Open Fire and Open Markets
- Strategy of an Empire
by Anuradha Mittal
Food First, Summer 2003
Once, empires were built through direct
conquest. Armies plundered their way across continents, claiming
to bring the light of civilization to the savages of dark continents.
Beneath it all, always, was the dispossession of millions for
the enrichment of a few.
Imperial America's foreign policy is no
different. With the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United
States emerged as the uncontested solo superpower in the world.
Having achieved a "pre-eminence not enjoyed by even the greatest
empires of the past,"' the US is focused on securing its
power globally, through both military and market interventions.
America's "war for freedom" or "war on terrorism"
is at one with its expansionary goals for the market: open invasion
in some places, and open markets everywhere! Successive US administrations
have used the rhetoric of economic freedom and opportunity to
describe this policy: "free trade," "liberalization,"
"deregulation," "globalization." It is pushed
~ when necessary at the point of a gun-for countries the world
over. This is the new Monroe Doctrine, underlying the empire's
foreign policy-that the United States will dominate affairs around
the world-expressed here in terms of economics, with the ubiquitous
military underpinnings left discreetly in the background, unspoken,
because there is no need to speak of them.
Eruptions of armed aggression by the US
should not distract us from the underlying logic of economic imperialism.
Recolonization of the South by the US is a carefully crafted strategy.
First it cut its UN contributions. Then it shrank aid to the Third
World, using its trade agenda as a justification. It uses both
carrots-trade agreements for acquiescent states like Israel and
Jordan, military aid and graft for once "friendly" Iraq
and Afghanistan-and sticks-embargoes and bombs for noncompliant
nations such as Cuba and out-of-favor Afghanistan and Iraq. Today
we see an escalation of both these techniques.
Open Invasion: The Truth Behind Operation
"Even though the war has not completely
ended, we are already started on the process of rebuilding Iraq....
Thanks to the speedy success of the military operation, the task
we face has turned out to be very different. There is no humanitarian
crisis in Iraq."
-DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PAUL WOLFOWITZ'S
TESTIMONY TO THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE, WASHINGTON,
DC, MAY 22, 2003
The imperialist big picture for Iraq goes
beyond reconstruction. It is to create a dream economy, completely
privatized and foreign-owned, within a year of invasion and without
waiting for a new government. Tim Carney, senior adviser to the
Iraqi ministry of industry and minerals, said the coalition planned
to start privatizations as soon as an interim administration was
in place and heralded privatization as "the right direction
for twenty-first-century Iraq."
As the US set up Iraq's interim administration
(headed by an American official), the war on Iraq was shadowed
by a battle among American corporations to win reconstruction
contracts. Headlines of entrepreneurial websites read: "Iraq
Construction Spells Opportunity. Small Businesses are lining up
to win Contracts for the Rebuilding of Iraq: Have you taken a
Number Yet?" Lobbyists with resumes reflecting years with
the CIA and the military appeared to advise and open highly lucrative
doors for their clients in postwar Iraq. One such adviser declared,
"Iraq is going to be Afghanistan on steroids as far as nation-building
is concerned. There are a lot of opportunities emerging in a full
range of sectors."
Not all such opportunities are open to
all. Before the war, in early March, USAID secretly asked six
US companies to submit bids for $900 million in government contracts
to repair and reconstruct water systems, roads, bridges, schools,
and hospitals. Coincidentally, the six companies-Bechtel Group
Inc., Fluor Corp., Halliburton Co., Louis Berger Group Inc, Parsons
Corp., and Washington Group International Inc.-were also generous
contributors of $3.6 million dollars in individual, PAC, and soft
money donations between 1999 and 2002, 66 percent of which went
In late March, the first contract was
awarded, without competition or detailed explanations of total
cost, to Vice President Dick Cheney's old employer, the Kellogg
Brown & Root (KBR) unit of Halliburton Co. Halliburton contributed
$708,770 between 1999 and 2002, 95 percent of it to Republicans.
USAID also awarded a $4.8 million contract to manage the Umm Qsr
ports in southern Iraq to Stevedoring Services of America (SSA),
a private company and the country's largest marine terminal operator,
77 percent of whose contributions between 1999 and 2002 went to
Bechtel landed the largest USAID contract:
an initial award of $34.6 million, with funding of up to $680
million over 18 months subject to congressional approval."
Former Secretary of State George Shultz, a Bechtel board member,
is also chair of the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation
of Iraq. Other Bechtel executives with Bush administration ties
include senior vice-president Jack Sheehan, who sits on the Defense
Policy Board formed to advise Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
and Bechtel chairman Riley Bechtel, a member of the President's
Export Council, which advises the White House on international
The most hotly contested contracts will
be to rebuild Iraq's oil industry. The empire has left the selling
of Iraq's oil resources-the world's second-largest- to Iraqi National
Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi and former Iraqi petroleum ministry
officials. Last year, Chalabi, whose close ties with Richard Perle,
Rumsfeld, and Cheney predate the current Bush administration,
met with US oil executives. Afterward, Chalabi made it clear he
would give preference to an American-led oil consortium, and suggested
that previous deals with Russia and France totaling billions of
dollars could be voided.
But remaking the global oil market is
not necessarily the endgame: rebuilding Iraq the way corporations
want is. Transfer of public goods to private hands in Iraq is
intended as an initial step in widespread privatization in the
region. Conservative arguments have tended this way for months.
An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal headlined "Taking Iraq
Private," by Robert McFarlane, national security adviser
during the Reagan administration, and Michael Bleyzer, chief executive
of an equity fund management company, argued that "the US
and its allies would be well advised to put together a team of
private sector business leaders as a 'steering committee' to supervise
and monitor economic restructuring."
Similarly, in a paper presented last fall
at a conference convened by the right-wing Heritage Foundation
(and revised in March 2003), Ariel Cohen and Gerald O'Driscoll
wrote: "To rehabilitate and modernize its economy, a post-Saddam
government will need to move simultaneously on a number of economic
policy fronts, utilizing the experience of privatization campaigns
and structural reform in other countries." The authors assert
what they call Lesson No. l: "Privatization Works Everywhere."
This despite recent signs from, of all places, the World Bank,
that privatization hasn't lived up to any of its promises.
Privatization does work for the empire,
though. Almost overnight, Baghdad has been turned into a vast
emporium of imported goods in a McDonaldized Iraq, ruled by western
overlords and serviced by US corporations. And there is the other
side to the invasion of Iraq. While contracts have been guided
like smart bombs into the laps of large corporations, thousands
of Iraqi civilians have been terrorized, humiliated, maimed, injured,
and killed through British and American bombing and gunfire in
civilian areas. Communities and families have been devastated
by the military invasion, rivers have been polluted, and disease
and hunger are rampant in the country. Food warehouses, electrical
grids, and hospitals have been ransacked and burned to the ground.
The Middle East: On the Threshold of Change?
President Bush linked war and trade in
his commencement speech at the University of South Carolina on
May 9. After trumpeting victory in Iraq, he unveiled his plans
to create a US-Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) within a decade,"
the proposed goal being "to bring the Middle East into an
expanding circle of opportunity, to provide hope for the people
who live in that region. As trade expands and knowledge spreads
to the Middle East...all peoples of that region will see a new
day of justice and a new day of prosperity."
Quite simply, imperial America needs to
deliver the Middle East to free trade. The region includes many
of the most closed and protected economies in the world. Half
of the 22 members of the Arab League, including Saudi Arabia,
Syria, Lebanon, and Algeria, remain outside the World Trade Organization
(WTO). Most of the region's countries have a long-standing economic
boycott against Israel, while Iran, Syria, and Libya face US economic
sanctions. Further, the region's import tariffs are among the
highest in the world, averaging more than 20 percent, with strict
restrictions on foreign investment.
Quite simply, imperial America needs to
deliver the Middle East to free trade.
Mr. Bush is keen to help so-called "reforming"
countries negotiate bilateral investment and "free"
trade treaties and become members of the WTO. The US wants to
conclude a trade pact with Morocco by the end of 2003, and hopes
to start negotiations with Bahrain soon. Egypt was to get a trade
pact as a reward for its help in the Iraq war (and in part because
the US views Egypt as the heart of the Arab world).'9 However,
when Egypt chose not to join the US complaint at the WTO against
Europe's ban on genetically modified foods, the US retaliated
by suspending trade talks-a harsh reminder that "you are
either with us or against us."
International financial institutions-the
empire's economic generals are also racing to bring "free"
trade initiatives to the Middle East. The World Economic Forum
(WEF), comprising high-profile corporate and government leaders,
organized the "Global Reconciliation" summit in Amman,
Jordan from June 21 to 23, 2003. President Bush dispatched Secretary
of State Colin Powell and US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick
to seize this "historic opportunity" to expand freedom
and increase prosperity in the Middle East. European Trade Commissioner
Pascal Lamy emphasized the need for a roadmap to build trade in
the region. "If the roadmap works, and peace returns, then
Bob Zoellick and I must be the road construction workers,"
The World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), eager to work in the region, have scheduled their
next annual meeting for September 2003 in Dubai's Gulf City. The
IMF dedicated the March issue of its quarterly magazine, Finance
and Development, to the region, with article after article advising
the region's countries to dismantle their social protection systems
and reduce their public sectors. Finally, trade ministers from
a select two dozen of the WTO's 146 members, including Zoellick
and Lamy, met at a WTO mini-ministerial in Egypt on June 21 to
22, 2003, in preparation for the WTO September 2003 ministerial
in Cancun, Mexico.
Open Season on the Poor: The War At Home
"Their goals may or may not coincide
with the best interests of the American people. Think of the divergence
of interests, for example, between the grunts who are actually
fighting this war, who have been eating sand and spilling their
blood in the desert, and the power brokers who fought like crazy
to make the war happen and are profiteering from it every step
of the way."
-BOB HERBERT, SPOILS OF WAR, NEW YORK
TIMES, APRIL 10, 2003
Since September 11,2001 Mr. Bush has encouraged
consumers to spend beyond their means as a solution to US economic
ills. He has done likewise. The federal budget surplus of $127
billion at the beginning of his term in 2001 became a deficit
of $455 billion in the 2003 fiscal year, the largest ever and
$ 150 billion
higher than predicted by the administration
just five months earlier. Trillion-plus-dollar tax cuts for the
rich and an increase in government spending on military and domestic
security are some of the main causes behind the deficit.
The defense industry has seen a considerable
return on its $8.7 million in contributions to the Republican
Party during the 2000 elections. The military budget for fiscal
year 2003 was increased by $45.5 billion, the largest single increase
since 1966. The total annual US military budget will be $396.1
billion-26 times larger than the combined military budgets for
the countries considered "rogue states" by the administration:
Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Libya. Congress
also approved a $75 billion request from Bush to finance war-related
costs, which covers only the first six months in Iraq. Some estimate
that the combined costs of war and reconstruction will be closer
to $200 billion.
The military buildup and the costs of
war are being paid out of funds that could be used to address
hunger, poverty, and health care needs, both at home and abroad.
Left behind is a nation where family farmers face foreclosure
and millions go hungry every night, and where the social safety
net has been dismantled. And with the rise in unemployment, the
poor have few options left.
One remaining option is America's military,
supposedly an "all-volunteer" force. Micah Wright, a
former US Army Airborne Ranger, describes a military made up of
people who "volunteer" because it's their only chance
of escaping poverty. African-Americans, 12 percent of the population,
make up 26 percent of the Army. The numbers are similarly skewed
for Latinos and Native Americans.
Then there's the "No Child Left Behind
in Education" Act, which took effect on Jan. 8, 2002, and
which requires highschools to facilitate the military recruitment
of their students as a condition of receiving federal education
Large deficits created by an unjust war
and a desire to privatize the world have led to lost jobs, lower
wages, and fewer business opportunities in America. Fourth of
July weekend had a bleak start, with unemployment rates at the
highest level (6.4 percent) in more than nine years. In June alone,
30,000 jobs were eliminated. May job losses, initially reported
at 17,000, were revised to 70,000. Unemployment claims have been
trending up: in the first week of war, 445,000 people filed new
claims for unemployment benefits.
The budget resolution passed in March
2003 indicates cuts to programs from Medicaid to school lunches,
college loans to veterans' benefits. The Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities estimates that reductions in mandatory programs
for the elderly, veterans, and the poor will amount to $226 billion
over 10 years, with another $210 billion lopped off discretionary
programs. This total of $475 billion is about equal to the tax
reduction Mr. Bush has offered to the top 1 percent of earners
in America. These reductions in the social safety net would average
4 percent over 10 years, meaning, for example, that in the worst
years, the budget for Medicaid would be cut by 7 percent. This
when more than 43 million Americans already have no health insurance
and the US already has the highest proportion of children born
into poverty in the developed world (22 percent). The government
has unilaterally withdrawn from the war on poverty, choosing to
redeploy its might in an altogether different war: a war on the
An Open Ending
In March 2003, Mr. Bush alluded to the
possibility of reprisals if Mexico didn't vote America's way in
the UN Security Council on the question of Iraq. In July 2003,
the administration cut off military aid to 35 friendly countries
in retaliation for their support of the International Criminal
Court (ICC) and refusal to exempt US soldiers from the ICC's jurisdiction.
Unconstrained by any system of global
governance, the US has rejected human rights treaties it finds
inconvenient and recklessly indulged in an illegal military occupation
of Iraq, and it maintains a string of murderous embargos. And
the empire makes no bones about its desire to attack and "regime-change"
Syria, Iran, Libya, North Korea, possibly Saudi Arabia, and even
The American empire's callous quest for
global dominance is generating resistance. A Pew poll asking 38,000
people in 44 countries what they think of America shows they don't
trust or identify with American aims or leadership. Rather the
opposite: Pew paints a picture of "hearts and minds being
lost, of allies flaking away, of nations like Japan, Korea, and
Italy beginning to cross to the other side of the street."
And as Washington's foreign policy loses
legitimacy and is increasingly viewed even among its allies as
imperial domination, a powerful global civil society movement-the
movement for peace and justice-is forming against US unilateralism,
militarism, and economic hegemony.
Anti-war movements in both North and South
are linking up and challenging the WTO, FTAA, NAFTA, and other
trade agreements that constitute an economic war on the working
poor around the world. Peasants, indigenous peoples, women, and
workers are uniting against trade agreements that make governments
cede the people's sovereignty to corporations. And a movement
for political and economic sovereignty is growing in Iraq. Even
in the face of occupation following a brutal invasion, tens of
thousands march regularly in the streets and fields of Iraq, demanding
US troops quit the country and allow the citizens to take charge
of the nation-building.
Against a future of war, injustice, and
permanent crisis, the vast majority of people in this planet oppose
empire. They say:
No to war.
End the tyranny of free trade and the
No to FTAA.
Another world is possible.