The Golden Age of Bullshit

Obscuring the end game

A new band out of Los Angeles called PartyBaby recently released their excellent pop-punk debut album, the title of which perfectly captures the time we’re living through: The Golden Age of Bullshit. On the cover three or four teens scamper through a splashing surf. There’s lots of laughter and frivolity. It’s just an innocent day at the beach. But behind them, a mushroom cloud erupts out of the deep water. The teens are oblivious. Isn’t that a perfect picture of America today? The electorate gearing up to place a neoconservative war criminal in the White House by virtue of her gender. A bigoted loose cannon billionaire being propped up by the media as the dangerous alternative we must come together to defeat. A President spending his last months in office supporting a terrorist network trying to overthrow a sovereign state, largely ignored by a media preoccupied with personal failings of the two reviled candidates. But all of this diversionary piffle in necessary because it helps disguise Washington’s actual end game, which is neither noble nor pretty.

The Meta-Narrative

Sifting through the myriad salvos exchanged by the two carnival barkers of the election, it was interesting to note how swiftly Hillary Clinton attacked Donald Trump when he criticized “American exceptionalism”. Doing her best to summon the iron-willed vigor of a Bismarck, Clinton said she, “would never question the exceptionalism of America.” She was smart to say so. American exceptionalism is our religion. It’s the pretext that President Obama and now Hillary Clinton will use to explain their imperial campaigns. The idea suggests that without American leadership there emerges a huge vacuum of purpose in the world that will be inevitably filled by a metastasizing al-Qaeda or revanchist Russia. This is nonsense, but it’s a clever cover for wars of aggression.

Trump was right to criticize the ideology. It is obviously insulting to other nations. If we are exceptional, they aren’t. And that’s eventually why we must occupy their countries, to show them the way. When Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warns Asia that the United States intends to be, “the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come,” or when Barack Obama counsels China on the merits of restraint, how can Asian nations not fail to feel insulted?  Insult regional leadership? Why do Asians need corrupt politicians thousands of miles away in Washington interfering in their affairs? The unspoken assumption is that Asians need us to keep the peace.

The more specific argument is that we must lead because nobody else can be trusted to defend free-market democracy. Without us the world economy will fracture into abject pockets of depression ruled by dysfunctional criminals who fail to understand globalization. In order to force ourselves upon other countries and exploit their resources, we need some noble cause to tell the “bewildered herd.” Defending freedom works well. Aligning freedom with markets works even better. As such, “globalization”, framed as the march of free-market democracies to the ends of the earth, is code for imperialism. There are several ways in which an independent nation may be induced to submit to the globalization scheme, including sanctions, exclusionary trade deals, political subversion, proxy warfare, cyber warfare, and invasion and occupation.

Once less sanguinary options have failed, outright war is the final solution. The cause is framed as a “humanitarian war” to save vulnerable populations from a dictator that wants to take away their freedom and kill them for unspecified reasons. When a leader doesn’t want to be exploited by Western multinationals, set your watch. It is only a matter of time before it is accused of some sort of war crime. Usually the “brutal crackdowns” on innocent democratic movements. Think of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, and now Bashar al-Assad in Syria. These crimes are usually either fictitious (Libya), false flag events (Ukraine), or provoked by U.S. subversion in-country (Venezuela). See the Maidan rebellion in Kiev in 2014 for an especially instructive example in this regard. In any event, this is America’s cue to start rattling the sabers of “global leadership”. For a country that has executed regime change in dozens of countries since the end of World War II, this really means a change of leadership.

The Grand Strategy

The meta-narrative is a “necessary illusion” designed to disguise a grand strategy. The grand strategy must be hidden from view because it is motivated by the basest of desires: naked greed and an unquenchable lust for power. The quite reasonable fear among elites is that the population wouldn’t accept unchecked greed as the basis of its foreign policy. To that end, the silent secret at the heart of the current presidential campaign is a trifecta of investor-rights agreements designed to create a global corporate autocracy that supersedes the sovereignty of nations. Both parties are for it. The TPP, TTIP, and TISA will put investor rights above the rights of populations. These investor rights agreements–called free trade agreements–are the preferred method of exploiting other countries. They exploit without the extraordinary expense of military action. Trade agreements can be used to knock down protectionist measures, opening the door to IMF loans conditioned on an expansion of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

These agreements appeal to the higher law of globalization, which is sold as a benevolent package of ideas that will benefit all of humanity, and lift nations out of the troughs of debt brought on by previous exploitation. Who would oppose such a thing? Though Hillary Clinton now says she opposes the TPP, this is nothing but a cynical campaign posture. She can easily append a toothless labor-rights guide to the bill and declare it fit for passage. She has long supported these deals and will seek to smuggle them into law on a fast track if elected. Congress will have 90 days to vote up or down. No meaningful debate will be allowed. No new changes to the document will be permitted. Just a yay or nay. This is what the coming corporate autocracy looks like. Top down exploitation forced on the population based on a beneficent promise that nobody believes. Corporate autocracy would end the economic sovereignty of nations.

In a nutshell, this is the global strategy of the one-percent. It’s the endgame of monopoly capitalism. Redirect all decision-making power into the hands of a transnational one percent and subject all national domestic markets to their dictates. We’ve stood by while the European Union was created for just this purpose: to create a transnational superstructure that permits unelected technocrats to script economic policy that countries must implement or be punished. This is the goal of the prison industrial system: put the poor and disaffected in prison, take away their vote, and use them as slave labor to make products domestically that otherwise need to be produced offshore in anti-labor economic zones. The subversive control of the popular will was likewise the goal of the DNC: to make sure the populace that could still vote, voted the right way. It took a lot of deceitful op-eds, a lot of internal subversion by the supposedly neutral organization, and finally, it took vote rigging. But it got its way.

Tactical Disputes

Naturally, in the service of this grand strategy, military means must regularly be deployed to coerce recalcitrant nations to kneel before the imperial scepter. Countries like Syria and Russia and Iran and China and Venezuela are only in the crosshairs of empire because they refuse to play this game. Perhaps they want to create an economy based on import-substitution or explore some other means of self-sufficiency. But at the moment, they seem to believe in a multi-polar world with regional spheres of influence (this has much to do with their status as lesser powers; the appearance of altruism usually does). But this is unacceptable to Washington, which abides by the Paul Wolfowitz maxim in his defense planning guide for the Clinton administration: we shall have no rivals.

These countries are typically dealt with using either of the two models mentioned earlier: debt, sanctions and subversion, or outright war. The former model is promoted by humanitarian neoliberals. The latter model is championed by neoconservatives, who are essentially militant neoliberals. A neoliberal is more interested in getting binding trade agreements signed and leveraging debt and sanctions to control nations, and deploying the CIA and its rolodex of terrorist mercenaries to do the dirty work in-country. Neoconservatives are white-collar thugs that instantly opt for war when somebody doesn’t want to participate in this scheme. They are both on board with expanding empire. Obama would rather do the necessary arm-twisting with sanctions, fake protest movements that spur regime change, and a lot of deeply subversive investor-rights deals. Neoliberals like Paul Wolfowitz would rather not waste time, find a useful pretext to invade some temporizing country, swap out the independent leader with a pliable puppet, and move on to the next target.

This is what we did in Libya. Qaddafi wanted to create an African currency and continental trade networks that privileged African companies and people. That’s not what Washington had in mind, so it told the American public that Qaddafi was going to commit genocide and send his troops out on Viagra-fueled rape campaigns. Americans believed it.

This is what we did in Iraq. Saddam Hussein wanted to set up a bourse and trade oil in denominations other than the dollar. Bad idea. Washington invaded, destroyed the country, had Hussein killed, and set up a pansy council to implement Western policies.

Then Obama was elected. He chose the more subtle neoliberal path for Syria. Instead of a flat-out invasion, he hired an army of terrorist mercenaries to blitz the sitting government. There’s more plausible deniability in this model, since there aren’t a lot of body bags landing on American airstrips flanked by CNN cameras. One has to import jihadists from around the target region, funnel weapons to them, and get your corrupt Gulf allies to pay their salaries. Then show them a target and set them loose. But there are pluses and minuses to this model as well. First, demented Sunni dictators are typically willing to do anything to murder Shi’ites, and sometimes they can be overzealous, as their criminal war on Yemen shows. This creates the necessity for a huge and tiresome media cover-up of the conflict. Second, jihadist neophytes often need training. The CIA will need to provide this for whatever ragtag recruits show up from Xinjiang province and from Benghazi and Mosul. And jihadists can be hard to control, as ISIS demonstrates. Also, the CIA will have to dangle the promise of sovereign rule in front of them as a golden carrot. But this promise can be hastily revoked if the terrorists actually topple the government. Washington can monitor the mayhem from drones and drop bombs from the clouds. No corn-fed American boys and girls will be lost. The chaos will over time wear down the enemy, either destroy them or bring them to the negotiating table.

Neocons don’t like this method because it takes too long. We capsized Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party in three weeks. Obama has had the CIA meddling in Syria for five years now and Bashar al-Assad is still upright in Damascus. Last week the various elements in the U.S. military, including the heads of CentCom and the Air Force CentCom both made surprisingly insubordinate comments about the ill-fated ceasefire struck in Syria last week. The Pentagon seems impatient to move more forcefully against the Syrian government rather than follow Obama’s thinly-veiled proxy war. Neoconservatives like Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter are frustrated by the rather messy strategy of supporting terrorist networks inside Syria to overthrow the Syrian government. Now the Pentagon has bombed the Syrian Arab Army, a clear act of war, for which Obama issued a lame apology. Depending on who you read, this was either a) a regrettable “mistake”; b) an instance of the Pentagon directly subverting the authority of its civilian leader; or c) is all part of the plan to establish a “Salafist principality” in east Syria that splits the land corridors of the Shia Crescent and weakens the connection between Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, and Iraq.

The Morsel of Truth in Every Myth

In some ways the meta-narrative is true–we are exceptional. Once we finished off the indigenous tribes and built the American economy on the backs of African slaves, the United States definitely had an exceptional advantage over other nations in terms of natural resources and favorable natural borders. And we built a terrifying military that could wreak more havoc and kill more people than any other military in history. On the positive side of the ledger, we have one of the more open societies in the world, and our constitution was unique in that it founded a nation on a proposition of rights inhering in a people, not a monarchy. It consolidated the insights of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the English Bill of Rights in 1689. In this way it was sui generis. Yet the very rights to which we ascribe our singularity are those that we deny our fellow man through the corporate-backed ideology of globalized free enterprise. This, if anything, is exceptional hypocrisy.

That, of course, is not what Obama has in mind when he launches his soaring oratory from the pulpit of the United Nations or before a joint session of Congress each January. He is spinning a more optimistic storyline, one full of jaw-dropping innovation and ever-expanding prosperity, but also frightful enemies that threaten our happiness but which America always defeats in the end (usually with regrettable mass slaughter). This is the happy tale being bullhorned at the populace in 24-hour cycles of hope and fear.

Perhaps the media did learn a lesson from Iraq. The propaganda net had too many holes in it. The effort to dupe America required more vigilance, more whole cloth deception. Consent can’t be manufactured on the cheap, after all. Since then the mainstream has amplified its efforts to saturate every conceivable channel with elements of this fiction, peddled by the false prophets hired for the job. Before we joined the First World War, a group called the Creel Commission worked tirelessly to turn a pacifist American public into a frothing pack of hyenas clamoring for the blood of Huns. Woodrow Wilson, the architect of the peace, was forever grateful. We can see the same technique being feverishly applied today, as the Clinton campaign uses the old red-baiting smear to distract attention from her email server and Clinton Foundation scandals, not to mention serious discussion of her criminal record as Secretary of State. Better to refocus the herd on a frightful demagogue peering hungrily across Europe and the enemies at home that might abet his conquests.

The final track of the PartyBaby album, entitled “Overload”, includes the line, “It’s the overload of information that’s got me so low these days.” Easy to relate in a society sick with misinformation and disinformation, and during an election season that hums with anxiety-laced, sensationalized, and insistent media coverage barking at you from dawn to dusk. But so long as the one-percent maintain their vice grip on the levers of the mainstream media, our golden age will endure.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.