War and Sinking Economy Divides World Imperialism
By Nat Weinstein
War is competition by other meansCarl Clausewitz1
Bush and company, with the full support of the two houses of Congress, carried out a high-powered campaign in the mass news media to make the case that Iraq was a pushover. The news media, in the final days before the assault, hammered away at the theme that a massive bombing campaign dubbed, shock and awe, would cause mass desertions, rebellion, and in a matter of weeks if not days, would result in the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime.
They hoped that with the stick of mass destruction and the carrot of promises of economic development and humanitarian aidand, of coursefreedom and democracy, Saddams slaves would revolt and Iraqs armies would disintegrate and surrender.
However, the biggest mistake made by American military and political strategists, was to have believed their own propagandasomething liars should never do. Those in Americas ruling circles went so far as to ignore the warnings by their Generals that a more massive force would be needed than what the White House had ordered.
Blinded by the way they want the world to be, they report events as they wish them to be, rather than the way they are. Thus, several days after the invasion had begun, an alleged outbreak of shooting was reported, based on little if any credible evidence, that fighting had erupted in Basra, Iraqs second biggest city, between opponents and supporters of the regime.
One of Washingtons key reasons for anticipating the most optimistic outcome of their long-planned invasion of Iraq hinged to a great extent on an expected anti-Saddam uprising of Shiites and other opponents of the Iraqi regime. To be sure, there are those like the Shiite Muslim majority in Basra and in Iraq as a whole that are opposed to the regime. And since the population of neighboring Iran is also largely Shiite, it was presumed that Iran would back an uprising by Iraqi Shiites.
Such presumptions still saturate official U.S. war propaganda even though it is well known that when a people are faced by a choice between a foreign oppressor and an indigenous one, the oppressed tend to view the latter as the lesser evil. Moreover, in circumstances such as exist today whereby the worlds most powerful imperialist oppressor is on the warpath against the colonial world, the antagonism between nations like Iraq and Iran is overshadowed by the far greater threat to their interests represented by American imperialism.
That this is a more accurate representation of international relations in the Middle East today was inadvertently confirmed by U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld when on March 28 he appeared on television to issue a warning to the Syrian and Iranian governments that if they dont cease and desist from supplying alleged illegal military aid to Iraq, that the U.S. government would respond with appropriate military action.
This episode serves to underscore U.S. underestimation of the long-standing anti-colonialist traditions deeply ingrained among the peoples of the Middle East by more than a century of victimization by world imperialism. It led to the delusion, widely circulated by the U.S. government and the capitalist media monopoly that a U.S. invasion would be greeted by flowers and kisses and regime change would be swiftly achieved.
Instead, as it turned out, the news media has been compelled to report shocking testimony by American troops from privates to non-commission and commissioned officers, all the way up to the rank of General, contradicting official propaganda. Many of these men and women have reportedly expressed their amazement at the sight of wave after wave of Iraqi fighters some in uniform and others in plain clothes attacking U.S. troops protected by heavy artillery, air cover, armored cars and trucks and mighty Abrams tanks. Their weapons are the light equipment common to guerrillas and armies throughout the third world: shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades, Soviet-era AK-47 assault rifles, and some small mortars.
Theyre showing a lot of guts, said Captain Dave Nettles, an intelligence officer with the Seventh Regimental Combat Team. In a similar vein, Colonel Saylor added: They come, they keep coming. They get up and they come. Captain Nettles added, Maybe they dont have anything to lose. (The New York Times, March 28.)
So much for those who believe their own lying propaganda.
The importance of divisions within the ruling minority
The importance of division within the ranks of imperialism should not be underestimated. In the dynamics of war and revolution, along with sudden worsening of working peoples living standards, division among the ruling class are the two most important objective preconditions for revolutionary success.
Moreover effective resistance to social, economic and political injustice by the insurgent victims of exploitation and oppression has the effect of inspiring second thoughts about the course being followed by their leaders among the ruling class itself. As we are now seeing, they begin to wonder what went wrong and whether victory is assured as promised?
That in turn tends to push individuals and factions among the ruling class toward looking for someone to blame for the resulting setbacks. Fingers begin pointing in all directions at those believed responsible for the policies leading to war, its goals and the strategic course chosen by those in central command. And the way things are, when rulers are divided and it begins to show, it raises the morale of the masses and the increasing confidence that is generated among them by their successes tend to reinforce their resolve to defeat their class enemies.
Peoples war versus war against the people
Like all things, the nature of war changes and at the same time stays the same in many respects. For instance, unlike the wars between nations before the mid-19th century, in which wars were mainly fought between professional soldiers, symmetrically arraigned against each other on chosen fields of combat, its very different today.
While the counterposition of regular armies remains unchanged, modern wars are also fought with whole populations treated as the enemy and thus legitimate targets to be destroyed with ever-more powerful weapons of mass destruction. Thats why World Wars One and Two resulted in scores of millions of dead, wounded and crippled. In fact, even localized wars, such as when the U.S. attacked Korea and Vietnam, resulted in over a million casualties suffered by the people of those nations.
Furthermore, modern wars are fought with more than bullets and bombs. A vital part of todays wars, in fact, is fought with words. Consequently, propaganda, that is, the war of words, becomes an exceedingly important factor determining the outcome of individual battles and wars. Thus, those on the wrong side of history, whose interests are opposed to that of the great majority on both sides of the conflict, are not able to truthfully and convincingly make a case in support of the goals for which their wars are fought.
On the other hand, those who are indeed on the side of the great majority who are victims of oppression by the very small minority of oppressors, are able to argue the justice of their cause, truthfully and convincingly to the masses on both sides of the conflictto combatants and non-combatants alike.
Moreover, the far-reaching nature of war in the age of thermonuclear guided missiles and other weapons of mass destruction touches everyone in one-way or another. And since the great majority of the worlds people also have nothing to gain and much to lose by unjust wars, it is they that will ultimately prove to be the decisive force in the coming Armageddon between good and evil incarnated in the worlds oppressed and oppressors.
As a matter of fact, the impact of world public opinion is clearly already having a profound effect on the outcome of the U.S. war on Iraq and its impact on the future of humanity. The more than 10 million protestors who turned out for a global march against the American war on Iraq on the weekend of February 15-16, and the millions that have been protesting since that time, stand as convincing evidence that genuine, grass roots public opinionnot the ersatz variety manufactured by the big business-owned and controlled mass media monopolyis already making a difference that will affect the outcome of an ongoing global war in which Iraq is only the latest field of battle.
Why Americas imperialist allies dissent
France and Germany, because they each had once been a dominant imperialist power, know what they might do if they were in Americas shoes today. Once the American ruling class decided to oust the Saddam Hussein regime and consolidate their victory by stationing an army of occupation in Iraq, sophisticated observers also realized that such a military force must also be capable of suppressing potentially revolutionary resistance throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.
As old hands at the business of imperialist conquest, Western Europes two most powerful countries had good reason to oppose the U.S. plan to grab control over Iraqs vast oil wealth. In the first place it would be a mortal threat to their imperialist interests in Iraq and in the surrounding regionwhether or not the Americans were victorious. If the U.S. suffers even a partial defeat imperialist control over the entire colonial world would be seriously undermined
If the U.S. succeeds in its conquest, there would be little that Americas rival imperialists could do to stop the American superpower from gradually taking control over all the natural resources in the oil-rich nations of the Middle East.
Western Europes imperialists know that a near-monopoly over the vast supplies of oil in Iraq and nearby oil-rich nations would give the American superpower a corner on the worlds oil. It would give the Americans control over the price of oil everywhereincluding the price of oil produced by their competitors not yet directly under U.S. control. Even more important, control over this exceptionally strategic commodity, also known as Black Gold, would give American imperialism a decisive lever of control over the economic life of the entire world whose industrial infrastructure would be crippled if the price of oil to drive its machines and power houses made its industrial products too costly on the world market.
Capitalist America would then have the power to price oil low enough to drive all oil-producing competitors into bankruptcy, or to raise the price of oil high enough to drive the producers of competing goodsnot just the many products derived from petroleumout of the marketplace. If the U.S. succeeds in its conquest of the Middle East, their competitors fear it might give the U.S. the ability to solve its very serious economic problems at their expense and, of course, at the expense of the victims of imperialist exploitation and oppression everywhere.
To be sure, such a solution would not be permanent, but assuming it were realizable, which is more than doubtful, it could give American imperialism a somewhat longer extension of its lease on life.
In other words, from the viewpoint of Americas imperialist competitors, they have good reason to fear that if the worlds greatest-ever economic and military power succeeds in its objectives, it would not be an equal-opportunity exploiter. It would share its success with its imperialist rivals only to the extent that they would slavishly accept the new world order it fully intends to impose.
Even Great Britain, formerly head of an empire upon which the sun never set, having thrown its lot in with the Americans, would remain in a subordinate relationship and entirely at the mercy of the irresistible power of its American partner. And in time, its American friends would ultimately swallow up British capitalism and subordinate its interests to their own.
In any case, whether or not American imperialist plans for reshaping the world succeed, it is hardly a foregone conclusion. Or as the Scottish poet, Bobby Burns, famously said, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
The economic causes of imperialist division grow
A particularly grating irritant fueling opposition to current U.S. policy in Iraq by some of its most powerful imperialist allies was indicated in a report that appeared in the Money&Business section of the March 23, New York Times. The article in question, Who Will Put Iraq Back Together? reports lucrative contracts being handed out only days after the war began for the job of reconstructing Iraq. The authors write:
This prioritization of American business interests will surely irritate those that refused to join the coalition of the willingreinforcing their opposition to U.S. high-handed and self-serving policies. Neither will its significance fail to be noticed by American imperialisms willing partners in crime and those still on the fence.
Economic collapse creeps closer
Lets take a closer look at the present state of the global economy to see where its going, since that is inextricably connected with what drove Washington toward a war for Iraqi oil. Most serious bourgeois economists who strive to see things as they are, rather than what they wish them to be, are genuinely concerned with the frightening parallels between the contradictions in the global capitalist economy just before the great stock market crash of 1929 and today.
The latest to touch on the similarities between then and now appeared in an op-ed article in the March 24 New York Times. The author happens to be one of those economic experts who make their living advising well-heeled investors on where to put their money. The author, James Grant, is identified by the Times as editor of the influential Wall Street publication, Grants Interest Rate Observer.
Mr. Grant focuses his comments on the failure of the Federal Reserve and others engaged in the making of monetary policy to make a convincing case for proposals now circulating in those circles for curing the three-year decline in stock prices and the hot-and-cold-running economy. He goes on to say, that the problem didnt originate from the war but have their roots in prosperity
He goes on to explain what he calls the paradox of a three-year decline rooted in prosperity. But that is no revelation in light of the fact that boom-bust cycles of capitalist production are widely recognized as characteristic of the profit system, by its supporters as well as its opponents. It will become clearer why he finds it necessary to make a reference to this paradox after we look more closely at what he has to say on the matter. He writes:
Mr. Grant goes on to say that the recession that began in March 2001 is probably over by now, but that the recovery is heavy footed and faint hearted. He goes on to describe the irrationalism of investors when swept up in a speculative bubble, which is at the heart of boom-bust capitalist economics:
The editor of Grants Interest Rate Observer then describes the course by which all booms inexorably become busts. He writes, More productive capacity spurred higher output, which led to more intense competition andno surpriseto lower profit margins. And those things led to lower stock prices, which in turn, led to a crash in capital investment.
Although pundits like Mr. Grant (and I would venture to guess that he was no exception) argued at the time that the boom of the 1990s was something new. But whatever his view on the matter was then, he now declares: There was no new economy after all. Now almost one-quarter of corporate productive capacity is lying idle. All too many job-seekers find themselves in the same predicament.
Then the author of the Times Op-Ed piece takes up what I consider to be the Achilles Heel of post-war capitalisms amazing and unprecedented more than half-century of uninterrupted economic equilibrium. He writes:
Then the author begins to address a problem that no doubt prompted his contribution to the Times. Referring to the worrying trends he is addressing he points to a highly unorthodox monetary proposal being floated by Federal Reserve officials:
There we have before us evidence of the desperate state of mind of those in charge of the largest and most productive economy in the world. They appear ready to set in motion a radical monetary policy that only those who see no tried and tested way out of the unfolding economic crisis would contemplate. The solution being floated by those empowered to maintain the health of the monetary system and the economy is not far removed, as we shall see, from medieval medical practices such as curative bleeding of the mortally illwhich also is a product of desperation when they know no other way to help the dying.
Lunacy of another kind
However, whether this is intended to be a radical solution to the worsening economic and monetary crisis, or merely a mistaken interpretation of what is really intended to be a prediction of things to come, will soon be clarified by objective events.
In any case, lets take a look at the folks selected by the powers that be to lead them out of the wilderness. Its not very long ago that those selected to be in charge of historys most powerful empire had been characterized by members of the capitalist establishment as the lunatic fringe of political conservatism.
That earlier assessment has been confirmed by their record since rising to their current position of authority: They are largely responsible for the War on Terrorism, the war on Afghanistan, the war on civil liberties and for accelerating the war on the living standards of the American working and lower middle classesand now the war on Iraq and tomorrow wars elsewhere in the Middle East, North Korea and who knows where next?
But it only seems that lunatics have somehow suddenly gained control over the richest and most powerful country in the world. Why, because all the evidence proves conclusively that they are executing the decisions of the dominant sections of the U.S. ruling class. Included among their supporters are the most authoritative mouthpieces of capitalist America from the New York Times down to the run of the mill tabloids and the entire range of the electronic media.
However, while I dont believe that those at the commanding heights of power in the United States are mentally ill, I do believe they are lunatics of another kind. It is the kind of lunacy that has engulfed the ruling classes of every dying social order that has preceded capitalism.
The stage of dementia that afflicts human beings in their declining yearsproviding they live long enoughcan also affect social organisms and other complex living systems as well. When the time approaches when there appears to be no rational means for extricating themselves from a series of mortal crises, those in charge of the institutions of state power are compelled to adopt hopelessly irrational means of self-preservation!
It fits right in with the well-known saying: Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad!
1 Carl Clausewitz, Prussian military theorist on the political economy of war.