excerpted from the book

Pox Americana

Exposing the American Empire

Edited by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney

Monthly Review Press, 2004, paper

The New Age of Imperialism
John Bellamy Foster

U.S. militarism, which in this analysis went hand in hand with its imperial role, was not simply or even mainly a product of the cold war competition with the Soviet Union, by which it was conditioned. Militarism had deeper roots in the need of the United States, as the hegemonic power of the capitalist world economy, to keep the doors open for foreign investment, by force if necessary. At the same time, the United States was employing its power where possible to advance the needs of its own corporations-as for example in Latin America where its dominance was unquestioned by other great powers. Not only did the United States exercise this military role on numerous occasions throughout the periphery in the post-Second World War period, but it was also able to justify this role as part of the fight against Communism. Militarism, associated with this role as global hegemon and alliance-leader, came to permeate all aspects of accumulation in the United States, so that the term "military industrial complex," introduced by Eisenhower in his farewell address as president, was an understatement. Already in his day there was no major center of accumulation in the United States that was not also a major center of military production. Military production helped prop up the entire economic edifice in the United States and was a factor holding off economic stagnation.

In mapping contemporary imperialism, Magdoff's analysis provided evidence demonstrating how directly beneficial imperialism was to capital within the core of the system (showing, for example, that earnings on U.S. foreign investments, as a percentage of all after-tax profits on operations of domestic nonfinancial corporations, had risen from about 10 percent in 1950 to 22 percent in 1964). The siphoning of surplus from the periphery (and misuse of what surplus remained due to distorted peripheral class relations characteristic of imperial dependencies) was a major factor in perpetuating underdevelopment. Unique and less noticed, however, were two other aspects of Magdoff's assessment: a warning regarding the growing third world debt trap and an in-depth treatment of the expanding global role of banks and finance capital in general. It wasn't until the early 1980s that an understanding of the third world debt trap really surfaced when Brazil, Mexico, and other socalled new industrializing economies were suddenly revealed to be in default. And the full significance of the financialization of the global economy did not really dawn on most observers of imperialism until late in the 1980s.

In this systematic historical approach to the subject of imperialism, as depicted above all by Magdoff [Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism: The Economics of US Foreign Policy, 1969] U.S. military interventions in places like Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic, were not about "protecting U.S. citizens" or fighting the expansion of the Communist bloc. Rather they belonged to the larger phenomenon of imperialism in all of its historical complexity and to the U.S. role as the hegemonic power of the capitalist world. However, this interpretation was directly opposed by liberal critics of the Vietnam War writing at the time, who sometimes acknowledged that the United States had been engaged in the expansion of its empire, but saw this, in line with the whole history of the United States, as a case of accident rather than design (as defenders of the British Empire had argued before them). American foreign policy, they insisted, was motivated primarily by idealism rather than material interests. The Vietnam War itself was explained away by many of these same liberal critics as the result of "poor political intelligence" on the part of powerful policy makers, who had taken the nation off course. In 1971, Robert W. Tucker, professor of American foreign policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, wrote The Radical Left and American Foreign Policy, in which he argued that the "saving grace" for the United States in Vietnam was the "essentially disinterested character" with which it approached the war. Tucker's perspective was that of a liberal opponent of the war who nonetheless rejected radical interpretations of U.S. militarism and imperialism.

Tucker's main targets in his book were William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, and Harry Magdoff. Magdoff was attacked specifically for arguing that control of raw materials on a global basis was crucial to U.S. corporations and the U.S. state that served them. Tucker went so far as to claim that the error of Magdoff's view was shown where the issue of oil arose. If the United States were truly imperialist in its orientation to third world resources, he argued, it would attempt to control Persian Gulf oil. Defying both logic and history, Tucker declared that this was not the case. As he put it:

Given the radical view, one would expect that here [in the Middle East], if anywhere, American policy would faithfully reflect economic interests. The reality, as is well known, is otherwise. Apart from the increasing and successful pressures oil countries have employed to increase their royalty and tax income (pressures which have not provoked any notable countermeasures), the American government has contributed to the steady deterioration of the favorable position American oil companies once enjoyed in the Middle East. A New York Times correspondent, John M. Lee, writes: "The remarkable thing to many observers is that the oil companies and oil considerations have had such little influence in American foreign policy toward Israel."

The case of Persian Gulf oil, then, according to Tucker, disproved Magdoff's insistence on the importance of controlling raw materials to the operation of U.S. imperialism. The U.S. political commitment to Israel was counter to its economic interests but had overridden all concerns of U.S. capitalism with respect to Middle East oil. Today it is hardly necessary to emphasize how absurd this contention was. Not only has the United States repeatedly intervened militarily in the Middle East, beginning with Iran in 1953, but it has also continually sought to promote its control over oil and the interests of its oil corporations in the region. Israel, which the U.S. has armed to the teeth and which has been allowed to develop hundreds of nuclear weapons, has long been part of this strategy of controlling the region. From the first, the U.S. role in the Middle East has been openly imperialistic, geared to maintaining control over the region's oil resources. Only an analysis that reduced economics to commodity prices and royalty income while ignoring the political and military shaping of economic relations-not to mention the flows of both oil and profits-could result in such obvious errors.

Nothing, in fact, so reveals the new age of imperialism as the expansion of the U.S. Empire in the critical oil regions of the Middle East and the Caspian Sea basin. U.S. power in the Persian Gulf was limited throughout the cold war years as a result of the Soviet presence. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, to which the United States was seemingly helpless to respond, was the greatest defeat of U.S. imperialism (which had relied on the Shah of Iran as a secure base in the region) since the Vietnam War. Indeed, prior to 1989 and the breakup of the Soviet bloc, a major U.S. war in the region would have been almost completely unthinkable. This left U.S. dominance in the region significantly constrained. The 1991 Gulf War, which was carried out by the United States with Soviet acquiescence, thus marked the beginning of a new age of U.S. imperialism and expansion of U.S. global power. It is no mere accident that the weakening of the Soviet Union led almost immediately to a full-scale U.S. military intervention in the region that was the key to controlling world oil, the most critical global resource, and thus crucial to any strategy of global domination.

The Imperial Temptation, Robert W Tucker, along with David C. Hendrickson, published by the Council on Foreign Relations in 1992.

"There is no other commodity, that has the crucial significance of oil; there is no parallel to the dependence of developed and developing economies on the energy resources of the Gulf; these resources are concentrated in an area that remains relatively inaccessible and highly unstable, and possession of oil affords an unparalleled financial base whereby an expansionist developing power may hope to realize its aggressive ambitions."

In March 1992, a draft of the Defense Planning Guidance, also known as the "Pentagon Paper," was leaked to the press. This secret working document authored by the elder Bush's Defense Department under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz (then undersecretary for policy) declared, "Our strategy [after the fall of the Soviet Union] must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor."

By November 2000, just before he was hired to be head of policy planning in Cohn Powell's State Department in the administration of President George W. Bush, [Richard N.] Haass [ former member of the National Security Council under George H.W. Bush] delivered a paper called "Imperial America" that urged the United State to fashion an "imperial foreign policy" that makes use of its "surplus of power" to "extend its control" across the face of the globe. While still denying that lasting hegemony was possible, Haass declared that the United States should use the exceptional opportunity that it now enjoyed to reshape the world in order to enhance its global strategic assets. This meant military interventions around the world. "Imperial understretch, not overstretch," he argued, "appears to be the greater danger of the two." By 2002, Haass, speaking for an administration preparing to invade Iraq, was pronouncing that a failed state, unable to control terrorism within its own territory, had lost "the normal advantages of sovereignty, including the right to be left alone inside [its] own territory. Other governments, including the U.S., gain the right to intervene. In the case of terrorism this can even lead to a right of preventative, or preemptory, self-defense."

In September 2000, two months before Haass presented his "Imperial America" paper, the neoconservative Project for the New American Century had issued a report entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses, drawn up at the request of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush's younger brother Jeb, and Lewis Libby. The report declared that "at present the United States faces no global rival. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible." The main strategic goal of the United States in the twenty-first century was to "preserve Pax Americana." To achieve this it was necessary to expand the "American security perimeter" by establishing new "overseas bases" and forward operations throughout the world. On the question of the Persian Gulf, Rebuilding America's Defenses was no less explicit: "The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Even before September 11, therefore, the ruling class and its foreign policy elites (including those outside neoconservative circles) had moved toward an explicit policy of expanding the American empire, taking full advantage of what was regarded as the limited window brought on by the demise of the Soviet Union-before new rivals of scale could arise.

The administration's National Security Strategy statement, transmitted to Congress in September 2002, promoted the principle of preemptive attacks against potential enemies:

"The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy... to impose its will on the United States, our allies, or our friends .... Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in the hope of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."

James F. Dobbins, director of the Rand Corporation Center for International Security and Defense Policy, in the Council on Foreign Relations report - Iraq: The Day After, 2003:

"The partisan debate over nation-building is over. ' Administrations of both parties are clearly prepared to use American military forces to reform rogue states and repair broken societies."

Harry Magdoff, The Age of Imperialism

There is now agreement within the establishment that objective forces and security requirements are driving U.S. expansionism, that it is in the general interest of the high command of U.S. capitalism to extend its control over the world-as far and for as long as possible. As the Project for the New American Century puts it, it is necessary to seize the "unipolar moment."

... it is clear that in the present period of global hegemony, imperialism the United States is geared above all to expanding its imperial power to whatever extent possible and subordinating the rest of the capitalist world to its interests. The Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea basin represent not only the bulk of world petroleum reserves, but also a rapidly increasing proportion of total reserves, as high production rates diminish reserves elsewhere. This has provided much of the stimulus for the United States to gain greater control of these resources-at the expense of its present and potential rivals. But U.S. imperial ambitions do not end there, since they are driven by economic ambitions that know no bounds. As Harry off noted in the closing pages of The Age of Imperialism in i969, "It is the professed goal" of U.S. multinational corporations "to control as large a share of the world market as they do of the United States market." And this hunger for foreign markets persists today. Florida-based Wackenhut Corrections Corporation has won prison privatization contracts in Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and the Netherlands Antilles. Promotion of U.S. corporate interests abroad is one of the primary responsibilities of the U.S. state. Consider the cases of Monsanto and genetically modified food, Microsoft and intellectual property, Bechtel and the war on Iraq. It would be impossible to exaggerate how dangerous this dual expansionism of U.S. corporations and the U.S. state is to the world at large. As István Mészáros has observed, the U.S. attempt to seize global control, which is inherent in the workings of capitalism and imperialism, now threatens humanity with the "extreme violent rule of the whole world by one hegemonic imperialist country on a permanent basis ... an absurd and unsustainable way of running the world order."

This new age of U.S. imperialism will generate its own contradictions, among them attempts by other major powers to assert their influence, resorting to similar belligerent means, and all sorts of strategies by weaker states and non-state actors to engage in "asymmetric" forms of warfare. Given the unprecedented destructiveness of contemporary weapons, which are diffused ever more widely, the consequences for the population of the world could well be devastating beyond anything ever before witnessed. Rather than generating a new Pax Americana, the United States may be paving the way to new global holocausts.

The greatest hope in these dire circumstances lies in a rising tide of revolt from below, both in the United States and globally. The growth of the global justice movement, which dominated the world stage for nearly two years following the events in Seattle in November 1999, was succeeded in February 2003 by the largest global wave of antiwar protests in human history. Never before has the world's population risen up so quickly and in such massive numbers in the attempt to stop an imperialist war. The new age of imperialism is also a new age of revolt. The Vietnam Syndrome, which has so worried the strategic planners of the imperial order for decades, now seems not only to have left a deep legacy within the United States but also to have been coupled this time around with an Empire Syndrome on a much more global scale-something that no one really expected. This more than anything else makes it clear that the strategy of the American ruling class to expand the American Empire cannot possibly succeed in the long run and will prove to be its own-we hope not the world's-undoing.

Pox Americana

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