The history of empires amply demonstrates that in their phase of decline they become more violent and bloodthirsty, and that their leaders tend to be coarser and more brutal. Not only their leaders, as Donald Trump clearly demonstrates. Also its environment of advisors reflects similar devolution, becoming something similar to what Harold Laski, referring to the leaders of European fascism, called “outlaw elites”. (2) One need not refer to the prophet Moses and the Tables of the Law to conclude that vicious characters such as John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, Mike Pompeo, Juan Cruz, Marco Rubio and the director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, are a gang of thugs who, as a product of the accelerated moral and political decomposition of the empire, move through the offices of the White House when a maximum-security prison in the Nevada desert would be the appropriate place to pursue their interests. Not one statesman or intellectual among them is capable of offering a realistic and sophisticated view of contemporary reality. Not one of them would withstand ten minutes of debate with Vladimir Putin or Sergey Lavrov, or even with Xi Jiping, because they would be intellectually destroyed in a devastating way.
Thugs? Yes, but also something else. In a recent interview, Madelein Albright stated that “a fascist is a thug with an army”, a definition that fits like a glove to describe the current U.S. leadership. (3) They are fascists who lead an army of planetary scope. It is not surprising that their analysis of the international situation ranges from horrifying simplicity to Hollywood spectacle where we have the good guys (themselves, the Americans) and the bad guys that are subdivided into two types. A cowardly bunch unwilling to pay for their own defense (the Europeans, according to Trump’s classroom circle) and a conglomerate of loafers, thieves, drug traffickers, murderers and rapists who comprise all the other inhabitants of the planet. This unbridled Manicheanism was emphatically expressed by another eminent mediocrity that occupied the Oval Office: George W. Bush who, in launching his “anti-terrorist” campaign after 9/11, warned the peoples of the world that “whoever is not with us will be against us”. With us, the good, or against us, the bad, who will be subject to the consequences.
Consequently, the current warmongering escalation instrumented through the implementation of all the chapters of the Helms-Burton Act against Cuba and a torrent of economic sanctions against Venezuela, Nicaragua and, beyond the Atlantic, Russia and North Korea, is an expression of the tumultuous state of the American empire, whose most lucid analysts and strategists agree that the days of the imperial heyday are definitely behind us. That is why Trump and his henchmen have jettisoned subtleties and delicate diplomatic steps (exemplified by reducing the budget and functions of the State Department and designating a “man of action” like Mike Pompeo as its Secretary) and exalted the role of coercion and violence as instruments to rebuild that world order with which many were deluded: the “new American century”, a childish mirage with which many academics and analysts entertained themselves after the collapse of the Soviet Union, thinking that this twenty-first century would be one of absolute and indisputable predominance of the United States. The initial frustration ensued from the failure to comply with such rosy designs followed by a dark and reckless commitment to violence.
An old obsession and the fifth-generation war
It would be unjust to say that all this comes, like lightning on a serene day, from Trump’s hand. It has distant origins. As we have demonstrated in our Latin America in the Geopolitics of Imperialism (4) the war option was well established in the Clinton Administration’s plans and Madelein Albright was one of its most eloquent spokespersons when she warned Washington and others that the option for multilateralism would be respected “when possible”; otherwise “unilateralism would remain necessary”. Translation: multilateral diplomatic negotiation within the framework of the UN to the extent possible – and convenient – for US interests; if this does not work military muscle will be applied whenever necessary. We cannot forget that it in 2015 President Barack Obama opened the doors to the violence unleashed by Trump against Venezuela when he issued an infamous executive order declaring that the situation in the South American country forced the White House to declare a “national emergency” because of the “unusual and extraordinary threat” that the homeland of Bolívar and Chávez posed to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.(5)
This reasoning explains why, in the face of the obvious diplomatic failure of the United States to achieve a consensus in favour of its criminal blockade of Cuba – massively repudiated year after year in the vote of the General Assembly of the United Nations – or to force the “international community” to follow Washington’s coup directives to appoint an unpresentable puppet as “president in charge” of Venezuela, the response of the US government has been to resort to new weapons of war, those that constitute what some analysts call “fifth generation war”. The arms control treaties of the Cold War era are of little or no use because today wars are increasingly fought with other than conventional weapons: computer attacks, remote-controlled electromagnetic pulses, propaganda, media terrorism, economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, nanotechnology and robotics applied in the military field. It is not that traditional weapons have fallen into disuse, but rather that the “soft” tasks of resistance against the imperialist aggressor, who in the past carried out bombings and conventional attacks with artillery helicopters or missiles launched from warships, are today carried out by appealing to a propaganda that demonizes the enemy, promotes chaos and social disintegration while launching formidable economic aggressions (commercial blockades, confiscations of assets, threats to suppliers of basic inputs or buyers of what is produced by an economy, etc.) and computer attacks on the nerve centers of a country – a hydroelectric power plant, for example – as the case of Venezuela demonstrates today. New weapons for a new type of war that without firing a single shot can cause immense damage to a country’s infrastructure by depriving it of electricity – and, therefore, of lighting, water, gasoline, transportation, internet, etc. – and cause enormous suffering to its population. In the case of the Bolivarian country, the empire’s wager is that in the face of such hardship and suffering there will be an uncontrollable popular uprising that will put an end to the Bolivarian revolution and the government of Nicolás Maduro. They have failed, and will continue to fail because they underestimate the capacity for resistance of Venezuelans, and because the attacks by the United States have further consolidated the anti-imperialist orientation of the Venezuelan people while the opposition – because of its lack of patriotism, its disdain for national history and for popular self-determination – has been reduced to almost nothing. Completely lacking in leadership capacity. Guaidó blurred like a ghostly figure in an accelerated process of evaporation, barely sustained by the media scoundrels and the satellite governments of the White House that are reluctant to satisfy the orders of the new Calígula, the most monstrous of the Roman emperors according to the historian Suetonio.(6)
The economic aggression, today perfected as a pillar of the new type of war, has been tried without success with Cuba for more than sixty years. In a memorandum eloquently titled (with an enormous dose of wishful thinking) “Castro’s decline and fall,” dated April 6, 1960 and addressed to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Roy R. Rubottom Jr., it was recognized that the majority of Cubans supported the revolutionary government and that, as today in Venezuela, there was no effective opposition, with the conclusion that “the only foreseeable means to alienate Castro’s internal support was disenchantment and disaffection based on dissatisfaction and economic hardship”. It was Washington’s task, therefore, to unleash all kinds of initiatives designed to produce precisely the sufferings and deprivations that would ignite the spark of rebellion.(7)
The motivation for this type of behaviour is something that, with renewed economic and financial pressures, is part of Washington’s current plans in relation not only to Venezuela but also to Cuba and Nicaragua. At the beginning of this article we wondered about the absence, or at the very least, the notorious weakness of compensatory forces in the international sphere that could mitigate, if not neutralize, the lethal effects of the brutal US counteroffensive aimed at regaining absolute control of Our America. It is indisputable that in the emerging polycentric or multipolar world these compensatory forces exist and, so far, have had a degree of effectiveness in preventing the United States from resorting, as it routinely did throughout the twentieth century, to the “military option”, which, according to the Washington figures, “is always on the table”. One need only recall what happened in Santo Domingo in 1965, Granada in 1983 and Panama in 1989 to see how much the world has changed and the declining capacity of the United States to unilaterally use military intervention to eliminate disobedient governments. Today it is highly unlikely that they will try again, and this in itself is great news. Of course, if this alternative seems discarded, it is less due to the moral scruples of the U.S. leadership than to the limits imposed by an international correlation of forces in which countries such as Russia and China have manifested themselves, in a resounding manner, against it with statements of an unusual harshness. But the neutralization of an economic war, or of a stubborn demonizing propaganda of revolutionary governments, or of media terrorism, not to mention computer attacks, is something much more difficult to achieve.
Europe and US imperialism
This is largely due to the regrettable defection of European governments from their responsibilities in maintaining international order and legality. An effective counterbalance to the economic sanctions arbitrarily imposed by Washington on countries which, in its view, represent a threat to world peace or the national security of the United States can only be interposed by governments with a measure of international influence. It is not something that is within the reach of the vast majority of countries on the world periphery of capitalism, lacking the economic, intellectual and technological resources to neutralize the devices of the fifth generation war launched by the United States. But it is something that the old colonial powers can and unfortunately do not do. Countries like France, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Belgium, and some others, could reject outright the anti-democratic and illegal “extraterritoriality” of the laws dictated by the U.S. Congress, and yet they do not. On the contrary, they accept without complaint this humiliating subjugation of national sovereignty. The laws of the European countries are not applicable in the United States, but those of the United States are imposed, as befits an empire, almost everywhere in the world. An extreme example, but not the only one, is what happened with France’s main bank, BNP Paribas, which in June 2014 was condemned to pay a fine of 8,834 million dollars (€6,450 million) for disregarding the economic sanctions imposed against Sudan, Iran and Cuba. Not only that: on orders from the US Treasury Department, BNP Paribas had to dismiss 13 officials involved in those operations and the bank’s head of international operations. In the face of such an outrage, the French authorities did not have the courage to reject outright the insolent US interference in their own country, merely grumbling that that decision was “unreasonable” (Chancellor Laurent Fabius); or that it seemed “disproportionate” (President François Hollande) while General Charles de Gaulle was rolling with disgust in his grave. (8)
This confirms that the commitment of the White House to build a world empire can be seen in almost all the European governments, who are vassals ready to validate this claim, convinced, in their stupid naivety, that at some point they will be able to collect the crumbs of this adventure and be co-participants in an illusory “imperial co-domination”. The reality is very different and what is evident is that these countries are subject to a relationship of subordination as suffocating as that which characterizes the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Three dimensions of national-state autonomy
Is Europe, like Latin America, subjected to imperialist domination? Some may frown at such a statement. But if we examine the matter in detail we will see that this is not an exaggeration. A sober examination of the relationship between U.S. imperialism and European countries reveals that they are subjugated to it with ties as suffocating as those we find in Latin America. In the three critical dimensions of government activity: economic management, defense and foreign policy, the submission of the countries of the European Union to the directives issued by the White House is inoculable. Indeed, it is enough to remember that no budget of the countries that belong to the EU can be submitted to parliament without first having the approval of the European Central Bank. The signature of its president – Mario Draghi, Italian, former executive director of none other than Goldman Sachs in Europe and the World Bank – is the one that establishes how much can be spent, and how and in what ways to fund public spending. The democratically elected devalued “representatives of the people” still have the thankless task of adapting their electoral promises to the harsh realities imposed by global financial capital through the ECB. It goes without saying that the ECB functions in line with the IMF and performs, at the European level, the same functions that the Washington-based institution performs in Latin America. To this we must add another very significant fact: the majority of the countries of the European Union also belong to the Euro Zone, which in practice means that their governments do not have at their disposal a fundamental instrument of macroeconomic governance: monetary policy, which allows a country to establish an exchange rate, administer the interest rate and devalue or overvalue its currency according to the changing realities of world markets and international trade. The dictatorship of the Euro actually responds to the needs of the German economy (and to a much lesser extent to the weaker economies of Europe), the latter being intimately articulated with international financial capital that finds its institutional expression in the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and its informal expression, but with enormous influence, in Wall Street and to a lesser extent in the City of London. Consequently, national autonomy in a matter as sensitive as monetary policy is zero in the countries integrated into the Euro Zone, which reinforces their subordination and dependence on the United States. (9) Taking into account all these considerations, the popular sovereignty that defines democracy in matters such as the budget -the “law of laws”, as it is often said- remains the same as in the countries of the global South, reduced to a mere simulacrum. The unfortunate experience of Greece where the popular will expressed at the ballot box was dismissed by the troika that runs the EU economy – the ECB, the European Commission and Germany through Chancellor Angela Merkel – is a sad reminder of the subordination of democracy to the imperatives of financial capital and the markets.
What about defense policies? If in economic matters the ECB dictatorship is humiliating, it is no less humiliating when it comes to talking about “national” defense. It only exists on paper and in official statements because this policy – which establishes a hypothesis of conflict, defines who the enemy is and how to defend against it or how to attack it – is decided by NATO and not by European governments. Its defense ministries are museums where military uniforms and weapons from the past are exhibited but no decision is made there on how to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is not surprising, because European rulers have long since thrown overboard any pretense of sustaining one or the other, considered as annoying antiquities in the era of globalization where, it is said, national states are relics reduced to a barely spectral life. And the nerve and heart of NATO, as experts continually reaffirm, is none other than the Pentagon. (10) It follows that the enemies of the Europeans cannot be other than the rivals of the United States. This is not a novelty of the last few years but a reality with a history of almost three quarters of a century that emerges from the Second World War, the bipolar order established since its end and the development of the Atlantic anti-Soviet alliance crystallized in the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO. And the wars that are fought will take place, appropriately, in European territory (remember the former Yugoslavia) or in its vicinity (Near East), and it will be the Europeans who will have to receive the millions of refugees, as has been happening after the attacks on Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, while none of them would risk crossing the North Atlantic in a boat or a rubber boat to reach Ellis Island and be received by the Statue of Liberty. An uncontrolled influx of refugees who, we know, tend to feed the most racist and xenophobic reactions in large sectors of the population and to project to the forefront forces of the radical right that were once reduced to marginal expressions in European political life. In short: in this field, the subordination of European countries to Washington’s military and defense priorities is not less than that of Latin American countries (with some well-known exceptions), but much greater, given that Europe and the Mediterranean basin are the main scene of global geopolitical confrontation. The enemies of the United States become, automatically and against the national and security interests of the Europeans, the enemies of Europe.
Thirdly, foreign policy. An independent country should define it according to its national interests. The empire is very clear on this issue: John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States declared that “the United States does not have permanent friendships but permanent interests”. And these cannot be other than to consolidate and expand as far as possible the confines of the empire, to battle against its adversaries and enemies, and to unify the ranks of its friends and allies. But since the European governments have abdicated all pretension of strengthening their self-determination and given that since the time of the Cold War and the Marshall Plan they opted to assume as their own the dictates of U.S. foreign policy in their competition with the Soviet Union and how, after it disintegrated, they surrendered to Washington’s strategy that defined Russia as the rival to be defeated (and later China!) the European capitals bowed to the most reactionary positions of the White House in Latin America and the Caribbean. They supported the criminal blockade against Cuba for more than half a century. More recently, they were accomplices of Juan Guaidó’s bufonesque manoeuvre in Venezuela, a thunderously unsuccessful one. This shows how governments of countries that in their era of splendor (which certainly is not the present one) gave rise to some of the doctrines and theories that extolled the rule of law, international legality and respect for the self-determination of nations fell into the most abject submission when they recognized the self-proclaimed “president in charge” of Venezuela anointed as such by the White House chief. Rarely has history seen such an embarrassing spectacle, the repercussions of which will not be easily forgotten. Consequently, the European governments have renounced their own foreign policy for a region that is a formidable area of common goods and natural resources of all kinds, from water to biodiversity; from oil to gas to hydroelectric power; from food to strategic minerals, and they assume as their own the foreign policy of looting and pillage that the U.S. rulers have reserved since the time of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) for Our America.
To summarize: by refraining from formulating a foreign policy independent of Washington – not only in relation to Latin America and the Caribbean but in general, in reference to the group of countries that make up the international community – European governments act to the detriment of their own interests. If during the heyday of Soviet power with Europe absorbed by the tasks of its post-war reconstruction that was an inescapable option, in the current situation marked by the weakening of US hegemony and the reconfiguration of the world geopolitical chessboard this course of action plunges the people of Europe into a dangerous quagmire.
Apart from the risk of a military confrontation at the gates – if not within Europe itself – because the full application of the Helms-Burton Act will harm Cuba and Venezuela and Nicaragua, but will also affect numerous European companies in Cuba- more than 200- which will see their business undermined, if not ruined. Silent protests are heard in several European capitals and even the EU’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini- in a joint communiqué also signed by the EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström – warned the White House that her organization would go to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge the decision to apply with all rigor the Helms-Burton law and especially its title III. For Trump and his thugs, the intensification of the economic sufferings of the Cuban population, recommended in the 1960 memorandum quoted above, is a weapon of the fifth generation war that will affect not only the rebellious island but also European countries, which Washington has weakened so that they can run in search of the protection it would offer with its conventional weapons. Of course, a policy of this nature could, under certain conditions, provoke a change in the consciousness of European leaders and convince them that they have little or nothing to gain by being the tail van of a decadent empire and much to gain by establishing relations of mutual respect and cooperation with the two great rivals of the United States, which are not their rivals but possible partners in a project that benefits everyone equally. This is difficult, because it means nothing less than reversing the strong ties forged with the United States in the second post-war period. But it would not be the first time in European history where seemingly unshakeable alliances are called into question or old antagonisms give rise to new agreements and coalitions.
Anti-imperialism and the tasks of the present moment
Three urgent tasks emerge from the above. First, to achieve a European-level declaration of social movements, political forces and, if possible, European governments and regional bodies against Washington’s attempt to deepen the economic aggression against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. In this sense, the recent creation of the Internationalist Anti-imperialist Front in Spain is an encouraging step forward. The blatant interventionism of the United States in the internal affairs of third countries, none of which is a province of the United States, should also be denounced, as the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed in a harsh statement. And to underline, in addition, that the application of Title III of the Helms-Burton Law would not only affect the Latin American countries but also the Europeans.
Secondly, to make the European populations aware that they too are subject to the rigors of imperialist domination, that this is not only exercised over the countries on the periphery, and that, for that reason, if Washington decides to escalate its confrontation with Russia and China and launch a military attack against those powers, the aftershocks would seriously affect European countries, the headquarters of countless US military bases that would become immediate targets of retaliation, affecting not only the Pentagon installations but also the surrounding populations. There is no awareness of this danger in Europe, and it is imperative and urgent that this issue be the subject of a highly informed debate.
It will also be necessary to undertake a third task because awareness is not enough: the European popular masses will have to be mobilized and organized in order to put an end to their submission to imperialist domination. Anti-imperialism is as decisive a struggle in Europe as it is in Latin America, and the international coordination of these struggles is a categorical imperative of the present time. This requires demanding the dissolution of NATO – created to “contain” an enemy, the Soviet Union, which disappeared almost thirty years ago -and to close the military bases that the United States has in Europe that will only serve to attract retaliation from the countries attacked by the empire. This is no trivial matter to demonstrate the subjugation of European governments to imperialism, remembering the high number of U.S. military bases based in Europe, superior in quantity and quality to those stationed in Latin America and the Caribbean. In all cases, putting the civilian populations surrounding the bases at grave risk, something that, in itself, does not arouse the least concern among the Pentagon strategists who have been involved in hundreds of operations where “collateral damage” is a daily occurrence.
In conclusion: it is essential to wage a battle so that the peoples of Europe become aware that they are as subject to imperialist domination as their counterparts beyond the Atlantic. If the empire shows its contempt for Latin Americans without any concealment, a mock formal respect prevails in its relationship with Europe, which is insufficient to obscure the real vassalage they impose on all their governments without exception. It will be necessary to create the conditions in which the peoples of Europe can shatter the heavy curtain of ignorance, a product of their erroneous belief in friendship and admiration supposedly lavished upon them by the ruling class of the United States. A false conscience carefully cultivated by the dominant ideology and its vehicles of dissemination and which prevents them from realizing that the main problems affecting Europe today: the growth of the radical right; xenophobia; the breakdown of social integration; the hegemony of financial capital and its recessive effects: unemployment, the precariousness of work and the concentration of wealth; the uncontrollable flow of refugees from the wars in the Near East or emigrants from the economic crisis in Africa as well as the emptying of democratic processes have their origin in imperialism and the policies it imposes thanks to the colaborationism of the decadent European bourgeoisies and their political representatives. To make them aware also that the peoples of Europe are in danger because if there were to be an escalation in rivalry between Washington and Moscow and Beijing, Europe would ipso facto become the main theater of war operations and Europeans would become hostages of both parties in conflict, with the catastrophic consequences that are easily conceivable. To this must be added the reappearance of Jihadist terrorism as a response to the abominable Islamophobia of the empire and its political criminals in the Near East. A battle of ideas, of course, but organizational combat as well, because the existing corollary of forces cannot be changed by appealing to theoretical discourses and arguments alone. If the peoples do not organize themselves and prevail in the streets, the empire will continue to perpetrate its trophies. As it is doing now in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua sooner rather than later, it will do so again in Europe. Only an effective anti-imperialist popular resistance, articulated internationally, will be able to impose insurmountable limits to its criminal actions.
1) I would like to thank Ángeles Diez Rodríguez and Txema Sánchez for their comments and suggestions to a preliminary version of this work. They are exempted from any responsibility for the mistakes or deficiencies that may subsist in the present writing, exclusive product of the stubbornness of its author.
2) Harold Laski, Reflexiones sobre la revolución de nuestro tiempo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Abril, 1945), pp. 117 ff.
3) (In https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/09/20/eps/1537435497_152676.html )
4) Atilio A. Borón, América Latina en la geopolítica del imperialismo, Buenos Aires: EdicionesLuxemburg, 2012. ISBN 978-987-1709-19-9
Editions in several countries.
6) Cf. their Lives of the Twelve Caesars, various editions.
7) (See: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/d499)
8) On this subject: https://plazafinanciera.com/mercados/empresa/mayor-sancion-banco-historia-eeuu-bnp-paribas/ and also https://elpais.com/economia/2014/06/30/actualidad/1404118266_164607.html
9) The following countries belong to the Euro zone: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain. Outside this area are Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
10) On this see Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, NATO. La globalización del terror (Preface by Miguel d’Escoto and Foreword by Atilio A. Boron) Managua: PAVSA, 2015.