Project Mayhem

Destabilization by any means necessary

In the brilliant but flawed David Fincher film Fight Club, based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, Tyler Durden’s (Brad Pitt) underground boxing club reconfigures itself into something called “Project Mayhem,” a skulking, surreptitious program to wreak havoc on the consumerist hive of corporate America. Typical projects included mandates to “destroy a piece of corporate art and trash a franchise coffee bar” in a single act and set skyscraper offices on fire to create a fiery smiley face when viewed from afar. Project Mayhem eventually has committee meetings for arson, assault, mischief, and misinformation. The overarching goal is to “break up civilization so [they] can make something better of the world.”

U.S. imperialism is Project Mayhem writ large—minus the populist conviction. The objectives are eerily similar: Washington’s imperialists, also called ‘globalists’, want to break up civilization so they can better exploit it. Arson (see Grenfell Tower), assault (see Iraq, Syria, and Libya), mischief (see color revolutions galore), and misinformation (see western media) all play key roles in the global vision of Project Mayhem. The ‘transnational cartel of capitalists, bankers, and landowners’ are monomaniacs, addicted to an ideology of full spectrum dominance. Planetary conquest, largely effected by despoiling the comparative calm in foreign lands, loosing mayhem on the streets, betrayal among elites, and environmental devastation in the soils. And like the Fight Club anarchists, but unlike the colonial empires, the globalists in recent years have had to shift their project underground, thanks to the quite visible wreckage of the Iraqi state, which has soured the public’s attitude toward humanitarian or pre-emptive wars. Better a covert CIA than a high-handed Raj.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has usefully called Project Mayhem an ongoing program of “managed chaos.” Since the Iraqi fiasco, the powers of the imperial north have been busily confecting fresh pathogens by which to infect the body politic of independent countries with the virus of imperialism. In parallel, the mainstream media have occasioned fresh storylines to justify the new lines of attack, invigorating a war-weary populace with a freshet of novel threats and lumbering ogres that must be vanquished to save western civilization. To paraphrase Paul Craig Roberts, the think tanks plan it, the media sells it, and the government does it.

Proxy armies, disinformation, and special forces

Today’s globalists have a historical precedent to help them glove their iron fist: In the aftermath of Vietnam, the country had no stomach for more imperial adventure. President Carter and his consigliore Zbigniew Brzezinski conceived of an ingenious plan to ensnare the reviled Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Brzezinski wanted to show Moscow what happens when an arrogant power bungles its way into some exotic Asian backwater. The U.S. certainly knew. The Carter administration, through backchannels and covert means, massively supported and expanded Islamic resistance to secular governance in Kabul. (Anything secular or quasi-nationalist during the Cold War was instantly branded as communist and targeted for destabilization by the paranoid clans of DC ideologues.) The Soviets took the bait and suffered their own Vietnam. Not surprisingly, the wanton jihadists we nurtured in Afghanistan have with the continual assistance of Saudi zealots bequeathed us new generations of battle-hardened terrorists spawned in the Afghan steppes.

President Obama, an astute observer of history, mimicked the Carter approach as he sanctioned a Syria strategy that flooded the secular nation with fierce and puritanical takfiri. Rather than invade with some gaudy Shock and Awe campaign designed to wow hearts and minds, Obama preferred to have his personal paramilitary, the CIA, organize and train terrorists that could be injected like a virus into Syria, on the sly. Saudi Arabia, always happy to fund extremism and any sort of violence that disturbs the cantankerous mullahs in Tehran, would pay the terrorists’ salaries. Turkey would fly them in from China and provide safe harbor for caravans of jihadists from Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, as would Washington lapdog Jordan. Israel would treat their wounded and occasionally act as Al Qaeda’s air force. The profiteering American defense industry would build the weapons that the Pentagon would then ship to the Saudis for distribution among the terrorists. The mainstream media and State Department press flacks would characterize the terrorists as “moderate rebels”. Even ISIS terrorists would be called “militants,” not unlike descriptions of progressive political movements in the U.S., such as Black Lives Matters or various Bernie Sanders contingents. (Israel’s Yinon Plan is the closest strategic footing for the current destabilizing tactics employed by Washington in the Middle East, though divide-and-conquers strategies date to Philip of Macedonia.)

The strategy has largely worked out for the imperialists, minus the lofty regime change goal. Syria has been dragged into a devastating half-decade of slaughter and strife. Some 500,000 people have died. More than six million have been internally displaced and nearly five million are externalized refugees. The Syrian state has been fractured. And it is likely that northeastern Syria will wind up as a jihadist launching pad–micromanaged by Washington–for continued harassment of Syria but also a staging ground for eastward actions aimed through northern Iraq at Iran, the ultimate regional prize.

To help direct these proxy forces, Mr. Obama boosted the use of Special Operations Forces (SOF) by some 125 percent during his tenure. But this clandestine dragnet of military trainers and highly-trained soldiers was globally cast and not limited to the Syrian theater. SOFs are now deployed in 70 percent of the world’s countries. Their ranks include commandos and officers from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Navy Seals, Army Green Berets, among other highly trained…militants. Lightning commandos assail Shabab cells in Somalia. Special ops commanders advise and embed with Kurds in Syria. SOFs interrogate Houthi rebels on ships off the coast of Yemen. These shadowy legates of Obama’s covert legacy conduct counterinsurgency ops in such remote locales as Mongolia, Laos, and Tajikistan.

Our Little Backyard

But having SOFs direct terrorist armies from embedded command centers isn’t the only form of destabilization promoted by the Obama administration. There are other means. Latin America provides a particularly instructive incubator for the one percent’s gang of neoliberals to experiment with vulnerable economies. Empire Files host Abby Martin recently traveled to Venezuela to report on the “opposition” campaign to unseat Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian successor, Nicolas Maduro, and derail the Chavistas’ efforts to turn Venezuela’s mixed economy into a proper socialist one. Martin’s interview with Venezuela’s Minister of Economic Planning, Ricardo Menéndez, sheds some valuable light on the covert tactics employed by Washington to destabilize the country.

Washington isn’t deploying commandos to have socialists ”removed from the battlefield,” like the clumsy Reaganite neocons of the Eighties did with their merciless Central American contra wars. Instead, it has used international finance, commodity supply chains and hoarding, the black market, commodity price deflation, and mobilizing splenetic one-percent activists to debilitate the Venezuelan economy. Desired effects include essential-goods shortages, hyperinflation, and street violence.

Though working to diversify, Venezuela’s economy is still built on oil revenues. Thanks in part to Washington’s quid pro quo with Riyadh to deflate oil prices, the Venezuelan economy has plummeted 87 percent since last year. Runaway inflation, negative economic growth (predicted to be over 5.8 percent in 2017), a 40 percent drop in imports last year, huge food scarcities, a self-induced exchange rate disaster, and violence in the streets. Western media blames most of this on overdependence on oil and on socialism, which Washington is keen to undermine.

Of course, in Venezuela most companies are still privately owned. Hugo Chavez never fully socialized the economy, but generated a mixed economy that prioritized the needs of the majority. According to Menéndez, from 1998 to 2012, this model helped double the country’s consumption metrics. The economic ministry also lifted wages to account for rises in the consumer price index. Menéndez gave an interesting clarification: the Venezuelan constitution permits the state and private sector to exist one alongside the other. What it rejects is monopoly capitalism which, of course, is the capitalism practiced by the one percent.

The numbers from the Chavez era are impressive. Social investment during the Bolivarian era has grown from 39 percent to 74 percent of the nation’s total revenue. Part of that is vocational and university education. The number of working class citizens to receive state-funded education during the Chavez-Maduro tenure jumped from 900,000 to more than 4M. The number of people with college degrees quadrupled, without the suffocating debt that American degree holders face. The government claims that primary education increased from a pool of 500,000 to 2.8M today, that some 4M children are enrolled in the school food program, which has doubled primary school enrollment from 45 percent of children to 90 percent. Additionally, social pensions for the elderly increased from 370,000 to 3.2M. The Maduro government has built 1.6M homes in just the last four years and sold them into the population at affordable prices.

Currency attacks, extraction smuggling, opposition funding, and sanctions

But those kinds of social metrics are precisely what the globalists do not want to see—cue the dread domino effect, by which neighboring nations find themselves ineluctably drawn into the demented web of socialist experimentation. So death to the regime must be administered by a thousand small cuts:

  • State Department funding of fund violent opposition parties like those of Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, and numerous others; the street guarimbas, or violent protests, are inevitably blamed on the ‘authoritarian regime’ and also inevitably lead to crackdowns, as panicked federal forces resort to brutal violence themselves. The opposition refused to recognize the 2013 election outcomes despite zero evidence of fraud. They were effectively eschewing the ballot box, largely because they’d lost 15 of 16 elections since the Bolivarian Movement took power. Opposition, and its imperial backers, obviously see violence and destabilization as better path to power than the vote.
  • Not only this, but Washington, using its ages-old divide-and-conquer tactic, has rallied regional governments against Caracas. The deeply compromised Human Rights Watch is admonishing Brazil, of all countries, to advise Venezuela on human rights, one of the more farcical instances of the entire fraud.
  • Not only this, but the Trump administration is planning “a steady drumbeat of sanctions” against Venezuela, including unilateral asset freezes and travel bans, some of which are evidence-free.
  • Barack Obama’s repeated declarations during his presidency that Venezuela was a grave threat to the United States were an open threat to left-leaning governments in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Underscoring the apparent absurdity of these official pronouncements, Menéndez added that the Venezuelan army has not left the frontier since the time of Simon Bolivar. But Obama wasn’t talking about the military; he was signaling without say so that Chavez had turned Venezuela into an economic threat to the U.S. imperial project. Under Venezuelan influence, regional associations excluding the U.S. were formed, including ALBA, UNASUR, MERCOSUR, CELAC. Obama recognized Latin America was beginning to move past the neoliberal ideologies of the Washington Consensus and, as a trusty servant of the one percent, felt obliged to add Caracas to his hit list.

In Martin’s interview with Menéndez, he talked about financial tactics being employed by capitalist opposition to destabilize the country:

  • Bolivars are being physically removed from the country to produce inflation and debilitate the common consumer’s ability to make cash payments, something Menéndez calls “extraction smuggling.”
  • Not only is there an artificially induced shortage of cash, but there are consumer goods shortages as well. These are produced by denying supply chain access to base materials and by hoarding inventories. Menéndez notes that shortages tend to affect only critical lifestyle products like diapers, toilet paper, sanitary napkins for women, and so on, but not paper towels or other less crucial products. The government has tried to dodge this deliberate sabotage by producing a basket of essential goods and selling them directly into the population at considerable discounts from the inflated prices created by the induced shortages.
  • Likewise, international finance unavailable because the DC-backed opposition and the U.S. Treasury Department is advising international lenders to suspend making international financing available to the Maduro government–to Venezuela itself.

Perhaps Menéndez was fudging data and inventing stories just like our government and its supplicant media does. But there’s evidence for hoarding, deterring loans, and shortages of cash, though the latter also has plenty to do with the government’s mismanagement of the currency. But the economic war on Venezuela is real. Which is what Menéndez alluded to when he appeared to appeal directly to Washington, “Respect our sovereignty so we can apply our own model (of economic development).” But as the history of the region, in fact, the planet, shows, that is asking a lot of a global hegemon with planetary ambitions and an evangelical ideology hell-bent on planting the flag of its own model in every alien soil. Discrediting the media narrative that rationalizes predatory imperialism is essential, since it is media control that defangs democracy, sanding down its teeth to nubs that can neither bite nor chew. The hollowed infrastructures of the demos become vehicles of elite power. Yet they retain the mien of populism. This deceit, these conceits, must be opposed, win or lose. For, as author Chris Hedges said in Seattle two years ago, “Resistance is not about what we achieve, but what it allows us to become.” We are either servants of empire, however passive, or active dissidents, however outnumbered.

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.