Ten years ago, Americans were beginning to confront the reality that their nation was irrevocably in decline. The economy had entered into a downward spiral, the country had been in a nine-years-long war, and democratic rights were disappearing. Given the history of collapsing empires, it’s unsurprising that all of these trends have continued since then. And the geopolitical and cultural dynamics that have developed throughout the 2010s aren’t surprising either.
These dynamics exemplify a great process of reaction, a pathology that the country has taken on as its empire has become destabilized. There are countless ways the internal aspect of this late-stage capitalist societal unraveling can be examined, ones that range from critiquing warped social media commercialism to exposing neo-Nazi meme culture. But what’s driven these kinds of social and political developments within the U.S. is the larger collapse of the U.S./NATO empire, and the ever-increasing foreign policy belligerence that’s resulted from this decline in American hegemony.
So examining the striking ways that American foreign policy has evolved in the last decade can help us understand the ways that American society itself is changing-and it can give us a clue about where all of these trends will go as the imperial collapse continues. I’m going to split this specifically angled history of the 2010s into three sections, with each one recounting a stranger stage than the last.
From 2010 to 2014: Washington’s embrace of jihadists and neo-Nazis
By 2010, the War on Terror had been expanded to include a bombing and drone campaign that spanned several countries, and that sustained itself through calculated narrative management. The “WMDs in Iraq” narrative had been replaced with a steady stream of government deceptions made to justify the ongoing U.S. occupations and aerial bombardments, with the Pentagon often using civilian casualties as anti-terror propaganda. It was obvious that by that point, the CIA’s propaganda network had been expanded to manufacture consent for the new age of endless war. But the war effort would soon come to include many new regime change target countries. So the military industrial complex and its media extensions would have to be adapted accordingly.
The Obama administration’s facilitation of the 2009 Honduras coup didn’t require any innovations in propaganda, because it was a repeat of all the other Latin American regime change projects that the CIA has carried out. In 2011, when the factors converged to start the Syrian regime change proxy war that the U.S. had long been preparing for, the empire had to work harder to sell the war to the American public. The fact that the U.S. was aiding terrorist groups to overthrow Assad had to he concealed. And Assad had to be targeted with a sustained character assassination campaign that’s involved numerous pieces of theater and multiple coordinated media hoaxes.
This commitment to a regime change attempt in Syria started at the same time that the U.S. ousted Muammar Gaddafi. In the case of Libya, the U.S. and its allies carried out a kind of regime change war-the direct invasion approach-that at that point was only feasible in the form of short military efforts. It would have cost too many resources, and created too much strained credibility, for the U.S. to occupy Libya the way it did in Iraq. So the imperialists had to hastily do their damage to the country shortly before getting Americans to forget about the whole affair. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars had already made the empire too fragile to commit to long-term occupations in additional countries, making the task of Syria regime change into one of covert destabilization and proxy battles.
With these late-stage imperialist limitations in place, the U.S. had to conduct its operations around Syria with a frantic amount of effort. NATO countries and imperialist NGOs pumped tens of millions of dollars into the White Helmets, the “humanitarian” group that regime change operatives created to advance propaganda and aid terrorists. The White Helmets have since been repeatedly used to propagate claims that Assad has committed chemical attacks. To make up for when these claims have been debunked, the Western propaganda machine has relied on manipulative tactics that create sympathy for the “moderate” anti-Assad rebels; for instance, a child named Bana al-Abed has made carefully scripted appearances in the media that are designed to stir up outrage at the supposed evils of Assad and Putin.
To make this new phase of war propaganda work, the U.S. government expanded its messaging capabilities. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act included a measure that legalized the use of covert state propaganda on American citizens. This came just in time for the effort to convince the public that an August 2013 chemical attack had been committed by Assad, and for Washington’s campaign to glorify Syria’s jihadists as brave “rebels” while they were wreaking havoc in the region.
This propaganda ban repeal also made the Obama administration better able to conceal the coup that it carried out in Ukraine in 2014. Despite clear evidence of U.S. involvement in the establishment of Ukraine’s fascistic new anti-Russian government, Americans were only shown a picture of a “democratic revolution” in Ukraine. Since then, as a strain of neo-Nazis has continued its takeover of Ukraine with ongoing support from Washington, even this despicable political ploy has been spun as a “humanitarian” intervention. In 2013, the war criminal senator John McCain went to Ukraine and gave a speech next to Oleh Tyahnybok, one of the major leaders in the country’s neo-Nazi movement. Then in a tribute to McCain in 2018 that portrayed him as a “champion” of “human rights,” the Washington Post used a picture from the 2013 speech that showed McCain next to Tyahnybok.
Washington had embraced Islamist terrorists and neo-Nazis because this provided a shortcut for its imperial ambitions in eastern Europe and the Middle East. The worst extremist groups imaginable had been tacitly integrated into the ostensibly progressive brand of American “humanitarianism.” And this had activated the focal points in a dispute between America and Russia that were threatening to lead to a new cold war.
From 2014 to 2018: the creation of Cold War 2.0 and the rise of Western Russophobic paranoia
Despite the fact that U.S. interference had plunged the Ukraine into an ongoing dystopian nightmare of fascist terror campaigns, Putin was portrayed as the sole villain in the Ukraine situation. Language about “Russian aggression” frequently appeared, despite the fact that Putin’s Crimea annexation was done in response to aggressive NATO expansionism and despite Crimeans having overwhelmingly voted in favor of Russia taking control. Russia’s efforts to secure itself amid a belligerent new regime in Ukraine and a Western-backed jihadist invasion in Syria were presented with similar lack of nuance.
Throughout 2014 and beyond, Russia has been made out to be a global aggressor, and its military interventions in Syria have been consistently presented as atrocities. Putin and Assad have been blamed for the Syrian war’s outbreak, and all of its blood has supposedly been on their hands. In many cases these claims have depended on wild sensationalism, such as when Western pundits decried a 2016 Russian-led “destruction in Aleppo” even though there had been no massacre in Aleppo, and when the rebel fighters were allowed to leave with their families and weapons. It’s all been a big self-righteous posturing, one that’s served to deflect from the vast massacres that the U.S. military and its allied jihadists have carried out.
With the 2016 election and the coming of the Trump era, the new cold war greatly escalated. The narratives about Russia having “hacked” the election, which were cooked up by John Brennan and other opportunistic figures within the partisan Obama-led intelligence community, created a paradigm of hysteria about America’s institutions being under attack from a foreign “adversary.” The so-called “Russiagate” scandal continued to be promoted by the media for two years, stoking public hostility against Russia and encouraging the new president to behave even more aggressively towards Russia than his predecessor.
Trump expanded sanctions on Russia, ordered illegal missile strikes against Syria, and provided arms to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine. He refused to recognize Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, threw out Russian diplomats, and trained Polish and Latvian fighters “to resist Russian aggression.” He abandoned the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, spurring a new arms race between the superpowers. Yet through a series of narrative gymnastics, Democratic politicians and pundits kept pushing the narrative that Trump was somehow in thrall to Putin. They didn’t care about the ways their rhetoric pushed civilization closer to World War Three; they just wanted the partisan leverage and the ratings.
Russiagate’s effects on society have been expanded corporate censorship against the alternative press, a new attitude of xenophobia and militarism among liberals, and a greater potential for Trump to win re-election amid his vindication from the Russia collusion charge earlier this year. Thanks to the paranoid Russia conspiracy theories of corporate media demagogues like Rachel Maddow, and to the declining U.S. imperial power structure that’s resorted to restarting the Cold War, we’re now in a new era of nuclear tensions and revamped McCarthyism.
From 2018 to 2019: the cold war against China and the fascistic tilt of U.S. geopolitical agendas
The West’s campaign against Russia has gone along with a campaign against China, and against all other countries and entities which oppose U.S. imperialism. Despite the tens of billions of additional dollars that have regularly been put into the U.S. military budget in recent years, the rise of Russian and Chinese power has weakened America’s ability to use its military and continued the trend towards a multi-polar world. Russia and China could very well win a war with the U.S. if they were to team up, and this fact has deterred Washington war hawks from their ambitions for invading Iran and Venezuela.
One-third of the world’s people are now being impacted by the economic strangulations that Washington is carrying out. These underhanded acts of warfare are typically sold under the same “humanitarian” guise as the operations of the NGO-industrial complex, or else they’re blatantly advertised as tools for securing U.S. corporate interests (such as when politicians justify sanctions on China by accusing China of “stealing intellectual property”). Otherwise, the U.S. has increasingly tried to subdue rival nations through stirring up foreign color revolutions that advance American interests in the name of “democracy.”
Using its front group the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. has manufactured right-wing protests in Nicaragua and Venezuela to try to overthrow the socialist governments of these countries. The Sandinista and Chavista governments haven’t so far been ousted, and Cuba, Syria and Iran remain anti-imperialist countries that are pursuing different types of socialism. But in the places where the imperialists have been more successful, they’ve propagated an openly fascistic political paradigm.
Last month in Bolivia, the U.S. incited political violence and partnered with a Christian fascist paramilitary group to force the country’s democratically elected socialist president Evo Morales out of power. To beat back resistance, the new coup regime has carried out ethnic cleansing against indigenous people.
In Hong Kong, the NED has exploited the city’s culturally ingrained resentment towards mainland China to incite angry riots. Not only have the Hong Kong protests mirrored fascist movements in that they enact public violent against perceived enemies, seek to stamp out socialism, and identify with fascist leaders like Donald Trump, but they’ve been aided by none other than the U.S.-backed Ukrainian neo-Nazis.
In China’s Xinjiang Province, an ideological pipeline of sectarian religious extremism has been developed which stems from Washington’s efforts to aid terrorist groups. These extremist factions have already carried out violence within China, and the Communist Party’s efforts to peacefully de-radicalize their movement’s members has been met with plans for future attacks; Uyghur militants in Syria have begun looking to Zionism as a model for their ambitions of building an Islamic state, and many have joined jihadist groups to train themselves for war with Beijing.
Like how Israel has been increasingly embracing fascist leaders around the world in reaction to the threats to Zionism, Washington is investing in fascist movements of various religious and reactionary strains. The goal is to preserve colonial and bourgeois resources by employing armies, paramilitaries, and street thugs to crush the opposition.
The U.S. empire may be in the process of collapse, but the U.S. and its partnered powers aren’t going away. They’re going to continue to use warfare, whether through economic sanctions, proxy fighters, or invasions, to attack the world’s rising socialist and anti-colonial movements. The West’s war against China is at the epicenter of this reactionary trend, because China is the main power that’s leading the world towards multi-polarity and socialism.
The strange and dark place that America has become going into the 2020s
Want a gauge as to how much America’s discourse has deteriorated throughout this last decade of imperial collapse? Observe that in 2006, prominent left-wing commentator Amy Goodman helped write a book called Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back. One paragraph from Goodman’s book says this about the Bush White House’s Iraq WMD hoax: “This was propaganda in the purest sense: disinformation that was bought and paid for by the U.S. government. The only thing needed was for respected news outlets to legitimize these fairy tales by running them as fact.”
Yet after the American war machine has spent years normalizing its rhetoric about China and other designated enemies, Goodman has become one of the media figures who participates in the process of manufacturing consent. This July, Goodman’s show Democracy Now featured an interview with Adrian Zenz, an evangelical preacher with far-right views who claims that China is interning millions of Muslims. Like the others who promote such claims, Zenz was offering propaganda as flimsy as Bush’s WMD narrative. Zenz’ assertions largely come from two studies which rely on very shoddy search methodologies, and which exist because of U.S. government backing.
These kinds of corrosions of the national discourse amid intensive propaganda and paranoia show how much the U.S. has changed in the last ten years. We’re a nation under siege from itself, a place whose imperial identity has become distorted to alarming extremes. Poverty and inequality continue to get worse as the global economy heads for a new recession. As the Trump administration has continued to escalate the foreign droning and bomb campaigns, America’s police state and immigration authorities have become more and more brutal. Neo-Nazi movements have proliferated, and have been organizing secretive paramilitary training throughout the country. There’s a sense that the worst is yet to come, and that a true American fascism is just around the corner.
It’s a tapestry of chaos, one that will get more grotesque as the 2020s develop. This is what late-stage capitalism looks like, the point where the system consumes itself while the planet buckles under the strain of centuries of intensive environmental exploitation.
The sheer absurdity of the spectacles that this collapsing system produces reflects the horror of the realities we’re facing; recently, Hong Kong’s Trump-loving demonstrators printed out pictures of Trump’s head on the body of a muscular boxer. At the same time, many of the people of Hong Kong are struggling under a hyper-capitalist system that’s driving their living standards down, much like is happening everywhere else. But the corporate mass media machine remains trained on this kind of vapid political theater from reactionaries and opportunists.
As sickening as this capitalist crisis is, it’s also a revolutionary crisis. It gives us opportunities to promote ideas like class struggle, eco-socialism, and anti-imperialism. As we go into this new decade, we must work towards overthrowing the systems that are tearing our world apart.
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