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America: the new evil empire?

Robert Bridge has worked as a journalist in Russia since 1998. Formerly the editor-in-chief of The Moscow News, Bridge is the author of the book, “Midnight in the American Empire.”

Published time: November 27, 2011 12:01

In the dying days of the Cold War, former US president Ronald Reagan famously labeled the Soviet Union “the evil empire.”

Not everybody conceded this point to the affable Republican leader; indeed, some – mostly from the Left of the political spectrum – argued that the United States was acting in a far more sinister manner behind the scenes of the global stage. Whatever the case may be, the dichotomy inherent in the historic showdown between the United States and the USSR gave the global community something that it conspicuously lacks today: balance.

The United States, the world's truly global superpower, is currently bankrolling a trillion-dollar military-industrial complex that has wrapped its steel tentacles around the entire earth. The scale of this military reach is unprecedented and dwarfs the total real estate of the former Roman, Greek and Mongol empires combined.

Dr. Jules Dufour, Professor Emeritus at the University of Quebec, attempted to put the extent of America’s military sprawl into some perspective when he demonstrated that the total land mass occupied by US military bases domestically and internationally is somewhere around 2,202,735 hectares (30 million acres), thus making the Pentagon “one of the largest landowners worldwide.”

The United States operates and/or controls between 700 and 800 military bases in 63 countries, which are home to some 255,000 military personnel worldwide, he added. Perhaps only McDonald's has more franchises worldwide.

During the Cold War, there were two large set of footprints trampling across the globe, and the owners of those boots – due largely to the nuclear deterrent – took care not to venture too far beyond their immediate neighborhoods. Today, in contrast, there is just one set of heavy boots trampling across the planet and they belong to the United States. Increasingly, this does not seem to be a desirable situation.

Although it would be a mistake to automatically connect “big” with “bad,” history has demonstrated on numerous occasions the negative effects of ultimate power on the minds and hearts of those who possess it. Thus, the excessive belief in America’s “exceptionalism” may have the deleterious effect of allowing the people – that is, when they give such matters their undivided attention – to condone less-than-exceptional behavior on the part of their leaders.

Lord Acton famously expressed his opinion on the matter in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

William Pitt the Elder, the British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778, said something similar in a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."

Having reached that moment in world history when one nation has acquired almost infinite power, has America been corrupted? Has the elixir of power poisoned Washington’s grasp on reality? Has snorting off the mirror of power for so many years finally turned America into its own worst enemy: an evil empire?

A brief look at some truly “un-American” episodes over the past decade may lead to the belief that the United States needs to check into a 12-step recovery plan for superstates drunk on power. Due to space limitations, I will focus on what must certainly be the darkest moment in America’s history: the opening of Guantanamo Bay detention camp. It would not be an exaggeration to say that on this barren corner of communist Cuba, America lost its mind.

We are not simply talking about locking up hundreds of “illegal enemy combatants” without recourse to the protection provided by the Geneva Convention. That would have been bad enough.

Personally, the image that is impossible to shake off is that of Guantanamo detainees kneeling in the hot Caribbean sun in flame-glow garb, while wearing sensory deprivation devices. For those not familiar with the latest in sadistic sportswear, the detainees were forced to wear thick mittens, blindfolds, ear muffs, hats and even face masks to cut off any sort of olfactory sensations that may have been blowing on the Caribbean breeze. At the same time, these prisoners were handcuffed inside a tiny barbed-wired enclosure with US soldiers watching their every move. If this was not an attempt by the US military to appear more cruel and vicious than the terrorists we were meant to be fighting, then what was it? These disturbing images have absolutely no relation to the behavior and conduct of American GIs who fought in previous wars.

Inside the confines of this little prelude to a hell which would have made even Dante shudder, other sinister acts took place, including “enhanced interrogation techniques,” known in medieval times as torture. Meanwhile, many of the detainees were whisked to this military camp under cover of night from “black site” prisons located somewhere deep in Eastern Europe.

A report adopted by the EU on February 14, 2007 by a majority of the European Parliament stated that US secret services operated 1,245 flights out of various European airports, apparently en route to Guantanamo Bay. We may safely assume there were no complimentary cocktails served on these one-way trips. Furthermore, the MPs said it was not possible to contradict evidence or suggestions that secret detention centers were operating in Poland and Romania.

But it gets better. Despite a four-year-old campaign promise by Barack Obama to close Guantanamo Bay as his first act as US president, the “Gulag of our times” remains open for business. Although Obama outlawed the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the Democrat caved in to Republican pressure and the remaining inmates of Guantanamo will not be given a civilian trial. They will be tried by military tribunals where their fate will be forever scratched from the history books. Even the members of the Nazi party were given public trials following World War II. The Nuremberg Trials demonstrated to the world that no matter how cruel the enemy, democratic procedure will always prevail.

Fast forward to the present. Today, the world’s supreme superpower is building a missile defense system in Europe which it says is necessary to defend the continent from a missile attack from some rogue nation. However, there is just one little snag to these plans. The United States and NATO want to exclude Russia from participation in this long-term project, which is expected to evolve in a “stage-by-stage” fashion until 2018. At that point, especially given the tendency for technology to evolve, Russia may find itself surrounded by a ring of steel and radars. But of course, as President Dmitry Medvedev announced this week, Moscow will not wait that long to take countermeasures.

Unless the US and NATO decide to co-operate with Russia on this system which threatens to alter the balance of nuclear deterrence, then it seems very likely that we will be heading for another arms race.

The question remains: what does America hope to achieve by denying Russia’s participation in this system?  Does it really believe that another arms race against Russia is preferable to a hypothetical attack from a hypothetical enemy that does not even possess the hypothetical weapons that the unproven missile defense system is designed to protect Europe from?  In other words, Washington is willing to trade what it already knows to exist (Russia’s valuable partnership) for something that may never exist (a missile threat from a rogue nation). Somehow, I fail to see the logic here.

Or does the United States hope to achieve something completely different than merely the protection of Europe’s eastern flank? Could it be that the world’s superpower feels less powerful than it would otherwise if there were no nuclear weapons to challenge its own nuclear stockpile? In other words, by building a missile defense system right smack on Russia’s border, is the United States hoping to break away from the constraints of “mutually assured destruction” in the event it would employ these horrific weapons of mass annihilation? Certainly, for some, this is an unimaginable scenario.

As things stand, Russia’s vast arsenal of nuclear ballistic missiles continues to keep America’s “hyper-power” somewhat in check. Do the architects of US strategy find these limitations unbefitting to the position of a global superpower? Is it willing to risk a full-scale arms race with Russia in the twisted belief that a nuclear war, in some nightmarish future showdown, could be a winnable event? The US, some fear, wants to acquire the shield that it needs to free the nuclear sword from its scabbard.

If such diabolical thinking is the motivation behind America’s refusal to allow Russia’s participation in the European missile defense project, than Washington has certainly crossed through the forest of the Cold War into the swamplands of superpower insanity.

­Robert Bridge, RT

­The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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