- by Graham Holton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2001
“This book brings to mind the infinite instances in which Washington bullets have shattered hope.” – Evo Morales, former President of Bolivia. (Photo: EneasMx (CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=96168223))
The present war between Russia and Ukraine reveals the heavy hand of US imperialist intervention behind the scenes, making this a timely and important book. As expressed by the international press, we have witnessed how quickly the US formulated and constructed a narrative that accuses Russia of an unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The US government regards Ukraine as part of what it refers to as the “Free World”. It is a world not of true democracy, free from foreign interference, but rather one free for US corporations to extract maximum profits from the Third World. This guide shows the history of US imperialism on a global scale, allowing readers to understand how imperialism works, and its role in present global politics. US capitalism controls the international market through the global use of the dollar, its 800 military bases, and its influence and control of the international media and its internet platforms.
Washington Bullets begins with two quotes. Evo Morales Ayma, former President of Bolivia writes that: “This book brings to mind the infinite instances in which Washington bullets have shattered hope.” Prashad had written extensively on the removal of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia in 2019 and the 2020 Bolivian general election. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, writes of the author: “Like his hero Eduardo Galeano, Vijay Prashad makes the telling of the truth lovable; not an easy trick to pull off, he does it effortlessly.” Galeano was a Uruguayan journalist and writer, most famous for his Open Veins of Latin America (1971). Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gave Barack Obama a copy when he became US president.
Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, and holds the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History. With such impressive academic credentials, Prashad is well placed to write on the history of US imperialism and the resultant blowback, those unexpected consequences, of the Global South resisting US political and military interests.
LeftWord Books was founded in 1999 as the publishing division of Naya Rasta Publishers Private Limited. It was conceived by a group of leftist intellectuals as the publishing arm of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPI-M remained in power until 2011 as the world’s longest-serving democratically elected communist government, with a strong presence in the states of Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura.
There is an old joke, “Why is there never a coup in the United States? Because there is no US embassy there.” The corollary follows that US embassies do conduct coups. In 1952 Paul H Nitze’s hard-line policy toward Russia and China formulated US diplomatic and military strategy during the Cold War. Nitze writes, “preponderant power must be the objective of US policy.”
In 1962 President Kennedy asked the CIA Deputy Director for Plans, Richard Bissell, to oversee the Special Group (Counter Insurgency). Bissell reports: “It is important for the US to remain in the background, and where possible, to limit its support to training, advice, and material, lest it prejudice the local government effort and expose the US unnecessarily to charges of intervention and colonialism.”
The Australian journalist John Pilger in his documentary The War on Democracy (2007) interviews Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, who ran the CIA in Latin America in the 1980s. When Pilger asked Clarridge what gave the US the right to overthrow governments, he aggressively replied: “Like it or lump it, we’ll do what we like. So just get used to it, world.” Unfortunately, since the 1980s the US has overthrown so many governments around the world that we have got used to it.
This handbook briefly outlines the history of US imperialism throughout the 20th century and onto the present. Prashad has made great use of his access to US government documents, records of multinational corporations, speeches of despots, and memoirs of functionaries to show how the US has perpetrated its global fight against so called terrorism or communist regimes. Yet the Global South continually strives to oppose the might of US imperialism, offering hope to millions around the world.
What is interesting in Prashad’s analysis is the connection between Third World liberation movements and US Imperialism. He argues that the progressive forces have excellent ideas for regional development, but they lack the power to ensure it, as they rely heavily on funding from the World Bank and the enforced Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) of the IMF – what Naomi Klein calls the “Shock Doctrine” of the Washington Consensus. Both organisations are based in Washington DC, not far from the White House, physically and politically. He asserts that without political, military and economic power, the Third World’s ideas have little chance of success, therefore socialists must not simply theorise, but must also organise development projects.
US capital permeates institutions, trade organisations, banks, transnational corporations and the international media using the cultural, economic, political, and military spheres to maintain US global hegemony, against which regional solidarity in the Global South continually provides new hope. Global South resistance and solidarity battles the US’s efforts to crush revolutions and their resistance creates optimism and lessons for the Developing World. The US continues its history of political interference, assassinations and military invasions globally, and yet in some cases, such as the defeat of the US attempted coup in Venezuela, it gives hope to other Left-wing nations.
Prashad makes reference to: economic sabotage in Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia; the trampling of revolutions in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and Grenada; hybrid wars, assassinations, and other forms of subversion, from Burkina Faso to Greece; the overthrow of governments from Iran to Iraq, from Indonesia to Korea, and Chile to Brazil. In doing so he succinctly reveals the ways US capital functions to carry out US foreign policy, with Washington finding new methods to maintain global hegemony. Only through regional solidarity can the Global South fight US control.
In Part 1, Prashad provides a historical context for the emergence of the US as a regional power in the 19th century, absorbing Mexican, French, Canadian and Spanish territories, amidst the genocide of Native peoples, while forging an imperial identity that continues to threaten its neighbours. This new territory was gained through legal frameworks and military expansionism, with the concomitant reframing of its frontier settlements to spheres of influence, devastating all who oppose it. The fundamental conflict following the Second World War has been between the Global North and the Global South, Imperialism versus Decolonisation. US imperialism publicly accepts the process of decolonisation, while covertly subverting it through hegemonic controls.
It is essential to view decolonisation as shaping how US imperialism approached the Third World through sabotaging and destroying any attempts at genuine national liberation. Left-wing revolutionary movements were in complete opposition to US preponderance, and in solidarity with anti-colonial and non-aligned countries. When the struggles for independence and the revolutionary energy could not be contained, US imperialism maintained imperial interests in liberation movement leaders. The Global South, therefore, is the biggest impediment to US imperialism today.
Parshad lists an inventory of colonial violence in the US’s war against the Left. In this he fails to show the importance of the Korean War (1950 to 1953) in the development of the US government’s approach to the Leftist governments and movements. His list includes: the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960); the Kenyan Emergency (1952 to 1960); overthrow of the Árbenz government in Guatemala in 1954; Algerian War (1954 to 1962); the French war in Vietnam (1946 to 1954) followed by the US war in Vietnam (1954 to 1975); the Bay of Pigs, Cuba in 1961, followed by the Missile Crisis in 1962; the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, and that same year the overthrow of the government in Indonesia, resulting in the massacre of its Communists. These Third World governments showing Leftist leanings were overthrown by the US, to be replaced by brutal Far-Right governments.
Part 2 outlines the “Manual for Regime Change”, a set of methods employed to remove democratically elected leaders with the audacity to “assert the rights of the […] people to its own land and labour.” The processes used to regain imperial control include: fabricating internal dissent; economic sabotage; funding opposition groups; assassinating key leaders; and utilising the international media which ignores foreign interference and reports a coup as a “popular uprising.”
Since 1991 the end of the “shadow of the Third World and the Soviet Bloc,” which proved obstructive to US hegemony, has made it much easier to effect regime change. With no genuine global opposition to US hegemony, it has been far easier to implement devastating sanctions against regimes, to manufacture political consent for asymmetrical wars, and to isolate nations from the Global South.
Cécile Fabre writes in Asymmetrical Wars (2012) that they are asymmetrical, both militarily and morally, for the opponent is militarily much weaker than the US. Such warfare is in violation of the rules of jus in bello (most notably the deliberate targeting of innocent non-combatants), and it exploits its adversary’s unwillingness to violate these same rules, i.e., target US citizens in the USA.
Throughout all these interventions and wars, the US government, through its State and Defense Departments and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), has failed to show the least compassion or pity to the millions of victims in the nations it destroyed. People mean so little, when carrying out US foreign policy, that they are mere flotsam on an ocean of blood and corpses. Such human tragedies barely rate a mention in the US national press, ensuring the public remain ignorant of what their taxes are being used for – US hegemony.