Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The failure of 'Iraqification' and the colonial temptation.


I think it obvious that the US government would much rather have successfully imposed a client regime on Iraq than have to deal with a long-term military commitment to Iraq. As Immanuel Wallerstein has pointed out, 3 trillion dollars may not be a lot of money to George W Bush, but it is seriously draining on a national economy - even where, as has been the case, a great deal of that money funnels back into select US corporations. So, the strategy to date has been one of 'Iraqification': train up sufficient Iraqi security forces allied to the regime, itself a sort of klepto-bureaucratic elite uniting sectarians of all sects in a pact of national self-destruction. Into those security forces were elevated a combination of ex-Baathists, Badr Organisation militia members, and the most sinister criminal elements, all of whom were ready for a nationwide blitz of torture and executions. Various components of these security forces have been used in tandem with US troops to engage in 'pacification' operations, with the long-term goal of preparing them to control the country. The fallback position was that the US would maintain permanent bases in the territory, but somewhat more in the fashion of America's 'lily-pad' strategy than of straightforward colonisation I think. Nonetheless, we now know that the US plans not 14, but over 50 permanent military bases in Iraq. [Note: the SW article points out that documents leaked to Al Hayat suggest that the total number of bases planned is 400 - that's larger than the current total of 251. If the Al Hayat report is accurate, then the US plans not only a permanent occupation, but an expanded one.] That would be an unprecedented commitment, and no one could believe that it didn't amount to the complete, enduring occupation of Iraq. What else could you call it? It's a colonial commitment, quite different from the way the US has tried to exert power arguably since WWI and certainly since WWII.

A bit of background. Neil Smith's excellent work on Isaiah Bowman, "Roosevelt's geographer" as he was known, demonstrates some of the geo-economic intelligence that went into determining America's global posture in the era of WWII and after. Bowman had been involved in the imperial strategies of successive administration since Woodrow Wilson's, and under Roosevelt he helped devise the response to Hitler. One of his responsibilities after Kristallnacht was to find a way to deal with the huge refugee flow from Nazi Germany. America was reluctant to accept them, and Bowman's proposition was that America 'acquire' Angola from the Portuguese - whether in the way that Louisiana was acquired, or in the fashion that Cuba was, I can't say - and use it as the basis for a Jewish Homeland. This is not as bizarre as it may sound. The early Zionists had considered Uganda as a possible 'homeland', which underlines the colonial nature of the project. In part, Bowman's stance may have been guided by his scepticism about the idea of colonising Palestine - especially if it included what was then known as Transjordan, since this would result in a Jewish minority in perpetual conflict with an Arab majority.

Bowman was aware by 1942 that the Nazi regime was engaged in genocide, and the public outcry prompted Roosevelt to accept an immensely important project by Bowman, similar to his Inquiry during and after WWI, which had been intended to devise a settlement suitable for America's purposes. This undertaking was known as the 'M Project' and it sought to find a solution to the organisation of Europe and its populations. It has to be stated candidly that Bowman was not a humanitarian. He was a eugenicist and a racist (against Jews as well as others), and believed that certain populations would have to be separated from others to prevent these centrifugal forces from tearing Europe apart again. He certainly didn't think America should relax its immigration standards, or allow an even bigger surplus of labour to develop at a time when 12 million were unemployed. This was part of the intellectual basis, if I may speak loosely, for his proposals. His survey produced hundreds of documents, reports, memoranda, translated materials and so on, and he fed Roosevelt with ongoing advice. On Palestine, he initially advised him to make no promises beyond consultion with both sides after the war. He was concerned both about the prospects for conflict in Palestine if the US backed the Zionist takeover, and also about the idea that European states would see the US as interfering in its affairs and thus take the opportunity to disregard the Monroe Doctrine. But above all, Bowman believed that there had to be conditions for accumulation - land, labour and capital - for any territorial enterprise to work. And it was his focus on the economic dimension of the spatial order that was decisive in his plans for a post-war American hegemony. To the Nazi claim of "Lebensraum for one" he proposed "Lebensraum for all" - this was not because he didn't believe in empire, but because he knew that control of productive resources was far more central to a nation's global power than direct territorial control. America could exercise its dominance primarily through market relations: a new world order, in which the New World ruled by the profit margin. This did not mean no use of military power. On the contrary, America should be able to "police the world": "If we are expect to build a vast Navy and operate merchant ships on an unheard-of scale, we are not going to toss those things away at the end of the war on any theory of peace. We are going to keep them and make them work in the interests of the way that we set up". Further, "In the economic field we shall want to be in on everything the world around." Military action would conserve a global order shaped in America's interests - and as we have seen, that can involve a quite unprecedented frequency and intensity of global violence.

In his work for Roosevelt's territorial committee, he directed the committee members to frame all territorial settlements in terms of the economic and political objectives of the United States. One of the main issues that he had to deal with was the situation of Germany - some in the State Department believed that partition was the answer to the problem, while Bowman envisioned an expansive Germany surviving after the war, with generous eastern territories under an overall Allied military control, the better to act as a bulwark against the USSR. He had misgivings about the possibility of a resurgent German economic power competing successfully with the US, but still took the view that the USSR was a far bigger threat than Germany. He did not in the end win that fight with the administration - Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden and Vyacheslav Molotov all agreed that Germany would have to be partitioned. But where he was successful was in pushing for a programme of American expansion. Whereas the British were used to having material interests "everywhere", America had been "tentative, timid, doubtful" and would now have to "make a sudden shift into the new world order". But rather than rest on its colonial laurels (America's colonial possessions were comparatively meagre), the US should engage in a determined effort to shook loose the colonies and open them up to American capital. Bowman was no believer in independence, and held that colonial extraction from colonised territories was simply wise use, since the natives would have no use for the products thus extracted. Trusteeship was the alternative to direct colonial rule for those areas not annexed by the European powers, not independence. For example, not only Japan, but also Korea and Indochina, would become the subjects of trusteeship. (In fact, Roosevelt offered Indochina to Chiang Kai-shek at the Cairo summit in 1943, but the Chinese ruler was not interested). Resource-rich states should be exploited through the market rather than military occupation. If the British imperialists saw this as an attack on the Empire in the name of American economic expansionism, they were right. Bowman admired the British Empire and was fond of Churchill's racist shop-talk on the colonies, but he was as determined as his political masters to make America a truly global power. Bowman was also central to devising plans for a post-war international organisation that would replace the League of Nations, just as US planners were conceiving a 'Grand Area' in which the US would exert its hegemony - this would include the Western hemisphere, the Atlantic and Pacific economies, China, Japan and south-east Asia. Bowman fancied that the UN Charter should be modelled on the US constitution, and asserted that such an organisation should embrace a number of universal "self-evident" truths, including his own nationalist and racist assumptions about population control and immigration. And when, at the United Nations Conference on International Organisation in San Francisco in 1945, the USSR and China argued that any trusteeship should include independence as its eventual goal, Bowman foresaw an "inevitable struggle" with the Russians, whom he saw as trying to expand into the ex-colonies and muscle in on what he regarded as American turf. It was Bowman's lasting lament that the UN could not and did not become a global management system for the United States, because the national issue would not go away. The UN was gradually populated by recently liberated states who spoke the language of Third Worldism or socialism or national independence, and thus became the object of disapprobation and chastisement for American conservatives, from Goldwater to Perle.

Nonetheless, the world order conceived by Bowman and his confederates was roughly realised. America did have long-term military commitments, but this was usually in the way of creating client regimes. It has not been a formal colonial power since it gave up direct rule over the Philippines - you could argue about Hawaii and Puerto Rico, but these are annexed territories rather than colonies. So today, the United States ruling class appears to be divided between those who want to resuscitate 19th Century liberal imperialism, with extended periods of formal occupation, and those who want to stick with the Brzezinski 'realist' camp, managing a global system of vassals through bribery, cajolement, 'lily pads', economic blockade, and brief, effective demonstrations of violence. A number of things would make them more wary than they already are of anything that looked like a formal colonial posture. The first, of course, is that they have the best army in the world and yet can't beat the opposition in either Iraq or Afghanistan: these are unemployed workers, farmers and students in the main, not professional soldiers, and yet they have proven that the US cannot rule their respective countries. The second is that despite the temporary reprieve for the occupiers in Iraq, and the complicity of sectarian elites in the process of breaking the country up and subduing it in a long-term relationship of dominance, even sycophantic pro-US clerics are warning of a much wider uprising should the current plans proceed. Even participants in the puppet government are unhappy about what is proposed. Presumably, the US is not confident that without the presence of troops the advantageous oil contracts it has secured will be honoured - perhaps they envision the overthrow of the Maliki government if troops are even substantially reduced. Yet, what is proposed is such a sweeping and enduring state of occupation and - as a corollary - war against the Iraqi population that it is hard to see this as anything but a temptation to undertake 21st Century colonialism.