For generations, a fundamental
function of U.S. foreign policy has been to make certain that
the natural resources, markets, labor, and capital of other nations
were accessible to U.S. corporate investors on the most favorable
terms possible. In 1907, Woodrow Wilson offered this candid observation:
"Since trade ignores national
boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world
as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the
doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered
down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded
by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling
nations be outraged in the process."
In his 1953 State of the
Union Address President Eisenhower observed, "A serious and explicit
purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of a hospitable
climate for investment in foreign nations." What no U.S. president
has ever explained is: What gives the United States the right
to dictate the destinies of other nations, mold their development,
and intervene forcibly against them when they dare to mark an
With unfailing consistency, U.S. intervention has been on the
side of the rich and powerful of various nations at the expense
of the poor and needy. Rather than strengthening democracies,
U.S. leaders have overthrown numerous democratically elected governments
or other populist regimes in dozens of countries-from Chile to
Guatemala to Indonesia to Mozambique-whenever these nations give
evidence of putting the interests of their people ahead of the
interests of multinational corporate investors.
While claiming that such interventions are needed to safeguard
democracy in the world, U.S. leaders have given aid and comfort
to dozens of tyrannical regimes, ones that have overthrown reformist
democratic governments (as in Chile and Guatemala, for instance)
and shown themselves to be faithful acolytes of the transnational
corporate investors. In 1993, before the United Nations, President
Bill Clinton proclaimed, "Our overriding purpose is to expand
and strengthen the world's community of market-based democracies."
In truth, as Nancy Snow shows in this cogent and revealing book,
the emphasis has been more on the "market-based" and less on the
To the American public and to the world, however, as Snow notes,
U.S. policy has been represented in the most glowing-and most
deceptive-terms. Peace, prosperity, and democracy have become
coded propaganda terms. "Peace" means U.S. global military domination,
a kind of Pax Americana. "Prosperity" means subsidizing the expansion
of U.S. corporate interests abroad, at the expense of the U.S.
taxpayer and the millions of people in other nations who might
be better served by local and independent development. And "democracy,"
Nancy Snow notes, means a system in which political decisions
are made by the transnational and publicly unaccountable corporate
interests and their government allies, "not based on a populist
or participatory ideal of politics but one in which the public's
role is minimized."
Global capitalist hegemony is attained by two means. First, there
is the global military apparatus. The U.S. defense budget is at
least five times larger than any other country's defense expenditures.
U.S. naval, air, and ground forces maintain a police presence
around the globe, using hundreds of military bases throughout
various regions. U.S. advisors train, equip, and finance military
and paramilitary forces in countries on every continent. All this
to make the world safe for the transnationals.
The other instrument of U.S. intervention might be called "cultural
imperialism," the systematic penetration and dominance of other
nations' communication and informational systems, educational
institutions, arts, religious organizations, labor unions, elections,
consumer habits, and lifestyles. Drawing upon both her personal
experience and her scholarly investigation, Nancy Snow offers
us a critical picture of one of the key instruments of cultural
imperialism, the United States Information Agency (USIA). A benign-sounding
unit of government supposedly dedicated to informational and cultural
goals, USIA is actually in the business of waging disinformation
wars on behalf of the Fortune 500.
Operating as a propaganda unit of a corporate-dominated U.S. foreign
policy, USIA ran interference for NAFTA, in Snow's words, doing
"nothing to advance the more noble goals of mutual understanding
and education," while leaving a trail of broken promises about
jobs and prosperity. USIA's efforts on behalf of NAFTA and other
such undertakings have brought fantastic jumps in profits for
big business, at great cost to the environment, democratic sovereignty,
and worker and consumer well-being.
Nancy Snow also deals with the larger issues that go beyond USIA,
especially the way the U.S. political system is dominated and
distorted by moneyed interests, transforming democracy into plutocracy,
and making a more democratic U.S. foreign policy improbable.
Still, as Snow reminds us, victories can be won when broad-based
democratic forces unite and fight back vigorously. A recent example
would be the defeat of fast-track legislation in Congress in 1997
in the face of a massive blitz launched by powerful business associations,
the White House, and the major media. Snow concludes with a useful
and instructive seven-point agenda for a citizen-based diplomacy,
pointing out how readers can and should get involved.
In the pages ahead, Nancy Snow shows herself to be a discerning,
fair-minded investigator, a skilled writer and researcher, and
a socially conscious citizen. No wonder she found herself unable
to function within the U.S. propaganda machine. She's too good
for corporate America.
Michael Parenti is the author of Against Empire; Blackshirts
and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism;
and the recently published America Besieged.