"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)).

If Russia can be reproached for violating international law by disregarding the integrity of the territory of another sovereign state (Ukraine/Crimea), so can the U.S., exponentially in the number of cases to the Russian breaches (e.g. the drones and the NSA Prism program mentioned above, as well as the abductions from their home countries (and often subsequent torture) of foreign nationals, and so on and so forth). However, only Russia is sanctioned. Apparently, the primary rule of the “sanctions game” is: They are only applicable to animals that are less equal than others.

As for the EU, many officials in the national capitals and in Brussels probably hope the Ukrainian crisis and finger-pointing at Russia helps to paint over their failures in addressing “the biggest human rights crisis in decades” (Council of Europe) and the surge of right-wing, anti-EU, xenophobic extremists to popularity (Austria, Britain, France, Greece a.o.) and in some places even into power (Hungary, also part of the interim government in Ukraine), as proven in the results of the EU parliamentary elections in late May. Discrimination and racism are on the rise (in 30 European countries according to a Council of Europe report), and poverty and unemployment remain problematically high in many areas of the European confederacy.

The report by the CoE also ascertains a lack of democratic checks and balances, of free media and of an independent judiciary as sources of widespread corruption and misuse of power; furthermore, detention conditions were criticized in as many as 30 countries, corruption found “prevalent” in 26, police abuse in 20. And this is the Brave New European world that the Western Ukrainians apparently want to be part of. 

The Janus face of "free trade": corporatocracy and the weakening of the EU economies

The other issue that has completely faded from the main headlines due to Ukraine and the new Middle East crisis (war?) is the future of the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and/or the TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Area). The U.S. is hoping to push through the agreement/free trade zone to promote its neoliberal corporatocratic agenda, as the TTIP is an instrument to even further empower the major multi-national and other corporations by giving them legal primacy in economic or trade matters, overriding and nullifying existing national barriers such as customer protection measures. The Janus face of seemingly “beneficial” free trade on the outside shows the elements of what Angela Merkel called “marktkonforme Demokratie”, i.e. a “democracy” that is compliant or conducive first and foremost to “the markets” (big corporations, financial markets), not to the populace, on its inverted side.

A Eurasian free trade zone including the EU, Russia and others would be harmful to such interests; therefore, the U.S. is currently working to alienate the EU from Russia. Moscow was at least a good partner, if not an ally, of countries such as Germany only a decade ago. As a side effect, the U.S. is weakening Europe by presenting it Ukraine as a bankrupt Trojan Horse in need of billions of emergency aid, with more to follow later, as the country is in danger of destabilizing or falling apart completely. Increased recent U.S. involvement in Ukraine was proven yet again when the CIA director, John O. Brennan, wasn't in Kiev just to have a cup of warm Borshch soup. The U.S. also wants Ukraine militarily integrated into NATO or at least affiliated with the Western military alliance in the nearer future, as was formulated in the Association Agreement (although this was a point not talked about at all in the debate on Ukraine's future in Europe and “the West”; most of the AA remained largely oblivious to the European public in general, maybe for a reason).

The strategy followed by the U.S. in the quest to stay in the long-term lead in the transatlantic competition with Europe is to push for further expansion of the EU. The 28-country body, recently having taken in Croatia as its 28
th member, is currently ailing economically due to the currency or so-called “debt crisis” affecting many of its states (in most cases, it is a banking and/or financial markets crisis, but the banks/”markets” have successfully managed to “put the blame” on the national states, by establishing the term “debt crisis” as a “pars pro toto” in the mainstream media terminology). To push as many weak and/or populous states (such as Ukraine and/or Turkey) into the arms of Brussels is beneficial to the U.S., as it impedes European economic recovery and/or competition with the market position of the U.S.

An additional, powerful U.S. instrument is the World Bank, that Washington and the Wall Street have successfully installed into the notorious “troika”, that also consists of the IMF and the ECB (all of them very democratic institutions of course); it dictates a combination of austerity for the poor and socialism for the banks/rich everywhere, from Greece to Spain to Ireland, as the universal remedy for all “crisis states”, including Ukraine. The Association Agreement between Brussels and Kiev, that the Maidan fought for in the winter and that was eventually signed by the new coup government last month, provides for the same recipe. Thus, the populace in many countries is instigated to (sometimes even violent) protest (
recently, protests have escalated in Greece, Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere due to the austerity policies of the EU-US troika). The idea of European integration is thus discredited, the European economy weakened for an unforeseeable time frame in the future.

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