One of America’s genuine heroes, Major General Smedley D Butler revealed in his memoirs the true, abhorrent nature of Washington’s foreign policy. Butler had led countless military operations in Central America and the Caribbean as a US Marines Corp commander in the era of “gunboat diplomacy” during the early 1900s. Years after his retirement, he spoke out candidly and ruefully of his highly decorated military service in a book entitled War is a Racket. Here is how Butler characterized with unsparing words his service for country in 1935, five years before his death:
“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism”.
Awarded twice with a Medal of Honor, Butler in his later life was scathing about official US government ideological pretensions, such as “Manifest Destiny”, that presume to enlighten the rest of the world on the principles of human rights and international law. Under the veneer of maintaining foreign policy and relations, Butler knew from his own sordid experience that Washington’s conduct was in essence to provide the military wing of American capitalism.
The retired US general described his role thus:
“I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903”.
More than seven decades after Butler’s death, another American hero is today revealing again the brute nature of the US government and its foreign relations. Edward Snowden, who formerly worked as an intelligence analyst at the National Security Agency, has lifted the lid on a global system of criminal spying and information gathering by his government.
The 30-year-old former CIA contractor has disclosed how Washington has systematically broken international laws and treaties against dozens of countries, violating the sovereign rights of governments, diplomatic institutions, private companies and millions of citizens around the world and within the US. Not only this, but Snowden, along with journalists like Glenn Greenwald at the British Guardian newspaper, has revealed beyond dispute how senior US government officials and politicians, including President Barack Obama, have willfully lied to or misled their own people and Congress under questioning about this clandestine activity. The secret activities that Snowden has unearthed through his courageous disclosures represent grave violations of the American Constitution and the subsequent mendacious “explanations” and “justifications” invoked by Obama and others represent further compound this vast impeachable criminality.
This systematic secret surveillance first began under President George W Bush soon after 9/11 and greatly expanded under the Obama administrations. Since Snowden’s recent disclosures, these secret programs have been retrospectively justified as defensive measures necessitated by the putative “War on Terror”. When Snowden first began blowing the whistle after he fled the US to Hong Kong early last month, the US government has tried to play down the violations, claiming that they were minor infringements on personal privacy outweighed by the security needs of the nation.
But what Snowden has gone on to reveal explodes the myth about the so-called War on Terror. Earlier revelations showed how Washington has been spying systematically on Russia and China. While this is not in any way legally justifiable, those transgressions could be expected and perhaps understandable given the lingering enmities of the Cold War. But in subsequent reports, what has transpired is that the US, enabled by its partner-in-crime British intelligence, has been spying on supposed allies, including the governments and citizens of Western Europe. In the latest trove of disclosures, Washington has overseen blanket surveillance over the entire continent of Latin America, including those countries deemed to be allies or friendly states such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador.
Despite initial protestations by President Obama and senior officials, including General Keith Alexander, the NSA chief, and National Intelligence Director James Clapper, that the sole purpose of the surveillance programs was to counter terrorism, it has now become patently clear that the real purpose of American offensive spying is to target sovereign governments, their economies and their citizens. Since when did the governments and citizens of Western Europe, including NATO member countries France and Germany, become havens for terror networks plotting to destroy the US?
Clearly, the US (and British) official justification for surveillance – the War on Terror – is a façade to mask what is otherwise criminal information gathering for other purposes. This is underscored by the recent revelations that Washington has been tapping and hacking into its South American neighbors.
At the weekend’s 45th summit of the Latin American trade bloc, Mercosur, in the Uruguayan capital, Mondevideo, government leaders roundly condemned Washington’s illicit eavesdropping and snooping. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales told delegates how his private communications and those of his senior aides have been violated by US intelligence. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman also told the summit how his government has been transgressed. Likewise Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. Even the rightwing government of Colombia, which is a close ally of Washington and the third biggest recipient of American military aid after Israel and Egypt, has been spied on by the US, and is now angrily demanding an explanation from Washington.
It is not altogether surprising that Washington has been tapping into government communications in Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua since these countries are strident critics of Yankee imperialism. Nevertheless even taking this antipathy towards Washington into account, there are no objectively justifiable grounds for US ubiquitous spying. None of the South American states have remotely any connection with harboring a terrorist threat towards the US. So right there, the official Washington rationale for its spying network collapses into dust.
What the revelations of US spying on Latin America expose demonstratively is not only the charade of the entire War on Terror pretext but also the real, imperialist motive underpinning this illegal activity. Snowden’s latest disclosures published in Brazil’s largest daily newspaper O Globo show that a major purpose for Washington’s snooping on the continent was to gather sensitive industrial and commercial information. A predominant concern for Washington is to collate information on South America’s energy industry. Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador are not only major suppliers of oil to the US, but with the latter’s plans to reinvigorate its own domestic oil and gas industries, South America also represents a major energy trade competitor.
This imperialist attitude and policy – unacceptable in a world of equals and international law – is further revealed by Washington’s campaign to intimidate Latin American countries from offering Edward Snowden political asylum. The American whistleblower has been stuck in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport since he arrived from Hong Kong on 23 June en route to Ecuador, because the US government cancelled his passport. Snowden has now applied for temporary asylum in Russia from where he still intends to eventually seek refuge in one of the Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Venezuela or Nicaragua.
But Washington is stepping up the rhetoric to warn Latin American countries against receiving Snowden. Last week, the presidential aircraft of Bolivia’s Evo Morales was forced to make an emergency landing in Austria during a return trip from an energy conference in Russia, hosted by President Putin. During that conference, Morales voiced his support for Snowden. Hours later, Washington instructed European countries, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy to withdraw over-flight clearance for the presidential jet on the alleged suspicion that Snowden was onboard. The young American wasn’t onboard, but Morales and his cabinet ministers were made to wait 13 hours in Vienna’s airport before receiving clearance to continue their onward flight.
The violation of Bolivia’s sovereignty – at Washington’s behest – was rightly denounced by the Bolivian government as an “act of piracy” and “aggression”. It was an unmistakably blunt display of intimidation towards Bolivia and other Latin American countries to show the reckless measures that Washington is prepared to take in order to arraign Snowden and prosecute him for espionage in the US.
Washington has since followed up with threatening communications to all the Latin American capitals, including personal phone calls from US Vice President Joe Biden to heads of state. “There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point”, a senior State Department official told the New York Times. The official added that if any Latin American country were to offer Snowden asylum that it “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come”.
However, the Latin American countries are not backing down, as they might have done in times past. The four founding members of Mercosur – Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela – expressed solidarity with Bolivia over the infringement in Europe and announced that they were recalling their ambassadors from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
“We’ve taken a number of actions in order to compel public explanations and apologies from the European nations that assaulted our brother Evo Morales”,Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said.
In a statement, the Mercosur members condemned the “unacceptable behavior” by European countries “that breaches our sovereignty and harms relations between nations”.
“The gravity of the incident – indicative of a neocolonial mindset – constitutes an unfriendly and hostile act, which violates human rights and impedes freedom of travel, as well as the treatment and immunity appropriate to a head of state,” the joint statement said.
Bolivia’s Morales has also threatened to shut down the US embassy in La Paz. “We don’t need it anyway”, he said. Already, France and Spain have been forced into offering apologies to Bolivia.
Whether Edward Snowden manages to obtain safe passage to his destination remains to be seen over the coming weeks. He has said that he has even more damaging disclosures about US government malpractices. From Washington’s desperation to apprehend the whistleblower, it would seem that the US government is also anticipating some very compromising revelations. So, from that viewpoint, it can be surmised that Snowden’s safety is gravely at risk.
Meanwhile, we can take stock of several important historical insights drawn from the Snowden affair, accentuated by the latest revelations and tensions over Latin America. Foremost is that the illegal global spying network set up by Washington over the past decade can be seen to have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Indeed, it can be inferred from Washington’s secret criminality against a host of neutral and friendly states that the “War on Terror” is a risible charade that not even the US government believes in. The real purpose for Washington’s violations of international law and the sovereignty of other nations is to do with maximizing political and economic advantages, or in a word – imperialism. Needless to say such misconduct is wholly reprehensible and unacceptable. This is clearly the case when it comes to the countries of Latin America, which have never posed a security threat to the US.
In fact, the security threat that exists on that continent emanates, as it always has done, from Washington towards the countries of Latin America. A long, baleful history of US-led coups, death squads, state terrorism, blockades and outright wars is consistent with Snowden’s revelations of Washington’s wholesale spying and manipulation against its southern neighbors. When the so-called War on Terror façade is swept away, what we see is essentially the “gangster imperialism” of the US that Major General Smedley Butler spoke of nearly a century ago. In that way, not much has changed in terms of the brute nature of US foreign policy serving as a military wing of American capitalism.
On the other hand, times have changed substantially. US political and economic power is no longer what it once was. The country is undergoing a historic social meltdown that betrays the moribund state of capitalism in the 21st century. The ordinary public, both in North and South America, are much more aware of international law and rights, even if the US government isn’t, as well as being more aware of the transparent fraudulence of Washington’s politicians and media on almost everything they say. Snowden’s immense support from the public, as shown in recent polls, demonstrates that the official accusations against him are dismissed in the court of popular opinion. Furthermore, today the countries of Latin America are also more cohesive and confident in asserting their independence from Washington. They are no longer malleable to the devious desires of Washington’s corporations and banks as in a bygone era.
It is still completely unacceptable that Washington and the old colonial has-been powers of Europe can presume to bully other nations to hound down an honorable truth-teller such as Edward Snowden. Nonetheless, their evident impotency to effect their malicious objective shows that the world has changed significantly from the “good-old days” of unilateral gunboat diplomacy.