Meet the new Boss(es), Same as the Old Boss(es)
BY BILL DUNNE
The war in Iraq was a crime of imperialism from the invasion and has gone downhill ever since. The war has wasted some 100,000 Iraqi lives, maimed countless others, and impoverished all but the few indigenous imperialist lackeys. Tens of thousands more will die or be condemned to eking out a meager subsistence amid a needlessly devastated social and economic infrastructure. The war has sent some 3300 US soldiers home in plastic bags and wounded about 25,000 others. Many of those are so hideously damaged that “permanently disabled” is a gross euphemism. Plus, 25,000 is only those officially classed as wounded; of the 580,000 US military participants in the first imperial incursion in Iraq, 30% were still on permanent disability from all causes (PTSD, “Gulf War Syndrome”, depleted uranium, other poisons, etc., ad nauseam) ten years later. Further, the war is currently bleeding the US body politic of approximately $8 billion per month and will cost $2 trillion by 2010 if not escalated or ended by then.. But no such end is in sight, only the escalation, the clear demand by the US electorate last November notwithstanding.
The position of and what is acceptable to the US ruling class is indicated by the field of candidates already vying to be the next US chief executive–i.e., the owners’ chauffeur of the ship of state, he or she who will steer the bidden course. Of the three leading contenders from each of the Republicrats and Democans, only Barak Obama is clearly and unequivocally opposed to the war. His candidacy, though, appears to be no more than a sounding board for how opposed the Dems must seem and advertizing for future attractions. Of the two likely nominees, Hillary Clintoon refuses to repudiate her vote in favor of the war and has not articulated any plan or even intent for an expeditious exit. Verily, her position appears more a hand wringing (as opposed to zealous) stay-the-course than troops-out-now. Like the current administration, John McCain, despite his maverick facade, actually advocates more war, escalating the war so as to “win” and accepting nothing less.
Nor does the new Dem majority in Congress seem particularly inclined to end the war. Despite all the anti-war election rhetoric, it has so far managed only a jejune, nonbinding resolution disapproving of Bush the Lesser’s policy–and that only in the House of Representatives. They even financed the escalation. And when Bush called for expanding the US military in this 2007 state of the union message, newly ascended Dem Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi led the ovation. Indeed, not a boo or a hiss was heard.
While the 2006 elections may not have told the US ruling class anything it felt obliged to hear, however, the Iraqi resistance certainly has. It has put the imperialists on notice that the current war policy is a failure and that “staying the course” will make all their goals unattainable sooner rather than later. Unable to surrender any of those goals, rather than cut their losses, declare victory, and vacate the vicinity, the US militarists have declared a “new” policy to “win” (essentially, more boots on the ground and one in Don Rumsfeld’s ass). The intent is apparently to delude the electorate that this new policy is a prelude to withdrawal and the resistance that it is a mere cosmetic response to political pressure, to substitute a few players and plays without moving the goal posts. The Bush cabal has succeeded in getting free reign to wage this war with lie after lie, the only lesson to it being that as long as the desired atrocity is a fait accompli by the time the lie is found out, there will be no adverse consequences. In fact, the new policy, hammered out only last fall by a secret panel convened by US Joint Chiefs Chair Peter Pace is to “go long”, focusing on a long-term training, advising, counterinsurgency plan rather than a combat stance. That doesn’t sound like an exit strategy.
To implement this change of course, a military contingent with academic credentials has been summoned to replace the less successful, hammer-and-tongs occupiers. General David Petraes, himself a PhD who has written extensively on counterinsurgency and enjoyed a modicum of success in less hostile parts of Iraq, has been put in charge of implementing the new Iraq war policy. He’s surrounding himself with other PhD subordinates such as David Kilcullen, an Austrailian Army Lt. Colonel with long counterinsurgency experience; Lt. Colonel Douglas A. Oliphant, who won first place in a counterinsurgency writing contest sponsored by Petraes, and Achmed H. Hashim, a strategy professor at the Naval War College. These new dogs of war and their henchpeople will resort to the tested tools of imperialism: create a system of rats and surveillance and paramilitary police to divide the resistance from the people and kill its members and/or kill enough of the citizenry to get enough insurgents to undermine the resistance. They will try to get enough local people to do the dirty work to avoid human rights charges by easing the imperialist masters into the background. They will, of course, have a euphemistic description for the murder and mayhem this will entail like “spreading democracy” or “operation enduring freedom”, But the reality will be back to puppet imperialism.
The failed military policy stemmed from the US political hierarchy, dominated by neoconservatives, apparently truly believing its forces would be welcomed as liberators by Iraqis with flags and flowers. The neocons thought that would enable them to readily install a grateful puppet regime that would not only raise a powerful army the US could equip to do its bidding in the region, but would cede bases at which the US could stash a few “tripwire” divisions as in post WW II Germany and Japan and even South Korea. Hence, the invasion was done in full conqueror, “shock and awe” mode to generate the appropriate TV impression. When that reaped bullets and bombs instead of flags and flowers, the wagons circled into impressive fortresses like the green zone. Unfortunately for the neocon vision, the fortress mentality operations from large bases tended to isolate the agencies of suppression from the targeted resistance (“a few dead enders and foreign terrorists”) and alienate them from any potential flag and flower wavers. Thus, the policy, mentality, strategy prevented the occupation from fulfilling the requisites of successful neo-imperialism.
Instead, the new policy appears to be to operate from smaller but more numerous “patrol bases” shared with Iraqi Army and police units. The “surge” (which grows ever larger as 6,000 are added here and untold support troops are cut from the count there) is supposed to make that possible by subduing the insurgent militias and other entities that could easily overwhelm such bases, in which struggles armor and aircraft would be less determinative. And imagine the media hay the resistance would make with American POWs! The new policy is also touted as designed to insure that the “clear” and “hold” phases will be followed by the “build” phase, seemingly reminiscent of “hearts and minds” in Vietnam lore and an acknowledgement that the institution-imposing necessities of imperialism were not being met. This suggests the traditional arrow of bribery for good lackeys will not be omitted from the new imperialist quiver. Given the time and cost constraints, though, the referenced building will only involve bricks and mortar as in schools and hospitals to the extent they can be used in conferring influence on the favored toward building the police state. Critics argue it is too late for such a strategy and that its tactics will only prolong the misery and undermine US interests. So does history.
All of that begs the question of why the ruling class would go to such lengths, expense, and risk and reap such opprobrium and not just dump the baggage, claim the win,
and exit the entanglement–as it did in Vietnam and Lebanon. The superficial reason is obvious: the oil. Not so apparent is how the oil card plays out. Clearly it’s not just straight-up theft; less oil is leaving Iraq now than before the invasion and at substantially greater cost. The big issues are not short term possession of Iraqi oil, but instead, are controlling the longterm access to the oil, controlling dissent at home, controlling the price of oil, and controlling economic competition.
Making the first issue problematic for the US corporate elite is that the large majority–some two-thirds of proven reserves–of the world’s oil and gas is in the Iran-Caspian Sea-Iraq-Saudi Arabia diamond. Though there is substantial coal more widely distributed, its lack of liquidity, dirtier combustion, and more difficult chemistry make it less valuable and strategic as an energy resource. Alternative sources are also not viable economically from the imperial capital perspective. To the east of the diamond, there is rapidly industrializing China, whose double-digit growth and oil poverty make it thirsty for middle eastern oil. To the southeast is India, similarly thirsty (and perhaps thirstier due to a smaller energy endowment) for the same reasons. Together, these countries comprize more than a third of the world’s population, a huge demand base. To the northwest is the European Union and its politico-economic hangers-on, another billion already highly industrialized people with a big oil thirst and few indigenous means to slake it.
And where is the US? All the way on the other side of the world! Moreover, not only is it physically removed from the competition for dominance in the diamond, its rulers have been busily estranging it from even world capitalist norms of divvying up plundered resources. It is otherwise distancing itself from the rest of the world as well, making itself as culturally, socially, and politically remote as it is geographically with imperialist bellicosity, arrogance, and criminality. Feeling the lion, it has chosen the law of the jungle over the rule of law. Hence, its ruling class feels compelled to place its bootprint on the face of the diamond and feels additional pressure to make that ground firm enough to stand on before the competition really heats up.
In addition to the conquest of foreign outposts, having chosen the path of empire and its future oil, resource, and market wars requires the US hierarchy to expand its homeland security state. Popular discontent with the small, precursor wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is already forcing the apparatus of repression to escalate its physical and psychological pressure against dissent–to escalate the class war at home. Witness the rising tide of “patriot act” type “security” legislation, terrorist scares, and drumbeats of nationalism. And that discontent is slopping into domestic issues as well. The news is a concatenation of closures and cutbacks and reductions of social services like health care and education and diminishing real wages. That is counterposed against ever more billions for “defense” (of ruling class interests!), growing corporate profits, and rising income inequality. People are noticing. They are noticing that the source of their privation is the same as the source of the war and thus the privation of others. So the ruling class feels compelled to go on the offensive before they do more than notice.
That hierarchy, however, is increasingly unable to buy off discontent and its organization with a more generous socio-economic contract. That is foreclosed by those same rapidly industrializing economies whose demand for oil is so challenging the US rulers. Their people are capable of producing anything that can be produced in the first world at a fraction of the labor and environmental preservation cost. Verily, competitiveness in the global market will require that living standards of first world labor be depressed, if the current distribution of wealth continues. Maintaining the armies of imperial capital will also be expensive, further diminishing the social wealth, which the people will be expected to “sacrifice” for “the troops”. The bourgeoisie certainly won’t make up the profit deficit out of its already bloated side of the capitalist equation or permit a solution to that social problem that will. Instead, it will rely on the forces of “law and order” to bring the counterinsurgency currently being developed and practiced in Iraq home.
Maintaining the security of the bourgeois state thus in light of the unwillingness to pay off the populace for social and labor peace will also be costly in more than money. People will ultimately resist their impoverishment and oppression, and likely sooner than in already poor societies. Losing what one has is more inclined to elicit resistance than not getting what one wants. The system and its owners, however, have never and will not consent to any equitable redistribution of the wealth; that isn’t the imperial capitalist way. Already, the US gulag archipelago incarcerates more of its proletariat than any other country. It spends well over $100 billion per year on its ever more militarized apparatus of repression: police, courts, prisons, prisons, more prisons, parole, and probation. Expanding and feeding this behemoth will take resources from libraries and roads and bridges and wages and benefits.
Given the unavailability of social bribery, the ruling class will have to use more Draconian and underhanded tactics, as the expansion of the gulag system illustrates. The current war in Iraq is one such tactic. It allows the forces of repression to acclimatize people to “sacrifice”–if not for the war, for the troops who, it is well known, are sublime gods among humanity rather than perpetrators of imperialist thuggery. No privation is too great to insure they continue to do bourgeois bidding. The social conditioning is still such that raising the holy mantra of “support the troops” while they are “in harm’s way” is still enough to get people to shut up and at least not oppose the imperialist program. The propaganda apparatus is working hard to insure that effect will continue when the empire’s holy crusaders become its repressive apparatus of domestic shock and awe, and use the war to portray the military and police in an unjustifiably rosy light. That apparatus is counting on “support the troops” to still work when it brings the counterinsurgency home to a police station (or is that a patrol base?) near you.
The elite further uses the war to pump up nationalist sentiments (as do other elites) of “us” versus “them”. The propaganda apparatus inculcates the notion that the capitalist overlords of the US and its poor and working class are the same “nation” and have common interests. It creates the impression that all “our” problems are caused by “foreign” nationals and nations because they hate “us” and want to destroy us for no more reason than that they are nasty and evil (when, in actuality, all but a few of them are our class brethren and sistren). It thus tries to create a false American “identity” in which exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed are united against the freedom-hating “others”. And it tries the same tactics at home, playing on ignorance and manipulation to divide racial, ethnic, and economic strata against their class brethren and sistren.
The captive media–read, means of creating public opinion, AKA propaganda apparatus–also uses the war to create fear and hysteria with a constant litany of real and imagined “terrorist” atrocities and threats. The war permits the apparatus to vilify dissent, as if anyone who so much as criticizes imperialism or “securing” the “homeland” is disloyal and a “terrsymp”. It allows the promulgation of ever more rules and regulations and laws that slash and burn civil liberties and unleash the pigs of policeism. It conditions people to accept the intrusions into their and their communities” lives such restrictions represent. Even worse, it is used to reduce the systematic trampling of what tattered bounds remain for the agencies of repression from deliberate violations of human and constitutional rights to something minor like good-intentioned overzealousness in “protecting America”. The FBI’s recently revealed, massive abuse of “national security letters” to fraudulently obtain information about citizens is a case in point. And there are many others.
In the shorter term, the goal is to control not necessarily access to Iraqi oil, but the price of oil generally. In the usual capitalist scheme of things, business can buy whatever oil it needs on the market and pass the cost on to consumers and workers. Within limits, high prices are not much of an impediment to business as usual. They even help “ration” those without the capital out of the competition by raising the barriers to entry to energy intensive markets. In the capitalist theory of purported economic efficiency, higher prices are seen to ” allocate” resources to higher return enterprizes. Access to the oil is thus controlled by the price (though the imperialists are setting up the conditions to change that to force) and price, at least in capitalist mythology, by a fair and free market.
Big oil knows, however, that whatever regime wins the power struggle in Iraq, its first need will be to massively increase the oil output to rebuild the country, whether or not that means a significant decline in the price per barrel. An end to the war will also mean greater stability in the region, a further depressor of oil prices. And the oil faction of the business elite is ascendant in the Bush administration. Recognizing that its current and future reserves are finite, and being ideologically committed to the notion that greed is good, that faction will use that political influence to manipulate the price of oil into the superprofit range by pushing the war– as it has done since the invasion, and regardless of the consequences even for some other capitalists. So the war pressure will continue, as will chronically record-breaking profits of Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, and the rest.
Lastly, the war is good for business as a tactic. In the words of Country Joe McDonald, “There’s plenty good money to be made/ Supplyin’ the army with the tools of the trade”. They need no elaboration, but their truth is an obscenity in this era of cut, cut, cut in already inadequate healthcare, education, housing, and environmental defense budgerts. There is also the spoiler role to the extent instability impedes the development of long term business relationships. The Chinese, for example, recently signed a $100 billion long-term energy deal with Iran, a deal that can only be fraught with uncertainties under the circumstances. The probability is high that the US is using its hypocritical pugnacity about Iran’s nuclear power program and dark (but as yet unproven) maunderings about Iran supplying munitions used in attacks of American soldiers in Iraq to pump up a causus belli for bombing Iranian oil facilities. Iran being a much larger and more rugged country with a populace more committed to its leadership than Iraq, and especially given the experience in Iraq, the US does not want to put down a boots-on-the-ground invasion. Such uncertainties will not only impede realization of the Iran-China deal, but will inhibit the development of similar ones. Business reduced to a smaller, ad hoc scale is not as lucrative or conducive to the establishment of long-term relationships and economic blocks that might adversely affect US interests. Raising energy costs reduces the relative market advantage of cheap labor and preserves potential markets by pricing people in some areas out of them as well. And it is also an intra as well as an inter class redistribution of wealth: the oil faction plunders other economic sectors by pushing prices destructively past the limits the overall market can absorb without contraction.
This illustrates the US plutocracy has particular interests it feels constrained to defend and advance, currently through the Iraq war. Over time, it needs to insure itself longterm access and control of access to middle-eastern oil. It also needs to protect itself against the vagaries of the looming economic and resource wars by implementing a homeland security state. In the shorter term, its politically dominant factions want to control the price of oil to thus reallocate wealth and its power to themselves. And the plutocrats want to take business advantage by destabilizing the prospects of their rivals by force and stimulating a global arms race.
That ruling class, however, can neither defend nor advance those interests as well (if at all) in any other way than by continuing the war in Iraq. It either arrogantly assumed the imperial road would be most profitable or lost confidence its capitalist model of resource allocation would guarantee it a place in the sun (and maybe both). Noone, of course, believes its taurine excrement about weapons of mass destruction, spreading democracy, or fighting terrorism. But it cannot now say, “Sorry folks!”, and return to the status quo ante. Its hubris has alienated both friend and foe, and its shifting the paradigm to winner-take-all military supremacy has scorched the earth of negotiation and regulation. And it surely will not renegotiate the social contract with the proletariat at home such that it will share the pain of increasingly effective industrial competition from burgeoning economies.
The contradiction between these ruling class needs and what the people–i.e., the proletariat, us–are increasingly militantly demanding is driving the political machinations currently on display. Politicians–the operators of the government apparatus that serves as the executive arm of the ruling class–blather mightily about getting out of Iraq (as they do about universal quality health care and education, etc.), but they do not, cannot, and will not deliver an exit in real time. They may change the names some as in new generals and policies and plans, but the game remains the same.
Hence, instead of allowing Bush and Company (ies) to “stay-the-course” of imperialist adventurism, the task falls to “We, the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility…” to make withdrawal the only possible course. And while we’re at it, we should, in the words of the Rolling Stones, make sure “we don’t get fooled again.
The future holds promise!
USP Big Sandy 20 March 2007