Sunday, August 26, 2007
The Spectre of Yanqui Kapital
Well, alright, I admit that this is beautifully written and incisive and persuasive. I doff my cap. I disagree with its main appeal, however: it is reductionist and it puts the blame for the war on a caricatured crony capitalism and a right-wing assault on the treasury. In fact, that seems to be its goal. As a result, I don't see how it could explain the continued attachment of Democrat politicians to the war except through the ruses of timidity and voter reaction. And the continued support or acquiescence of big business, who on the whole probably like a fiduciarily reliable state with a balanced budget which is capable of bailing out hedge funds and savings and loans, and subsidising industry and keeping people in an employable condition etc, is a complete mystery. They do not particularly require a state with diminished capacity, so why on earth would the US ruling class partake of a scheme that threatened their interests? And why, despite strategic qualms, would European powers - who aren't stupid, or at least aren't that stupid - assist and cover for such an operation? Obviously, one could cite 'peak oil', but that could only be part of the answer as long as alternative strategies could have supplied long-term access to the oil (coopting a much-weakened Saddam and turning him into a junior partner to Bandar Bush was always a possibility).
Basically, I think Ellen Meiksins Wood is correct: an activist US state is required to maintain a global hierarchy of nation-states, with constant and open-ended forms of military intervention. This set-up, for from being obsolescent as Hardt & Negri claim, works very well, ensuring that the global appropriation of labour continues to be overwhelmingly for the benefit of a distinctly American ruling class. Obviously, the idea of a single coherent capitalist class ideology is a chimera - there will always be sectoral differences which are structured by ideology. However, if there could be a Spirit of Yankee Kapital - a spectral, unified, far-sighted capitalist class mind - it would surely pursue a geopolitical vision not at all dissimilar to that of PNAC: siezing the window of opportunity afforded by the lack of a rival superpower, trying to create a pro-US regime in the Middle East, demonstrating the ability to fight and win wars in multiple theatres, comprehensive military dominance in order to secure and sustain comprehensive political and economic dominance etc. If such a policy, broadly construed, could have been carried out successfully, then it would have been a master-stroke of strategy. If they can save the situation, and not lose either Baghdad or Kabul, and even claim Tehran or Damascus as part of an elevated war, then they will have carried off a real coup, and popular-democratic movements in the Middle East, as in Latin America, will be finished. And that, of course, would sustain the continued appropriation of global labour for the benefit of American capitalism. And as long as that situation redounds to the benefit of America's allies and cooptees, then they will support it too. (Is this why French capital, not only for domestic reasons, recently threw its weight behind possibly the most pro-US politician France has ever had?)
The current wave of military adventurism - threatening Iran, sending Israel into Lebanon - doesn't suggest a confident, assured elite, which can bide its time. It suggest purpose and ruthlessness, to be sure: but then Clinton wasn't purposeful and ruthless? Ricky Ray Rector's executioner, the man who insisted the poor weren't being fucked hard enough and so cut their welfare, the pitiless killer of Iraqis with a global blockade and a sustained bombing campaign, the bomber of Yugoslavia, the sponsor of Turkish and Colombian state murder? It seems clear that the Bush administration took over a broad policy that was already being crafted and nurtured, which was to replace Saddam Hussein, neoliberalise Iran, keep the Saudis and Mubarak happy, and contain popular uprisings in Latin America. However much the Bush administration has unquestionably manipulated those goals for the advantage of a narrow sector of energy and reconstruction capitalists, their decisions were only a more extreme variant of Clinton's programme. If you ask me, and you really shouldn't because I've about as much of a clue as you have, the driving force behind the administration's increasing bellicosity on Iran, and intransigence on Iraq and Afghanistan, is precisely an awareness that they could lose it all. Not due to internal factors, of course, or largely not at any rate. But they actually could lose Iraq - or, more accurately, they have already lost most of Iraq, and may not be able to regain it. And then, of course, if they did, Halliburton would still be rich, and so would various other companies close to the Bush administration - but the long term prospects for American profitability would be immeasurably harmed. You know what the sight of American nationals fleeing into helicopters on the roof can do to investor confidence? And this is how I think we should understand both the frantic aggression of the Bush administration and the complicity of its electorally compromised Democrat rivals. Neither 'liberal' nor 'conservative' US capital wants to cut Iraq loose yet, not without doubling the bet, and not unless they can do so in a way that leaves with them with a way back in and with substantial leverage over the regime. It isn't about raiding the US treasury or enriching a few multinationals: that is arguably a function of the 'war on terror', but it is a secondary one, and one even the Dems are willing to contest.