American power and the Bush project for the 21st century

The United States emerged from the carnage of World War II as by far the strongest state globally. Statisticians reckon that alone it accounted for around half of the world's gross industrial output. Japan was a wreck of a nation and had been placed under US military rule. Post-Hitler Europe lay exhausted and found itself cleaved into two. The only serious rival faced by the US was the Soviet Union. Through re-enserfing the peasantry, politically expropriating the working class and the state-sponsored terrorism of the five-year plans the Stalin monocracy managed to haul the Soviet Union into the position of being a military superpower. One that could withstand the German Wehrmarcht and then following in the tracks of its T-34 tanks extend bureaucratic socialism right into the heart of middle of Europe. Yet in terms of productivity and technique the Soviet Union remained woefully and surreally backward. Nor, due to its innate social laws, could bureaucratic socialism carry through more than one round of productive accumulation. Extended reproduction proved a chimera. Herein lay the seeds of inevitable demise. The Soviet Union was an unviable, ectopic social formation, not the future. The Cold War represented a historic stand-off between the US on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other. Europe was the main theatre of conflict. Divided Germany symbolised the fate of the whole continent. No longer did it consist of great powers. The colonial empires were dismantled and the poles of effective military power shifted east and west. But the Cold War involved more than a drawn out stalemate. The Cold War froze, or at the very least attenuated and stopped short, the class struggle. In the east, anti-capitalism and the rhetoric of defending socialism excused the all pervasive secret police. Workers were prevented from organising themselves independently and kept atomised by naked force. Resistance was continuous but tended to be individualised and take the form of negative control. In the west anti-communism - based in no small measure on the appalling reality of 'actual living socialism' - cowed, politically disarmed and contained the working class. Social democracy and the welfare state negatively anticipated communism and served as an antidote. The Cold War therefore formed a global counterrevolutionary system. Socialism was historically necessary but politically impossible. One of the fundamental laws of capitalism is uneven development. From the level of the individual firm to the state, capitalism is internally fractured. The result is ceaseless conflict. That is why established international relations and pecking orders can only be temporary arrangements. Through economic competition, diplomatic pressure and eventually warfare winners thereby become losers and visa versa. Under US military guardianship and economic stimulation, western Europe and Japan quickly recovered. Free trade imperialism went hand-in-hand with the long boom of the 1950s and 60s. Federal Germany and Japan sprung back as powerful economic players. By the 1970s the US was visibly suffering from relative decline. The American historian Paul Kennedy writes of "imperial overstretch" (P Kennedy The rise and fall of the great powers London 1989, p666). Hubris came with the Vietnam war. Despite possessing qualitative technological superiority US generals could not overcome the peasant-based guerrilla armies formed and led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. And after Vietnam came Laos, Cambodia, Angola, Ethiopia, Grenada and Nicaragua. The Soviet 'sphere of influence' seemed destined to constant expansion. The US sphere to contraction. Economically too the US faced mounting troubles. The link between the dollar and gold could no longer be sustained. The value of the dollar plummeted. Budget deficits spiralled. Moreover, in one key field after another - cars, electronics, steel, computers, etc - the US lost its previous undisputed lead. During the presidency of Ronald Reagan the US ruling class responded with an aggressive two pronged strategy. Renewed militarism and a steady and unremitting attack on US workers. A terminally declining Soviet Union was challenged to a new arms race. Cruise missiles, B1 bombers, 'Stealth' aircraft, MX missiles, Pershing IIs, Trident submarines and star wars were designed to raise the US from 'Mutually Assured Destruction' to a position where it could fight and win a World War III. In the 1980s the Reagan administration increased military spending to new absolute heights. Writing at the time, Jeff McMahan, a British based US academic, perceptively argued that surging ahead with the arms drive was designed to "cripple the less robust Soviet economy, ultimately bringing about the collapse of the Soviet system from within" (J McMahan Reagan and the world London 1984, p4). Ratcheting up the Cold War ran in parallel to ratcheting up the rate of exploitation. Profit rates had to be restored. For the mass of the population that meant living standards have remained at the same level for the last 20 years. Amongst the poorest quartile, in particular for blacks and Latinos, living standards have actually been squeezed downwards. Holding on to two menial jobs just to scrape a living is now the lot of many. The outcome of the Cold War is well known and does not need repeating here. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The US beat the "evil empire" without firing a single shot. As a result the US suddenly found itself the sole superpower. A bipolar world became unipolar. The US now exercises a global mastery that puts all previous empires into the shade. Neither Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan or late 19th century Britain can remotely compare. The US is the "Schwarzenegger of international politics: showing off muscles, obtrusive, intimidating", complains Der Spiegel, a leading German journal. By any serious reckoning the US must be regarded as super-imperialist; fundamentally a military vantage point from where the present administration of George Bush can hope to substitute for loss of economic prowess and perhaps even halt and reverse relative decline. By using extra-economic means the US might be able to safely manage or maybe offload the crisis of profitability that has seen Wall Street plummet and corporate America teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. Put in traditional Marxist terms moribund US capital is able to impose a new level, or phase, of imperialism. This does not conform to the seamless abstraction propounded by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt in Empire. Nor does it denote an ending, or overcoming, of internal capitalist contradictions. On the contrary national contradictions are intensified. Rogue states Post-September 11 2001 the Bush administration has committed itself to a total strategy of extending and integrating US global reach and domination. This has been articulated and promoted by the various think tanks associated with the military-industrial complex. The best known and most notorious of them being the Project for the New American Century. This "non-profit making" organisation was established in June 1997 by William Kristol (who still serves as its chairman). Other PNAC founders included vice president Dick Cheney, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush the president's younger brother and governor of Florida, former vice president Dan Quayle, the academic Francis Fukuyama and a number of other plutocratic hawks who stand at the confluence of big business and the state such as Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, Elliot Abrams, Garry Bauer, Donald Kagan, Robert Kagan, Vin Weber and George Weigel. These neo-conservatives poured scorn on the isolationism then associated with the extreme US right. Instead they complained about "a policy drift" under Bill Clinton and a perceived failure to take full advantage of America's victory in the Cold War. Both the "pseudo-sophisticated" realism of George Bush senior and Clinton's policy of "multilateralism" were rejected. The post-Cold War cuts in nuclear missiles, army divisions and the fleet should be turned around and US "leadership" energetically asserted globally. The project's mission statement makes intentions clear. The US should "build upon the achievements of past decades" and "shape a new century" in a way that would be "favourable to American principles and interests". Basically that required steeply increased arms spending and what was called the promotion of "political and economic freedom" around the world. In other words penetration by US transnational capital backed by unbeatable armed might. War speeds up political developments and brings latent or hidden contradictions out into the open. Though it was hardly a conventional war September 11 2001 was no exception. In the immediate aftermath of the al-Qa'eda attacks on New York and Washington a newly installed president Bush embraced the PNAC's perspectives. Within the space of four months he was counted as a full convert. Iraq must be seen in this context. Obviously the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with links between Saddam Hussein's regime and bin Laden or any threat posed by Iraq's elusive weapons of mass destruction. Lies, nothing more than useful lies. Nor is the conquest of Iraq and the imposition of a form of neo-colonialism directly connected with, and subordinate to, an unquenchable US thirst for oil. A crude leftwing obsession and over-simplification. So-called 'rogue' states such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran and Cuba constitute no "real or present danger" to the US. Economically and militarily they are weak but have managed by one means or another to gain varying degrees of political independence. They are certainly not semi-colonies in any meaningful sense of the term. Pitted against the US in anything like a straightforward army-to-army contest though, their defeat is inevitable. Exactly. 'Rogue' states therefore make a convenient target and serves to justify war and the creation of a "worldwide command-and-control system." Either they can be diplomatically bludgeoned into submission or better still subjected to "pre-emptive" regime change with minimal losses of US service men and women. In the cases of Iraq and Iran, privatisation of the petrochemical industry and the return of US transnational companies would be a significant additional bonus. Garry Schmitt of the PNAC has expressed a desire to reduce "Saudi leverage" over the US. The autocratic house of Saud is considered inherently unstable and an untrustworthy ally. Oil is though by no means the primary target. Behind the US drive to tame the rogue states lies fear of long term military-economic competition from serious rivals - France, China, Germany, India, Russia and Japan - and the drive to maintain US global domination for at least the next 50 years. Blueprint The "blueprint" for the administration's present foreign policy can be seen in the PNAC document, Rebuilding America's defences [pdf file], written back in September 2000, ie, before Bush's inauguration. Drawn up for Dick Cheney it shows beyond doubt that a plot was being hatched even then for a "pre-emptive" attack on Iraq. Suffice to say the overall aim was a 'global Pax Americana'. Yet though the goal might be perpetual peace the means to achieve that end is perpetual war. The plan is quite clear - an invasion of Iraq was desirable and opportune. All that was needed was a credible excuse. Bin Laden and September 11 did so with trumps. The 'war on terrorism' could be presented as a noble cause which, because of the sly, enigmatic, shadowy nature of terrorist cells and their wayward state hosts, would have to last many decades. The war on terrorism is now imperceptibly metamorphosing into a war against tyranny. No wonder conspiracy theorists have been doing overtime with wild speculation about CIA blind eyes on September 11, etc. Saddam Hussein's purported failure to fully and wholeheartedly cooperate with Hans Blix and his UN arms inspectors was desperately used for all it was worth. Unable to secure a second UN resolution the 'coalition of the willing' - that is the US and the UK - embarked on the pre-planned crusade. PNAC readily admits that "for decades" the US has "sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security." Hence the "unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification" not only for "a substantial American force presence in the Gulf" but for the wider goal of "maintaining global US pre-eminence". Put another way, the "grand strategy" was designed to preclude "the rise of a great power rival" and "shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests." This must, argues the PNAC "be advanced as far into the future as possible." The military are the "cavalry" of this "new American frontier". Dividing Europe A united Europe is envisaged as a potential rival. As a land mass the European Union is much smaller than the US. But in population terms the EU is bigger. The US has some 280 million inhabitants, the EU 350 million. By the standard measure, the EU has a lower GDP than the US ($7.8 trillion to $9.9 trillion). However, as Will Hutton - an enthusiast for EU liberal imperialism - points out, the US economy is more privatised than the EU and certain costs, ie health and education, are not fully reflected in the calculation of GDP figures for Europe. That, and an "undervalued" euro, explains why many economists estimate that the EU has a higher GDP than the US. The German-French axis has vaulting ambitions for the EU. Ambitions that can be gleaned from the EU's constitutional convention which has been meeting in Brussels under the chairmanship of the former centre-right president of France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Its remit is to detail various options and produce recommendations for the EU's inter-governmental summit in 2004. Sixty initial themes were set for debate. However, in broad terms the constitutional convention is expected to produce answers to the knotty problems arising from enlargement - the EU is set to grow from 15 member states to perhaps something like 37 by 2010. With such a political-economic bloc streamlined and under centralised direction comes the possibility of the EU playing a determining global role and thereby gorging itself on the planet's human and natural resources as the imperialist top dog. Speaking to the opening session of the constitutional convention on February 28 2002 Giscard d'Estaing looked magisterially towards the future horizon. "If we succeed", he said, "in 25 or 50 years time Europe will have changed its role in the world. It will be respected and listened to, not only as the economic power that it already is, but as a political power that will speak as an equal with the biggest existing and future powers on the planet" (see www.cer.org.uk). Relations between the US and the EU have been those of partnership. The EU being viewed essentially as an extension, or an arm of, Nato. Cooperation, however, takes place in the context of increasing tensions as EU interests and cherished aims come into conflict with US bullying and imperial arrogance. To be more specific - trade barriers against steel imports, the imposition of chronic US indebtedness upon the rest of the world, shunning the Kyoto accord, abrogation of the ABM treaty, National Missile Defence and now Iraq. The EU has been thrown into turmoil by Gulf War II. 'Old Europe' objected to US warmongering, unilateralism and contempt for the UN - dismissed as an antiquated hindrance to "American political leadership" by PNAC. Britain, Spain and Italy have for their part lined up behind the US, along with 'new Europe', candidate states such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc. The US has revelled in the divisions and has sought to add fuel to the fire by demonising France in particular. Donald Rumsfeld seethes and splutters about French "treachery". His real purpose - to prevent the EU cohering as a single imperialist entity. More still unites the ruling classes of the US and EU than divides. Nevertheless stresses and strains are growing. As a result it is correct to say that the EU-US relationship is evolving into an antagonistic partnership. In his recent book, Paradise and power: America and Europe in the new world order PNAC deputy chair Robert Kagan, testifies to a strategic decoupling. He describes Europe as being committed to a "Kantian" world view of "self contained law and rules of transnational negotiation and cooperation". A pacific outlook based, not from learning the "awful" lessons of World War I and II, as claimed. Rather it is Europe's profound military weakness. Taken together the countries of the EU spend no more than $180 billion. The US has a military budget now soaring towards the $500 billion mark. Hence the EU is incapable of "counterbalancing" the US in military terms. It therefore turns to empty legalistic rhetoric in order to substitute for the loss of real power. The Americans are in contrast guided by a much more sober and realistic "Hobbesian" outlook. The world is an unforgiving and hostile place and power always decides. As a Behemoth "with a conscience" the US is romantically likened to Gary Cooper's character in 'High Noon' Marshall Will Kane. The world's townsfolk have no stomach for standing up to the bad guys when they come looking for revenge. But they are wrong and cowardly to boot. The brave US gets brickbats, but it is right. China Generally the US administration does not consider Russia, India or Japan with immediate concern. China is another matter. Speaking on behalf of PNAC in February 2002 Kristol said he considers "the only unresolved great power issue is that of China." China has 1.3 billion people and has notched up rapid development. Since 1978 GDP has quadrupled with real growth averaging around 9% per year. Today, its GDP stands at more than $1.1 trillion. China's foreign trade grew at about 13% per year over the 1978-1995 period, making it the world's fourth-largest trading nation. In the 1990s, China became the world's second-largest destination for foreign direct investment. Its military spending is also growing by double-digits. As a result China is "acquiring unprecedented new capabilities" notes Richard N Haass, director of the administration's policy planning staff. The Pentagon in its turn provides what is meant to be chilling evidence of everything from sophisticated "theatre-based weapons management" to "state-of-the-art intercept direction finding and jamming." Using technology imported from the US, Europe and even Taiwan the Chinese military has also developed "new concept" laser and radio frequency weapons as well as satellite guidance systems. If anything like these current trends continue, many predict that China is due to become the world's second-largest economy by 2030 and its military power and political reach will increase commensurately. This prospect worries US hawks. China threatens US interests not only in Taiwan but "the entire Asia-Pacific region from Japan to the South China Sea." In this context PNAC depicts China as ripe for "regime change". The US should encourage the development of what is called "civil society" and further capitalist relations. This is to be achieved by a twin track strategy of trade and economic integration on the one side and military containment on the other. PNAC says that "it is time to increase the presence of American forces in Southeast Asia". This, it concludes, may lead to "American and allied power providing the spur to the process of democratisation in China." World power Rebuilding America's defences gives us a terrible and frightening glimpse of the thinking that exists in the highest echelons of the US administration. Arms spending should, says the PNAC, be increased so that the US can "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars". Hence though PNAC luminaries welcomed Bush's post 9/11 hike in military expenditure, Kristol et al continue to urge sustained increases. Their target is ramping the arms budget up from 3.4% of GDP to between 3.8% to 4%. In monetary terms that means something like $70 or $100 billion extra annually. That way the US could supposedly conduct as many as five wars concurrently. Ominously there are also calls for the creation of "US space forces", to patrol space, and efforts to ensure the total control of cyberspace to prevent "enemies" using the internet against the US. PNAC hints that the US should consider developing yet more fiendish weapons of mass destruction, including biological weapons. Rebuilding America's defences says: "New methods of attack - electronic, 'non-lethal', biological - will be more widely available ... combat will likely take place in new dimensions, in space, cyberspace, and perhaps the world of microbes ... advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool." Ironically during the close of George Bush senior's administration, Paul Wolfowitz penned a memo under the aegis of then defence secretary Cheney, which argued for the US to hike arms spending in order to deter any other country from "even aspiring to a larger regional or global role." China, Russia, Germany, and Japan were to be intimidated from seeking more power in their own regions. Effectively the US had to use its military capability to shape whole world - being "at once a European power, an Asian power, a Middle Eastern power, and of course a Western hemisphere power" and to "act as if instability in important regions of the world "¦ affect[s] us with almost the same immediacy as if [it] was occurring on our own doorstep." After the Wolfowitz draft was leaked to the press, there was widespread outrage. US diplomats rushed to reassure allies that Wolfowitz's views did not reflect administration foreign policy. However in the 21st century and the administration of George Bush II such neo-conservative views have become the ruling ideology and operative practice. Be warned. Jack Conrad