Tuesday, 1 January 2008
by Glen Ford from Thomas Paines Corner Tom Engelhardt, the prolific intellectual engine of the Nation Institute’s daily column TomDispatch, recently predicted that the Bush administration won’t attack Iran because…well, because they’re too sensible to launch such a mad enterprise. In a July 9 piece titled: “Why Cheney Won’t Take Down Iran,” Engelhardt acknowledged the many signs that point towards an air assault on the world’s fourth biggestoil exporter by the United States, Israel or both. “Given the Bush administration’s ‘preventive war’ doctrine,” wrote Engelhardt, “which has opened the way for the launching of wars without significant notice or obvious provocation, and the penchant of its officials to ignore reality, all of this should frighten anyone”. Then Engelhardt rolled off some of the many reasons the U.S., for its own good, should *not* wage war on Iran: the “global shock” of $300-$400 per barrel oil, “$12 gas at the pump”; International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El Baradei’s warning that a military strike “would turn the region into a fireball”; last year’s revolt of U.S. generals and spies, who conspired to undercut the administration’s rationale for an Iran attack; and doubts among the chattering classes as to Dick Cheney’s clout in the last months of George Bush’s regime. Engelhardt tends to believe that “the weight of reality” and the strategic presence of more “adults in the room” have brought a degree of sanity to the Bush gang, and that Karl Rove’s 2002 declaration: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality” is no longer operative in the White House. “Are they still capable of creating ‘their own reality’ and imposing it, however briefly, on the planet,” asks Engelhardt? “Every tick upwards in the price of oil says no. Every day that passes makes an attack on Iran harder to pull off.” Engelhardt’s underlying assumption appears to be that an attack on Iran would be, in a word, crazy - too crazy even for the Bush men - that the risks to the United States and world order are so terrifyingly high that only madmen would take the plunge. The flaw in the argument is the assumption that the Bush men and the Lords of Capital whom they serve see the world in much the same way as the rest of us. They do not, and we know they do not based on their behavior in 2002-2003, when the same cost-benefit analysis would have argued decisively against an unprovoked invasion of Iraq. Clearly, the Bush pirates believed the consequences of failure to invade Iraq were far graver than the risks of war. The question we should be asking is: What makes relative peace so scary that American imperialists would rather gamble the fate of the planet, including their own futures, on a roll of the dice in the Persian Gulf? Imperialism’s Nightmare Vision I submit that the Lords of Capital and their servants - today, as in 2003 - understand perfectly well that the system they oversee cannot long exist under the current paths of world development; that their only hope to perpetuate themselves into future decades is to violently upset the planetary game board - as often as necessary. From the financial oligarchy’s perspective, the death of the world as they know and possess it - their world - is imminent, and can only be avoided through acts of horrific aggression, terror and barbaric reversion to primitive modes of accumulation, i.e. brute theft and pillage. That is the weight of their reality - actually, the weight of the contradictions of late stage capitalism under the hegemony of the all-powerful finance sector, which produces nothing yet seeks to monetize, commodify and buy and sell everything. So, what do the Lords of Capital see, when they survey “their” world? They see the final failure of their grand scheme to shift the centers of global production to the South and East while somehow preserving the supremacy of the de-industrializing West – an impossibility. As arch-speculator George Soros keenly understands, power must”shift in favor of the developing world, particularly China” – an unacceptable outcome to the Lords of Capital. They therefore require a military alternative to the laws of political economy and civilized relations among nations. Their continued existence depends on their capability and * willingness* to smash and rearrange the planetary reality whenever imperialism’s illogical and wildly contradictory arrangements are threatened. Raw military power – a global coercive regime – must be deployed to counter the elemental logic of political economy (and history) with the logic of terror. They must be constantly prepared to wage war against peace, because only through war can they forestall the inevitable collapse of the rule of unproductive capital - that grotesque insult to the human productive spirit and simple common sense. The grand vision of corporate globalism – the finance capitalists’ imperial heaven - cannot exist in the real world except through the application of terror. That’s why the servants of the Lords of Capital were compelled to devise the Project for a New American Century(PNAC) as a grand military strategy to buttress the terminal illogic of their planet-smothering version of corporate globalism. The PNAC’s mission was to eliminate the *capability* of any state or combination of states to mount a “deterrent to American intervention” anywhere in the world. It was a declaration of war against the world. The U.S. would develop the capability to wage four separate wars simultaneously - resistance would be rendered futile. The invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003 - the first stage of a much deeper thrust into Asia that was foiled by the Iraqi resistance - must be understood in the context of U.S.-based finance capital’s imperative to rule the planet through military coercion. The rise of the euro, the approach of peak oil - let us not get lost in the bushes. The Lords of Capital will always have reasons for war, since the global regime they seek to maintain constantly creates conflicts with the productive forces of the world and threatens human existence - now, for example, diverting food production and distribution at affordable prices in favor of biofuels. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was a terroristic display, a macabre kind of mega-theater designed to intimidate and straightjacket the entire world, including putative allies. As I wrote on January 30, 2003, seven weeks before the war: “The real show is in the show, itself. The people who created George Bush’s ridiculous War Face are not just playing crazy to gain transient advantage over Frenchmen and Russians. They are Hell-bent on proving to the natives (all of us) that they are capable of unimaginable destruction. We must see it to believe it - which is why this war is all but inevitable. In the aftermath of horror, the world will become malleable, ready for reshaping in the not-yet-defined New Order. That’s the plan. The pirates are confident they can improvise the post war details at their leisure, later. What we are witnessing is essentially the buildup to a global consciousness-searing U.S. military demonstration - the Mother of All War Shows. If we search for the military or economic objectives of the conflict on anything so crude as a map, we have missed the point.” Which is not to say that Washington didn’t have strategic objectives - dominance of the entire region and its resources - but that they did not achieve them and, therefore, retain every “reason” for further aggression, to continue pursuing frustrated objectives. That’s why there was no “exit strategy” in 2003. It is the most compelling reason for remaining in Iraq, and why an attack on Iran is just waiting to happen. My friend Tom Engelhardt thinks the ghastly potential consequences of a strike into Iran act as brakes to U.S. (and/or Israeli) aggression. However, if the point of the aggression is to prove to the world that the attacker is willing to risk global catastrophe to impose his will - if the strategy is to play a deadly game of chicken with the rest of the planet - then the more risky, the better. It is true, as I wrote on the day Bush’s tanks crossed the Kuwaiti border, that “the Pirates have accelerated the processes of their own ruin.” (See “They Have Reached Too Far- Bush’s Road Leads to Ruin for Himself and His Pirates,” Black Commentator, March 20, 2003.) But the accumulated contradictions of maintaining imperial hegemony are what drove Washington to invade Iraq - to attempt to upset the global game board - in the first place. The fact that the invasion “accelerated the processes” of U.S. decline simply makes another assault on world order more “necessary” from the perspective of the Lords of Capital. From their standpoint, the alternative is the demise of the system that defines their existence. What civilized people would view as behavior too risky to contemplate, *they* perceive as defensive measures to stave off systemic death. In the five years since the Iraq invasion, the euro has grown in buying power from $.93 to $1.60, fossil fuel producers lose money every time they sell oil and gas pegged to the failing dollar, and the nations of the world continue to discover more creative ways to “redline” the U.S. out of their political and economic affairs. What’s an imperialist to do? Bang the fist on the table, one more time, to upset the global game. Mr. Engelhardt believes “[e]very tick upwards in the price of oil” makes it less likely that the U.S. will attack Iran. But it is mainly U.S. war ranting that has sent the price of oil into the stratosphere - another American game of chicken in which it proves it is willing to destroy the economies of the industrial world, including its own, to somehow preserve imperial hegemony. Washington’s conduct is, if anything, crazier than pre-Iraq invasion - unless one understands the logic of the Lords of a dying system, whose remaining levers of global control are artificial, largely disconnected from the real world economy, and ultimately dependent on military coercion and the threat to bring the whole house down. U.S. threats to bring down the house may be redundant. In the past year, the world has slowly become aware that the global economic order as we have known it awaits an implosion unlike any in history. The sky really is falling in on late stage capitalism. The Big One Where has capitalism been warehousing its most fundamental contradictions during the current epoch of decay? How has finance capital managed to disconnect itself from so much of global productive enterprise and still churn out ever-increasing returns, without which it would quickly die? The answer appears in the form of the Mother of all Bubbles, the $750 trillion in “fictitious capital” that former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and other European social democrats point out “represents 15 times the gross domestic product (GDP) of all countries” on Earth, including more than $500 trillion in derivatives and other “notional” instruments. This is the “money” that capitalist financial institutions pretend is real - and whose shadowy presence overwhelms and distorts the real world’s comparatively puny $50 trillion economy (the U.S. GDP is $15 trillion). Derivatives and such instruments are not wealth, but mainly organized debt that is treated as money, and which threatens to strangle real economic activity. It is a “ticking time bomb” that no one - no one! - knows how to diffuse, much less eliminate. Apparently, that’s the monopoly money the Lords of Capital have been playing with to become “notionally” richer and richer while producing virtually nothing and threatening everyone else with ruin if they disrespect the Empire. Imperial heaven actually does rest on a foundation of clouds and other smoke - and weapons of war. It is impossible to imagine how the Lords of Capital will separate their mountains of play money from productive capital, or how the structures they lord over can survive the inevitable implosion. Back in 2002, when Washington decided to upset a disadvantageous global game board by invading Iraq, only $100 trillion in derivatives floated in the financial firmament. Now the bubble has swollen five-fold and, thanks to the U.S. sub-prime lending debacle, the world is becoming aware of the looming catastrophe. Nobody is trading the bogus instruments, which means their “value” is nil. Since no combination of oil producers’ “sovereign funds” can turn so much “shadow capital” into the real thing, there can be no effective bailout or controlled deflation of the “fictitious money” bubble. It is the end game of late stage capitalism’s terminal contradictions, the final outcome of the Lords of Capital’s futile quest to maintain global power while disconnected from, and a burden to, the productive sectors of the world. So, will the Lords of Capital accept their class extinction - their social death - as the edifices of their rule implode in utter ruin? Not likely. They’ve still got the U.S. military, bigger (or, at least, more expensive) than all the rest of the world’s armed forces, combined. The option will still remain, to seize vital sectors and regions of the planet, holding them hostage to continuing Western imperial sway. To just take stuff, in a hi-tech war of primitive accumulation. That was the goal of the greater Iraq adventure, until it got bogged down by pesky “insurgents.” From where the Lords of Capital sit, they don’t have any other choices, not any longer, if they insist on maintaining global hegemony. And they do insist. Of course, there is nothing written in stone that says Iran must be the location for the next U.S. land and resource grab - but there will be a grab. Africa is daily penetrated and subdued, and Venezuela is as good or bad a place as any to roll the dice. One thing is certain: the Lords of Capital are literally incapable of transforming themselves into productive world citizens. And they have always chosen to resolve their contradictions through war. Despite differences of temperament, Barack Obama serves the same masters as John McCain: the Lords of Capital. That’s why Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wisely refuses to differentiate between the nominees-to-be. “The two candidates for the U.S. presidency attack us equally, they attack us defending the interests of the empire,” Chavez told his socialist party. “Let’s not kid ourselves, it is the empire and the empire must fall.” Our job is to prevent them from bringing the rest of the world down with it.