None Dare Call It Imperialism

The other day I had one of those moments of clarity that resulted from recognizing an obvious, but rarely perceived, connection. It wasn’t more than two or three days later that thereisnospoon posted an article on the vain hope for an apology from the neocons regarding their collosal blunder in Iraq. That article consisted of a rundown of the far right’s response to the ISG’s report. They universally dubbed it the work of “surrender monkeys.”

Who were these reactionaries? The usual suspects, namely Limbaugh, Coulter, Frank Gaffney in the Washington Times, the editors of the New York Post, “Every. Single. Front. Page. Editor” at Red State, and of course, the knuckle draggers over at Free Republic. So what’s the obvious connection? Simple. Every conservative who is an unreconstructed supporter of continuing the war in Iraq, is also an unreconstructed cheap labor conservative. As best I can tell, the correlation is nearly perfect. Free market fundamentalists universally — every last one of them — are die hard supporter of “staying the course” in Iraq, including widening the war to include Iran and/or Syria. Apostates to this view also have a tendency to be apostates to the religion that is laissez-faire capitalism.

These same people, by the way, have near religious belief in the “war on terror” — and Iraq’s position as its “central front.” They are also the people — see for example, Coulter’s famous “convert them all the Christianity” remark — who want to frame the “war on terror” as a “clash of civilizations,” which means a war on the religion of Islam. Go look here and here for a couple of representative examples. That site, American Thinker, is most interesting in that it includes representatives specimens of “stay the course,” “clash of civilizations,” and free market fundamentalism, all in one convenient location. While we’re at it, throw in universal contempt for the scientific consensus regarding global warming.

You wouldn’t think the war in Iraq, and cheap labor ideology would have much to do with each other. One can be hawkish on national security abroad, and still believe in what’s left of New Deal liberalism at home. Indeed, many blue collar American union members have supported examples of aggressive US foreign policy. Jack Murtha would be a prime example of a “strong defense” Democrat in the tradition of Scoop Jackson — whose change of heart regarding Iraq ought to tell you something. It has told the flying monkeys nothing. Your credentials as a “patriotic American” are defined by agreement with them.

So what is the relationship between the war in Iraq and cheap labor “minimalist government” McKinley-era-without-protectionism ideology.

Consider how Iraq was bungled — or wasn’t “bungled,” as the case may be. It turns out that the neoconservative policies regarding the post invasion occupation created the mess. Paul Bremer’s first official act in Baghdad in May, 2003, was to fire a half million Iraqi government employees. He then began selling off state owned industries, which led to massive “downsizing” of those industries, and shunned contracting with local Iraqi firms that were, once again, state owned. One would think that putting people to work in the new “democratic” Iraq would be a high priority. Administration ideologues were intent on imposing “market discipline” on Iraqi’s. “Market discipline” of course means the starvation induced willingness of wage earners to work cheap. What they got was the starvation induced willingness to join the insurgency.

D’oh.

But wait, there’s more. From Year Zero linked above, comes this quote:

[G]reed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush’s Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

Cheap labor conservatives support the Iraq debacle for one simple reason. Their cheap labor ideology is on trial there — and so far, it has come up wanting. Minimalist government paradise was the object of the exercise — conveniently implemented on top of what Wolfowitz once referred to as a “sea of oil.”

Let’s put this in perspective. You see, what they sought to create “in its most perfect and uncompromised form” is in fact what US government policy has been to create everywhere in the third world. It has been our policy for over fifty years. Iran is a good example. The “thinkers,” such as they are, over at American Thinker are also all worried about Iran. From that article:

All one has to do is examine the motivations of Iran and Syria in fomenting the violence in Iraq. Iran, quite reasonably, sees Iraq as fertile ground for growing the Shiite Islamic Revolution as both countries are included in the small group of nations with a majority Shi’a population. Securing Iraq as a strong ally would provide the benefits of a secure border with a former enemy, economic benefits such as influence on Iraq’s oil sales, and the realistic chance of dealing the United States a humiliating blow on the world stage. On the other hand, Iran can keep the US busy fighting sectarian violence in Iraq which can also lead to humiliating failure that might evoke a new policy of disengagement in the Middle East (not unlike the US strategy of supporting the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR one might note). In other words, Iran is in a win-win position unless there is a radical US strategy shift.

I wonder what this author would think about the prospect of a democratic Iran. In fact, Iran had a democracy until 1953. That’s when they started talking about nationalizing their oil fields — presumably so that their oil wealth could benefit the people of Iran, instead of western oil company investors. Eisenhower sent the CIA to bring that government down in favor of the Shah. We have paid for that little caper ever since.

It didn’t stop there. The next year a democratic government in Guatemala was toppled, in favor of a rightwing military goverment. Why? To stop land reform, and protect the assets of a US corporation known as the United Fruit Company. The list of these adventures is long, and includes intervention in places like Indonesia, the Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaraqua [multiple times since the 1930's], El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and of course, Vietnam. The pattern is the same everywhere. Rightwing authoritarian governments — though agreeably authoritarian, according to the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick — have supported US business interests around the world. What are those interests? Cheap labor and control of raw materials, including oil.

The means of intervention aren’t limited to military intervention and paramilitary subversion. IMF “austerity” policies have sought to establish the very same minimalist government paradise that Iraq was supposed to be. The results have been uniform, as exemplified by Argentina’s economic collapse a few years ago. Now, after a generation of IMF austerity — following on the heals of the US sanctioned “dirty war” — the people of Argentina are shaking off the influence of the IMF and US ideologues dictating their internal economic policies. They are helped by a new Latin American bogeyman in the person of Hugo Chavez. Dubya and his band of neocons would no doubt topple his regime — in fact, they tried in 2002 — but they’re a little busy in the middle east right now.

Here’s the bottom line. Iraq is nothing new. It is just a continuation of US policy toward third world governments. The policy supports “democracy” in those countries, but they don’t mean democracy like you mean it. They mean cheap labor paradise. They mean governments willing to open their doors to American corporate plunder. If you aren’t willing to let American corporations chain your citizens to the oars, and haul off you nation’s mineral wealth, don’t think being popularly elected will save you. It didn’t save Salvador Allende.

It is the war in Iraq about oil? Of course it is — and that is no minimal concern. Oil fuels our corporate industrial economy. But so does chromium, rubber, timber, and cheap labor. Corporate capitalism demands these inputs, and further demands access to markets for what it produces. This is the essential nature of the American corporate empire. Only now that empire has overreached itself, and has found itself in crisis. The corporate power structure can’t stay in Iraq. Neither can it leave. Make no mistake, leaving will spell disaster for the corporate investor class, as they lose control over middle eastern oil, and as other regions of the third world slip away from their domination — see, Venezuela. Indeed, this crisis of the American corporate empire may be the end of that empire — and it may not be pretty.

I will explore the full dimensions of that crisis in the next installment.

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