February 18, 2004

Who, and what, is behind America's recurrent drive to war?

By Stephen Gowans

When Sam Smith led the mob of angry white men that strung up a black man accused of a heinous crime, he faced a torrent of criticism.

When it turned out the victim was innocent, he faced more.

Smith didn't care. The victim was a ne'er-do-well. And he had taken over the victim's farm, and was running it at a profit for the first time ever.

The way Smith figured it, the world was better off without the victim, innocent or not.

Besides, what's a mob to do --  wait until it's absolutely clear a potential assailant is blameless? The victim surely had to bear some of the responsibility for not doing more to prove his innocence

Few people found Smith's reasoning compelling.

When criticism persisted, Smith exploded. "I know in my heart and brain that white people ain't what's wrong in the world."

***

Defending his government's decision to invade Iraq on entirely spurious grounds, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared, "I know in my heart and brain that America ain't what's wrong in the world."

If by America, Rumsfeld means Blair Doan, who works at the hardware store on Main Street, or Cynthia Firsby, a cubicle worker with Hewlett-Packard, he's right.

Doan and Firsby and hundreds of millions of other Americans ain't what's wrong in the world.

Rumsfeld is.

Or more precisely, what's wrong is the recurrent theme in US foreign policy of seeking to dominate foreign territory, a theme that has roots in capitalism itself, and spans Republican and Democratic administrations.

Rumsfeld, his cabinet colleagues, and British toadies, are mere agents, no more so, and no less so, than Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman were agents of the same theme.

No more than the next Democrat president will be.

War isn't an aberration, the policy of hawks and neo-conservatives in power. It's an ongoing motif in US external relations.

And the reason why is war is good for business.

The destruction of Iraq by the US military has been a boon to weapons manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing, who depend on the Pentagon -- and a robust military budget -- to provide an unceasing flow of revenue.

These firms have an interest in a continually expanding war budget, and will see to it that there's no shortage of potential enemies whose demise must be presided over by the combined forces of the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- profitably equipped by the combined forces of Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon and so on.

Downstream, firms like Becthel (one of whose directors, George Shultz, led a committee that lobbied for the invasion of Iraq), Fluor, (Dick Cheney's old firm) Halliburton, and dozens of others, pocket billions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction contracts.

This is the charmed circle of US capitalism. Corporate America builds the bombs and missiles to destroy the infrastructure of other countries, and then moves in to rebuild what it has destroyed.

At a profit.

And spending on the military serves to combat the incessant danger of aggregate demand falling, and the economy slipping into recession, or worse.

Meanwhile, an endless round of tax cuts have relieved corporate America and its wealthy functionaries of their fair share of the tax load, so it's ordinary Americans who pay the bulk of the taxes to fund the merry-go-round of capital accumulation, not the corporations who profit from the "destroy it-rebuild it" cycle and not the wealthy investors who pocket the interest on bonds sold to finance the national debt that grows ever larger as military spending spirals ever upward.

It's no accident that things work out this way.

After all, who's running Washington?

You don't have to go far to run up against millionaires, former corporate directors and CEOs on sabbatical on Capitol Hill.

And it doesn't matter who's in power -- Republicans or Democrats. It's always the same.

In fact, all branches of government -- executive, legislative and bureaucratic -- to say nothing of the key positions in both major parties, are teeming with personnel drawn from corporate America. Just the kind of people who know a thing or two about the importance of new markets and new outlets for investment and how inimical taxes are to the expansion of capital.

What also makes war good for business is the practice of "smash it, reconstruct it" being applied to target countries that impose limits on American exports and investments, providing the benefit of expanding corporate America's vistas, once the target country's government is ousted, and a pro-US (trade and investment) regime is left in its place.

Iraq's economy was largely state-owned, hardly the kind of arrangement that corporate America's leaders, continually scouring the world for outlets for the profitable investment of their capital, looked upon kindly.

So, it's no accident that the US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer (himself plucked from the heights of corporate America), has set about making over Iraq into a Middle Eastern model of free trade, free enterprise and free markets (read: an economy open to US exports and investments.)

Similarly, US hostility to the government of Slobodan Milosevic had much to do with Serbia's refusal to jettison a socialist orientation, which limited US investment opportunities.

As the former communist countries of Eastern Europe embraced the free market, and breakaway republics of Yugoslavia elected neo-liberal reformers, Milosevic replied with a defiant rejection of privatization, free markets, and integration into Western capitalism.

Sanctions, subversion, bombardment from the air, the buying of the opposition, and finally a coup, put an end to Milosevic keeping part of the Yugoslav economy closed to corporate America.

So, Rumsfeld's right. America ain't what's wrong in the world.

It's the expansionist theme of US foreign policy, fueled by capitalism's drive to accumulate, that's wrong.

****

While Rumsfeld seeks to make ordinary Americans complicit in the Iraq war by using the inclusive "we" to draw them into the crime, Blair Doan and Cynthia Firsby should think twice about taking the bait.

Their inclusion is selective. They weren't consulted about the war; they didn't gather phony intelligence to contrive a sham casus belli; they didn't decide to defy the UN.

And yet Rumsfeld wants to make them accountable, because they're Americans.  What's that got to do with it? They may be Americans, but they're hardly beneficiaries. On the contrary.

Billions of dollars in taxes are hoovered out of their pockets and injected directly into corporate America's collective bottom line.

And they're paying the opportunity cost of squandering America's enormous productive assets on the fevered pursuit of capital expansion, when they could be used to the benefit of the majority, to provide basic material needs, high quality education and universal health care, the kinds of benefits the USSR, Eastern European countries, and yes, Yugoslavia, used to provide all its citizens, despite having more modest productive assets; the kinds of benefits even Cuba -- poor, harassed and systematically disturbed for the last four decades -- provides universally.

Some 55,000 Iraqis have been killed so far, 13,000 herded into concentration camps (John Pilger, "Mass Deception," The Mirror, February 3, 2004).

The toll is monstrously high. We should be clear who -- and what -- is responsible.

It ain't ordinary Americans.

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Stephen Gowans