Here is my brother's response to herb's analysis:
This is a response to Herb Fox's astute comments about the connection of the
Abu Ghraib torture to the larger patterns of American foreign policy. His
comments are, I think, a useful addition to the analysis I was trying to
articulate: that we can only understand the torture as part of the gestalt
of U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere.
Herb is unhappy with the phrase "the decision by the Bush Administration to
militarily occupy." His thinking is that this is not really a decision, but
rather a part of a larger set of social processes with the attack on Iraq
one element in a larger, social determined pattern. In short, we are
witnessing the inexorable dynamics of late capitalism in all its (gory)
Agreed. These activities reflect the dynamics of late capitalism, and at
some level we have to expect them to keep occurring until and unless the
structural underpinnings are destroyed and reconstructed. However, I think
we need also to keep in mind the classical Marxist insight that people make
history, even if it is not when they choose to. That is, even though the
impetus to empire is an inexorable force of history, the political and
economic leaders of the American polity are still faced with all sorts of
decisions about how to strategically and tactically manage that effort.
We can see human agency at work in the decision to attack Iraq. The history
of this decision begins with the effort by the American ruling class to
establish itself as the hegemonic force in the world political economy after
the fall of the Soviet Union. This is reflected in the first Gulf War, in
all the free trade agreements, and a host of other activities carried on by
the Bush, Clinton and Bush administrations.
In 1998, as this effort was becoming integrated into the substructure of
American foreign policy, the situation in the Middle East took a turn for
the worse as the long time Alliance with the Saudi ruling family began to
crumble. At that point, a smallish fraction of national elite (gathered
together in a new grouping calling itself the Project for a New America
Century, or PNAC) began agitating for an attack on Iraq as the best way to
re-establish fading American influence, Sentiment for this strategy gained
ground as French, German, and Russian oil companies negotiated a series of
oil exploration and development contracts with Saddam Hussein which would be
activated as soon as UN sanctions were lifted; from the point of view of the
PNAC and its allies, such contracts would definitively undermine U.S. hopes
for domination in the Middle East and might even undermine the U.S. dollar
as a reserve currency, since part of the plan was to use the Euro as the
base currency for future oil deals. As Bush entered office, there was
increasing momentum in the United Nations for lifting the sanctions,
spearheaded by-who else-France Germany, and Russia; and this movement gained
further ground as the world's attention shifted to the war on terror. In
the meantime, the Bush administration was populated by key personnel from
the PNAC, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz-and they began the drum
beat for war against Iraq.
The drive for war in Iraq gained ground after 9/11, and then further
accelerated after the "successful" invasion of Afghanistan. But it met with
stiff opposition in mainland Europe precisely because it would abrogate the
lucrative oil contracts, and allow the U.S. to dominate oil trading in Iraq.
Thus, the Bush administration found itself in direct competition with Europe
for domination of Iraqi oil; with the Europeans holding all the cards:
Saddam wanted to do business with them (and would not even begin to
negotiate with the Americans), and the contracts were already in place.
In this context, the U.S. began its campaign for the removal of Hussein,
using the weapons of mass destruction as their justification. The Europeans
and Saddam responded by reinstating the inspections, hoping to demonstrate
to the world that his removal was unnecessary. When the initial inspections
failed to turn up any WMDs, the Bush administration was faced with a
momentous decision: if they waited too long and no WMDs were found, then
they would be without a reasonable excuse for invasion. So they were left
with a "now or never" decision.
Did they have a choice? Absolutely. They could have negotiated a piece of
the Iraqi pie with the Europeans, who would have gladly shared the lucre
with "big brother" in exchange for U.S. cooperation in lifting the sanctions
and facilitating the new exploration and development. This would not have
established the U.S. as the sole hegemon-in fact it would have been a
setback in that effort. And it would have necessitated an effort the
re-establish cordial ties with Saudi's or else negotiate a rapprochement
with the Iranian ruling clique. All these options were very iffy, but so
was an invasion of Iraq.
The option for "moderation" therefore existed, and maybe Clinton would have
taken it-or maybe Gore would have taken it-or maybe not. We will never
know, because those with the responsibility for making this decision decided
to attack right away, before Europe could lay a foundation for lifting the
sanctions and foreclosing an invasion.
And, once this decision was made, all else followed. The U.S. needed to
remove Saddam, institute neo-liberal economic policies, and establish a
government that was sufficiently pro-U.S. to renegotiate all the oil
contracts-and become a U.S. surrogate in the Middle East. These
prerequisites guaranteed that the regime would not be popular with the
Iraqis and therefore guaranteed resistance and therefore guaranteed torture.
But in the end it was a decision, made by the leadership of the American
political economy, in an effort to consolidate claim as the dominant power
in world politics and economics. Fortunately for the world, the Iraqis have
turned out to be much less pacific than the neo-cons expected, and this
effort may well turn into its opposite-the definitive defeat of the effort
to establish U.S. world hegemony.
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