Michael Parenti

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 independent course?

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 "democracy."

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.

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