15 October 2003
What is a neo-con and what are the objectives of the so-called neo-conservative agenda? Most importantly, do their policies represent a radical departure from previous US strategy and if so, how and why?
There is no simple answer to this question as it is intimately connected to the vast changes that have taken place since the collapse of the Soviet ‘empire’ in 1990. Indeed, one could say that it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that ‘unleashed’ the ‘neo-cons’ on the world, for without a counterbalance to the US, forces long held in check by real politik, were freed from the constraints of détente and the (relative) balance of power achieved in the post-WWII period.
Based on the assumption that through its overwhelming military superiority facilitated by the IT revolution, the ‘neo-con’ agenda seeks to do what the US has always tried to do and that is impose the ‘free market’ on the entire world and in doing so, take control of the resources and markets needed to feed the insatiable appetite of the US economy and its investors. It’s the methods and the strategy used that singles out the ‘neo-con’s’ philosophy from those who previously had to deal with a different world. A world where the use of force and the threat of the use of force, was more proscribed.
Underpinning the entire project is energy, that with its junior ‘partner’ the UK, since the end of WWII the US has controlled, OPEC notwithstanding. Without control of oil through the dollar, and through the dollar, the world’s economy, the US would be unable bankroll its vast deficit, now over $7 trillion. The urgency of the project is made all the more important because of a number of additional elements: climate change and the fact that energy sources appear to have ‘peaked’, at least as far as the needs of the US economy is concerned.
Moreover, the contradictions that have always been inherent in the capitalist mode of production, have reasserted themselves with renewed vigour as the effects of automation (quantum leaps in the efficiency of production, coupled to the export of manufacturing to cheap labour markets) and increasing reliance on financial speculation as a source of profit have combined to produce a crisis, a crisis of global proportions. Vast amounts of over-valued dollars are sloshing about, many of them held overseas by equally fragile economies, especially Japan’s. The entire system, balanced on a knife-edge has very little room for manoeuvre.
It is only by continuous expansion into new markets, that permits the capitalist system to continue. To stop is impossible, it’s like a runaway train. The forces that drive it, are only ‘understood’ in the narrow mathematical sense, all else is driven by specific interests that try to control processes that they barely comprehend. The important factor is what sectors of the economy dominate at any given moment in history?
Since the end of WWII the US has had an essentially war-based economy with enormous investment — through subsidies by the state into the IT/weapons sector – which has itself propelled the IT revolution.
The problem with weapons investment is that it’s all inputs and no outputs as far as building an economy that can support an entire culture. It’s like pouring money down the drain. As rich as the US is, without any outputs, such as teachers, hospitals or whatever, sooner or later the state is going go bankrupt, or have to change its ways. Or go to war.
The ‘neo-con’ clique, entrenched in key sectors of government represents the vested interests of oil/energy, electronics/IT, weapons, influential segments of the media and communications sector (with its connection to weapons through cross-ownership of the IT industry) and elements of the banking and financial sector. To this heady mix we have to add the loose cannon of Israeli imperialism with its commensurate connection back into weapons and oil, via the vast arms subsidies the US gives Israel because of its strategic position as a wedge driven deep into the heart of the oil-rich Middle East.
A conspiracy of the powerful
The following names are those most closely associated with the label ‘neo-conservative’, along with many others not listed here whose connections extend into the more ‘traditional’ networks of power that run America.
- Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence
- Richard Cheney, vice-president
- Elliott Abrams, chief Middle East aide on the National Security Council
- Richard Armitage,
- Douglas Feith, Under-secretary of Defense for Policy
- Paula Dobriansky, Under-secretary of State for Global Affairs
- Michael Rubin & David Wurmser, senior consultants to the State Department and the Pentagon on Iraq policy
- Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board
- Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former United Nations ambassador
- Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Defense Policy
- Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute
- David Steinmann, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
- Daniel Pipes, US Institute for Peace and the Middle East Peace Forum
- Otto Reich, Wsetern Hemisphere Affairs
- Colonel Oliver North, Middle Eastern Affairs
- Reps. Eliot Engel, sponsor of the recently passed Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act
- Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State
- James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency
- Robert Kagan, Project for the New American Century
- Philip Bobbitt, former nuclear arms adviser to Bill Clinton and formulator of ‘pre-emptive war’
- William Kristal, publisher and arch right-winger with strong connections to the Israeli right
It’s not surprising that many view this cabal as part of a conspiracy, but this assumes that the ‘neo-cons’, plotting and planning from offices on Pennsylvania Avenue exist in splendid isolation, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Some of the above go back to Nixon days and the Vietnam War and even earlier. All hold views formed during the Cold War period — deeply anti-communist and pro-Zionist views. Some were involved in the formulation of the policy known during the Reagan period as ‘low intensity warfare’. Some were directly involved in supporting terrorist groups, assassinations, drug smuggling, gun running and money laundering operations under Reagan. As a group they represent the most virulent and aggressive voice of US imperialism, motivated as much by ideology as by purely economic interests though the confluence of interests and ideology are inseparable.
But even US capitalism rampant has its limitations. It is constrained, more or less, by many factors, not the least of which is its inability to act rationally. It will even act against the best interests of the nation even as it asserts through propaganda, the patriotic to justify its policies. And of course, capitalism rarely does act as a nation unless directly threatened, but essentially in the interests of those who run the state and of those they represent, a small segment of society with enormous amounts of power and money at their disposal and the networks that link it all together.
Networks of Power
These networks are mediated by marriage, inheritance and the interconnections formed between key sectors of the economy, built over the generations but especially through education, the transmission line that maintains ideological control and continuity.
“The great and evil minds that direct politics from their university cathedra are infinitely more important to our future than the rich but feeble-minded bastards. Indeed, their takeover of American universities, so clearly presented by Saul Bellow in his Ravelstein was the paramount event of the last thirty years. Whoever controls universities, controls the media; who controls media, controls government. Or, in Biblical terms, Leo Strauss begat Wolfowitz, Wolfowitz begat Iraqi War. Milton Friedman begat IMF, IMF begat world poverty. Bernard Lewis begat Samuel Huntington, Samuel Huntington begat the War on Islam. Bernard-Henri Levy begat Andre Sacharov, and the Soviet Union was privatised by Marc Rich and Vladimir Gusinsky.” – Israel Shamir, The Wise Raven is Dead
Currently, the most virulent and ideologically driven sector of the power elite has dominance but as recent events demonstrate, they by no means have hegemonic control and, as their Middle East strategy demonstrates, they have been forced to shift the ‘burden’ of empire building to Israel, even if it is a temporary measure. In part this has been determined by the fact that the military strategy promulgated by Rumsfeld and co is more wishful thinking than realism and secondly, by the cost of the enterprise. Rumsfeld’s fantasy of conquering the world with robots reveals a fundamental lack of understanding not only of the role of technology in waging war, but perhaps just as importantly, blinded by their supremacist racist ideology, they simply do not understand. After all, it’s not so long ago that the same people were pinning their hopes on defeating the Viet Minh through the overwhelming force of Western technology.
The myopia of the neo-con ideologues, has proved their undoing as the rapidly unraveling situation in Iraq demonstrates and this may well prove their undoing. But, and this is the important issue, the overall objective of US imperialism will not alter, merely its tactics. We may well have to wait until the next US election to see which faction gains the ascendancy. In the meantime, the realities of a bankrupt economy may well determine the direction US imperialism takes. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the more extreme and desperate elements of the US elite may well ‘take the plunge’ and expand the ‘war on terror’ in a direct alliance with Israel. The attack on the US mission in the occupied territories today (15/10/03) or something similar, may well be our 21st century Sarejevo. Indeed, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that today’s attack was a deliberate provocation by Israel designed to drag the US more directly into the conflict.