Imperialism considered as a one-night stand By William Bowles

14 December 2003

Well that’s how the Economist described the ‘new imperialism’ in an article back in August (“Manifest Destiny Warmed Up?“[1]) predicating their analysis on the experiences of running the British Empire, that used I might add, very minimal military force by contemporary standards in order to maintain its rule.

So what is going on? What kind of imperialism is this ‘new imperialism’ of the ‘neo-cons’? Is it truly a ‘one-night stand’ as the Economist described it, or was that just supercilious English snobbery manifesting itself? And indeed if they’re right, what kind of portent is it for the planet when so much power is in the hands of such desperate and apparently incompetent rulers?

An op-ed piece in the New York Times this week, “A Deliberate Debacle” by Paul Krugman tried to to explain the apparent conflict between the ‘realists’ of the ruling elite and the ‘neo-cons’ in the context of ‘neo-con sabotage’ with Krugman citing two examples to back up his claim; the first, the decision to only allow countries that have supported the invasion of Iraq to bid on contracts and the second, the move, earlier this year by Colin Powell to seek some kind of rapprochement with North Korea, also ‘sabotaged’ by what Krugman calls “policy freebooting by administration hawks”.

Krugman sums up his analysis as follows:

“In short, this week’s diplomatic debacle probably reflects an internal power struggle, with hawks using the contracts issue as a way to prevent Republican grown-ups from regaining control of U.S. foreign policy. And initial indications are that the ploy is working — that the hawks have, once again, managed to tap into Mr. Bush’s fondness for moralistic, good-versus-evil formulations. “It’s very simple,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “Our people risk their lives. . . . Friendly coalition folks risk their lives. . . . The contracting is going to reflect that.”” – “Deliberate Debacle” by Paul Krugman[2]

The most powerful nation in history run by a handful of ‘policy freebooters’’? Frightening stuff if true so what evidence is there to support Krugman’s claim?

The other element that is muddying the waters is the Israeli connection insofar as those most closely connected to the Middle East debacle within the US administration are all rabid supporters of a ‘greater Israel’. Hence a lot of hot air is expended on trying to show that the entire ‘adventure’ is driven by right-wing Zionists. But how true is this theory? And if it is also true, it would seem to be as big a disaster for the Zionist posse as it is for the oil and weapons moguls.

Nobody would deny the intimate connection between the role of Israel as a divisive force in the Middle East as part of US control of oil, but let us not forget that the US has also supported reactionary Arab regimes as part of the same divide and rule strategy for as long as it has supported Israel.

What nobody seems to want to consider is the idea, simple though it is, that the ‘neo-cons’ have no real strategy beyond that of relying on military superiority. A friend of my mine, Patricia Murphy Robinson wrote me the following in the context of the Krugman article:

“[D]umber than dumber imperialists use[d] to winning by force, instant military victories. Politics??? What’s that? After all, the ‘elite’ here are still amorphous in their thinking (wandering all over the place) and beset by rising consciousness of peoples they thought they had long ago defeated. They’re quick-fix operatives.”

Any analysis of history from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich reveals some obvious truths about empire, from the successful to the failed; successful ones do not depend on military superiority alone – if at all. It would seem that unlike the successful ones, the ‘new imperium’ runs on fear, and fear alone and that the ‘war on terror’ supports this analysis. Failing a real enemy to drive the economy one needs to be invented and in order to to invent it, fear plays a central role in the ‘neo-con’ strategy.

Underlying this, is the fundamental issue that rarely if ever, figures in any analysis of the ‘neo-con’ strategy, that of the deepening crisis of capital that underpins the current situation. Why for example, have not the more ‘realistic’ elements of the US ruling class not taken more pro-active measures to reign in the ‘neo-cons’ if they present such a threat to economic stability? Aside from the occasional observation in the business press, there is no move on the part of the ‘realists’ to support an alternative. Are the ‘realists’ biding their time? Is Howard Dean‘their man’? And who are the realists beyond some ‘old world’ strategists waiting out their time in the State Department?

One fundamental component of Krugman’s equation is missing, namely the transformation wrought by the globalisation of capital that aside from the energy and weapons sector, has no decisive centre about which policy revolves. Take for example, the other major generator of profit, the financial markets; these are now truly global in scope and critically, in operation. They function without borders and are indifferent to national policies except as they affect their ability to generate profit. It explains the role of the Soros’s of this world, who are wholly opportunistic in their manipulations of governments and national economies. Their operations can best be described as a ‘plague of locusts’ who descend onto vulnerable economies, clean up and move on. Robber barons is a totally inadequate description, one that belongs to an earlier era.

What is obvious is a ruling elite in disarray without a clear strategy that can guarantee the future of capitalism, and the reasons are clear. Ever since the Vietnam War, a clique of gangsters has run America. Driven by short-term objectives, corrupted by a foreign and domestic policy that is driven by corrupt business empires, totally compromised by its control of the global trade in oil, drugs (of all kinds) and weapons, America is now run by a ‘terminal ruling class’.

The accelerating environmental crisis that is so intimately connected to oil as the driving force of US capitalism has no solution other than a complete reappraisal of the fundamental economic mechanisms that drives the economy. This is obviously not something that the ruling elite in the US wants to take onboard and in part, also explains the ‘split’ between the EU and the US (aside from the issue of competition between the two economic blocs). The division between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ world that emerged as a result of the Iraq adventure inadvertently exposed this division and for entirely the wrong reasons. It also explains and exposes the role of the Blair government’s complicity in the machinations of the imperium. For like the US, the four main driving forces of profit in the UK economy are oil, drugs, weapons and the financial sectors. Effectively, the world is being held to ransom by these parochial forces, forces that no other sectors of capitalism have any control over.

Besotted by the collapse of the Soviet ‘empire’, the US saw the world as completely open to their piratical depredations, without either coherent opposition or an alternative to their rule. Perhaps those of us used to dealing with a ruling class that has some idea of how to maintain its rule in some kind of orderly fashion, has somehow cramped our ability to produce a response beyond that of the purely reactive?

Comparisons with the rise of Hitler are now commonplace, but how true are they? Hitler’s rise was a direct response to two processes; the crisis of capitalism and the success of the Bolshevik revolution and its global impact. Today, the threat to capitalism comes entirely from from its own internal contradictions and whilst there are some parallels between the two situations, the major external ‘threat’ to capitalism is that of the collapse of the global environment, not something that the establishment of a fascist state will solve. In the short term, some kind of fascist rule it may well prolong the life of the capitalist order, but in the long run it spells disaster for the planet.



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