The Secret History of American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World by John Perkins
October 9, 2009 by Bob Livingston
American democracy paints a pretty portrait of the United States as a peace-loving, democracy-spreading, benevolent benefactor to freedom-loving nations and people around the globe.
But what goes on in the shadows is quite different. It’s actually an ever-growing leviathan that employs bribery, coercion, extortion and even, at times, assassination as billion dollar corporations and people acting under authority of the U.S. government—the corporatocracy—work to spread U.S. empire.
In The Secret History of American Empire, author John Perkins continues what he started when he first came out of the shadows with his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, in 2004. In that book he introduced us to the nefarious world of corporatocracy—a cadre of multinational corporations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), government diplomats and agents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—with his own stories of working as an economic hit man (EHM) to enrich himself and the entities he represented at the expense of other countries.
In The Secret History…, Perkins tells some more of his own stories and introduces us to other, unnamed EHMs and jackals who have shared their stories with him.
EHMs, according to Perkins, are people representing large corporations and U.S. government interests who go to other—usually developing—nations to exploit the natural resources of those countries. To do this they find the power players and leaders who control the wealth and natural resources and make them financial offers they can’t refuse, typically using the resources of the World Bank or IMF.
If they do refuse, the jackals show up. They are people who use threats of violence and intimidation to win over the leaders. Failing that, jackals even resort to assassination.
In his prologue, Perkins writes this description of what he and other EHMs have done:
(The World Bank’s) mission soon became synonymous with proving that the capitalist system was superior to that of the Soviet Union. To further this role, its employees cultivated cozy relationships with capitalism’s main proponents, multinational corporations. This opened the door for me and other EHMs to mount a multitrillion-dollar scam. We channeled funds from the Bank and its sister organizations into schemes that appeared to serve the poor while primarily benefitting a few wealthy people. Under the most common of these, we would identify a developing country that possessed resources our corporations coveted (such as oil), and arrange a huge loan for that country, and then direct most of the money to our own engineering and construction companies—and a few collaborators in the developing country. Infrastructure projects, such as power plants, airports, and industrial parks, sprang up; however they seldom helped the poor, who were not connected to electrical grids, never used airports, and lacked the skills required for employment in industrial parks. At some point we EHMs returned to the indebted country and demanded our pound of flesh: cheap oil, votes on critical United Nations issues, or troops to support ours someplace in the world, like Iraq.
The book is divided into the major spheres of influence, as Perkins sees them, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. In them he relates actual stories of intrigue, bribery, sex and violence that have been involved in growing American empire.
He uses names and events right out of today’s headlines that bring the stories close to home and cause the reader to think: “Yeah. I can see how that happened now.”
For instance, during the late 1950s and early 1960s in Iraq, EHM efforts failed to persuade that country’s president, Abdul Karim Qasim, to continue working with the U.S. When he began demanding that foreign oil companies share their Iraqi oil profits with his people and began threatening to nationalize them if they didn’t, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sent in an assassination team. One of the team’s members was a young Saddam Hussein.
The team opened fire, riddling Qasim’s car with bullets but only wounding him. Hussein was shot in the leg and fled to Syria.
In 1963 President John F. Kennedy ordered the CIA to join Great Britian’s intelligence agency M16 on a mission to finish the job started by the assassins. Qasim was executed by firing squad. A few years later Hussein was installed as head of state security and his second cousin was installed as president.
Later, when he was president, Hussein was visited by EHMs who wanted him to accept a deal to be Washington’s bulwark against Iran. Washington supported Saddam’s war on Iran by building chemical plants, jets, tanks and missiles. The Saudis and Kuwaitis were encouraged by EHMs to loan him $50 billion.
Although more than a million people died in the war and both nations were left economically devastated, corporatocracy had won again. Military suppliers and contractors profited handsomely.
When Hussein refused to continue dealing with EHMs, jackals were sent to solve the problem. But Hussein was wise to the ways of the jackals, having been one himself, and the jackals failed.
So President George H.W. Bush sent in the U.S. military.
After the first Gulf War, first EHMs and then jackals were sent in. Again the jackals failed, and so the second President Bush sent in the military, which succeeded in locating Hussein and then having him executed.
There are other examples in the book of intimidation and assassinations that have shaped global events, and much of the book reads like it comes right out of a fiction “thriller.” But the stories, Perkins insists, are real.
Late in his EMH days, Perkins began to realize the things he had done to benefit corporatocracy had devastated the poor people and environment many countries, and he began to look for ways to make amends.
His books have been cathartic for him. But he has also begun to work for non-profit “green” and anti-capitalistic organizations. And he believes he’s come up with some solutions to the problems of growing corporatocracy and devastation of the planet.
Whether Perkins’ solutions are the best ones for America and the world are subject to debate. But one thing is certain; Perkins’ stories of American empire are fascinating.