James Petras: Imperial Power Centers: Divisions, Indecisions and Civil War

One of the most important outcomes of the Trump Presidency are
the revelations describing the complex competing forces and relations
engaged in retaining and expanding US global power (‘the empire’).

The commonplace reference to ‘the empire’ fails to specify the
interface and conflict among institutions engaged in projecting different
aspects of US political power.

In this essay, we will outline the current divisions of power,
interests and direction of the competing configurations of influence.

The Making of Empire: Countervailing Forces
‘The empire’ is a highly misleading concept insofar as it
presumes to discuss a homogeneous, coherent and cohesive set of institutions
pursuing similar interests. ‘The empire’ is a simplistic general phrase,
which covers a vast field contested by institutions, personalities and
centers of power, some allied, others in growing opposition.

While ‘the empire’ may describe the general notion that all
pursue a common general goal of dominating and exploiting targeted
countries, regions, markets, resources and labor, the dynamics (the timing
and focus of action) are determined by countervailing forces.

In the present conjuncture, the countervailing forces have taken
a radical turn: One configuration is attempting to usurp power and overthrow
another. Up to this point, the usurping power configuration has resorted
to judicial, media and procedural-legislative mechanism to modify policies.
However, below the surface, the goal is to oust an incumbent enemy and
impose a rival power.

Who Rules ‘the Empire’

In recent times, executive officials rule empires. They may be
prime ministers, presidents, autocrats, dictators, generals or a combination
of them. Imperial rulers largely ‘legislate’ and ‘execute’ strategic and
tactical policies. In a crisis executive officials may be subject to review
by competing legislators or judges, leading to impeachment (soft coup

Normally, the executive centralizes and concentrates power, even
as they may consult, evade or deceive key legislators and judicial official.
At no point in time or place do the voters play any significant role.

The executive power is exercised via specialized departments or
secretariats – Treasury, Foreign Affairs (Secretary of State), Interior, and
the various security services. In most instances there is greater or lesser
inter-agency competition over budgets, policy and access to the chief
executive and leading decision makers.

In times of crises, when the ruling executive leadership is
called into question, this vertical hierarchy crumbles. The question arises
of who will rule and dictate imperial policy?

With the ascent of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, imperial
rulership has become openly contested terrain, fought over amid unyielding
aspirants seeking to overthrow the democratically elected regime.

While Presidents rule, today the entire state structure is riven
by rival power centers.

At the moment, all of the power seekers are at war to impose
their rule over the empire.

In the first place, the strategically placed security apparatus
is no longer under Presidential control: They operate in coordination with
insurgent Congressional power centers, mass media and extra-governmental
power configurations among the oligarchs (business, merchants, arms
manufacturers, Zionists and special interest lobbies).

Sectors of the state apparatus and bureaucracy investigate the
executive, freely leaking damaging reports to the media, distorting
fabricating and/or magnifying incidents. They publicly pursue a course with
the goal of regime change.

The FBI, Homeland Security, the CIA and other power
configurations are acting as crucial allies to the coup-makers seeking to
undermine Presidential control over the empire. No doubt, many factions
within the regional offices nervously look on, waiting to see if the
President will be defeated by these opposing power configurations or will
survive and purge their current directors.

The Pentagon contains both elements that are pro as well as
anti-Presidential power: Some active generals are aligned with the prime
movers pushing for regime change, while others oppose this movement. Both
contending forces influence and dictate imperial military policies.

The most visible and aggressive advocates of regime change are
found in the militarist wing of the Democratic Party. They are embedded in
the Congress and allied with police state militarists in and out of

From their institutional vantage points, the coup-makers have
initiated a series of ‘investigations’ to generate propaganda fodder for the
mass media and prepare mass public opinion to favor or at least accept
extraordinary ‘regime change’.

The Democratic Party congressional – mass media complex draws on
the circulation of selective security agency revelations of dubious national
security value, including smutty gossip, which is highly relevant for
overthrowing the current regime.

Presidential imperial authority has split into fragments of
influence, among the legislative, Pentagon and security apparatus.

Presidential power depends on the Cabinet and its apparatus in a
ruthless fight over imperial power, polarizing the entire political system.

The President Counter-Attacks

The Trump regime has many strategic enemies and few powerful
supporters. His advisers are under attack: Some have been ousted, others
are under investigation and face subpoenas for hysterical McCarthyite
hearings and still others may be loyal but are incompetent and outclassed.
His Cabinet appointees have attempted to follow the President’s stated
agenda, including the repeal of Obama’s disastrous ‘Affordable Care Act’ and
the rollback of federal regulatory systems, with little success, despite the
fact that this agenda has strong backing from the Wall Street bankers and
‘Big Pharma’.

The President’s Napoleonic pretensions have been systematically
undermined by continuous disparagement from the mass media and the absence
of plebian support after the election.

The President lacks a mass media base of support and has to
resort to the Internet and personal messages to the public, which are
immediately savaged by the mass media.

The principal allies supporting the President should be found
among the Republican Party, which forms the majority in both the Congress
and Senate. These legislators do not act as a uniform bloc – with
ultra-militarists joining the Democrats in seeking his ouster.

From a strategic perspective, all the signs point to the
weakening of Presidential authority, even as his bulldog tenacity allows him
to retain formal control over foreign policy.

But his foreign policy pronouncements are filtered through a
uniformly hostile media, which has succeeded in defining allies and
adversaries, as well as the failures of some of his ongoing decisions.

The September Showdown

The big test of power will be focused on the raising of the
public debt ceiling and the continued funding of the entire federal
government. Without agreement there will be a massive governmental shutdown
– a kind of ‘general strike’ paralyzing essential domestic and foreign
programs – including the funding of Medicare, the payment of Social Security
pensions and the salaries of millions of government and Armed Forces

The pro-‘regime-change’ forces (coup makers) have decided to go
for broke in order to secure the programatic capitulation of the Trump
regime or its ouster.

The Presidential power elite may choose the option of ruling by
decree – based on the ensuing economic crisis. They may capitalize on a hue
and cry from a Wall Street collapse and claim an imminent threat to national
security on our national borders and overseas bases to declare a military
emergency. Without support from the intelligence services, their success is

Both sides will blame each other for the mounting breakdown.
Temporary Treasury expedients will not save the situation. The mass media
will go into a hysterical mode, from political criticism to demanding open
regime change. The Presidential regime may assume dictatorial powers in
order ‘to save the country’.

Congressional moderates will demand a temporary solution: A
week-to-week trickle of federal spending.

However, the coup-makers and the ‘Bonapartists’ will block any
‘rotten compromise’. The military will be mobilized along with the entire
security and judicial apparatus to dictate the outcome.

Civil society organization will appeal to the emerging power
configurations to defend their special interests. Discharged public and
private employees will march as pensioners and schoolteachers go without
funding. Lobbyists, ranging from oil and gas interests to defenders of
Israel, will each demand their priority treatment.

The power configuration will flex their muscles, while the
foundations of Congressional, Judicial and Presidential institutions will
shake and shutter.

On the positive side, internal chaos and institutional divisions
will relieve the mounting threat of more overseas wars for the moment. The
world will breathe a sigh of relief. Not so the world of stock markets:
The dollar and the speculators will plunge.

The dispute and indecisions over who rules the empire will allow
for regional powers to lay claims on contested regions. The EU, Japan,
Saudi Arabia and Israel will face off with Russia, Iran and China. No one
will wait for the US to decide which power center will rule.