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Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy Birthday Iraq

As we reach the 5th birthday of the Iraq war, an illegal war based on lies, let’s also remember the 40th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, as the BBC reports, the true horror of what happened at My Lai hasn’t really been explored, the fact that two companies were involved, 30 senior officers were involved and that the American Army specifically planned to murder every last man woman and child in three villages, My Lai, Binh Tay and My Khe. The planned nature of the massacre, not a rogue company acting in a moment of madness, is a quiet truth that America hasn’t learnt from, as is shown with them being balls deep in yet another immoral war.


At 18/3/08 4:27 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Oct 2004 v45 i5 p385(5)
The 'new' world order? (The New Imperialism)(The Decline of American Power)(Alternatives: The US Confronts the World)(Empire and Inequality: America and the World since 9/11)(Book Review) Eric Mielants.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 E.J. Brill
Review article of: David Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003; Immanuel Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power, The New Press, New York, 2003; Immanuel Wallerstein, Alternatives: The US Confronts the World, Paradigm Press, Boulder, CO, 2004; and Paul Street, Empire and Inequality: America and the World since 9/11, Paradigm Press, Boulder, CO, 2004
When a publication like The National Interest dedicates an entire issue to the US 'Empire', (1) albeit with a question mark lurking behind it, one can only marvel at what is afoot in the academic realm as the Middle Eastern quagmire draws ever more scholars into the minefield of US foreign policy analysis. Yet most of the books reviewed here claim to have approached it from a long-term perspective, thus avoiding any myopic obsessions with recent events or any hurried conclusions in an attempt to impact the 2004 US presidential elections. Although all four books involve scholars using a neo-Marxist analysis to understand the past, present and future, they differ in such substantial ways that a careful comparison of the various points of view is warranted.
For Wallerstein, the US dilemma must be interpreted in the context of hegemonic decline. He argues that throughout the history of the capitalist world economy, hegemonic powers (e.g. the Dutch in the 17th century, the British in the 19th century and the Americans in the 20th century) have seen their economic and political power rise and subsequently erode. The US may still be the world's largest superpower, but from Wallerstein's point of view, this has not prevented the weakening of its economic base. The neo-conservatives who have used the events of 9/11 to launch a military invasion of Iraq and to revitalize American power have actually increased the rate of America's demise. Evoking Weber, Wallerstein points to the US's lack of legitimate domination at the UN or with NATO and other international institutions that it created and once used to dominate. He convincingly argues that power is most effective when military force does not have to be used, when most countries simply accept American leadership (2004: 46). Wallerstein claims that the Bush administration squandered this ability when it broke with decades of multilateral foreign policy; instead of pursuing a foreign policy of damage control and the preservation of American hegemony (which started to decline after the 1970s), it engaged in ill-conceived macho militarist adventures in the Middle East without the support of its traditional allies, thus abandoning the soft multilateralism that existed from the Nixon through to the Clinton administrations (2004: 143).
One of the notable differences between Wallerstein's analysis and that of Harvey's is that from Wallerstein's point of view, oil is not a major factor in the US-Iraq conflict. In fact, he considers it a game that is not worth playing: as far as profits in the oil industry, supply (or denial of access for others) and regulation of world oil prices are concerned, the US is already situated in an excellent position. At most, oil is to be considered a 'collateral benefit of an enterprise undertaken for other motives' (2003: 299). As a historical materialist, I found this dismissal by the founder of world-system analysis somewhat surprising, yet not particularly convincing.
In stark contrast, David Harvey's first chapter, entitled 'All About Oil', leads the reader in a completely different direction. He argues that whoever controls the global oil spigot in the Middle East controls the world economy. More significantly, his reading of the Bush administration's actions is very different from that of Wallerstein's. Where Wallerstein sees discontinuity, symbolized by a Republican return to the pre-1941 position of isolationism mixed with macho militarism, thus resulting in a dramatic foreign policy shift towards unilateralism, Harvey points to the steady escalation of US military involvement in the Middle East since 1945. The whole debate between multilateralism and unilateralism does not interest him and the foreign policy differences between the Clinton and Bush administrations in the region are minor; rather, he concludes that, '... the only difference is that the mask has come off' (p. 22). The Bush administration has not changed foreign policy as profoundly as Wallerstein seems inclined to believe. Interestingly, while emphasizing the longue duree of US imperialism, Harvey perceives it as an inevitable by-product of hegemony in the post-1945 period, similar to previous hegemonies in the world-system. Surprisingly, he doesn't even bother to mention the US-Spanish War and the aftermath guerilla insurgency against American troops in the Philippines, both of which only occurred a century ago.
This is, however, a minor point. The main thrust of Harvey's book is his analysis of how the colonialist enterprise in which the US is now engaged has to be understood in the dialectical contradiction of territorial and capitalist logics of power. During those periods when crises of over-accumulation occur, such as in the post-1973 era, internal class struggle and the awkward debate about national wealth redistribution are overcome when there is an alliance between a nation-state's 'mob' and its 'capital', thus embarking upon an adventure of racist bourgeois imperialism (pp. 44-5). According to Harvey, the difference between US imperialism and earlier European imperialism is that the US has traditionally tried to conceal its imperial ambitions not only from the world but from its own constituents as well, resulting in a hybrid form of empire lite that uses cultural imperialism to its advantage. Under the George W. Bush administration, 'the impossibility of a strategy of guns and butter for evermore' (p. 77) became clear and 9/11 provided the US elite with the opportunity to rely on its military might to seek tribute from the rest of the world. Such tribute came about, argues Harvey, by pursuing a policy of accumulation by dispossession, by forcing countries to engage in free-trade agreements from which they would not benefit, and by initiating ever more privatization schemes. Although it is true that there is a correlation between recessions and oil price hikes (p. 180), it seems that the US has been unable to bring prices back to the low of the late 1990s. While the Middle Eastern adventure is a costly one, its aim is clearly to lower oil prices in the long run. But if the US government is able to lower prices in the (near) future, it is not clear if it will be the US elite who will benefit, as opposed to the capitalist elites in other parts of the world. With the US bearing 90 percent of the costs and 90 percent of the casualties in the ongoing occupation of Iraq, other industriahzed powers can only benefit by not getting involved, basking in this moment of Schadenfreude. It is also not very clear how Harvey expects the future will evolve. While stressing the need--at a minimum--for a global 'New Deal', the more realistic scenario is one of competing regional power blocs reminiscent of the 1930s and perhaps, in the long run, a transition from American to Chinese hegemony. Although Harvey considers the US invasion and occupation of Iraq equivalent to the British Boer War just over a century ago, 'both occurring at the beginning of the end of hegemony' (p. 181), the British did defeat the guerillas. The outcome in Iraq seems far less certain.
Unlike Harvey, Wallerstein claims that American military attempts to reverse the US decline are futile since its economic and geopolitical weakening is a structural phenomenon, not unlike the crisis of the capitalist world-system; once the dollar's dominance as the world's major reserve currency declines--only a matter of time--it will further regret its 'unfruitful investments in military hardware' (2004: 154). For Wallerstein, the capitalist world system is in crisis and the North-South struggle will be central over the next 25 years, one of the most serious issues that the world's leftists will have to confront. Harvey, however, could not disagree more; for him, the capitalist system as a whole remains stable, even though specific areas experience difficulties, particularly when hegemonic shifts occur (most notably from the US to China) (p. 122). The neo-conservatives that run the government will certainly do all they can to reverse any decline. Harvey seems to believe that their odds of success are rather slim, but the amount of damage they will produce in the wake of their desperate policies cannot be underestimated, especially when a new formidable world power like China emerges center stage.
What both authors briefly mention in passing, but unfortunately do not elaborate upon at length in their respective writings, is how the Bush administration's economic and geopolitical actions abroad are linked with the implementation of its domestic policies. This is where Paul Street's contribution comes in. A book at times filled with vitriolic sarcasm, Street offers a collection of columns and essays that invite the reader to critically reflect upon the linkages between the neo-conservative foreign policy and its domestic agenda of regressive tax policies mixed with tremendous increases for defense spending. Not to be forgotten are the corporate US media's inability to critically question the Bush administration or to seriously cover anti-war protests, the assault on dissenting intellectuals who are accused of lacking patriotism if not outright treason, and the region-specific concentration of new recruits who volunteer to join the US armed forces.
Although Street's indictment of the Bush administration is worthwhile reading, its academic limitation lies in its obsession with the Bush administration and its inability to situate this conservative political movement into the broader trend that started a long time ago. As far as the Bush presidency's Middle Eastern policy is concerned--a central theme of the book--one would have hoped for a more detailed exposition of the de facto US-Israel alliance over the last few years. Although Street ultimately does not offer the reader much in terms of solutions and alternatives, his call for academic responsibility in the face of governmental distortions and the lack of critical media is earnest. In Street's words:
Most academics in the liberal arts and social sciences, including
even a number of those who think of themselves as radicals, spend
the bulk of their time on thoroughly innocuous and marginally
significant topics that offer only the slightest hint of threat
to the powers that be. Their reports are commonly constructed only
for one another, marked by an incestuous and career-generating
discourse that leaves nonspecialists cold and in the dark. (p. 17)
Street hopes that informed and committed intellectuals will help enlighten the American electorate and reverse the course that the Bush administration has embarked upon. This is also a significant concern for Wallerstein (2003: 245), who repeatedly pleads for a combination of theory and praxis in the hope that more organic intellectuals, who should be part of the real world and involved in various social movements, will work with and for those civil society organizations.
To a lesser extent, Harvey seems to share Street's conviction that future US elections can make a difference: in his closing statement, he metaphorically asserts that the real battleground for change lies within the US and that 'anti-Americanism from the rest of the world
will not and cannot help. Those struggling in the US to construct an alternative, both internally and with respect to foreign engagements, need all the sympathy and support they can get' (p. 212). Although one may accept the position of Wallerstein that, no matter who would have gotten elected president of the United States, a return to the Clintonian years of relative prosperity, safety and soft multilateralism was no longer possible anyway, one is still left with many more questions than answers pertaining to the internal dynamics of US politics, especially in the fight of the Republican electoral victory in the face of an economic recession and an ongoing costly occupation in Iraq. A more careful analysis of the massive increase in evangelical right-wing voter turnout, for example, may have been warranted to explain significant transformations in the most important democracy in the world. One can only hope that future studies will include the profound changes taking place at the electoral and social level in US society rather than focusing specifically on elitist policies or world-economic trends. But despite these reservations, the aforementioned studies are a significant contribution in critical social analysis and call for an urgent and most compelling academic debate on future developments within the US as well as its impact on the rest of the world.
(1.) The National Interest (2003) 71 (Spring).
Eric Mielants, University of Utah, USA.


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