"Enough is enough": Outrage on the outposts of the American Empire. The NSA scandal, mass surveillance, drones and “free trade” corporatocracy

German president Joachim Gauck ("enough is enough") and Chancellor Angela Merkel are yet again “indignant and outraged” over a new surveillance scandal - an employee of the German intelligence service (BND), who has been spying on the NSA inquiry commission of the German parliament, for the CIA. (Will any serious consequences follow? Of course not). Yet, to observers of the usual U.S. modus operandi in foreign relations, this is not surprising, but just the tip of the iceberg of a liberal U.S. imperialism that is becoming increasingly illiberal under the threat of the Empire declining, at least economically, and of intelligence agencies (the “deep state”) acting with as much impunity as ever. 

A graffito of the whistle-blower and leaker Edward Snowden in Astoria, New York (July 2013)

About a year ago, Edward Snowden, whistleblower and hero to most liberally-minded in the West and elsewhere, traitor and foe to conservatives and regressives in the U.S., fled Hawaii to reveal to the “Guardian” and the “Washington Post” documents indicative of the scale of the scandalous mass surveillance of citizens of other states by the NSA and other security agencies in five Anglophone countries (the “Five Eyes”). Later last year it became clear, that even high-ranking officials, most prominently German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were spied upon; (official) indignation was big then, much bigger then among them, in comparison to their indifferent reaction to the revelations that the communication channels of the hoi polloi are being tapped. Nothing followed. But now, after a year of humiliating revelations, even politicians who are not deemed on the left side of the political spectrum, such as Gauck and Merkel, are slowly (at least rhetorically) beginning to doubt the value and sincerity of the transatlantic partnership, or in Germany's case, the “German-American Friendship”, that so far had been invoked as the basis of European-American partnership, security and trust.

Imperial disregard for so-called "friends and allies"

Direct U.S. influence is now felt not only outside Europe, e.g. in the Middle East, anymore, where Israel, despite illegal settlement policies and disproportionate actions in dealing with the Palestinians (and another full-on war on Gaza pending), has been backed with no questions asked and all possible U.N. sanctions on Israel vetoed for decades. In Eastern Europe and the Caucasus pro-capitalist, pro-NATO, pro-neoliberal revolutions (Georgia, Ukraine) have been more or less openly supported, financially and otherwise, by Washington. In the Pacific, a geopolitical confrontation with China in the South Chinese Sea is slowly, but steadily evolving into a serious conflict. While Arabs and other non-Western populations are more or less rightfully accusing the U.S. of meddling into their affairs, if not open imperialism, for decades, this has now, most recently, also been a theme for an increasing number of citizens of states that so far undoubtedly were deemed part of the “West”. The populations of these countries, the most prominent and most powerful of them being Germany, are now also increasingly aware of direct instances of U.S. imperialism in their countries, after decades of indirect U.S. influence through cultural imperialism, i.e.“soft power” (Disney, Hollywood etc.) after World War II. The mass surveillance is just the most obvious instance, that is specifically coming to light with regard to U.S. behavior towards “friends and allies”, and that is now even known to the bulk of the population. Many in the political elites continue to stress the steadfastness of amicable transatlantic, specifically German-American, relations; however, the latest scandal is just another sign that the United States couldn't care less how its “friends and allies” feel about its behavior. This has started (at least) a decade with G. W. Bush's war on Iraq, with which he followed through in 2003, against the resistance of many other states, most prominently France, Germany and Russia, and has been continuing until today, with the PRISM mass surveillance program, and the spying on the citizens of “friendly states” coming to light. Today, news broke that the U.S. intelligence agencies are also spying on some of their own citizens, i.e. on those that are Muslims.

logo of the PRISM surveillance program, in existence since 2005

Drones/UAV's and PRISM: A fictionalization of human rights, international law, democracy and transparency 

It's necessary to “fight terrorism”, is the less and less credible official legitimation of the mass surveillance; the use of drones to kill “terror suspects” without trial (i.e. legal murder) is legitimated the same way (new Ukrainian president Poroshenko has quickly learned this lesson in rhetorics and is now also “fighting terrorism” in Eastern Ukraine by bombing civilians, breaking a truce brokered by diplomats of all parties involved with impunity). Those in Guantanamo are not given a fair trial, Osama bin Laden was immediately shot instead of tried (as a trial would have raised interesting questions over inconsistencies with regard to 9/11). 

While most of the (Western) world is focusing on the events in Eastern Ukraine and most of the (Western) media is hyping Russia into the the role of the (old and new) antagonist of the “free” world, the rotten, inverted side of the Western Janus face remains largely unseen for many followers of the average mainstream “news”. The covert drone war of the U.S., for example, goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream media. UAV's (“unmanned aerial vehicles”), many of them steered from U.S. bases in Southern Germany, have killed more than 2 400 (not convicted, just declared) terror suspects (with at least 276 civilian casualties as “collateral damage”) since 2004. The latest targeted killings, the biggest U.S. drone attack since December (when at least 12 civilians died (out of 17 victims overall)) went almost unnoticed in the West, as it was overshadowed by the coverage of the anniversary of the Boston marathon bombings, where three people were killed and 264 injured a year ago. While Christians celebrated Easter, at least 13 Yemenis were killed by drones, including at least 3 three civilians; the Yemeni government had officially forbidden the U.S. to carry out further strikes in its territory after the last attacks, but regardless of that, the imperial masters make the rules, not the government of (from the U.S. perspective) a petty Arab state. National sovereignty, who cares? The lawfulness of those targeted killings by drones is doubtful at best, but the U.S. (along with their U.K. poodles) are blocking any resolution criticizing them, let alone initiatives calling for an investigation of the matter. On Monday, April 21, the U.S. government was ordered to release the documents that, from its perspective, legalize the killing of U.S. citizens by drones, by a circuit court of appeals in Manhattan, after the NY Times sued it for doing so; the court ruled that the government waived its “right to secrecy” in the matter by publicly making statements justifying the killings, which means: Had the government remained silent, those documents on the matter could have legally remained secret and the right to secrecy would have overridden the public right to know about the justification, i.e. transparency, that is a vital right in a democratic system. 

The policies and strategies behind the "terrorism" rhetoric are mere instruments of power politics, though, and conducive to nothing else but the increased fictionalization of human rights, international law, democracy and transparency, as is the talk of s
anctions to “punish breaches of international law” and “free trade for the benefit of everyone”.

Sanctions: Some animals are more equal than others

Sanctions and free trade are the other “principles”, better mantras, of the neoliberal rhetoric, promoting shiny, happy principles of “more humane warfare”, of “democratic capitalism and creation of wealth” and a liberal world order with seemingly equal rules for everyone (but some (U.S., the “Five Eyes”, Israel) are more equal than others (Russia, Arab states)).


On the death of Hans-Ulrich Wehler (1931-2014), German social historian

German historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler (1931-2014) has died on Saturday. His most prominent work is a five-volume work on the social history of Germany ("Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte") in the Early Modern and Modern Era (1700-1990). He was not a historian in the "ivory tower" of academia, but also commented on socio-political issues; over the last couple of years, he had repeatedly criticized the increasing inequality in income and property in Germany and globally.

Wehler at the Leipzig Book Fair, March 2013

Wehler, born in Freudenberg near Siegen in Westphalia on September 11th, 1931, died in Bielefeld last Saturday (July 5th, 2014). He graduated from high school in 1952, attending the same gymnasium as the most prominent West German post-war philosopher, Jürgen Habermas. A student at Cologne, Bonn and at Ohio Unversity at the time of West Germany's post-war "economic miracle" ("Wirtschaftswunder"), he became a lecturer at Cologne at the height of the "1968er" student movement in Germany; after a couple of years there, he took up a full professor chair at West Berlin's (left-wing) Free University in 1970. For most of his career, from 1971 until 1996, he taught at the "reform" University of Bielefeld, with stints in Berne, Switzerland, and in the U.S., at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. 

Recently, Wehler had pointed to the increasing inequality as a danger to social peace and to the ongoing social erosion of the basis of a German society, that for the immediate post-war decades rather aptly had been characterized as a rather "levelled middle-class society" ("nivellierte Mittelstandsgesellschaft") by sociologist Helmut Schelsky (who, like Wehler, was one of the pioneers of the newly-founded "reform" university at Bielefeld).

At Bielefeld, Wehler and others developed and taught the method of Critical Social History ("Kritische Sozialgeschichte", "Bielefelder Schule" (Bielefeld School)). Wehler was influenced by Max Weber's theories and saw grand social and economic developments as the motors of history. He always focused on the complexity and totality of modernity.

In 2013, he wrote in Germany's ZEIT weekly newspaper: "It remains an open question, why there is so little resistance against the exorbitant increase in inequality of incomes and property. After all, labour unions have half of the seats on the boards of corporations; but questions of wages and bonuses are mostly decided upon consensually. Are such delicate [i.e. important, PB] questions simply rubber-stamped? For it is not about the enforcement of genuine market forces, as the hegemonic neoclassical school in the U.S., in Britain and in Germany suggests, but about classical decision-making by a few men in a small arena. (...)

The blatant inequality of income and property is indisputably dangerous, despite the domestic tranquility. For it had always been the basis of legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany, that the social product of our economy should be distributed more or less equally. That had been the big achievement of a pragmatic cooperation between corporations and labour unions. But nowadays, the blatant differences can't be legitimated any more, even more so because the middle class and the lower class are suffering from a stagnation of their real income. Political pressure, leading to adequate reforms, is necessary. The overcoming of this inequality is vital, Germany's often-praised ability to reform is at stake here."