followed these guidelines, we do know that Western media, as well as the messages widely and prominently circulated by Western human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have over the years tended to heavily capitalize on the image of Afghan women and girls allegedly suffering from “Taliban oppression” as a major impulse toward supporting at least some US aims in Afghanistan. Even the otherwise anti-war US activist organization, Code Pink, sent a delegation to Afghanistan that spoke out about what could happen to Afghan women and girls if the US-led NATO occupation should come to an abrupt end: “We would leave with the same parameters of an exit strategy but we might perhaps be more flexible about a timeline,” said Medea Benjamin to the Christian Science Monitor, adding: “That’s where we have opened ourselves, being here, to some other possibilities. We have been feeling a sense of fear of the people of the return of the Taliban. So many people are saying that, ‘If the US troops left the country, would collapse. We’d go into civil war.’ A palpable sense of fear that is making us start to reconsider that” (Mojumdar, 2009/10/6; for more, see Code Pink, 2009/10/7a, 2009/10/7b, and Horton, 2009).
The goal of instrumentalizing Afghan women for pro-war public relations reappeared in another of the documents released to WikiLeaks, published by the Media Operations Centre of the Press and Media Service of NATO headquarters in Brussels. The document titled, “NATO in Afghanistan: Master Narrative as at 6 October 2008,” laid out a series of propaganda talking points oriented toward the domestic mass media in troop contributing nations, which NATO spokespersons were to follow. NATO’s “master narrative” concerning Afghan women was to tell the public that, “Presidential, Parliamentary and Provincial elections have taken place and women are now sitting in the Afghan Parliament. 28% of the MPs of the Lower House are female. Legitimate and representative government is now in place” (NATO, 2008). What is standard about these approaches is their superficiality, stressing numbers over qualitative realities, or in some cases inventing numbers outright, hence the recent admission that a large number of “ghost schools” exist in Afghanistan, that were either never constructed (but were paid for), or that were but have no teachers of pupils.
As with gender, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, has become another vehicle for the US to sell itself politically, or to create another wedge device for intervention and for practicing divide and rule. Thus in 2011, the State Department launched, “the Global Equality Fund to protect and advance the human rights of LGBT persons by supporting civil society organizations to protect human rights defenders, challenge discriminatory legislation, undertake advocacy campaigns, and document human rights violations that target the LGBT community”. Consequently, “over $7.5 million was allocated to civil rights organizations in over 50 countries; more than 150 human rights defenders have been assisted” (DoS, 2014b, p. 24). There is very little in the realm of “human rights,” LGBT and women’s activism, NGOs and “civil society” that is not touched by the US in nations that it is targeting—as the State Department itself proclaims, “advancing human rights and democracy is a key priority that reflects American values and promotes our security” (DoS, 2010, p. 42). The concept of “human security” has also been effectively reworked as part of a militarized, absolute security agenda (see McLoughlin & Forte, 2013).
In its search for more “force multipliers,” the State Department, particularly under the Obama administration, has established a series of programs to attract and enlist US and foreign students, corporate executives, and new media users. A program titled “100,000 Strong in the Americas”1 was launched by Obama in order to increase the number of US students studying throughout the Americas to 100,000, and likewise to increase the number of students from the Americas studying in the US to 100,000, by 2020. There is no explanation as to why 100,000 is the magic number—unless it is in fact founded on numerological mysticism. To fund the program, the State Department was joined by Partners of the Americas (see below) and NAFSA: Association of International Educators (NAFSA, 2013). US universities, without any known exception, are participants. The “Innovation Fund” that supports the program is hailed as a “public-private partnership,” in line with the growing corporatization, privatization, and outsourcing that now dominates ostensibly public institutions in North America. Obama’s program promises a propaganda boost to private corporations: “Highlight your corporate efforts to create jobs and international education for young people through media placement and recognition”.2 This connection between government, private business, and universities, brings to the foreground the widening idea of force multiplication employed by the US.
As just mentioned, Partners of the Americas is part of the above program. Partners of the Americas was first formed as part of the Alliance for Progress in 1964,3 during an earlier phase of US-led hemispheric counterinsurgency, marked by a developmentalist and militarized drive against “communism” as the US sought shore up its dominance by countering the example of revolutionary Cuba. Partners of the Americas involves itself in elections in Latin America, and in mobilizing people to impact on the selection of candidates for positions in justice systems such as Bolivia’s, until Partners’ partner, USAID, was expelled from the country. Partners boasts of funding hundreds of unnamed “civil society organizations” in 24 countries in the Americas.4
Among similar initiatives launched by the Obama administration, again by turning over part of US foreign policy to gigantic corporate entities, is the so-called “Alliance for Affordable Internet” (A4AI), which includes Google and the Omidyar Network. The program has clear political, strategic, and neoliberal aims. One of its top aims is to “reduce regulatory barriers and encourage policies to offer affordable access to both mobile and fixed-lined internet, particularly among women in developing countries”.5 A4AI is active in an unspecified number of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the only ones mentioned thus far being Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, and the Dominican Republic. Understanding that limitations to Internet access persist, the US government is directly involved in expanding the potential market of those listening to its messages, watching its corporate advertisements, and consuming US exports, both material and ideological.
A program that specifically targets Africa and what could be its future leaders, is the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) which has launched the “Mandela Washington Fellowship” (MWF) program. The State Department partnered with RocketHub on a crowdfunding campaign to support projects created by graduates of the MWF. The first class of 500 Mandela Washington Fellows arrived in June 2014, “to study business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public management at U.S. campuses, followed by a Presidential Summit in Washington”.6 The target audiences, as expected are women, youths, and “civil society”. So far 22 MWF projects have been funded. In undertaking this initiative, the US is reinforcing classic patterns of cultural imperialism.
It should become clearer how the employment of “force multipliers” can be seen as a threat to target states, when it comes to Western reactions to penetration of their own states. For example, when speaking of China’s force multipliers—or “agents of influence”— Western agencies such as the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) speak in no uncertain terms of their presence as a threat, constructed in terms of espionage, specifically naming “the mass of ordinary students, businessmen and locally employed staff” who work on behalf of China’s state intelligence gathering apparatus (MoD, 2001, p. 21F-2; see also WikiLeaks, 2009). What may be presented as innocuous ties of friendship, partnership, and aid when it comes to Western use of force multipliers, is instead dramatically inverted when speaking of Chinese influence, using a markedly more sinister tone:
“The process of being cultivated as a ‘friend of China’ (ie. an ‘agent’) is subtle and long-term. The Chinese are adept at exploiting a visitor’s interest in, and appreciation of, Chinese history and culture. They are expert flatterers and are well aware of the ‘softening’ effect of food and alcohol. Under cover of consultation or lecturing, a visitor may be given favours, advantageous economic conditions or commercial opportunities. In return they will be expected to give information or access to material. Or, at the very least, to speak out on China’s behalf (becoming an ‘agent of influence’)”. (MoD, 2001, p. 21F-2)
- The website for “100,000 Strong for the Americas” can be found at http://www.100kstrongamericas.org/100000-strong-explained
- Partners of the Americas presents a brief history of the organization at http://www.partners.net/partners/History.asp
- Alliance for Affordable Internet: http://www.state.gov/s/partnerships/releases/reports/2015/238828.htm#A4AI
- Details on YALI and the MWF were presented at http://www.state.gov/s/partnerships/releases/reports/2015/238828.htm#YALI
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————— . (2009/10/7b). Afghanistan: Will Obama Listen to the Women? Code Pink, October 7.
Forte, Maximilian C. (2014). Surveillance, Dissent, and Imperialism. Zero Anthropology, March 1.
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Pas, N. (2013). The Masculine Empire: A Gendered Analysis of Modern American Imperialism. In Kyle McLoughlin & Maximilian C. Forte (Eds.), Emergency as Security: Liberal Empire at Home and Abroad (pp. 47–71). Montreal: Alert Press.
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————— . (2014b). State of Global Partnerships Report. Washington, DC: The Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, US Department of State.
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