Armchair Warriors Starting a World War

Speech at Kvarnby folkhögskola, Malmö, 30 July 2003

Let me start with a quote from Thomas Friedman, prominent columnist in the New York Times. He wrote the following after the bombing of Yugoslavia 1999:

”The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

Quite thoughtful.

More often, though, politics and markets, state and capital, are supposed to be enemies of each other. Lots of people believe that the essence of present developments is a neoliberal urge to weaken state power. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue, in the same vein, that we can now witness a global network capital freeing itself from the shackles of the nation state.

This is, in my opinion, a misunderstanding.

Those who own and control the largest corporations do not want a weaker state. They want a stronger state, a state strong enough to manage without welfare systems and other concessions to popular demands.

They also want that hidden, and sometimes very perceptible fist, that makes the world safe for their investments.

Two dangerous political streams are therefore getting stronger in ruling circles today:

1. An hostility towards the democratic institutions regulating state power.

2. A war activism, which is trying to free the most powerful states from the rules of international law and the diplomatic compromises codified in the UN system after WW2.

We can see this clearly in the political developments leading up to the latest war against Iraq.

Some people argue that this war was instigated by a small, but very influential clique of war mongers in Washington, the so-called neoconservatives. Thus, those people say, the attack had very little – or even nothing – to do with oil or other interests of American capital. Michael Hardt has launched a similar explanation. The war policy of the Bush administration, he says, is a slip back to an earlier stadium of nationalistic development, having nothing to do with capitalism of today.

I strongly disagree.

I don’t deny that there is such a clique of war mongers. On the contrary.

There is such a group. It is very influential, and it certainly had a decisive role in the coming of the war on Iraq.

You might also argue that this gang of warriors has driven US policies in risky and even irrational directions.

But this does not in any way absolve US capitalism from responsibility for the ongoing war campaign.

To make this point clearer, let me first give you a brief history of this by now quite famous group of neoconservative armchair warriors.

The Financial Times advised its readers, some moths ago, to study an obscure Israeli document from 1996. You can find it on the World Wide Web. Title: A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. It is a report with recommendations for Benjamin Netanyahu, who was leader of the rightwing Likud Party and incoming prime minister at the time. Publisher of the report is The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, with offices in Jerusalem and Washington.

This is, no doubt, an interesting document.

The authors propose, first of all, a break with the peace process between the earlier Israeli government and the palestinian leadership. The formula ”land for peace” must be rejected, they say, since it encourages a moral questioning of ”our claim to the land – to which we have clung to hope for 2000 years”. The new government must instead pursue a policy of ”peace through strength” and claim a right to preemptive military attacks.

Furthermore, Israel should try to ”contain, destabilize and roll-back” Syria and Iran. The first step in this operation, the authors tell us, is to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. With the help of Turkey and Jordan, Israel will then have Syria encircled by hostile powers. This way shia muslims in Iraq and in Libanon might also be turned away from Iranian influence.

Considerations such as these have obviously guided the Likud government of Israel. But the document also gives us, as stated by the Financial Times, a preview of US policy today. ”A Clean Break” expresses an urge to transform the Middle East, and a trust in military power and preventive wars. That is basic elements also in the foreign policy of the Bush administration.

This is not surprising. Several of the authors of this obscure report from 1996 are today among the most influential foreign policy and military advisors in Washington. One of them is Douglas Feith, third in rank at the Pentagon. Another is David Wurmser, who has a prominent position at the State Department. A third is Richard Perle, chosen by Donald Rumsfeld 2001 to chair his Defense Policy Board, an advisory committee with leading representatives of the US security policy establishment.

It is important to keep in mind that the ongoing US war campaign is not a hasty response to September 11. The terror attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon made it possible to realise plans which had already been thoroughly discussed and developed in a network of government institutions and private foundations and think tanks. ”This is a great opportunity”, Bush said in the immediate aftermath to the attacks. In other words, US opinion was now prepared for an aggressive foreign policy based on military strength.

Ten years ago, under the former Bush regime, two officials at the Pentagon recommended that the US should openly claim world supremacy.

First, the US should state its intention not to allow any other country, or group of countries, to get strong enough militarily to challenge its position.

Second, the US should launch pre-emptive wars against so-called rogue states challenging its global interests.

This proposal for a national security strategy was leaked to the press. It led to a minor scandal and the document was promptly withdrawn and revised. But that was not the end of the story. The two officials, Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby, and their boss at the Pentagon, Dick Cheney, are today highly placed also in the regime of Bush the younger. And the draft that had to be withdrawn ten years ago is today official policy. It’s called the Bush doctrine.

When Clinton came to power, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Libby had to leave the Pentagon. In 1997 they engaged themselves in a peculiar organisation called The Project for a New American Century. They were in company with, among others, Donald Rumsfeld, by now secretary of defense, and the ever present Richard Perle. The organisation started campaigning for bigger defence outlays and preventive attacks on displeasing states around the world. One of the primary aims of the project was to guide US government into a war against Iraq.

Several other think tanks and lobby organisations raised the same demand, and after September 11 the campaign intensified. New organisations like Americans for Victory over Terrorism, The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq urged the new administration to go to war in the Middle East.

The urge for war seemed to have broad support, but the multitude of voices demanding an attack on Iraq was largely an illusion. If you study these organisations closer, you will soon identify a small group of people having a leading role in most of them. Richard Perle, for instance, was affiliated to no less than nine of the institutions behind the campaign for regime change in Iraq. Almost all the organisations had financial support from some of the most reactionary foundations in the United States, and they were all very well connected to the Bush administration.

This gang of war mongers was directly involved in decision making leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Six members of The Project for a New American Century had prominent posts at the Pentagon and in the State Department at the time, and one week after September 11, the first plans for the invasion of Iraq were discussed at a 19 hour long meeting at Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, under the chairmanship of Richard Perle.

The network of warriors started planning for an Iraq under US authority at an early stage, and some of them now have leading positions in the occupied country. Paul Bremer, the American governor of Iraq, was one of those who in Americans for Victory over Terrorism campaigned for the war. Another member of the gang is Ahmed Chalabi, a corrupt businessman from Iraq living in the United States. As a student in Chicago in the late 60’s he got to know Richard Perle. He has for years, with US support, promoted himself as a new leader for Iraq. He is now member of the interim authority of Iraqis serving under the occupiers.

The war mongers have further plans for the Middle East. The invasion of Iraq was the opening battle in a larger campaign, and they hoped it would have a profound effect. Meyraw Wurmser, one of the authors of ”A Clean Break” and working for the Hudson Institute, said: ”Everyone will flip out, beginning with the Saudis. It will send schock waves all over the region.”

For a long time Richard Perle and others in the gang have been talking about regime change in Iran, Syria and other countries in the region. They have even played with the thought of occupying the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

These people don’t hesitate to call themselves ”imperialists”. On the contrary, they are now openly discussing the experiences of the British Empire. The aim is to learn how to rule foreign nations in the most efficient way. Stanley Kurtz at the Hoover Institution recommends a study of colonial India. He warns ”against the dangers of too-rapid democratization” of Iraq, proposing instead ”an enlightened colonial despotism as a route to the long-term liberalizations of relatively ’uncivilized’ societies”. Tom Donnelly, deputy executive director of the Project for a New American Century, writes about colonial Africa. He salutes the military commander Sir Garnet Wolseley, who helped enforce Queen Victoria’s Pax Britannica on the continent. This hero, Donnelly states, didn’t hesitate to go to war against uncivilized nations. ”Nor did he doubt that there would be casualties – indeed, the history of the British army in his day is largely a tale of massacres suffered and avenged. Yet Wolseley, and his political masters, did not shy from playing the hand history had dealt them.”

In short, the occupation of Iraq is the beginning of a new American colonial project, developed in conjunction with one of the last and most peculiar remnants of old European colonialism, the Israeli sionism. In the US this joint venture is underpinned by a sudden alliance between the Christian, republican right, which traditionally has been quite anti-semitic, and parts of the pro-Israeli lobby, which up to now has been closer to the Democratic party.

This is a starting point for the theories about a conspiracy against the true interests of US capitalism. One of the most strident followers of this line of thought is the conservative intellectual Michael Lind. Writing about Iraq he dismisses Marxist or quasi-Marxist explanations about big oil or American capitalism. Behind the war, he says, was just this small clique, which happened to be in positions of power and influence because of some bizarre and improbable events, most of all September 11 and the irregular election of the new president.

In Michael Lind’s opinion, the neoconservative war mongers, with their tight connections to the Israeli leadership, don’t really belong to mainstream American political culture. And the same goes for their superiors, George W Bush and his boys from Texas. They too are outsiders. They belong to the past. Their protestant fundamentalism is longing for a time before the welfare state, and it welcomes military adventures in foreign countries. They have their roots in a backward southern capitalism, characterized by corrupt oldboy networks, risky investments and over-exploitation of workers and natural resources. It is typical, Lind says, that Bush and the boys from Texas had the multibillion-forgery-company Enron as their biggest supporter in the election campaign.

This kind of critique of the neoconservatives and the boys from Texas is also common among politicians and intellectuals in Europe worrying about unilateralism in the policies of the Bush administration. Parts of the analysis is correct, but the general picture is distorted. Let me make five points:

1. US war policy is no invention of Texas or Tel Aviv.

The United States has a long history of crimes against international law and violent assaults against foreign countries. In general the liberal East Coast-establishment has supported the most aggressive foreign policy. One example is the aggression against Vietnam. Another is the war against Yugoslavia 1999, launched by democrat president Bill Clinton without any mandate from the UN Security Council – but with the support of those great powers in Nato, who now, before the invasion of Iraq, demanded a decision in the Security Council.

The new element in the policy of Bush the younger is the open claim for a supreme status for the US in the world. Other great powers will have their positions devalued and fear the consequences for their interests in the Middle East and other important regions. That’s why some of them made a fuzz in the Security Council. Unlike the British they don’t like being poodles to Washington.

2. The neoconservative war mongers are not as isolated politically as they might seem to be.

There certainly has been sharp clashes between different camps in the US ruling class about Iraq and foreign policy in general. Former officers of Bush the elder’s administration have published critical articles, and there is a lot of quarelling going on between Pentagon and the State Department. But this time resistance to war was much weaker in Congress than 1990-91, and leading Democrats like Joseph Lieberman were fully engaged in the mobilisation campaign. Not even the most Europe-friendly officials at the State Department resist a more forceful US foreign policy. On the contrary, Richard Haass, advisor to Colin Powell, already in 1997, in a book called The Reluctant Sheriff, formulated the core principle: the US needs allies, but it should no longer be bound by alliances. It should act as a sheriff, from time to time forming posses of those willing and able to join in the hunt for the crooks of the world. The UN Charter and the Security Council must not stand in the way, Haass says. Why? ”Such a requirement”, he states, ”would effectiviley hand the other four members of the council a veto over U.S. options”. Therefore it can’t be respected.

3. The armchair warriors sure had big business behind them.

As I mentioned earlier, the gang of war mongers was sponsored by a few of the most reactionary foundations in the United States. Michael Lind makes a point of separating these foundations from mainstream business. But the war activists had other supporters, too. Among the sponsors of think tanks and lobby organisations involved in the campaign for war were major oil and energy companies, as well as leading military industries, car companies and Wall Street banks. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, General Motors, Ford, Merrill Lynch and General Electric – all of them had money invested in the neoconservative project.

4. It is true that the newborn Christian and former playboy George W Bush has his roots in a particularly parasitic and reactionary part of the US bourgeoisie, but this only makes him an extreme product of larger developments in US capitalism.

The financial bubble which Enron and the boys from Texas profited on was not a local spasm of long forgotten swindling and corrupting business ways. The boom kept the entire US and large parts of the world economy going. It had its centre in the telecom industry and in the high tech companies of Silicon Valley. The long list of business crooks from the high tech-craze contains not only cowboy-capitalists from the deep South but several of the most prominent dealers, bankers and auditors of Wall Street. The bubble expanded under the presidency of Bill Clinton, and its main underblower was no outsider but the god of Wall Street, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan.

When the new administration came to power two years ago an average chief executive officer at a larger company earned 500 times as much as an ordinary worker. Two decades ago the difference was a tenth of that. Social security systems has for a long time been undermined, working times extended and workers at factories and in services forced to work under a new system of intensified industrial capitalism, the management-by-stress. The country has a war machine as big as the following 14 together, but the economic base of the US super-power is shaky and depending on a never-ending supply of cheap credits, low wage labour and natural resources from abroad.

Bush the younger and his court of armchair warriors are worthy representatives of this militarised monopoly capitalism.

Which brings us to the conclusion.

5. Yes, a small group of war mongers had a decisive role in the launching of the war against Iraq, but they could only play their game in a favorable environment, as agents of an imperialistic economy to which the oil of the Middle East is of strategic importance.

The argument against oil as a reason for the invasion of Iraq goes like this: the profits for US oil companies or for US capital in general from grabbing control of the oil reserves of Iraq will not exceed the costs of war and occupation. We must therefore conclude that an imperialistic thirst for oil cannot have been the driving force behind the invasion.

This is a classic misunderstanding. The basic flaw is this: those who profit from the colonial projects are not the ones who pay the costs for them. The burden of financing the war in Iraq is carried by the people of the United States and by peoples of other countries forced by Washington to share the costs.

The immediate profits of war will flow to the weapons industry and to companies like Halliburton and Bechtel, getting multibillion contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq. Former boss of Halliburton is vice president Dick Cheney. Former boss of Bechtel is Cyrus Vance, chairman of the war-campaigning Americans for Victory over Terrorism. Corrupt connections like these should not be underestimated, but Iraq is a bigger prize than that.

Calculations in Washington assumes that total oil consumption in the world will be 50 per cent higher by 2020, and that the US will still be the leading consumer. 1985 the US imported one third of its oil. Today more than 50 per cent comes from abroad, and twenty years from now imports will cover over two thirds of consumption. The estimation comes from a report published under the guidance of vice president Cheney two years ago.

The oil companies and the political leaders in Washington are hunting for new sources of supply. They have singled out Central Asia and West Africa, regions where the US is now pushing forward with diplomacy and economic and military power. But access to the oil of the Middle East will remain decisive for US economy – and for world capitalism in general. In 2020 Persian Gulf countries will be the source of up to 67 per cent of all oil exports. 65 per cent of the world’s oil reserves are located in the area. Saudia Arabia has 25 per cent, Iraq comes second with 11 per cent.

How should the US secure access on favorable terms to those riches, located in a politically unstable region? That was a major question for the incoming Bush administration. The issue was also discussed before September 11 by corporate leaders, politicians and experts in the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent of all the prominent think tanks in the US. Members of its special commission on energy policy noted that popular resistance to the United States was increasing year by year in Saudi Arabia. They also saw enemies like Saddam Hussein gaining sympathy in neighbouring countries by standing up to the US and Israel. In its report Strategic Energy Policy, Challenges for the 21st Century the commission therefore proposed a tactical retreat in Iraq: economic sanctions should be softened, so that foreign investments could start flowing in and raise production in the oil sector.

At this moment greater opportunities opened up for the decision makers in Washington, thanks to a handful of muslim militants. The armchair warriors at the Pentagon could sieze the moment. They were now able to push the doubts of the State Department and the Europeans aside, put compromising in the Middle East to an end, and in alliance with the Likud government in Israel venture on a quest for peace – which means land and oil – through military might.

No doubt, this is an adventurous policy. It might even be irrational and harmful to the interests of most of US capital. The Pentagon plans for an Iraq under US occupation has proved to be masterpieces of incompetence. Ahmed Chalabi and his fan club in Washington had convinced the Bush government that once Saddam was gone everything would get smooth and easy. The US would take over a functioning state apparatus and meet millions of cooperative and thankful Iraqi citizens on the streets. It has not turned out that way. The US presently has 146.000 soldiers in Iraq, and there is no hope of having that force reduced anytime soon. American soldiers are killed everyday by resistance fighters. Military commanders say reinforcements are needed, and since troops have to be relieved from duty from time to time, a major part of the US Army is by now tied up. There is even talk about mobilizing the National Guard for service in Iraq. If popular resistance to the war increases in the US, and if military costs and budget deficits drag the economy further down, rival fractions in the US ruling class might start campaigning for a change of course. That’s what happened during the later years of the Nixon and Reagan presidencies.

But this does not alter the basic fact: it is the imperialistic nature of US capitalism which makes us suffer these war projects, however adventurous and irrational they might be. Without the thirst of US capital for the riches of the world, and for oil in particular, the armchair warriors wouldn’t have got anywhere with their plans.

The neoconservative cabal sees itself as involved in a new world war. This war is not only a crusade against islam. The regime of Bush the younger is an extreme expression of capitalist reaction sweaping through a lot of countries today, an uprising from above against welfare systems, social engineering and decades of class compromises and concessions to popular demands.

It’s an attack against more than a century of popular democratic progress. Colonial wars are back, and government leaders don’t hesitate to put the most basic democratic rights aside. Majority rule is considered an oppression of the individual – while the individual, in the name of war against terrorism and homeland defence, looses even the most elementary protection against the whims of state power.

This too is evident in the track leading back to the Likud right in the late 90’s. Richard Perle and the others behind A Clean Break not only propose a break with the dimplomacy of the Israeli labour party. They want tax cut-downs, privatizations and other neoliberal reforms in order to ”reconstitute sionism” on a new foundation, freed from socialist influences. This, they assure, will get US support.

In the eyes of leading members of the institute behind the report, September 11 was a punishment for Western efforts to ”accomodate the Arabs instead of defeating them”. The same disgust is shown for compromises with opponents of neoliberal policies. Israeli workers on strike are, according to Zev Golan, chief executive officer of the institute, ”state-sponsored terrorists”, motivated by ”greed, immorality, communism or socialism, and … tyranny.”

Conditions for political opposition in the United States are nowadays even harder than during the most hysterical McCarthy years of the 50’s. Richard Perle recently got himself involved in one of the typical corruption scandals emanating from the widespread business interests of officials in the Bush administration. He was accused of making private profite of his political position. He had to leave the chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board, but managed to stay on as a member. Interviewed by CNN he had the following to say about Seymour Hersh, who had reported on his affairs. Hersh, he said, is ”the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.”

That word again. When the concept of ”terrorism” is stretched out to cover every resistance to the onslaught of a raging ruling class, there is reason to be worried. It might be hubris. It might also be that hidden fist of the market getting more and more perceptible. Whichever depends very much on what we do.

Mikael Nyberg, Speech, Vänsterns studentförbund, Kvarnby, Malmö 30 juli 2003.


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