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Re: <nettime> Iraq: The Ways Forward
Brian Holmes on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 15:32:29 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Iraq: The Ways Forward

Michael, Benjamin -

This is a really interesting non-argument. Both the sides you are 
arguing are correct. US foreign policy is a complex thing. It is often 
possible to reconcile the interests of domestically oriented 
politicians, expansive corporations, and military-economic strategists, 
in an almost-unified push with world-shaping results. It is also 
possible to track huge gaps between these groups, and to observe 
situations (like now) where fractions of US capital align with fractions 
of the policy "community" to produce unbelievably ill-conceived and 
failed adventurism. So your attempts to argue a single side of this 
vast, multi-factored, interactive equation, can only produce 
illuminating but incomplete perspectives.

Benjamin wrote:

>Even if governments use military operations in part... and to shore up their
>popularity at home, as they undoubtedly do, enemies are not chosen at random,
>nor are the locations of military bases.  Surely it makes sense for
>governments to focus military power on targets or regions where they believe
>it will bring other benefits as well.

This is absolutely true. Consider what happened after WWII. In order to 
avoid any repetition of the 1930s Great Depression - which saw a 
collapse of world trade consequent upon the formation of five separate 
currency blocs after the fall of the former Gold Standard - the US 
strategists such as Kennan conceived the idea of a "Grand Area" of trade 
and currency circulation, to include North and South America, Western 
Europe and the former Japanese sphere of influence. The Marshall Plan 
was meant to begin the construction of this Grand Area, and to some 
extent it did. But the Cold War, which started with an injection of US 
funds and military aid to suppress an attempted revolution in Greece, 
proved a vastly more efficient way of exporting goods and ensuring the 
proper institutional arrangements for the circulation of capital. NATO 
was formed, and the long construction of the permanent US military 
presence in Europe began; but more importantly, just a few years later 
the unbelievably savage Korean War was fought using Japan as an advanced 
base of industrial production. Ultimately more money was funneled to 
Japan through the war effort than to Europe through the Marshall Plan, 
Japanese heavy industry was relaunched with the installation of new 
fixed capital, Korea like Japan before it became the site of a major 
permanent US military presence, and already, the desired "Grand Area" 
was achieved - all, of course, with a concomitant anti-communist frenzy 
at home, and a continuous domestic use of the "atomic threat" up until 
Star Wars in the 1980s, despite the fact that, after the Cuban missile 
crisis and the installation of the Moscow-Washingtom "red line," the 
Cold War had been totally rationalized and the threat of Mutually 
Assured Destruction had been reduced to near zero.

I could go on to speak of the ways that US foreign-base deployment 
continued throughout the 20th century to finally reach its present, 
truly world-girding extent, with a specific focus on the Middle East 
since the 1970s, and even more so, since the collapse of the USSR, with 
what is a truly obvious strategic focus on the control of world oil 
flows (even if most Saudi oil goes to Europe, the US still wants to hold 
the keys to its circulation). However, to conduct this discussion in the 
right way requires understanding the monetary crisis of the seventies, 
the end of the gold-backed dollar and the new US capacity to use to its 
advantage a floating currency regime in which the dollar still remains 
the international reserve currency, though it is only "backed up" by the 
superior financial machinations of the US, by the role of indebted US 
citizens as "consumers of last resort" for all the other countries' 
industrial production, and finally, of course, by US military force 
itself, paid for to a large extent by simply printing more dollars when 
they are needed.

Anyone wanting to understand these things can read a few things. First, 
Michael Hudson's great book "Super Imperialism" (which includes constant 
examples of the way US domestic obduracy is selectively used in 
negotiations to enforce a "double standard" whereby the US can back out 
of the very policies it imposes on others, simply by saying, "Sorry, you 
all signed our treaty but now they won't accept it back home on the 
Hill, really sorry"). Second might be David Harvey's "The New 
Imperialism" and Giovanni Arrighi's 2-part reply to same, published in 
the New Left Review. And third could be Chalmers Johnson's book "The 
Sorrows of Empire" which gives some idea of the huge US garrison that 
the world has become, what goes on there, how it is paid for, and how it 
remains so little known in the US itself, despite its obvious importance 
and the crying lack of transparency that surrounds it. The bibliography 
in those alone will keep you busy for at least the next 2 years! (I.e., 
the length of the teachable moment, during which it will still be 
possible to talk about it all.)

Michael wrote:

>As for aiding US business as a whole, a high rate of development in 
>the rest of the world, including in the USSR would probably have 
>benefited  more companies than the kind of imperialist adventures you 
>point to, which only aided the profits of a particular few. Many in 
>fact chafed --and still do -- at export control laws designed on the 
>basis of what I think was an exaggerated threat. 

Well, of course it would have, you are quite right. Shimshon Bichler and 
Jonathon Nitzan, in their book "The Global Political Economy of Israel" 
and in many other texts (all available in their archive on the net), 
have been at pains to point out the alternating phases of 20th century 
capitalism, between expansive growth phases characterized by merger 
mania, and then inflationary squeezes characterized by war and high 
profits for very small fractions of capital (which they call the 
petrodollar-weapondollar" coalition). They make the point that capital 
actually prefers the expansive phases (remember how euphoric everyone 
was under Clinton?), but that these always reach their limits, at which 
point it becomes expedient to enter another kind of economic management. 
In their reading, the threat from abroad is terribly, tragically 
exaggerated: basically, they show that after the cooling-down of the 
long military-industrial investment in Asia as an excuse for 
geopolitical profiteering (from Korea to Vietnam), the focus has shifted 
since the early seventies to the Middle East, where you can go ahead and 
count the number of wars in which the US was involved, directly or 
through funding and arms sales, over the last 35 years. By the way, 
Exxon's profits last year - on the order of 36 billion, an absolute 
record, 3.5 times more profit than any corporation earned at the height 
of the New Economy - shows just how much a certain fraction of capital 
has to gain from the kind of horrible situations the US creates in the 
Middle East. For all this, I recommend the relatively short Bichler and 
Nitzan essay, "Dominant Capital and the New Wars," at 

All of that said, I am still totally in agreement with Michael that the 
manipulation of the domestic psyche with foreign threats has been 
incredibly important in the second half of the 20th century - and then 
again, with almost mesmerizing force, in the first few years of this 
one. Think back with shame on the fantastically coordinated way that the 
Bush regime seized its propaganda opportunity. It almost immediately 
reached the point where Americans seemed to be living on another planet, 
a planet of good and evil, of stirring patriotism and great national 
mission, of proud resolve in facing the civilizational threat from 
fundamentalist terrorism, and ready unthinking acceptance of whatever 
lies, distortions and grotesque rhetoric their leaders decided to impose 
in the name of a consensus on national security. All that in a kind of 
historical thrall marked by comparisons of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, and a 
pumped-up desire to relive the "heroism" of some of the darkest days of 
world history, precisely the period in which US hegemony was installed. 
This sort of utterly abject crap was real in people's heads bombarded by 
the state-capitalist media, all the way through 2004 and up until 
Katrina and the patent failure in Iraq finally broke through some of the 
the glazed eyes. The notion of the teachable moment is no joke. The US 
is going to go on trying to maintain its failing hegemony and also 
trying to keep propping up its amazingly fictional currency regime for 
probably the rest of our lives (maybe not if you're under 40), and the 
degree of violence those efforts ultimately produces will be inversely 
proportionate to the degree of understanding about the effects of US 
domination in the world that can be opened up in rare moments of 
national doubt, where there is a window for something other than 
missionary arrogance and a new sales pitch. Which is all just a way of 
saying that debating these questions may not be as vain an exercise as 
it undoubtedly appears.

best, Brian

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