Chalmers Johnson is the author of three linked books on the crises of American imperialism and militarism. They are Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). All are available in paperback from Metropolitan Books. This essay originally appeared on TomDispatch.
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama called the forthcoming presidential election a “defining moment” in this country’s history. It is conceivable that he is right. There are precedents in American history for an election inaugurating a period of reform and political realignment.
Such a development, however, is extremely rare and surrounded by contingencies normally beyond the control of the advocates of reform. So let me speculate about whether the 2008 election might set in motion a political reconfiguration–and even a political renaissance–in the United States, restoring a modicum of democracy to the country’s political system, while ending our march toward imperialism, perpetual warfare and bankruptcy that began with the cold war.
The political blunders, serious mistakes and governmental failures of the last eight years so discredited the administration of George W. Bush–his average approval rating has fallen to 27 percent and some polls now show him dipping into the low twenties–that his name was barely mentioned in the major speeches at the Republican convention. Even John McCain has chosen to run under the banner of “maverick” as a candidate of “change,” despite the fact that his own party’s misgoverning has elicited those demands for change.
Bringing the opposition party to power, however, is not in itself likely to restore the American republic to good working order. It is almost inconceivable that any president could stand up to the overwhelming pressures of the military-industrial complex, as well as the extra-constitutional powers of the sixteen intelligence agencies that make up the US Intelligence Community, and the entrenched interests they represent. The subversive influence of the imperial presidency (and vice presidency), the vast expansion of official secrecy and of the police and spying powers of the state, the institution of a second Defense Department in the form of the Department of Homeland Security and the irrational commitments of American imperialism (761 active military bases in 151 foreign countries as of 2008) will not easily be rolled back by the normal workings of the political system.