The Irony of Iraq


Wars, particularly when wholly unjustified (though usually disguised as just wars), frequently, as now, have strange outcomes, often to the detriment of the power that inflicted the misery and destruction in the first place.  The presumably conquered, strangely enough, store up the memories of their suffering, and cannot wait for returning the favor (even if in less virulent form).  The New York Times has an article (June 3) on China’s investments in, active management of, technical expertise provided for, and even the supply of labor to a substantial portion of the Iraqi oil industry, with benefits accruing both to Iraq’s own government and the Chinese national companies.

Exxon-Mobil move aside, or, given the precedent set, accept lower profit margins (or agree to a Chinese partnership), all anathema to the oil giants and their sponsors back home—the Obama administration and US military—not to say the shareholders.  And this is not unique to Iraq, although here the stakes are high, from the standpoint of both parties, the Iraqi government’s much-needed funds in the country’s rebuilding process (no longer pushed around by oil-company depredations) and China’s increasing and vital need for a sustained energy supply.

Indeed, as the article points out, China is not in this for profit, and willingly takes a lower profit margin than Western companies would accept (the latter fighting back, to little avail, by negotiating favorable deals with the Kurds, only to make the Iraqi government more determined in its “tight-fisted” policy), meanwhile making a far more favorable impression through Arabic-speaking executives, highly trained personnel, in short, running circles around, albeit as capitalists, the capitalists of the US and the West, used to having their own way, on their own terms, suitably backed by force or the threat of its use.

Why is this important?  It provides confirmation that America can no longer act with impunity, mount interventions where- and whenever it pleases, expect its OIL and other companies to have completely free access to the world’s wealth, and further expect to get away with its previous conduct and record.  China is a force to reckon with, and its success in more pacific, skilled forms of capitalist penetration—such as building soccer fields in West Africa (a small, yet indicative, detail of a different approach to international economics, far less productive of war)—poses a definite threat to US global interests, making the US the chief sponsor of military-backed commercial expansion in the world.  What this implies for running up against the tides of history, and inviting retailiation as America tries more desperately to stay on top, does not bode well for US safety and security—largely a state of affairs it has brought on itself.

The more the world moves away from us, the more the Obamas and Brennans, our presumed guardians, come forward with their schemes of nuclear modernization (the B16-12), armed drones for targeted assassination, reliance on Special Ops to wage global paramilitary operations…and the list of destructive means of warfare continues ad infinitum.  How many more countries the US devastates (as in the case of Iraq) will subsequently turn on us—tune in, the story is not over.  My Comment on The Times’s article follows:

US militarism (i.e., the entire political and defense establishments) must be in hand-wringing mode and gnashing of teeth. This is PAYBACK time for all the deaths and injuries we caused in an immoral, unnecessary war. To boot, China is proving more sophisticated, energetic, and intelligent in its capitalistic side than the US, bogged down in a plundering mode with no understanding of local cultures and certainly no humility.

As one who strongly opposes US unilateral global hegemony (partly for America’s own sake, the way it has distorted the distribution of wealth and power, moral values, not least, the social safety net, in US society), this news of China’s gains in Iraq is most welcome. It also explains why Obama’s “pivot,” the geopolitical Pacific-first strategy which is aimed at the encirclement and containment of China, a policy that will never work, and instead justify further astronomical defense spending and the dangers of further confrontation.

Welcome, America, to the new multipolar world power structure, one which no longer tolerates bullies and crybabies (the US rolled into one), a global system in which the US, rather than China, or say Brazil and the Third World emerging industrial economies, is on the losing end and becoming increasingly isolated. Militarism and capitalism had always been a good fit, indeed, necessary to one another. The formula is now outmoded, as mixed economies, eschewing forcible penetration, are taking over.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.


Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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