A Review of Chalmers Johnson’s Nemesis

Stephen Lendman

Posted Mar 1, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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A Review of Chalmers Johnson’s Nemesis

by Stephen Lendman

Chalmers Johnson is professor emeritus of the
University of California, San Diego where he taught
for 30 years as well as at UC, Berkeley (where he was
educated).  At Berkeley, he was chairman of the Center
for Chinese Studies and its Department of Political
Studies.  He’s currently president of the Japan Policy
Research Institute (JPRI), a not-for-profit research
and public affairs organization involved in public
education relating to Japan and international
relations in the Pacific region.  Johnson is also a
prolific writer and author of 17 books, numerous
articles and various other publications.

From 1967 through 1973, he served as well as a
consultant to the Office of National Estimates (ONE)
within the CIA, and during the Cold War years was, by
his own characterization, a former “spear-carrier for
the empire.”  At least since the age of George Bush,
however, Johnson radically transformed himself into
one of the nation’s sharpest and most important
intellectual critics of the current administration
having now completed the third and last volume of his
“inadvertent trilogy” in his newest book Nemesis
that’s the subject of this review. 

The previous two he refers to are Blowback based on
1953 CIA terminology in the aftermath of the spy
agency’s first ever engineered overthrow of a foreign
leader - democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister
Mohammad Mossadeq ushering in the 26 year tryannical
rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi who was himself forcibly
ousted in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  Volume two was
The Sorrows of Empire - Militarism, Secrecy, and the
End of the Republic.  Volume three is Nemesis - The
Last Days of the American Republic and subject of this
review that hopefully will encourage readers to get
the book and read the others in Johnson’s trilogy to
get the full picture of his powerfully vital message.

Combined, the three volumes show how imperial hubris
and overreach have undermined the republic.  Johnson
characterizes it as dealing “with the way arrogant and
misguided American policies have headed us for a
series of catastrophes comparable to our disgrace and
defeat in Vietnam or even to the sort of extinction
that befell….the Soviet Union (that he believes is)
now unavoidable.”  In his view, the present state of
the nation is dire, and it’s “too late for mere
scattered reforms of our government or bloated
military to make much difference.” 

Our democracy and way of life are now threatened
because of our single-minded pursuit of empire with a
well-entrenched militarism driving it that’s become so
powerful and pervasive it’s now an uncontrollable
state within the state.  History is clear on this
teaching we can choose as could all empires before us.
We can keep ours and lose our democracy, but we can’t
have both.  Rome made the wrong choice and perished. 
Britain chose more wisely and survived.  We must now
choose, and so far the signs are ominous.  Our current
behavior under all administrations post-WW II requires
resources and commitments abroad that in the end,
Johnson believes, “will inevitably undercut our
domestic democracy and….produce a military
dictatorship or its civilian equivalent.”  We’re
perilously close already because a hyper-reactionary
statist administration hijacked the government and is
driving the nation to tyranny and ruin.

The evidence post-9/11 shows it:

—A nation facing no outside threats permanently at

—Secret torture-prisons around the world with no
accountability to which anyone, anywhere for any
reason can be sent never to return or receive justice.

—The most secretive, intrusive and repressive
government in our history and a president who’s a
congenital, serial liar.

—Social decay at home.

—An unprecedented wealth disparity and extent of
corporate power.  Former US Supreme Court Justice
Louis Brandeis warned years ago: “We can either have
democracy in this country or we can have great wealth
concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have

—A de facto one party state with two wings and a
president claiming “unitary executive” powers ignoring
the rule of law and doing as he pleases in the name of
national security on his say alone.

—The absence of checks and balances and separation
of powers with no restraint on a reckless
“boy-emperor” Executive on a “messianic mission.”

—A secret intelligence establishment with
near-limitless funding operating without oversight.

—A dominant corporate-controlled media serving as a
national thought-control police and collective
quasi-state ministry of information and propaganda
glorifying imperial wars to “spread democracy” without
letting on they’re for conquest, domination and

—An omnipotent military-industrial complex Dwight
Eisenhower couldn’t have imagined when he warned us
nor could George Washington, to no avail.  In his
Farewell Address in September, 1796, Washington said:
“Overgrown military establishments are under any form
of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be
regarded as particularly hostile to republican
liberty.”  He meant large standing armies leading to
an imperial presidency.  They destroy our system of
checks and balances and separation of powers and in
the end our freedom.

—A weak, servile Congress acceding to a dominant
president under a system of authoritarian rule keeping
a restive population in line it fears one day no
longer will tolerate being denied essential services
so the nation’s wealth can go for imperial wars and
handouts to the rich.

—A cesspool of corruption stemming from incestuous
ties between government and business mocking any
notions of government of, for or by the people.

Johnson points out America is plagued with the same
dynamic that doomed other past empires unwilling to
change - “isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local
and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the
end bankruptcy” combined with authoritarian rule and
loss of personal freedom.  Hence, the title of the
book - Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance and punisher
of hubris and arrogance in Greek mythology.  She’s
already here among us, unseen and patiently stalking
our way of life as a free nation awaiting the moment
she chooses to make her presence known that won’t be
pleasant when she does.  Johnson compares her to
Wagner’s Brunnhilde in his opera cycle Der Ring des
Nibelungen.  Unlike Nemesis, she collects heros, not
fools and hypocrites.  But she and Nemesis both
announce themselves the same way - “Only the doomed
see me,” even though we’ll all feel her presence and
suffer her sting.

Our present crisis isn’t just from our military
adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s from
growing international anger and revulsion that America
is no longer trusted with a president showing contempt
for the law including our treaty obligations Article 6
of the Constitution says are the “supreme Law of the
Land.”  They include the Third Geneva Convention
(GCIII) of 1949 covering the treatment of prisoners in
time of war and Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV) the
same year on protection of civilians in wartime in
enemy hands or under occupation by a foreign power. 

No authority gives presidents, governments or
militaries the right to ignore them, but this
president and government flaunt them openly, almost
gleefully They practically boast about it, enraging
people everywhere including allies and the entire
Muslim world this country collectively demonizes as
terrorists, militants and Islamofascists in its
concocted “war on terror” the Pentagon now calls the
“Long War” that won’t end in our lifetime.

In early 2003, Johnson warned us about “the sorrows
already invading our lives….to be our fate for years
to come: perpetual war, a collapse of constitutional
government, endemic official lying and disinformation,
and finally bankruptcy.”  Then and now, he still hopes
Americans will see the threat and act before it’s too
late, but time, he believes, is short, and overall,
he’s not hopeful.  His newest book explains how we got
here, and what we must do to avoid our appointment
with Nemesis who’s very patient, but even hers has
limits and we’re approaching it.

This review covers the essence and flavor of Johnson’s
case he makes in seven powerful chapters.  They’re not
recommended at bedtime.

Militarism and Breakdown of Constitutional Government

Johnson begins by noting other 20th century empires
that rose and fell with parallels to our situation
today.  He cites among others the Brits, Soviets,
Nazis, Japanese, and Ottomans to press his case that
we like them, and ancient Rome earlier, “are
approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are about
to plunge over it.”  He quotes historian Kevin Baker’s
fear we’re perilously close to the day when our
Congress, like the Roman Senate in 27 BC, will use its
power for the last time before turning it over to a
military dictator.  Based on the past six years, it’s
arguable it’s already with a civilian one.

The Bush-Cheney administration brought us to this
point, but the crisis didn’t start with them.  It
began at the beginning when Benjamin Franklin warned
us we have a Republic if we can keep it.  It advanced
gradually but accelerated post-WW II when we emerged
as the only dominant nation left standing and planned
to keep it that way causing the “sorrows” we now face
- an imperial presidency, erosion of checks and
balances and separation of powers, and a culture of
militarism that’s a power unto itself that today who
would dare challenge.

The Founders tried preventing the kind of tyranny
colonists endured under King George III.  They
invented a system of constitutionally mandated
republican government with a federal authority sharing
power with the states and three separate branches in
Washington able to check and balance each other with
the single most important power put in the hands of
Congress so presidents would never have it - the
ability to declare war.  James Madison, Father of the
Constitution, said it’s because: “Of all the enemies
to liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded,
because it comprises and develops the germ of every
other….  (Delegating) such powers (to the president)
would have struck, not only at the fabric of the
Constitution, but at the foundation of all well
organized and well checked governments.” 

The last times Congress used its sole power were on
December 8, 1941 after the Japanese attacked Pearl
Harbor and on December 11 after Germany and Italy
declared war on America because their Axis Power
obligations required them to do it and Hitler’s and
“Il Duce’s” imperial eyes were bigger than their
realpolitik stomachs.

Today more than two centuries later, Benjamin
Franklin’s warning hits home harder than ever as the
Founders’ constitutional framework has nearly
disintegrated.  The president is more powerful than a
monarch.  Along with the military, he has his own
private army in the form of a clandestine CIA plus
control of all 15 extraconstitutional intelligence
organizations.  They and the military answer to no one
including the Congress because they operate secretly
with undisclosed budgets (even the Pentagon has in
part), and the law of the land is just an artifact,
powerless to constrain them.

In Nemesis, Johnson concentrates on the power of the
military and a single intelligence agency, the CIA.
He says upfront he believes “we will never again know
peace, nor in all probability survive very long as a
nation, unless we abolish the CIA, restore
intelligence collecting to the State Department, and
remove all but purely military functions from the
Pentagon.” Even if we do it, he now believes it’s too
late as the nation once called a model democracy “may
have been damaged beyond repair (and) it will take a
generation or more (at best) to overcome the image of
‘America as torturer’“and rogue state showing contempt
for international law, human rights, and ordinary
people everywhere.  It’s not what the Founders
conceived nor how things should have been in a
democratic state Lincoln said at Gettysburg was “of
the people, by the people, for the people….”  Today
it’s only for the privileged.

It turned out badly because power corrupts those
getting too much of it, and since 1941 that power grew
as the nation prepared for wars it never stopped
mobilizing for since.  It comes with a price - the end
of democracy and loss of freedoms that can’t coexist
with imperialism on the march for conquest and
dominance that turned America the beautiful into a
nation to be feared and hated.  We emerged from WW II
haughty and confident as the world’s unchallengeable
economic, political and military superpower almost
like we planned it that way which we did.  We weren’t
about to give it up and intended taking full advantage
to rule the world, tolerate no outliers, and demand
fealty and deference from all nations with hell to pay
to ones that balk.

The mislabeled “good war” launched our global imperium
now on the march for “full-spectrum dominance” meaning
absolute unchallengeable control of all land, surface
and sub-surface sea, air, space, electromagnetic
spectrum and information systems - no small aim indeed
for rulers with larger than possible ambitions and no
intention backing off, so help us all.

It makes the cost painfully high with more military
spending than the rest of the world combined, but
never enough for a voracious military-industrial
establishment and complicit government going along
meaning finding justification for it.  September 11,
2001, dubbed the “New Pearl Harbor,” served it up like
room service ushering in an intense and contrived
climate of fear allowing the country to go on a
rampage to solidify control through aggressive wars
against enemies always easy to invent to assure we
won’t run out of them.  Heading the list are
resource-rich countries or ones like Afghanistan
because they’re strategically located near energy-rich
areas like the Caspian Basin.  But any leader
forgetting “who’s boss” gets in the target queue for
regime change, even model democrats like Hugo Chavez
needing reminders our sovereignty comes ahead of

And who’ll dare challenge the notion that might makes
right so international laws, norms and “supreme Law of
the Land” treaties can be dismissed to get on with the
business at hand. It doesn’t matter to a rogue empire
on the march and a president believing the law is what
he says it is, the national security is just rhetoric
for I’ll do as I please, and the Constitution is “just
a goddamned piece of paper.”  What he and those around
him lack in subtleness, they make up for big time in
brazenness, but that kind of attitude paves the road
to hell we’re on for our appointment with Nemesis.

Johnson reviews our campaign against Iraq since the
Gulf war in 1991.  That conflict, killer-sanctions for
the next dozen years, and the Iraq war since 2003 all
violate international laws and are clear instances of
war crimes and crimes against humanity, but what power
will hold the world’s only superpower to account.  The
toll on Iraq and its people for the past 16 years has
been devastating.  The US campaign destroyed a once
prosperous nation and its priceless heritage leaving
in its wake a surreal lawless armed camp wasteland
with few or no essential services including
electricity, clean water and sanitation facilities,
medical care, fuel and most everything else needed for
sustenance, public safety and survival. 

Johnson quotes experts saying the looting of the
National Museum of Baghdad and burning of the National
Library and Archives and Library of Korans at the
Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments amounted
to “the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500
years (and some say since the) Mongol invasion of
Baghdad in 1258 to find looting on this scale.”
Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon went to great pains
protecting the Oil Ministry, but were indifferent,
almost gleeful seeing priceless treasures looted and
burned.  It detroyed a “whole universe of antiquity”
Iraqis and civilized people everywhere won’t ever
forgive us for. 

In all, the Gulf war and US-imposed sanctions caused
1.5 million or more Iraqi deaths up to March, 2003
plus another 3.5 million or more refugees to the
present outside Iraq or internally displaced.  In
addition, the shocking 2006 Lancet published study
estimated the joint US-British invasion caused another
655,000 violent deaths since then through mid-2006,
although they readily admitted the true figure might
be as high as 900,000 because they were unable to
survey the most violent parts of the country or
interview thousands of families all of whose members
were killed. 

Already the US-inflicted devastation on Iraq and its
people since 1991 amounts to one of the great
war/sanctions/and occupation related crimes in human
history.  Their effects keep mounting exponentially
with no way to know how great the toll will be when
it’s over.  One day it will be because Iraqis won’t
stop fighting for their freedom till it is, but none
of this gets reported in US media and precious little
anywhere in the West.  So far, war continues because
America’s on the march, and Johnson notes US soldiers
in Iraq are only accountable to their superiors in the
field or the Pentagon, and an estimated 100,000
civilian contractors are only accountable to

The darkest side of our adventurism is our global
network of military prisons (authorized by the
Secretary of Defense and Pentagon) where physical and
mental torture are practiced even though it’s known no
useful information comes from it.  Instead it’s used
for social control, vengeance and a policy of
degrading people regarded as sub-human because they
happen to be less-than-white Arab or Afghan Muslims.
It’s also a symbolic act of superpower defiance daring
the world community to challenge us.  International
Geneva Convention laws and the 1984 UN Convention
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment no longer matter for the lord
and master of the universe.  The US is accountable
under them, but clever lawyers and a lawless Attorney
General rewrite the rules of engagement claiming
justification even when they don’t have a leg to stand

Imperial Pathologies - Comparing America to Rome and

Johnson makes his case citing ancient Rome to show how
imperialism and militarism destroyed the Republic.  He
notes after its worst defeat at the hands of
Carthaginian general Hannibal in 216 BC, Romans vowed
never again to tolerate the rise of a Mediterranean
power capable of threatening their survival and felt
justified waging preemptive war against any opponent
it thought might try. 

That was Paul Wolfowitz’s notion as Undersecretary of
Defense for Policy in the GHW Bush administration in
1992 that he began implementing as Deputy Secretary of
Defense in 2001 and made part of the National Security
Strategy in 2002.  It was an ancient Roman megalomanic
vision called Pax Romana that post-WW II became Pax
Americana with illusions of wanting unchallengeable
dominance to deter any potential rival, and, like
ancient Rome, wage preemptive or preventive war to
assure it.

A culture of corruption and militarism eroded the
Roman Republic that effectively ended in 49 BC when
Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in Northern
Italy plunging the country in civil war that left
Caesar victorious when all his leading opponents were
dead.  The Republic died with them as Caesar became
the state exercising dictatorship over it from 48 to
44 BC when his reign ended on the Ides of March that
year after his fateful meeting in the Roman Senate
with Brutus, Cassius and six other conspirators whose
long knives did what enemy legions on battlefields
couldn’t.  It led to the rise of Caesar’s grandnephew
Octavian.  In 27 BC, the Roman Senate gave him his new
title, Augustus Caesar, making him Rome’s first
emperor after earlier ceding most of its powers to
him.  He then emasculated Rome’s system of republican
rule turning the Senate into an aristocratic family
club performing ceremonial duties only.

It was much the same in Nazi Germany only much faster.
The German Reichstag made Adolph Hitler
Reichschallcellor on January 30, 1933 ceding its power
to him March 23 by enacting the Enabling Act or Law to
Remedy the Distress of the People and the Empire
establishing a Nazi dictatorship and allowing the
Weimar Republic to pass quietly into history.  With a
whimper, not a bang, it gave Hitler absolute power and
the right to enact laws and constitutional changes on
his own with little more than rubber-stamping approval
from an impotent Reichstag that anointed him
Reichsfuhrer a year later allowing him supreme power
to destroy the state he only got to rule for 12 years.

Like Nazi Germany and other empires, Johnson explains
the “Roman Republic failed to adjust to the unintended
consequences of its imperialism (and militaristic
part of it) leading to drastic alterations in its form
of government” that was transformed into dictatorship.
It’s constitution became undermined along with
genuine political and human rights its citizens once
had but lost under imperial rule.  Rome’s military
success made made it very rich and its leaders
arrogant leading to what Johnson calls “the first case
of what today we call imperial overstretch.”  It
didn’t help that a citizen army of conscripts got
transformed into professional military warriors.  It
grew large and unwieldy becoming a state within a
state like our Pentagon today. It created a culture of
militarism that turned into a culture of moral decay
leading to the empire’s decline and fall.

The US Republic has yet to collapse, but an imperial
presidency now places great strain on it with a
dominant Pentagon and culture of militarism
undermining Congress, the courts and our civil
liberties.  Ancient Rome proved republican checks and
balances aren’t compatible with imperial dreams and a
powerful military on the march for them.  The US may
have crossed its own Rubicon on September 18, 2001
with the passage of the Authorization for Use of
Military Force (AUMF) by joint House-Senate resolution
authorizing “the use of United States Armed Forces
against those responsible for the recent attacks
launched against the United States (and) giving the
President….authority under the Constitution to take
action to deter and prevent acts of international
terrorism against the United States….” 

By this act alone, George Bush got congressional
authority to seize near dictatorial power in the name
of national security, ignore constitutional and
international law, be able to wage aggressive war to
protect the nation, and get repressive laws passed
threatening citizens and others alike with loss of our
freedoms.  Then in October, 2002, Congress voted the
president unrestricted power to preemptively strike
Iraq whenever he believed it “appropriate” meaning he
was free to wage aggressive war against Iraq or any
other nation he henceforth called a threat using
tactical nuclear weapons if he chooses. 

This kind of unrestricted power isn’t just dictatorial
authority.  It’s insanity courtesy of the Congress and
supportive right wing courts.  It’s taking us the same
way as ancient Rome assuring our fate will be no
different unless it’s stopped and reversed.  It’s the
inevitable price of imperial arrogance making leaders
feel invulnerable till they no longer are, and it’s
too late.

We may still have a choice, and Johnson cites the one
Britain took to explain.  They sacrificed empire to
preserve democracy knowing they couldn’t have both.
They earlier took up the “White Man’s Burden” in a
spirit of imperial “goodness” we now call “spreading
democracy” believing Anglo-Saxons deserved to rule
other nations, especially ones of color they thought
inferior.  Johnson explains “successful imperialism
requires that a domestic republic change into a
tyranny.” It happened to Rome, and he sees it
happening here under an imperial presidency with
militarism taking ever greater root in society.
Britain was spared by a democratic resurgence followed
WW II.  People finally freed from the scourge of
Nazism said never again and chose democracy to assure

We must now choose whether to return to our founding
roots or stay on our present path heading to imperial
tyranny.  For Johnson, Rome and Britain are the
“archtypes” defining where we stand and what we face.
Rome chose empire, lost its Republic and then
everything.  Britain went the other way choosing
democracy despite the Blair government’s disgraceful
post-9/11 imperial indiscretions acting as
Washington’s pawn in service to our adventurism.  Now
late in the game, we must choose one way or the other.
We can either have our democratic “cake” or “eat it”
and suffer the consequences. We can’t have it both

The CIA - The President’s Private Army

Imperial Rome had its elite praetorian guard to
protect and serve its emperors.  The CIA here works
the same way as a private army for the president that
in the end will go his way as it did producing phony
intelligence the Bush administration used to justify
war with Iraq.  It proved its loyalty by its
willingness to lie, but it does lots more than that -
the kinds of extrajudicial things it gets away with
because everything about “the company” is secret,
including its budget.  It puts CIA beyond the law
making it unaccountable to the public and Congress
that have every right to know in a “democracy” but
none under imperial rule.  Johnson stresses that US
presidents have “untrammeled control of the CIA (and
it’s) probably (their) single most extraordinary
power” as it puts them beyond the check and balancing
powers of Congress and courts constitutionally
required in republican systems of government.  Not in
our “Republic,” at least since 1947 when the National
Security Act created the CIA under Harry Truman to
succeed the wartime OSS dissolved in 1945.

Johnson explains CIA originally had five missions.
Four dealt with collection, coordination and
dissemination of intelligence.  The fifth one was
vague allowing the agency to “perform such other
functions and duties related to intelligence affecting
the national security as the National Security Council
(overseeing it) may….direct.”  This mandate caused
the problem turning “CIA into the personal, secret,
unaccountable army of the president” and making secret
covert, often mischievous illegal, operations its main
function.  Their duties include overthrowing
democratically elected governments, assassinating
foreign heads of state and key officials, propping up
friendly dictators, and snatching targeted individuals
for “extraordinary rendition” on privately-leased
aircraft to secret torture-prisons for not too
gracious treatment on arrival that may include
“destroying” the evidence after completing

We claimed justification for it during the Cold War
even though extrajudicial activities are never
permissible under republican constitutional
government. Today under George Bush, things are
further complicated as CIA is one of 15 intelligence
agencies under a director of National Intelligence
(DNI).  But even with this realignment, CIA remains
the president’s private praetorian guard army
accountable only to him with tens of billions of
secret budget power to do plenty of damage. 

It now lets CIA be more active than ever as under Bush
it’s got double the number of covert operatives making
Johnson believe the spy agency’s original purpose is
history with DNI now handling most intelligence
gathering functions. CIA is now a mostly global hit
squad Mafia with Bush its resident Godfather sending
it off to do “assassinations, dirty tricks,
renditions, and engineering foreign coups.  In the
intelligence field it will be restricted to informing
our presidents and generals about current affairs.”
In all it does, the agency’s secrecy shields the chief
executive from responsibility giving him plausible
deniability if anything leaks out.  Johnson explains
“CIA’s bag of dirty tricks….is a defining
characteristic of the imperial presidency.  It is a
source of unchecked power that can gravely threaten
the nation….(Its) so-called reforms….in 2006 have
probably further shortened the life of the American
republic.”  “The company” is a menace to democratic
rule.  Either it goes or our freedoms do.

US Military Bases Around the World

People in US cities would be outraged if another
country garrisoned its troops close by with all the
resulting fallout: unacceptable noise, pollution,
environmental destruction, appropriation of valued
public real estate along with drunken soldiers on the
loose violating laws, causing damage and raping local
women.  Not the kinds of neighbors we choose,
especially when they’re mostly unaccountable for their

We don’t generally give other nations basing rights
here.  But the Pentagon practically demands other
countries allow us the right to put our troops on
choice parts of their real estate around the world.
That’s real heavy-handed imperial arrogance mindful of
an earlier time when imperialism could be measured by
an empire’s colony count.  Military outposts are our
version set up to operate by our own rules when we
show up.  Locals have no say and neither does the host
country once a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is
finalized that gives the US “guest” freedom from host
country laws and restraints governing civilian life
and exemption from any inconvenient environmental
cleanup obligations.  That subject is covered in the
next section.

Only one superpower remained after the Soviet Union
dissolved in 1991, and the Russians never posed a
serious challenge before it did.  All along we greatly
outclassed and outgunned them, and Moscow only wanted
a standoff if it came to that.  During the Cold War,
we had many military outposts around the world
supposedly aimed at them, but how do we justify them
now.  They’re not for defense.  They’re for offense in
contrast to home-based ones to defend the nation. 

Johnson reviews the known number of US bases in other
countries by size and branch of service.  According to
the Department of Defense’s Base Structure Report
through 2005, the official total of all sizes is 737,
but so many were built in recent years, Johnson
believes the actual number exceeds 1000 and is rising.
Unlisted ones includes dozens in Iraq, 106 garrisons
in Afghanistan, the gigantic Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo
built after the Yugoslav war in 1999, and others in
Eastern Europe, Israel, Qatar and other Gulf states
plus ongoing negotiations all the time to build new
bases in new locations in new and currently “occupied”

It takes a lot of resources maintaining an operation
this sized.  Just the facilities and staff alone make
the cost truly staggering.  Included are the number of
military, civil service and locally hired personnel,
facilities, acreage, weaponry and munitions (including
thousands of nuclear weapons) and everything else
needed to keep a worldwide operation this size
functioning.  And this only covers what’s open to the
public and Congress excluding what the Pentagon and
host countries keep secret.  There’s plenty of that
including information about bases the US uses to
eavesdrop on global communications or our nuclear
deployments violating treaty obligations.  The
Pentagon keeps much of this hidden deploring any
oversight as part of its culture of secrecy concealing
from Congress and our NATO allies the true extent of
our strength, breath and intentions.

Once Donald Rumsfeld got to the Pentagon he fit right
in and served there once before under Gerald Ford.  He
didn’t hide how he wanted to restructure the military
to make it lighter, more agile and high tech but no
less secret.  The result was Department of Defense’s
Global Posture Review first mentioned by George Bush
in November, 2003.  It divides military installations
into three types:

—(1) Main Operating Bases (MOBs) having permanently
stationed combat forces, extensive infrastructure,
command and control headquarters and extensive
accommodations for families including hospitals,
schools and recreational facilities.  The Pentagon
calls these bases “little Americas.”

—(2) Forward Operation Sites (FOSs) that are major
installations smaller than MOBs and over which the
Pentagon tries maintaining a low profile.  They
exclude families, and troop rotations in and out are
for six months, not three years as at MOBs.

—(3) Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs) - they’re
the smallest, most austere and are called “lily pads”
to cover the entire planet’s “arc of instability” that
could include countries earmarked for future military
action.  Preparation here includes prepositioned
weapons and munitions.

The new global repositioning plan comes with a huge
price tag.  The Overseas Basing Commission estimates
it at $20 billion and would be much higher but for the
Pentagon’s standard practice getting host countries to
pay their share of the tab allowing us basing rights
on their territory.  It’s called “burden sharing” or
our notion of a country we occupy helping pay the cost
of deterring potential common enemies.  At a time when
only US militarism poses a threat to world peace, one
day countries like Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain
and others no longer will tolerate our garrisoning
troops on their soil.  Ecuador under its new
president, Raphael Correa, already served notice his
country won’t renew the US base lease in Manta when it
expires in 2009 unless Washington allows his country
comparable basing rights in Miami that’s impossible.
Other countries may follow suit just like the East
Europeans kicked out the Soviets after their nations
broke away in 1991.

Today the Middle East commands center stage with the
Pentagon building major military installations in Iraq
similar to the permanent kind in Germany and Japan.
Iraq is key to US imperial plans because of its vast
and easily accessible oil reserves but for a covert
reason as well.  Johnson believes it’s part of our
“empire building” - to shift major Saudi bases to the
country making it a “permanent Pentagon outpost” to
control the area’s “arc of instability” and region’s
oil reserves that comprise 60% or more of the world’s
proven total. 

Add together all Muslim nations everywhere and their
combined known oil reserves are between two-thirds to
three-quarters of total world supply.  If we control
it all, it gives Washington enormous veto power over
all nations wanting accessing to the vital juice
economies run on.  And if we keep demonizing Muslims
as enemies and people believe it, it’s easy justifying
our state-sponsored terror wars on them for all the
wrong reasons we say are the right ones.

Headquarters for what’s planned in the Middle East are
now on four or more permanent Iraq “super-bases” with
possible others to come.  Many billions of dollars
went into them, and they’re anchor fixtures in the
country along with 100 or more others ranging from
mega to micro showing the extent of our digging in for

the long haul in a country and region we’re not
planning to leave in a hurry. 

It also shows in the kind of embassy we’re building
inside the four square mile Green Zone in central
Baghdad.  Critics call it “Fortress Baghdad” because
it’s to be the largest US embassy in the world by far,
encircled by 15-foot thick concrete walls and rings of
concertina wire along with protective surface-to-air
missiles.  Large numbers of private-sector bodyguards
and US military guard its vast facilities, there’s
modern infrastructure comparable to any large US city
with all the comforts and luxuries of home, Saddam’s
private swimming pool is for GIs and others to frolic
in, hometown comfort food abounds, and staff and
officials are planned to number around 1000.  It’s
larger than Vatican City, six times the size of the UN
New York compound, and has become a hated symbol of
imperial occupation, death and destruction it caused,
and the oppressive dominance Iraqis are committed to

Iraqi history shows an intolerance to occupation, and
Iraqis are convinced they’ll maintain tradition
proving again that notions of permanency are in the
eyes of the beholder and their end may come sooner
than planned.  Our super-facilities may end up just
like their mega-predecessors in Danang, Cam Rahn Bay
and the Saigon embassy housing the last remnants of US
presence helicoptered off its rooftop in defeat and
humiliation.  We left them and much more behind when
the Vietmanese kicked us out, even though we never go
anywhere planning to leave in a hurry if ever.

US Imperialism at Work - Status of Force Agreements
(SOFAs) and How They Work

SOFAs are formal contractual arrangements the US
negotiates with other countries implementing basic
agreements we first agree to with host nations
allowing us the right to garrison troops and civilian
personnel there either on a new base we build or an
existing one.  They follow once the Pentagon arranges
a contractual “alliance” with a host country usually
based on “common objectives” and “international
threats to peace.”  In final form, they’re intended to
put US personnel as far outside domestic law as
possible and spell out host nation obligations to us.
Except for our reciprocal NATO agreements with member
countries, they also give our military and civilian
personnel special privileges unavailable to ordinary
citizens of the host nation.  It doesn’t work that way
with western European states.  They have collective
clout and won’t tolerate the types of one-way deals we
impose on smaller, weaker nations that can’t stand up
to our kind of bullying. 

For host nations, SOFAs come with problems along with
perceived benefits.  They result in unacceptable
noise, pollution, environmental damage with no
remediation obligation, and they use valuable real
estate unavailable to the host or their people who
can’t avoid the kinds of fallout problems showing up
after we do. They include foreigners on their soil
accountable to US military rules and justice but not
to theirs even when crimes are committed against
innocent civilians like local women being abused and
raped by drunken unruly troops believing away from
home they can do as they please and get away with it.
They nearly always can.

Johnson cites between 1998 and 2004 in Japan, US
military personnel were involved in 2,024 reported
crimes or accidents on duty.  Only one led to a
court-martial, 318 to “administrative discipline, and
the remainder were apparently absolved even though at
least some of these crimes involved robberies, rapes,
reckless homicide, assaults and other kinds of abuses
no one would get away with at home.  The result abroad
is growing public anger and discontent Johnson
illustrates with a prominent example. 

It’s on the island of Okinawa, Japan’s southern-most
and poorest prefecture and a place Johnson knows well
from his time in the Navy and as an expert on the
country and region that includes a book he co-wrote
and edited called Okinawa: Cold War Island.  The US
has its way with Japan having defeated its empire in
1945, wrote its constitution in the aftermath, and has
occupied the country ever since.  It’s well dug in for
the long haul with 88 bases on the Japanese islands, a
country smaller than California. Thirty-seven of those
bases are on Okinawa, a tiny sliver of land about the
size of a large US city.  It’s easy understanding why
Okinawans are justifiably angry.  They’ve been
practically pushed into the Pacific to make way for US
occupation of their island taking over most of its
valued real estate and not treating it too well or the

Okinawans’ greatest outrage, however, is over
SOFA-related article 17 covering criminal justice.  It
states “The custody of an accused member of the United
States armed forces or the civilian component (shall)
remain with the United States until he is charged.”
It means when US personnel commit crimes, Japanese
investigative authorities have no exclusive access to
suspects until they’re indicted in court.  That
hamstrings investigations enough to make prosecutors
often reluctant to press charges because they can’t
get enough evidence to go to trial.

Johnson cites a particularly grievous example he calls
the “most serious incident to influence
Japanese-American relations since the Security Treaty
was signed in 1960.”  It happened in September, 1995
when two marines abducted a 12-year old girl, beat and
raped her,  then left her on a beach going back to
their base in a rented car.  In October, 85,000
Okinawans protested in a park demanding Japanese and
American authorities address their grievances after
the US military refused to hand over the suspects to
Japanese police.  This may be a notable example, but
it illustrates what Okinawans have endured for over 60
years.  The US military runs their territory without
accountability to Japanese law.  As a result, US
personnel get away with rapes, drunken brawling,
muggings, drug violations, arson and criminal homicide
- because they’re superior white-skinned Americans,
not yellow-skinned Japanese judged inferior.

Things likely can’t get much worse for Okinawans, but
if the US gets its way they probably will for all
Japanese.  It relates to Washington’s growing concern
over China’s explosive growth and increasing dominance
in the Pacific region.  That makes the Chinese a major
US regional rival and potential superpower challenger
some day.  Bush officials won’t tolerate it and are
pressuring Japan to revise article 9 of its
constitution renouncing force except for self-defense.
The US wants Japan to be our “Britain of the Far
East” or “cop on the beat” to use the country as a
front line regional proxy against China, North Korea
or any other East Asian state forgetting “who’s boss.”

But that notion doesn’t set well with Japanese people
resulting in mass protests throughout the country in
opposition.  They know how destructive WW II was and
want no reoccurrences of it even though already Japan
again is a military power.  It has the most powerful
navy in the world after the US, a total force size of
nearly one-quarter million in uniform, 452 combat
aircraft and a military budget equalling China’s.

After long and difficult negotiations, the Japanese
cabinet finally agreed to approve a planned US
realignment of forces in their country that won’t
please its neighbors or its own people.  Former prime
minister Koizumi and his right-wing supporters yearn
to make their country a formidable power again and
thus agreed to various unpalatable US basing decisions
despite popular opposition to them.  It shows Japanese
and US officials’ insensitivity to deep-seated
feelings on the ground that will only lead to further
heightened tensions in the region with China and North
Korea facing off against their US and Japanese rivals.

The Ultimate Imperial Project in Space

The notion of “full spectrum dominance” spelled it
out.  The US considers outer space part of its
territory, claims sole right to dominate it, and won’t
tolerate a challenger interfering with our plans to
militarize the heavens reigning supreme over planet
earth from them.  The whole idea is chilling having
grown out of Ronald Reagan’s March 23,1983 speech
calling for greater defense spending during the Cold
War.  He wanted a huge R & D program for what became
known as “Star Wars” - an impermeable anti-missile
shield in space called the Strategic Defense
Initiative (SDI).  It hardly mattered that the whole
idea was fantasy, but a glorious one for defense
contractors who’ve profited hugely on it since.  From
inception, the program’s funding ebbed and flowed with
a tsunami now going into it for an administration
addicted to all things military and a friendly Federal
Reserve acting as “pusher” printing up all the ready
cash to do it.

The Clinton administration only gave it modest
support, but that all changed once George Bush became
president and Donald Rumsfeld returned to the Pentagon
for his second tour as Secretary of Defense with fewer
restraints than the first time. He wanted the US
prepared for space warfare as insane as the idea is.
What’s not insane is how hugely defense contractors
profit from an open-ended boondoggle padding their
bottom lines as long as no future president and
Congress halt the madness.  Rumsfeld had his own ideas
about committing the country to building and deploying
space-based weapons to destroy nuclear-armed missile
launches even though it can’t be done now or ever. 

MIT’s Theodore Postal is a leading authority on
ballistic missile defenses.  He’s spent years
debunking notions that any useful defensive shield
will ever work.  He flatly states: “the National
Missile Defense System has no credible scientific
chance of working (and) is a serious abuse of our
security system.” Nonetheless, the program is ongoing
and running strong under Robert Gates’ new management
at the Pentagon as he’s not known as one to buck his
White House bosses that’s one reason he got the job.

Johnson says all the “rhetoric about a future space
war is ideological posturing” similar to the “missile
gap” nonsense beginning in the Kennedy years.  The
notion of wars from or in space are self-defeating
because the adverse consequences from them affect us
as well as any adversary.  Waging one would be like
firing a gun exploding in our face harming us as much
as anyone hit by it.  Dangerous orbiting space debris,
already a growing problem, is just one of many serious
consequences space wars would produce.  Enough of it
would threaten military and commercial spacecraft
that, in turn, would threaten activities in space.
Johnson notes the Air Force currently tracks 13,400
man-made space objects, only a few hundred of which
are orbiting satellites.  We also know of more than
100,000 smaller pieces of untrackable junk, each the
size of a marble and millions more even smaller

The problem isn’t their size.  It’s the speed they
travel at - up to 17,500 miles per hour (same as the
space shuttle), meaning when they strike an object
they pack a wallop that can be lethal if large enough
debris hits an orbiting spacecraft or satellite.
Johnson quotes UC Santa Cruz professor of physics Joel
Primack saying: “Weaponizing of space would make the
debris problem much worse, and even one war in space
could encase the entire planet in a shell of whizzing
debris that would thereafter make space near the Earth
highly hazardous for peaceful as well as military
purposes….(and) will jeopardize the possibility of
space exploration.”

Johnson concurs on how ill-conceived our missile
defense schemes and notions of real star wars are that
need to come off the table but won’t under warrior
leadership.  He says: “The conclusion is unavoidable:
Washington has given us the best illusion of
protection against nuclear attack without reducing the
odds of such an attack.”  He goes on adding the whole
program is fraught with insurmountable problems from
space debris to the inability to distinguish between a
hostile missile launch and a decoy plus a record of
endless test failures proving they’ll only continue as
long as the charade does.  He then speculates about
what’s likely true.  The whole business of missile
defense is just a PR ploy plus another scheme to
enrich defense contractors who return the favor with
big campaign contributions and plush job offers
whenever politicians retire to move on to “greener”

The amount of money spent since the 1980s has been
enormous without a single success to show for it -
between $92 and $130 billion with an estimated cost by
a theoretical completion date of 2015 of $1.2
trillion.  One analyst called it “Pork Barrel in the
Sky,” but it boils down to one of the most extreme
cases of corruption in Washington adding to the vast
cesspool of it there.  It played heavy on voters’
minds in mid-term elections with public outrage a
major factor in them demanding change that always ends
up getting none.  Voters never learn new faces don’t
mean new policies, at least not in Washington where
the criminal class is bipartisan and one back gets
scratched to assure others do.

It adds up to further trouble ahead and the greatest
danger we now face - our imperial adventurism heading
from one conflict to another in an endless cycle
harming us as much as any adversary.  The longer it
continues, the worse things get making only one
solution obvious.  On responsibly using space Johnson
puts it this way, but it applies to all our actions if
we plan on surviving:  “....we must relearn how to
cooperate with our fellow inhabitants of the planet
and take the lead in crafting international agreements
on the rules of the road in space….We should outlaw
all weapons that are designed to destroy other
nations’ (space assets). If one side blinds the
other,” it will conclude the worst and retaliate, and
one way would be to detonate a nuclear weapon in space
that would have an electromagnetic pulse instantly
“fry(ing) the electronics in all orbiting satellites.”

That would produce a level global playing field the
hard way meaning - no more “smart bombs,” electronic
battlefields, global positioning systems, secure
communications from field to commanders or any
satellite communications.  Instead of crafting
multilateral agreements to prevent this, the US
instead continues acting hostilely by pushing full
steam ahead on space-based antisatellite weapons and
driving the nation to bankruptcy doing it.  Johnson
notes space is another “arena for American hubris and
one more piece of evidence that Nemesis is much closer
than most of us would care to contemplate.”

The Crisis of the American Republic

George Bush wasn’t our first president to abuse his
power.  Other far more notable predecessors also did
it like Lincoln suspending habeas rights during the
Civil War and FDR’s home front war against the
Japanese - the ones who were honorable, decent
Americans whose only “crimes” were their ancestry and
skin color.  It made them less human and denied them
justice.  Instead, it got them incarcerated for the
remainder of the war they had nothing to do with or
wanted, even though the ones allowed to fight against
the Nazis did it courageously and honorably.

The difference between then and now was checks and
balances were in place and the separation of powers
worked restraining presidents from abusing their
authority.  That ended the day five arrogant Supreme
Court justices annulled the popular vote letting
George Bush steal the office Al Gore won at the polls
including in Florida.  It’s been straight downhill
since the way it was for Rome when it passed from
Republic to repressive empire.  The freedoms we’ve
long take for granted have eroded and democracy in
America is an endangered species hovering somewhere
between life support and the crematorium unless a way
is found to resurrect it.

As things now stand, Bush and Cheney rule a rogue
state working cooperatively in a corrupted two-party
alliance assuring the skids are greased and fix is in.
The US Congress is no different than the kind of
social club for aristocrats the Roman Senate became
when it gave its power to the Caesar it hailed. It
lets the administration conduct affairs of state
according to what it calls the “unitary executive
theory of the presidency” that’s a simple “ball-faced
assertion of presidential supremacy….dressed up in
legal mumbo jumbo” written by clever lawyers easily
finding lots of ways getting around pesky laws in the
name of national security for a nation at war against
enemies invented to justify schemes now playing out
around the world. 

It boils down to despotic rule or a national security
police state all repressive regimes become in the end
including the fascist kinds we’re now on the tipping
edge of.  Unless it’s stopped, things won’t be pretty
when the final mask comes off and jackboots are in the
streets along with tanks when needed.  And when the
public resists, as it surely will, expect South
Chicago to look like Baghdad today and its North side

Johnson notes it’s possible the US military one day
will usurp authority and declare a military
dictatorship the way it happened in Rome, but he
thinks it’s unlikely.  If dictatorship comes, he
expects the civilian kind with military power backing
it up.  Most likely, Johnson thinks things will muddle
along and continue drifting under an illusion of
constitutional cover until fiscal insolvency unravels
it all.  But that won’t end the nation state any more
than it did to Germany in 1923 or Argentina in
2001-02.  It might even herald a new beginning even
though transitioning to it would mean lots of
turbulence, a lower standard of living and a much
different relationship between this country and others
including ones supplanting us as most dominant.

Johnson concludes his narrative returning to where it
all began starting with volume one of his unintended
trilogy.  He says in “Blowback” he tried explaining
why people around the world hate us.  It’s not just
our government’s actions against others but refers to
retaliation for the kinds of acts we commit like
ousting outlier regimes not willing to play by our
imperial management rules meaning we’re “boss,” and
what we say goes.  It’s a simple law of physics that
there’s no action without reaction.  If we slap them
enough, they start slapping back. Volume two was “The
Sorrows of Empire” written while America prepared the
public for wars against Afghanistan and Iraq.  It
covered the country’s militarization since WW II best
symbolized by our sprawl of bases across the planet
assuring hegemony over it but guaranteeing more
blowback from our “indiscretions” any time we decide
reminders are needed who’s “boss” and those reminded
get cranky.

Volume three is Nemesis and the subject of this
review.  In it, Johnson “tried to present historical,
political, economic, and philosophical evidence of
where our current behavior is likely to lead.”  He
believes our present course is a road to perdition in
the form of fiscal insolvency and a military or
civilian dictatorship.  Our Founders knew the risk and
tried preventing it with our constitutional republican
government now in jeopardy.  It’s come from our
commitment to large standing armies, constant war,
reckless stimulative military Keynesianism spending
causing an erosion of democracy and growth of an
imperial presidency.  Once a nation goes this way, its
fate is the same as all others that tried -
“isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed
to imperialism, and bankruptcy.”  It’s symbol is that
patient Greek goddess now visiting our shores awaiting
the tribute she’ll demand - “our end as a free

It’s now our choice.  We can continue the same way as
imperial Rome and lose our democracy or chose the
British model keeping it at the expense of sacrificing
empire. Johnson ends his book citing Japanese scholar
and journalist Hotsumi Ozaki as a role model example.
Ozaki understood his country’s occupation of China
would fail and lead to the kind of blowback caused by
the Chinese Communist revolution.  He tried warning
his government, but was hanged as a traitor for his
efforts late in WW II. Johnson hopes he won’t meet a
similar fate but is as certain as Ozaki “that my
country is launched on a dangerous path that it must
abandon or else face the consequences.”  We should
hope we never see them, but wishing alone won’t make
it so.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour
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central time.