Biting off more than can be chewed? By William Bowles

16 July 2003

It’s fashionable to think that the US imperium has gotten itself into a quagmire with its occupation of Iraq, but of course this view depends on whether or not, the US cares about what happens to Iraq. And if the situation in Afghanistan is anything to go by, having served its purpose (whatever that is), the Iraqis can go to hell. Cynical? Well not on my part but yes, cynical on the part of the US power elite. And also intrinsically a part of a deeply racist imperialist mindset, that values the lives of Iraqis as less than zero as indeed it does that of Liberians, Afghanis, Congolese, Haitians, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Palestinians…. We in the West, comfortable in our living rooms watching the ‘news’ on our widescreens, simply don’t comprehend that the vast majority of the world’s population have an entirely different take on reality.

After all, for the past 12 years the US and the UK have systematically starved the population of Iraq (50% of which is under the age of 25) into submission through the genocidal sanctions regime. Genocidal you say? Well yes it is, as the USUK has systematically destroyed the life and culture of Iraq. 500,000 children have died as a result. What was one of the most economically developed countries of the Middle East has been reduced to penury. And yes, Saddam was a dictator but one of many the world has had to tolerate for the past fifty-plus years, mostly installed and maintained by the US, so what makes this one special? Nothing really. A dozen or so years ago Saddam was the USUK’s ‘main man’, so what changed? Nothing, except he became ‘surplus to requirement,’ so having outlived his usefulness in the machinations of the imperium, it was necessary first to reduce his ability to resist (sanctions and a systematic bombing campaign) and then destroy him. So now what? Well obviously there’s the oil and second the strategic repositioning of US military power Eastward. This is the ‘plan’ anyway. But like all plans, it’s not working out exactly the way the power elite hope it would.

Okay, deceived by their own propaganda, it’s more than likely the neo-cons who hang out on the Beltway, thought it would be a pushover, that the Iraqis would come pouring out their sanction-busted cities and bow down before their new masters. And okay, it didn’t go down that way but what the hell, give it enough time and it’ll fade from public memory just like Afghanistan did. The problem with this scenario is that Iraq is a lot closer than Afghanistan is and unlike Afghanistan, prior to sanctions and the invasion, it was a relatively cohesive and unitary state, the Kurdish issue notwithstanding. It’s also situated in the middle of Israeli-Palestinian cauldron, which hasn’t gone away and won’t until the Palestinians get their country. And contrary to all the analysts’ predictions, it’s not panning out the way the ‘plan’ predicted, what with US troops being taken out daily. But what’s a few GI deaths in the scheme of things? It’s still less than the ‘collateral damage’ from a couple of ‘errant’ cruise missiles.

But will the US public allow it to continue? Well it took a lot more deaths and ten years for the US to get out of Vietnam, so it’s unlikely that the Bush gang will just pack up and leave tomorrow in spite of growing domestic opposition. Of course, it’s a lot more difficult to sell war than it used to be without a ‘Red Menace’ to wave in front of the populace. ‘Terror’ has worked quite well as a replacement, for a while, but it was necessary to cancel the Bill of Rights in order to implement the Bush plan for global domination. Perhaps it’s time for another 9/11 in order to put the frighteners on the populace?

More than likely, the deepening economic crisis of capitalism will have a greater impact on events than the deaths of a few GIs and the growing realisation on the part of Bush that he might just not be the next president, not because of Iraq but because the country’s going broke. The warfare state just doesn’t create enough jobs especially as most of the civilian employment has been exported to the various and sundry ‘economic zones’ that US corporations like to set up business in. Many states in the Union are already technically bankrupt. The gangster capitalists who run the US are not very good with numbers as Enron et al have already shown.

It’s worth noting that the Cold War US arms build-up distorted the economy, not only by redirecting social investment into the ‘military-industrial complex’ but also because it made US civilian production severely non-competitive with the rest of the world by siphoning off cutting-edge scientific/technical innovation into the narrow world of weapons development. Compare the Japanese economy with the US’s during that period. The kinds of innovation needed for weapons was not easily adapted to civilian uses, and although the digital revolution has led to a greater convergence in the technological domain, the ‘cost-plus’ method utilised by the DoD, is extremely inefficient (to the taxpayer). So once again, the US economy is being stretched to breaking point by the demands of the warfare state at the expense of civilian employment.

There’s another critical difference between the Cold War period and today and that’s the degree to which the US population can be convinced of the need to sacrifice their sons and daughters in pursuit of imperialist adventures and there’s a direct correlation between this fact and the drive to replace soldiers with machines. But machines are expensive and ultimately, ‘Terminator’ style robots are a creation of Hollywood, not the Pentagon. Is this a case of the ultimate in self-delusion? Do the Beltway bandits really believe they can conquer the world with technology? After all, the same argument was used in the war against the Vietnamese people and we know the results of that campaign.

But it would also be a mistake to paint the Wolfowitz’s of this world as just plain ole’ nutters, they have, after all been around for a couple of decades. What has changed is that now they’ve got no one to rein them in. The madmen are now in charge of the asylum.

The other big problem is that in globalising US business, it’s created a complex and extremely wobbly system that’s prey to an infinity of variables over which it has little or no control (eg the crash of the ‘Asian Tigers’). The more sober capitalists are increasingly worried (see Scary Times) about the state of the ‘global’ economy. What they want is a stable business climate, not a bunch of out-of-control ideologues on a mission, destabilizing the business environment to the benefit of a narrow spectrum of big capital tied into ‘defence’, the media and high technology.

And the globalizing of business has led to the complete inter-dependence of autonomous enterprises via such systems as ‘supply chains’, whereby an entire industry (or even range of industries) is integrated via the Internet into a series of interlocking processes, each one totally dependent on all the other components working in lock-step with each other. A good description of this would be a ‘distributed command economy’ in an ironical twist on the Soviet economy of yore. All of it has been facilitated by the global communications/computer network, the Internet, another extremely vulnerable, but fundamental element of the global financial network.

But obviously the Bush administration does have some kind of a plan, the core of which is the destruction of OPEC and the defeat of the Euro as an alternative currency of global exchange. The question is, is it doable? The only competitor that the US has is the EU, which it can hardly invade, so the military option is out. OPEC and the Euro between them threaten the hegemonic position of US capital, hence the crunch has yet to come in some kind of a ‘showdown’ between EU capital and the US. Proof of this fault line can be seen in the ‘old Europe’ jibe of Rumsfeld, which masks a parting of the ways between the ‘post-modern’ world of the EU and the unilateral nation-state world view of the US and the UK. And clearly, the EU path, in some form or another is the world of the future whatever the Beltway bandits think. The accelerating climate crisis that is global in scope will only accelerate the division, but ultimately, even the US will have to face it just like the rest of us.

Does this all point to a US administration that is totally out of touch with reality? A scary thought indeed given the power they wield, and increasingly, it looks like they are indeed out of touch. The real danger lies in the fact that as this reality sinks in, they will get increasingly desperate and desperate people do desperate things.

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