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BY Stan Goff
New War Order
That is why Kaldorâ€™s description of â€œnew warâ€ is useful, even if she confuses its manifestations with its causes.
One difference between Reagan and Bush II is that the Cold War, which served as the basis of American core-capitalist supremacy â€“ as security guarantor â€“ disappeared. The huge military apparatus of the US, built up for that conflict, is now being seized upon as the primary instrument to reassert American supremacy over the world, when the former bases of that supremacy â€“ industrial export production and the dependence of other core capitalists for American military power to face down socialist and national liberation threats â€“ have withered away.
Gowan remarks on the issue of capitalist state autonomy:
“[I]t is far from obvious that a state devoted officially to the social power and values of the business class and openly and directly controlled by the leaders of that class is actually the optimal form of capitalist state. It can, instead, become a state devoted to the immediate gratification of the desires of business people to the exclusion of all the other considerations that a capitalist state should concern itself with. There are plenty of symptoms of this kind of problem at the present time. The emergence of leaderships capable of resisting immediate gratification of the business class in the name of longer-term goals that require reorganizations unpalatable to powerful business coalitions is very difficult in the United States.”
It is the combination of this administrationâ€™s militarism and its inability to curb the dominant classâ€™s demands for instant gratification that give the Bush regime its unique and uniquely dangerous character â€“ not just to the people at large in the world, but to the transnational business class (as a class) itself.
Gowanâ€™s essay refutes the pop theory of many anti-globalists that transnational capitals are actually detaching themselves from the state.
“It has been fashionable amongst some globalization theorists to claim that the transnational capitalists have broken with their own â€œterritorialâ€ state. This seems very wide of the mark as far as the relations between American transnational capitalism and the American state are concerned. This sector of American capitalists has, through its representatives, controlled the American state for decades, has invested large amounts of money in politics to maintain this control, and has shown something like hysteria at the prospect of political forces hostile to its transnational interests gaining power within the United States.
“And this political posture has surely been a rational one from their angle. After all, the American state has worked tirelessly to open other jurisdictions to these internationalist American capitals, to further their implantation abroad and their interests abroad in a thousand ways. And if history has taught capitalists one thing about investments abroad, it has surely taught the importance of projecting the power of their state to protect their capitals from hostile forces in other states. All this suggests that the relationship between American transnational capitalists and the American state remains that of robust, mutual loyalty. One key empirical test of this would surely be to see whether this (dominant) wing of the American capitalist class has worked to build new, supranational institutions for enforcing their property rights internationally, over and above the American state. There is not the slightest evidence of this. Another would be to see whether the American state has worked to penalize the transnational expansion of American capitals. Again, no evidence of this exists.”
At the end of the day, capital still requires its armed forces, and this requires the American state. â€œPax Americana,â€ quipped I.F. Stone, â€œis the â€˜internationalismâ€™ of Standard Oil, Chase Manhattan, and the Pentagon.â€ Symbiosis.
It is the contradiction emerging between the US military as the enforcement arm of transnational capital â€“ immediately â€“ and the use of military power to play the central role in long-term post-Cold War restructuring â€“ which has overstretched it â€“ that has run headlong into the economic contradictions created by a state that needs to expand its military spending even as it bleeds the public treasury as a rescue-offering to transnational financial speculators, Kaldorâ€™s rentiers â€“ who now dominate the international financial agenda with what Gowan calls the Dollar-Wall Street Regime.
Military overstretch has long been a feature of the post-WWII US empire, beginning with Korea and Vietnam and also with the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. At each juncture, the US has struggled to reassert the myth of American military invincibility. Iraq is different because, as the administration is fond of saying, it is the main front in the war on terror. Once you remove the euphemism â€“ war on terror â€“ and substitute the term â€œglobal battlefieldâ€ or â€œnew war,â€ this becomes a remarkably honest account. The fact that the US is losing that main battle is also true, and defines the military aspect of Washingtonâ€™s latent political crisis.
In fact, members of this administration have been remarkably honest about their ambitions â€“ openly declaring the entire earth a battlefield and their intention to fight on that battlefield for decades. â€œTerroristâ€ is simply a euphemism for those who resist, or those who must be strategically targeted.
Autonomy is the essence of sovereignty. Wars on popular sovereignty are wars on the people themselves. Even with the US development of precision weapons that theoretically reduce the â€œcollateral damageâ€ of war, we see the employment of those weapons to target social infrastructure â€“ to the casualties become casualties of starvation and medical neglect, removed in space and time from the explosions.
The logic of exterminism is not precision, regardless of the hardware. It is deracination and extermination.
It is the emergence of states that have collapsed from their own lack of autonomy (as in Africa), states that attempted to reassert their autonomy and were destroyed in the effort to impose discipline on them (Yugoslavia and Iraq), states that are attempting to reassert autonomy (China and Iran), states that are chafing at the mismatch between US hegemony and their own ambitions (Western Europe and Russia), and the introduction of powerful non-state actors (like al Qaeda) â€“ all these outgrowths of US post-Cold War restructuring â€“ that make Iraq different.
This international disequilibrium has loosened, not tightened, the grip of American primacy in the world, at the very time Katrina has exposed in microcosm the depth of the American domestic crisis created by the rentier pillaging of the public treasury.
These new conditions have generated fractures â€“ however temporary â€“ between European and American capitals.
Western Europe, that still boasts a productive capitalist economy (albeit very vulnerable to US finance capital), is no longer in the grip of its Cold War security dependency on the US, and the attempt by the US to establish a permanent military presence around the Persian Gulf as a future lever against other core nations has led to the Eurasian courtship of Iran as well as the fractious Euro-opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Clinton administration attempted to restore this European sense of military dependency on the US through â€œhuman rights imperialismâ€ in the Balkans, but it didnâ€™t take. The Germans exploited the situation for their own purposes, then promptly returned to Eurozone discussions of a regionally autonomous military security strategy.
Domestically, both foreign military adventures (in Latin America primarily) and a militarized police war against urban oppressed nationalities in the US were passed off as War on Drugs. That didnâ€™t take, in no small part because many Americans like taking drugs â€“ especially smoking marijuana, which the federal government idiotically continues to treat as comparable to heroin and rock cocaine. And the libertarianism that was implicit in the rationale of the mythical free-market led many to believe that taking drugs is a victimless crime. Even the verbose arch-conservative William Buckley argues for decriminalization, and currency speculator cum liberal philanthropist George Soros finances whole campaigns for drug decriminalization.
Soros is an interesting character in all this, because he is a rentier capitalist par excellence and he is violently opposed to the Bush administration. Not a benign character by any stretch of the imagination, but a financial predator of the first order who made a substantial contribution to the Asian economic meltdown of 1998, Soros is completely devoted to American primacy.
The question among ruling circles in the United States is not whether American primacy, but how. Both factions around this debate are aware that a mismatch has occurred between requisite (from their standpoint) economic expansion and post-Cold War political fragmentation. It is only at this juncture that the debate about unilateralism or multilateralism begins to make any real sense. And there is certainly no debate about whether the US can and will employ military force against any and all recalcitrants. It is whether the US has the capacity to go it alone.
When John Kerry, who was supported by Soros, expressed support for the occupation of Iraq, but decried the lack of meaningful allied support, he was not equivocating. He meant exactly what he said. He and Soros both recognize the dangers of military overstretch in a period when the world system has been thrown into disequilibrium.
The Bush faction â€“ really the Cheney-Wolfowitz faction â€“ is possessed of a kind of grandiose machismo that says, â€œNo guts, no glory.â€ When 9-11 presented itself, this faction, in power due to the political clout of certain business sectors, saw it as a chance to leap over these contradictions and quickly re-establish post-Cold War US primacy on a new foundation. The goal was to reorganize the world for a new period of stability under a new form of the Pax Americana â€“ one in which friend and foe alike are obliged to knuckle under to the American diktat. In this sense, the whole project has been an utter failure.
This was precisely the fear of the so-called multilateralists â€“ that one does not treat a problem caused by disequilibrium by creating more disequilibrium. The destabilization of strategically critical Southwest Asia may have been part of the (real) Bush doctrine â€“ certainly the almost mindless provocation of Muslims around the world has seemed more designed to cultivate â€œterrorismâ€ than interdict it. Just as provocation of the Soviets actually caused Western Europe to come under the range of Soviet missiles and force European military dependency on the US, the creation of a generalized asymmetric military threat throughout the world might be calculated to recreate that dependency after in the absence of the Cold War. But it would be a foolish gamble, militarily at least, because the war in Iraq is proving yet again that protracted wars are not won by states but by insurgents and that asymmetric warfare is not countered by conventional military strength, but exacerbated by it.
Denial and Delusion
The other thesis afoot about the Bush war in Iraq is that it is primarily for â€œdemonstration effect.â€ It is an example (a demonstration) to the rest of the world about what happens when you fail to heed the wishes of the American state. If so, that too has been not merely a failure but the antithesis of demonstration effect. The Iraq war is now proving to the whole world that the US is incapable of defeating a low-tech, urban resistance.
I am one of the troglodytes who still believe that the war is about oil.
Right and left alike â€“ in several guises â€“ want to reject this because they object to the idea of peak oil. The right, of course, believes in divine intervention and the like; some even believe the Iraq war is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Some on the left, on the other hand, are still wedded to the Old Left development paradigm that carries with it an unexamined technological optimism that flies directly in the face of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (See â€œCapitalism is Against the Law,â€ Part 1 at http://feralscholar.org/blog/?p=12 and Part 2 at http://feralscholar.org/blog/?p=13)
They have theorized oil solely as a commodity in a universe divorced from physical laws and finite quantity, and entered into a cosmos no less orthodox and abstract than transubstantiation. They have old maps on new terrain.
They have rejected the empirical evidence in the name of rejecting empiricism â€“ it is accepted by Malthusians, after all. This is tantamount to rejecting the theory of natural selection in biology because of social Darwinism.
One thing that is missed in this exercise of denial is the urgency of the future we are actually facing and the scope of the task in front of us. The final stage of imperialism â€“ exterminism â€“ is coinciding with the final stage of hydrocarbon Homo sapiens. The 21st Century will make the 20th look like an episode of Mister Rogersâ€™ Neighborhood.
The first whiff of what this means â€“ not in the empiricist argot of the Malthusians, but looking at the social relations of energy crisis (and the multiple socio-economic cascades flowing from it) â€“ look at the composition of the Bush administration. (Much of what follows is information gleaned during research for an article published two years ago on the Bush administration â€“ â€œBush, Security, Energy, and Money.â€)
Earlier in this composition, I quoted Newsweek: â€œNot since the rise of the railroads more than a century ago has a single industry [energy] placed so many foot soldiers at the top of a new administration.â€ There is a wealth of information available about the administrationâ€™s energy corporation bona fides. What is often not discussed is how heavily stacked the administration is with the proponents of nuclear power.
In order to maintain domestic tranquility in the United States, two key things are required: Gasoline for the vehicles, and electricity. We have gone to war to occupy the oil patch and contain China (Look at the new dispositions of US forces, if you donâ€™t believe the latter.).
The nuclear energy story was the Bush “Energy Transition Advisory Team” (ETAT). It had 48 members, and 14 of them were from nuclear utilities, led by Joe Colvin, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Nevada Representative Shelley Berkley said that the ETAT “reads like the who’s who of the nuclear power industry.” Thirty-four of the 48 members of the ETAT gave personal campaign contributions to the Bush presidential campaign. One top member who was the biggest single contributor to the Bush campaign was then â€“ CEO of Enron, Kenneth Lay. Lay was quietly eased aside after the huge energy trading company was exposed as one of the biggest criminal enterprises in history, and one that wiped out the life savings of tens of thousands of people.
It is little wonder that nuclear utilities (all of which are also coal utilities), along with the petroleum sector, have done so well under the Bush administration. They run it.
“It appears to me,” quipped Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, “we have the [energy] industry directing policy.”
The Bush administration’s public relations people have spun out a series of Orwellian narratives implying that the energy needs of American society are synonymous with the financial imperatives of the huge holding companies that now own most public utilities, that nuclear energy is cheaper, safer, and cleaner than all fossil energy (it is none of these), and that…