The Empire is Failing – A Good Thing for America and the World

An Interview with Terry Paupp

Terry Paupp is the author of Exodus from Empire: The Fall of America’s Empire and the Rise of the Global Community. The book examines the downfall of the American Empire, its impact on the world community and what world order will take its place. Paupp has been a professor of philosophy and international law at Southwestern College, National University, San Diego City College. He served as the National Chancellor of the U.S. for the International Association of Educators for World Peace from 2001-2005. His previous books include “Achieving Inclusionary Governance: Advancing Peace and Development in First and Third World Nations (2000). He is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Kevin Zeese: Exodus from Empire is an exhaustive book, 423 pages long, covering a wide array of empire-related issues. It must have taken you a geat deal of time and effort to write it. Why did you write this book?

Terry Paupp: Yes, you’re right. A 423-page long book on empire related issues is quite an undertaking. I can honestly say that I have worked on, thought about, and read about these issues for the last 37 years of my life. So, starting as a freshman in college and continuing on through my years in higher education and teaching, I have wrestled with the reality of a mutating and violent American Empire. In high school I mourned the death of my hero, Robert F. Kennedy. In college, I was involved in the anti-war movement and an active participant in Vietnam War teach-ins and protests. After college I obtained a Master of Theological Studies in Chicago — doing my thesis on liberation theology in Latin America. It was at that time that I started viewing religion, politics, economics, and social life from the perspective of those on the bottom of society — the poor, oppressed — most of who live in the Global South (Third World). After teaching philosophy and comparative religion courses for 6 years, I went to law school and obtained a Juris-Doctor in Law. Soon thereafter, I returned to academics and writing books and articles about what I have termed “Inclusionary Governance” — juxtaposing that ideal for human rights and social justice to all forms of “Exclusionary Governance” and “Exclusionary States.”

In my professional determination, the United States itself was hardly a democratic polity because of exclusionary policies based on race and after the 1870s policies increasingly based on the priorities of capital — the most privileged and wealthy classes of the elite. Further, after the Reagan era it has become clear to me that the US was increasingly becoming more like the oligarchies of Latin American dictators and its large landowners.

Certainly since George W. Bush stole the elections of 2000 and 2004 it is clear that voter suppression, the US Patriot Act, the corruption of the US Justice Department for partisan political gain, the death of a Constitutional framework of effective checks and balances, illegal wiretapping and spying on Americans in violation of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, has all contributed to the defense of corporate wealth and a corporate agenda that is inherently ant-democratic. These are features which are similar to a Latin American oligarchy — a so-called banana republic. Of course the main difference in the case of the US was its huge military budget and the military-industrial complex that drove it. This reality is what inspired me to write the book — especially after the Bush-2 regime invaded Iraq in 2003 and began and illegal occupation of that nation. For me, it was clear from the start that it would be another Vietnam — justified by the American Establishment with a phony pretext for war (9/11) just as the Gulf of Tonkin incident gave the Johnson administration a green light for introducing combat troops into Vietnam. On this matter, please refer to Chapter 5 of Exodus from Empire.

I have devoted Chapter 5 of Exodus from Empire to a discussion of this “hidden politics of empire.” In short, this book came about out of a sense of rage and a sense of injustice against an empire that could sanction tremendous degrees of hunger, poverty, and inequality around the world while creating a global network of military bases for the defense of corporate interests only interested in their own profits to the exclusion of every other human and humane consideration.

KZ: Your book faces up to a key question that is rarely discussed in the U.S. media — American Empire. I expect many in the media and the public do not think of the U.S. as an empire. Please explain why you call the U.S. an empire?

TP: You are quite correct in noting that the U.S. media fails to even acknowledge that Americans live in an empire. I call the U.S. an empire because it is clear to any serious student of history that it became one in the aftermath of World War II when England surrendered its colonies and accepted the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella from the beginnings of the Cold War.

The entire period of the late 1940s through the early 1960s was an age of de-colonization from the empires of Britain, France, and Germany. Yet, during this period the Cold War provided the context for the U.S. to embark upon neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism in order to protect the so-called “Free World.” The reality is that the Free World is not really “free” in terms of civil liberties and human rights. It is free to open access by U.S.-based corporations and multinational/transnational business interests.

To assist in this structuring of the world economy in line with the American Establishment, the IMF, World Bank, and WTO have been established to govern the world economy and as many countries as possible within its orbit. To that end, both Wall Street and the U.S. Treasury Department — as the centers of U.S. finance and capital — give the rest of the world within its “sphere of influence” their marching orders. We see this as Third World nations have structural adjustment programs shoved down their throats by the IMF. These structural adjustment programs, SAPs, that are imposed by the IMF function so as to order the governments who are the recipients of these loans to break up labor unions, suspend wage structures that benefit workers, and condone the rape of the environment.

All of this is undertaken by the U.S. Global Empire in the furtherance of its corporate allies and in its strategic search for obtaining natural resources — such as oil, tungsten, ore — to shore up its domination of the planet. In fact, the Pentagon has said as much in its planning documents since 2001 when it writes of “full spectrum dominance.” What is that? It is the control of not only land, air, and sea by the American Empire, but outer space as well.

The weaponization of space is a high priority for the Bush-2 regime — as exemplified by its unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty and its spending billions of dollars every year for “National Missile Defense” (NMD). It is a program born in the Reagan years under the name of the “Strategic Defense Initiative” (SDI) which its critics later referred to as “Star Wars.” So, the military and economic components of the American empire are all in place or being developed to be put in place so as to turn the 21st Century into the “Next American Century.”

Just as the 20th Century has been referred to by historians as the “American Century,” it is the hope and wet-dream of the Neo-Conservatives and their allies to make the 21st Century into their own. Hence, the invasions of the Middle East for oil, the building of U.S. military bases throughout Eurasia and the soft underbelly of Russia, and the ever sought after control of the Persian Gulf are all designed as a geopolitical strategy to reinforce the American Empire against all possible contenders for its dominant or “hegemonic” position. Therefore, both Russia and China are seen as new potential enemies insofar as they might develop the capacity to become competing hegemons — threatening American and British access to oil supplies and energy resources.

The entire geopolitical strategy of the Pentagon and the Bush-2 regime is dedicated to maintaining American hegemony at all costs. The only significant difference between the Bush-2 regime and the Pentagon is that the Pentagon admits that Global Warming and Climate Change could be an even greater threat than terrorism, while the members of the Bush-2 regime are still arguing that there is “no real science” to support the data and findings of those who have studied the phenomena we call Global Warming.

KZ: You also claim that the American empire is falling. What evidence do you have of that?

TP: I do claim that the American Empire is falling. To begin with, the U.S. Governments borrows $2-billion dollars a day from China just to keep the American economy going. China is basically borrowing worthless U.S. Treasury Bonds that are backed up by nothing more than the promise of the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. Government. Ever since the U.S. went off the gold standard during the Nixon presidency, the dollar is not backed by anything — except the military strength of the nation and its worldwide domination over most foreign currencies. However, those days might well be ending as the Euro takes its place as the dominant currency of the European Union and Europe begins to follow different policy choices and paths from the architects of the American Empire.

Additionally, the breakdown of the so-called “Washington Consensus” in the late 1990s means that the economic model of Neo-liberalism is no longer a viable model for the developing nations of the Third World and those nations — such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Ecuador that want to walk an independent path from that proclaimed by the architects of the empire and expressed through the policies of the IMF, World Bank WTO, and Free Trade Agreements (such as NAFTA and CAFTA).

The reality of globalization under the sway of the U.S. Global Empire and international capitalism has used the Neo-liberal economic model to subordinate Third World nations into debt traps and then leave their peoples vulnerable to market fluctuations and the fleeting fortunes of economic practices premised upon the promise of greater wealth through strategies of privatization and deregulation.

In 1999, the East Asian Miracle became a nightmare with an economic meltdown followed by the witches brew made up by the IMF. The World Bank’s former head economist and Nobel Prize Winner, Joseph Stiglitz, wound up fired from his position at the World Bank by Bill Clinton and Larry Summers (his Treasury Secretary) when he dared to criticize the failed policies of the IMF, the failures of the Neo-liberal model and its orthodoxy, and the absurd dogmas that surrounded the “Washington Consensus.”

In Chapter 6 of Exodus from Empire, I differentiate between Neo-liberal globalization on the one hand, and the path of “inclusive human rights based development on the other (pp. 287-297). I claim that the American Empire is falling because it has engendered global resistance movements throughout the entire Global Community. Further, I argue that this emerging and rising Global Community has the capacity to develop national, regional, and international alliances across the Global South — thereby beginning to undermine the sway and threat of the American Empire. I call this a “counter-hegemonic alliance.”

Also, there are struggles within the Global North as well in the form of social movements that are dedicated to eliminating the Neo-liberal model and those Bush-sanctioned policies of resurgent militarism that seek to enforce it. After 2001, the entire economy of Argentina collapsed under the IMF formulas for economic “growth” — just as the East Asian economies went into meltdown and then were decimated by the IMF’s structural adjustment programs in the period of 1999-2001.

In Exodus from Empire, I examine the arguments for relief from “odious debt” and examine how nations from Africa to Latin America are seeking their year of Jubilee — debt forgiveness and reparations for the injustices imposed on them by the American Empire and its cronies. The principles of this “counter-hegemonic alliance” are of a new historical magnitude — coming at a time when the American Empire is over-extended by what Paul Kennedy has termed “imperial overstretch.”

The roots of these principles may be traced back to 1955 when the Bandung Conference produced its 10-basic principles — the product of the work of 29 Third World Nations that were intended to govern the relations between Third World States (p. 310). At the present time, Latin American states are beginning to effectively move toward making their region an independent regional power — increasingly immune from the dictates of the American Empire and its institutional appendages.

Further, within the U.S. itself the lawlessness of the Bush-2 regime is catching up with the realities of Constitutional law as a new Democratic Congress seeks to re-establish oversight of the federal government, bring an end to illegal wiretaps and violations the FISA law, curtail the excesses of the Patriot Act, the illegal use of torture in violation of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law, and to restore habeas corpus. Yet, it remains to be seen if the fascist drift of the Bush-2 regime can truly be stopped and the American Republic repaired after almost eight years of lawless rule. These are the questions I address in Chapter 3 of Exodus from Empire. The challenge is what to do “when the law of the land becomes lawless.” The real problem, of course, is that the empire has developed its own law — “Empire’s Law” — that is accountable only to the dictates of Empire and to the furtherance of the imperial project.

In short, all laws are not equal because the new reality declares that all activities and laws shall be subject to harmonization to fit the smooth progress of the empire’s activities. Noting is supposed to stand in the way of the unrestrained movement of capital and the dictates of the architects of the American Empire. Yet, there cannot be nor has there ever been a “Superpower Democracy” and there is no “Constitution of the American Empire.” It is an unbounded reality and force that — like fascism itself — is a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme Right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership together with belligerent nationalism (see pp. 83-84, 234).

KZ: Should the U.S. empire end? From the perspective of Americans, is it bad for us? Don’t we get cheap products, a variety of produce, and access to critical resources? What do we lose by being an empire? Do we have to choose between empire and democracy — are they, in the end, mutually exclusive?

TP: Should the U.S. Empire end? Yes, it should end because it is not sustainable for either the average American or for the rest of the world. It is equally bad for Americans as it is for billions of people trapped in poverty throughout the Global South.

The tragedy is that the average American does not know how bad it is or that he/she is an expendable subject within the empire. Certainly the middle-class is starting to see the effects of this empire when jobs are “outsourced” to cheap Third World labor markets and are not replaced, when the tax structure favors the richest two percent while gaps in national inequality continue to grow, when the education system continues to collapse, when political action becomes irrelevant within a two-party system that is owned and paid for by the same corporate elite.

The question becomes: “What do we lose by becoming an empire?” The short answer is that we lose our democracy. That is because empire and democracy are mutually exclusive. A choice has to be made between the two — either consciously or by default. I wrote Exodus from Empire in the hope that enough Americans would read it in order to prevent the choice being made by default.

For example, in Chapter 5 (pp. 200-201) I address the Congressional surrender of the war power — under the U.S. Constitution — to Bush on the eve of the Iraq War. From that surrender of its war power, the congress allowed Bush to revitalize the “imperial presidency” — a reality we see in Bush’s claim that he can function as a “Unitary Executive” without guidance by either the courts or the Congress. As a result of this situation, the vast majority of the American people are left un-represented. Even when Bush’s poll numbers fall it no longer matters because he does not care and there are no effective checks-and-balances in place to stop him. Hence, illegal spying and wiretapping by the NSA is sanctioned by Bush in the name of “fighting the war on terror.” As a result, the FISA courts become meaningless appendages of “an earlier era” — just as the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture are, according to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, “quaint” artifacts of the past.

Americans are directly harmed by the fact that their civil liberties under the Bill of Rights have been shredded. Further, America’s place in the world is diminished by the fact that as U.S. Corporations — operating under the protection of the American Empire — repress wages and workers throughout the Global South, so too, wages are depressed in the United States itself. Higher levels of inequality throughout the entire period of the Bush years are a testament to that reality – as is the absence of affordable health care for most Americans. As a result, Medicare is going bankrupt because the insurance companies and AMA lobby and the pharmaceutical industry-lobby remain protected enclaves of capitalist profit and exploitation. Congress is either powerless to rectify the situation or simply too corrupted by pay-offs to correct the situation.

In Exodus from Empire, I make three central points on this matter: First, the fate of the Global North is linked to the fate of the Global South; Second, trade and investment policies must benefit the citizenry of both the Global North and the Global South and, Third, Neo-liberal globalization increases global inequality (pp. 230-233). Therefore, I argue that we must build what I call a “Post-Imperial America” (pp. 228-230). In short, we need to realize that empire is antithetical to democracy and to our national and global civil society. The good news is that we are starting to witness the rise and newly emerging power of global civil society — as well as social movements across the Global South — which represent a direct challenge to the U.S. Global Empire (see pp. 344-345).

KZ: And, from the perspective of the world, isn’t the American empire a good thing? Don’t we bring stability and democracy to the world? Wouldn’t the world be a more violent place without us? Wouldn’t there be more poverty, disease and income disparity?

TP: From the perspective of the rest of the world, the American Empire is not a good thing; it is a curse. It deserves resistance, opposition, and overthrow. Why? Because it is a thing — a creation divorced from law and the moral codes of the teachings of all of the world’s great religious traditions.

In Chapter 4 of Exodus from Empire, I address this directly by critiquing Professor Samuel Huntington’s thesis that there is a “Clash of Civilizations” going on and that clash and conflict are inevitable. The problems with his position are many — and I address them all in this chapter. But what I want to emphasize is that at the heart of his thesis resides a strong “American Empire First” concern. He wants to see the protection of the current global power arrangements no matter who gets hurt and regardless of the fact that over 2-billion people on this planet attempt to live on less than a dollar a day and despite the fact that his clash-thesis serves to justify a “war without end” in the name of fighting “terrorism.” For Huntington, like the military planners in the Pentagon and the economic elite on Wall Street, in the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and the U.S. Treasury Department — these 2-billion people are nothing more than “collateral damage.” Yet, what is at stake is a moral issue — a human rights issue — an issue of democracy rising in the world or fading into the sunset under the auspices of a Neo-liberal economic model combined with a fascist polity of control called the American Empire.

In contrast, I argue that there is an emerging unity of religions and civilizations. I call it a “convergence.” Further, from an international law perspective, I maintain that the evolution of customary international law reveals a normative standard that is shared globally — between and among nations — that is capable of moving humanity toward a “convergence” and “healing” of peoples and of nations and of civilizations. Hence, my counter-thesis to Huntington’s “clash thesis” is that war is not inevitable and that peace and harmony can be our collective destination if we re-order our mental-maps, our conceptual categories, and learn to recognize the propaganda of the American Empire for what it is — propaganda.

In short, the “clash thesis” is nothing more than an ideological construction for proceeding with business as usual. The clash-thesis is a cruel hoax that is employed to justify huge expenditures on a so-called “war on terror” while continuing to wage war on the weak and vulnerable. What I am calling “the rise of Global Community” means that we are actually witnessing global integration, nonviolent resistance, and the rise of global civil society in an era where terror and terrorism (as a strategy of resistance) is really representative of less than one-percent of the world’s population. The real sources of terror are found in the projects of the American Empire along with its tragic consequences. The consequences of empire include higher levels of poverty, disease, inequality, and war itself. Hence, the pursuit of empire and “Empire’s Law” (p. 111) produces a situation where the potential for “clash” and violence and terror is really the product and result of imperial rule — the actions of empire.

In opposition to the practices of the American Empire and the “clash thesis,” I argue that: (1) Despite attempts to claim the opposite, there exists no inherent right, on the part of the powerful, to govern, rule or order the weak; (2) Regardless of the ideological claims being advanced, there exists no unified or unifying civilizational consensus on the naturalness of a corporate-dominated, militaristic imperialism as comprising the common values, truth’s, visions of human futures that prescribe a universal course for humanity’s social evolution; (3) Notwithstanding attempts to convince otherwise, there exists no preordained rationale for eternal truth of inevitability regarding forms of socially constructed orders that form the institutions of governance, including the form of “law.”

In fact, the very existence of nuclear weapons is a violation of the moral code of all of the major world religions and a violation of international law since the findings and final judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the 1990s (see p. 111). In short, in a world without the American Empire, the world would be less violent, less prone to suffer poverty, disease or income disparity. Chapters 1 through 3 make this point quite clear. The American Empire is dangerous not only for the world, but dangerous for American democracy itself. If we wish to see DEMOCRACY RISING, we must see the setting sun on the American Empire and its projects.

KZ: What kind of country would the U.S. be if it were not an empire? What would take the place of the U.S. empire in the world?

TP: If the U.S. were not an empire what kind of country would it be? I have suggested in Chapter 5 that a “post-Imperial America” would reject the policies, practices, and rationales that have characterized the hidden politics of empire.

A post-Imperial America would learn to embrace the dynamics of a rising Global Community in which America no longer engages in the fantasies of global domination that have characterized the thought and policies of the architects of the American Empire.

In its place, a post-Imperial American needs to find a path toward social, political, economic and spiritual liberation for both its own people and the peoples and governments of the rest of the world. The path of a post-Imperial America is a revolutionary proposition and a revolutionary goal. Taking such a path is the only way to re-democratize America and, at the same time, supply the necessary means to achieve an interdependent human rights oriented world under the rule of law (see pp. 228-229). That is when we shall truly see DEMOCRACY RISING.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

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  1. Max Shields said on May 21st, 2007 at 7:45am #

    Mr. Paupp,

    Sounds like you’ve done your research. Particularly like your mentioning Paul Kennedy. I think scholars like Kennedy are very important since their world view seems relatively strained of ideology and yet his texts are full of valuable information that provides support for the kind of work you have done. It appears Chamlers Johnson may have pre-empted you with his trilogy (particularly his latest, Nemesis). But this only reinforces your thesis.

    It almost appears as if you hold some hope in the system – I may be overstating, certainly your connection with Bobby Kennedy (someone I admired as he left the stage for his authenticity) and than you point that the Dems are looking to correct the waywardness of the current regime. The institutionalization of what we have both domestically and foreign policies wise have been etched in the DNA over the past 100 years, and thus seems to have molded the system – certainly if Americans were feeling the depth of the pain this system causes, we have the Declaration of Independence as a statement (justification) for a total transformation; read: revolt.

    Nevertheless, I do concur with your sense of a global convergence. I think the most important thing is the continued development of communities of practice – that is the socialization of transformation through dialogue on blogs such as Dissident Voices, and books and, shows like Democracy Now. The change will become inevitable through these communities of practice – these are the same communities that revolutionize science and bring about collective movements.

    While I find the need to keep spirituality integral to such change I hesitate to go so far as to call it religion.

  2. Craig Wilson said on October 15th, 2007 at 3:54pm #

    Several months ago I watched Chalmers Johnson on Amy Goodman, and what he said was so disturbing that even Amy, toward the end of the interview, asked: “Is there any hope? His entire discourse dealt with what he called, “Military Keynesinism,” and how powerful and all pervasive it had become following WW2, with some 740 military bases established throughout the world. President Eisenhower in his farewell adress to the nation almost fifty years ago, warned America about the rise of the “Military Industrial Complex.” Chalmers Johnson said Americans liked military bases. It created jobs, good paying jobs, California amassing more than any other state, with senator Diane Feinstein acting as a full-back in defense of them. So, a bill to close bases wasn’t likely to be brought before the senate, with practically no mention of the subject from network television. He went on to discuss Star Wars, the looting of the treasury to finance a missle defense program that NASA and the defense department have know for years will never work. What I found most intriguing about his interview was his explanation concerning the incongruity of Democracy and Empire. As with your explanation, he stated that you can’t have empire and democracy too. Empire authorizes central control in the executive branch, restricting the checks and balances among the legislative and judicial bodies of government, which are constitutionally imperative for the maintenance of a functional democracy. And, of course, he went on to say that it’s bankrupting our nation, and stressed that wide-spread-opposition may not invoke change, but bankruptcy will. The other issue pertains to pg 306 from author, Kevin Phillips latest book, “American Theocracy, the Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.” It parralles what you have said about Free Trade, NAFTA, CAFTA, The IMF, World Bank, and the WTO. But I had no idea where or how these agreements, loans and foreign policy had originated in the first place. According to Phillips, back in the early eighties, Allen Greenspan, then a private economist, talked about reducing the Federal budget deficit to help make U.S. Manufacturing competitive again. He had noticed a serious decline in U.S. Manufacturing and was extremely concerned. By July 2003, as chirman of the Federal Reserve Board, he voiced a completely different analysis: “Is it important for an economy to have manufacturing? There is a big dispute on this issue. What is important is that economies create value, and whether value is created by taking raw materials and fabricating them into something consumers want, or value is created by various services which consumers want, presumably should not make any difference so far as standards of living are concerned. ” But another significant element to which we now turn, is the influence that can entrench around a large rentier class or, as in America, now, around a “debt and creditor” complex. The word “rentier”–meaning a person living off unearned income comes from the French, as do so many other words connected with money and plunder: finacier, profiteer, buccaneer. Over the last four centuries, however, it was first Spain, then Holland and Great Britain, and now the United States that created the most notable rentier clutures. Each ultimately became vulnerable.

    So is this the mechanism by which the power elite has systematically uprooted Middle Class America, with the transformation of a manufacturing center to a services driven economy, a rentier culture in charge of outsourcing jobs for cheap labor under the pretext of remaining competive. How can a nation remain competitive when, save for bombs, rockets and guns, it produces nothing and imports everything else? I see the middle class in a state of rapid decline. The privitization of services, prisons, schools, insurance, health care, utilities, subprime lending and the credit card industry, owing to this decline in the standard of living both home and abroad. Economists may have reclassified the struggle between labor and capital as the debt creditor complex, but the clarion call of the IWWs is as timely as capitalism itself. “You have nothing to lose, but your chains.”