by Danny Haiphong, published on Black Agenda Report, March 31, 2021
The U.S. was founded in the belief that Black and indigenous people were a threat to the existence of a “democratic” and “liberty”-loving colonial and capitalist society.
“Any force that dares to stand up to the U.S.’s bullying is subject to villainization.”
The GOP, what Black Agenda Report calls the White Man’s Party, has represented the clearest expression of siege politics for the last several decades. With racism as its organizing principle, siege politics championed by the GOP openly presume that the United States is an innocent victim of the inherent bestiality and criminality of the non-white masses. Trump exploited siege politics masterfully with his effective calls to “build a wall” and his official designation of Antifa activists as domestic terrorists.
But siege politics run a lot deeper than Donald Trump or the GOP. The development of an ideology which positions the United States under constant attack can be traced to the U.S.’s historical foundations. Second Amendment advocates rarely discuss how the “right to bear arms” was a direct reference to colonial militias whose sole purpose was to protect stolen land from those indigenous to it. For the next two centuries of its “official” existence, the United States found a myriad of ways to rob Africans of a humane existence while weaponizing race to justify their oppression. Behind it all was the ideology that Black and indigenous people were a threat to the existence of a “democratic” and “liberty”-loving colonial and capitalist society.
“Siege politics presumes that the United States is an innocent victim of the inherent bestiality and criminality of the non-white masses.”
Siege politics are a critical aspect of racism in that they affirm and normalize the violence of the oppressor. On the domestic front, siege politics render the United States’ racist class system innocent of wrongdoing amid rising attacks on people of Asian and African descent. Mumia Abu-Jamal and the nation’s political prisoners can be left to die behind prison walls, Julian Assange can remain tortured in Belmarsh prison, and tens of thousands of primarily Black prisoners can be subjected to torture in solitary confinement because the U.S. ruling class maintains the illusion of being under siege from the oppressed masses. The cost of decades of non-stop criminalization of the Black poor is silence; not on the broad issue of “Black Lives Matter,” but on the key aspects of siege politics which form the roots of the U.S. empire’s domestic project.
Internationally, siege politics and the affirmation of American innocence has an equally long and sordid history. Despite having never faced any real threat of an outside invasion or war, the United States has spent each epoch of its development claiming victim status. First, it was rival European powers supposedly seeking to exploit the U.S.’s racial cleavages who were the prime invaders. Then it was the people of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia who required imperialist medicine so that a white society could develop into the world’s richest empire. For much of the 20th century, the world communist movement represented the biggest threat to U.S. domination.
“The United States has spent each epoch of its development claiming victim status.”
In the 21st century, fear of communism transitioned into a broader War on Terror. The War on Terror centered on the broader, yet equally mythical, dangers that the Arab and Muslim world presented to the United States. In 2017, the haunting menace of the War on Terror was replaced with Great Power Competition whereby the U.S. placed its imperial target on Russia and China. The U.S. ruling class has repeatedly warned that the “City on a Hill” is in a constant state of siege from these rising powers in the East that only the expansion of NATO, the Indo-Pacific Command, and a series of other Cold War maneuvers can stop.
In a hostile exchange with China’s top diplomats in Alaska, Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan remarked that contrary to China, America’s “secret sauce” is its ability to acknowledge flaws and “constantly improve.” What Sullivan didn’t say was that the quest for a mythical improvement rests upon the need to perpetually claim that the same nations being bullied by the U.S. are simultaneously undermining everything that is “America.” Russia’s president is a “killer” and its government obsessed with interfering in U.S. elections. Iran is supposedly threatening to develop nuclear weapons. China is stealing everything, including the U.S.’s self-proclaimed right to dominate everything and everyone on the planet.
“The U.S. ruling class has repeatedly warned that the ‘City on a Hill’ is in a constant state of siege from these rising powers in the East.”
Enemies are key to the success of siege politics. An enemy combatant deserves no empathy and has no rights that the U.S. is bound to respect. The “secret sauce” of the United States is not “improvement” but rather the boundless capacity to render war and brutality an innocent endeavor. Funding proxies in Hong Kong, militarizing the Asia Pacific, deploying NATO on Russia’s borders, and starving Iran’s economy with sanctions are just a few examples of how siege politics are employed in the era of Great Power Competition. All of them have devastating consequences for the people and the planet.
Any force that dares to stand up to the U.S.’s bullying is subject to villainization. China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Nicaragua, and a host of nations face increasing aggression from the United States because they refuse to bow to its dictates. History demonstrates that these wars of aggression haven’t simply come home. They have always been here, whether in the oppression of Black America past and present or the militarization and immiseration of the whole society. Joe Biden wants to bring “America back” by stabilizing the crises emanating from an empire in precipitous decline. The development of mass resistance to the U.S. empire will require a mass rejection of siege politics and American innocence—interrelated ideologies of war that merely change in form, not substance, when the Democratic Party gains control of the White House.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the forthcoming book entitled “American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of US Empire” (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990(at)gmail.com