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Fingerprints of Reaction

Obama’s Paradigm of Military Corporatism

by NORMAN POLLACK

Just another weekend: The administration grinds on in the service of American fascistization. We see a societal process, multisectoral in its scope, which enhances the integration of a Class-State and the National Security State. Begin anywhere ,so consistent the direction and rife the activity, here, Coral Davenport’s New York Times article, “Report Clears Way to Approval for New Keystone Pipeline,” 2-1-14, which delineates, in microcosm, Obama’s natural resources/environmental policy at a glance. Our Tar Sands President proves utterly indifferent to climate change, spoliation of the land, endangerment of aquifers, contrariwise, his solicitous regard for megacapitalist schemes in general, oil companies in particular, using the hiring of workers on the Keystone project as a pretext for running roughshod over critics of the scam.

I say “scam” because, at the outset, the environmental dangers were lightly brushed over by an environmental impact study, commissioned by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (the pipeline would cross international boundaries, and hence, fall under her jurisdiction), in which the firm chosen to conduct it listed TransCanada in its publicity as among its principal clients. Of course, conflict of interest is standard procedure in such cases. More important, however, in justifying the project, Obama invoked the theme of America’s energy independence, even though the pipeline would make a beeline to Galveston, where the oil would be shipped out to foreign markets.

Davenport’s article does not make reference to these points, but it does alert us to the campaign for acceptance. What must be said, in addition, is that Obama has staked out polemical-ideological ground designed to further ingratiate him with the business community, a highly visible policy which offers assurance that he values their esteem and is interested in their welfare. With Keystone, so transparent a case of right-or-wrong public policy, from the standpoint not only of climate change, environmental degradation, and influence peddling, but also the democratization of power and efficacy of regulation in the public interest, POTUS proves himself capitalism’s front man extraordinaire. His utility to the cause goes well beyond that of his predecessor, for by waving a liberal banner he assuages all doubts about impartial, democratic leadership—and we suckers have been taken in, on far more than Keystone, even to the extent of becoming conditioned not to connect the dots of what is surely a unified framework of advancing corporate interests.

Keystone XL = TransPacific Partnership = a record high military budget=massive domestic surveillance (in part, as social control one step removed, to ensure agreement with, and a sense of powerlessness to oppose, both domestic and foreign policy of a corporate and/or military nature) = intervention and regime change = here, you fill in the blank for what the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, Interior, indeed, the whole Cabinet, do on a 24/7 basis in feathering the corporate nest, solidifying American capitalism’s international position, and fending off an independent regulatory regime intended to protect the public interest.

The framework of integrated power, modeled as the structure of interpenetration between government and business, therefore, displays a consistency of purpose which becomes interrelated with, and furnishes the sparkplug for, fundamental public policy, as the foundation for the nation’s war-making proclivities and prowess. Business trumps the environment. It also serves as the organizing principle for mounting hegemonic claims on the world–the environment being merely one more casualty in the pell-mell rush to power.

My NYT Comment on the Davenport article, same date, follows:

The environmental impact study commissioned by the State Department (which has jurisdiction because of the border crossing) has received widespread UNCRITICAL coverage, as though fully justifying Keystone XL. Yet it had been earlier revealed that the firm conducting the study had featured TransCanada as one of its leading clients. This is Obama’s duplicity in high gear–initial stall tactics, an implicit argument for Energy Independence (however, shipment to Galveston for exporting overseas, having therefore nothing to do with independence), and now, first criticisms of a conflict of interest in State’s selection largely forgotten, a push to the finish line!

Should there be a pipeline leak in the fragile aquifer, we will see damage far exceeding what normally falls under climate change. We will also see the depths of cynicism and betrayal of our national leaders. Environmentalists, despite good intentions, are over their heads where Big Oil is concerned–and also far too trusting when they look to Secretary Kerry for help.

Keystone XL is a domestic equivalent of targeted assassination in foreign affairs, revealing the utter debasement of government policy, callous of all humanitarian considerations. The least one might hope from the media is exposure of the bias inherent in the impact study, knowingly commissioned by Kerry’s predecessor, Mrs. Clinton.

A second indication this past weekend of Obama’s aggressive push on the corporate-military front can be seen in The Times’s article by David Sanger and Thom Shanker, “N.S.A. Choice Is Navy Expert on Cyberwar,” 1-31-14. Here, with this appointment, Obama enlarges the nation’s electronics-capability cum massive surveillance and foreign eavesdropping by adding, as the logical corollary to governmental intrusion into the fabric of social communication, the specifically provocative tactic of real and potential cyber warfare in which the sky’s the limit on targeting objectives.

From surveillance at home to active disruption abroad hardly requires skipping a beat. In Admiral Rogers, his appointee, Obama has picked a sure winner, technologically adept, no reservations on the totality of the NSA mission, and, through keeping a federal agency firmly under military rather than civilian leadership, drawing still closer to the military and intelligence communities and thereby further endowing his administration with a military cast and purpose.

This has implications for how surveillance itself will be conceived and perhaps conducted as well as the feasibility of cyberwarfare, in both cases a militarization of intelligence creating a mindset less apt to be restrained by considerations, whether of peace or the rule of law. For Obama, this is just right, given his comfort level with NSA and his record on a parallel front, CIA/JSOC paramilitary operations, together a complementary package in that pressing ahead for America’s global objectives while preserving order at home.

NSA is the negation of democracy by supplying the cover and the means for attempting universal social control at home to ensure the safety of capitalism. It also has an aggressive function overseas, the negation of international comity and understanding through its “capabilities” (a much-used term in the administration’s evaluation of its arsenal of weapons, programs, strategies, all to hegemonic purpose) for spying and sabotage. Privacy, once the cornerstone of individual rights honored across the political spectrum, has now become an object of derision in national-security circles and regarded, by extension, as anticapitalist. Massive surveillance signals the self-devouring aspect of capitalism and the National-Security State. (Lenin might say, Obama is doing his work for him.) Cyberwarfare adds the proper touch of scorn for the rules of the game and the opinion of others.

My NYT Comment on the Sanger-Shanker article, same date, follows:

Adm. Rogers is the ideal man for the job, in charge of cyberwarfare dear to the heart of Obama, whose record on civil liberties is worse than any president since the Alien and Sedition Acts of the Founders. POTUS rubs execrement in the face of the American people, disregarding even the moderate recommendations of his own panel–his contempt for the rule of law, joined by such luminaries as James Clapper and Eric Holder, has made of the US a National-Security State verging on, if not already there, the well-known features of a Police State. Nothing in his DOJ speech on surveillance (Jan. 17) nor this week’s State of the Union Address indicates the slightest doubt about the program of domestic massive surveillance! That Obama was immersed in the wonders of cyberattacks (Olympic Games) confirms, along with this appointment, his disregard for traditional principles of law, privacy, and civil liberties. And in the background, yes, always appoint a military over a civilian person, and ingratiate yourself still further with the military and intelligence communities. Obama is the liberal public relations version of Joe McCarthy, only with far more firepower (literally) at his disposal. I fear for the fate of the Republic.

A third sign or fingerprint of deepening Reaction in American policy, again, over the weekend, is the US posture in the Middle East. Support for Israel is a foregone conclusion, as is the necessity for protecting a sustained supply of oil and protecting the interests of American oil companies. This is so plain as not to warrant comment. What isn’t plain, perhaps, is the larger geopolitical-geostrategic picture, in which America, especially in light of the challenge initially posed by the Arab Spring, and now, the presumed hatchery for terrorist groups, consciously, or still haltingly, is coming to see the region as an imperative sphere of interest in addressing the problems of Great Power rivalries. Neither Israel nor oil is thereby neglected, just that the war-national security establishment is proving capable of multitasking and can appreciate the region as a valued center for renewing the Cold War (China as well as Russia in the cross-hairs) and keeping an eye on developments covering a wide swath of territory.

Next, then, we have Roger Cohen’s article in The Times, “A Middle Eastern Primer,” 1-31-14, brilliantly, I think, cataloguing the regional tensions, so that one can take the administration directly into foreign policy, although, that said, I believe he misses the wider importance of the US role in the Middle East. Although Israel and oil remain central, Obama provides a geopolitical dimension less sharply articulated, if at all, by his predecessors: the Middle East as the spearhead for projecting American power outward in every direction.

If it appears too glib to speak of a Second Cold War, his endeavor in this regard turns on placing both Russia and China within a reconstituted, militarized sphere of interest. Recent events, the planned US bombing of Syria, nullified by Putin’s intervention, speaks for rising US-Russian tensions (aided by America’s deep historical-cultural lag, in which Russia seems still to be regarded in terms of revolutionary socialism, itself mind-boggling), while, also inherited from Cold-War thinking, China still is Red China, despite obvious political-structural changes, only, unlike Russia, viewed as a more imposing challenge because of its commercial-industrial development.

In both cases, Obama is in confrontation-mode, even though the ideological factor long-ago disappeared (or should have, from the standpoint of nuclear annihilation or global conflict, if ever deserving weight in the first place). Global hegemony speaks to market imperialism, for which he is completely on board. But he goes a step further, eschewing the traditional Open Door policy described in the works of Walter LeFeber and William Appleman Williams (and explored in Gallagher and Robinson’s “Imperialism of Free Trade”) to militarize trade as now an adversarial process, having an independent political-ideological component. China and Russia are in Obama’s bombsight, beyond considerations of trade, investment, and even international prestige. His Pacific-first strategy translates and transfers Dulles’s Containment Policy to the rising world power, China, as meanwhile hostility toward Russia is coming increasingly into the foreground.

What, then, about the Middle East? With Israel and oil placed in the safety-deposit box of US policy, largely non-negotiable in terms of previously established practice, America, through its cultivation of allies, its interventions, its military bases, has created what amounts to a staging area, fulcrum of power, launching pad for extending actual and potential military capabilities over a vaster territorial reach than could otherwise be achieved. The region becomes a geopolitical epicenter facing outward to monitor and/or engage Russia to the north, China, to the east, etc., as described in my Comment. A further consideration: regional upheaval, it may have been feared, would lead to a power-vacuum, which, as Putin’s intercession with respect to Syria, portended, in American eyes, Russia’s intention to extend its influence, and perhaps even fill the gap. No power-vacuum would be allowed.

My NYT Comment on Cohen’s article, same date, follows:

Excellent schematic overview of Middle East (Old/New largely the same) contradictions, except that readily resolvable when one seeks the underlying element: US geopolitical/geostrategic vision of providing the foundation for a regional power base to widen its own global sphere of influence. Beyond the obvious–protection of Israel, security of oil interests and supply–America sees the Middle East as the world’s underbelly for exercising influence and control pointing north (Europe and Russia), south (sub-Saharan Africa), east (China), west (Southern Europe, Iberian Peninsula, North Africa), an arc of command critical, by definition, to global military-trade-investment hegemony, and especially important in creating the western pincer-movement on China, the eastern pressure coming from Obama’s Pacific-first strategy.

Go over Mr. Cohen’s dozen points, all excellent, and factor in America’s self-defined interests, and the contradictions begin to unravel. When the US overthrew Mossedgh many years ago, the ball was already set in motion for moving up the court.

Finally, we see last weekend increasing concern about the performance of the American economy, not out of place in light of recent stock market declines. Paul Krugman’s NYT article, “Talking Troubled Turkey,”1-31-14, emphasizes international problems, but in the broader context for discussing America’s weak growth rate, he points out the excessive rate of savings in relation to an insufficient rate of investment, all nice and tidy, academically schematic—whatever it takes to look away from systemic malfunctions in capitalism itself.

Krugman is the quintessential liberal economist, one who complains loudly about gross disparities in the distribution of wealth, yet fails to provide the requisite economic and social policies to overcome them. Enlargement of the public sector, as in the entirety of pump-priming activities in the New Deal—from mobilizing artists, poets, and dramatists in WPA projects, to, yes, leaf-raking, to the construction of hydroelectric dams (all part of the concept and practice of the conservation of the national estate, which provided, quite literally, the unemployed useful projects in CCC)—remains off-limits, as a species of socialism. Also off-limits and going well beyond the New Deal, there is no recommendation for significant public ownership, tight regulation of business and banking, taxation as a weapon in the redistribution of wealth, etc. To extract substantive criticism of capitalism from Krugman would be like pulling teeth.

My NYT Comment on his article, same date, follows:

All hail the theory/doctrine “secular stagnation,” as guidepost to negotiating Sisyphean slope capitalism in general, and US capitalism in particular, must forever ascend. For Krugman/Summers bubbles are not only good, they are essential, lest the rate of savings increases and that of investment declines. What a prospect, because this is telling us capitalism requires spend, spend, spend–no matter the content or social utility of the spending.

People can starve, be homeless, etc., but what is crucial is WASTE, keep the gears in motion, and, faced with choices, America favors sinking resources into military hardware and a global troop presence, rather than public spending for job creation, infrastructure, health insurance, the social safety net–for after all, that would be socialism.

The formula for success: perpetual war. The phrase “military Keynesianism” is too glib by far, because it fails to take account of the psychopathology of global hegemony as a factor in its own right. But operationally it is a correct analysis of whatever is keeping the US economy going. Krugman closes with the admonition about “the underlying weakness of Western economies, a weakness made much worse by really, really bad policies,” but he does not go far enough. He does not tell us what they are, perhaps instinctively recognizing that to do so might call into question capitalism itself.

The American economy, and concern over its growth rate, is also treated in the NYT editorial, “The Economic Road Ahead,” 2-1-14, in which there is actually more than a glimmer of recognition that a dyspeptic capitalism may have some structural flaws. How could it be otherwise, given, beyond the savings : investment ratio, large-scale unemployment, working peoples’ lack of purchasing power, other signs of what is only hinted at, integral to the system a persistence of underconsumption rooted in the inequalities of income, wealth, and power.

As Jackie Chalmes shrewdly observed in The Times, 2-4-14, there is a world of difference , accompanied by respective legislative solutions, when the distinction is raised about addressing opportunity and inequality, the latter an unpleasant reminder of the truth that no one wants to hear, the former, a safe exhortation that does not require attacking wealth and the wealthy. Obama in his State of the Union referred far more often to opportunity than to inequality. The Times editorial recognizes underconsumption, but, like Krugman, confines its analysis within the existing structure of capitalism.

My NYT Comment on the editorial, same date, follows:

“Cautious optimism” is way too optimistic. You hit the nail on the head in observing that growth may not in fact “be broadly shared,” i.e., growth per se is a misleading if not pernicious indicator, when the real problem for the economy is distribution, and for a democracy, EQUITABLE distribution. As you admit, America is a long way away from meeting that target–one that, in truth, neither party favors. Obama’s record on job creation is half-hearted, pathetic. Ditto, relatedly, any attempt to arrest the wide disparities of wealth and income in America. Instead, we have maldistribution at historic highs.

Neither party possesses the moral-political-economic imagination to entertain New Deal-type solutions to pervasive underconsumption, as meanwhile unemployment is rife, foreclosures continue, the infrastructure is rotting, and, withal, money is shoveled into defense, and that, at the expense of a vibrant social safety net, with the result of exacerbating differentials in wealth and income.

Obama is no FDR–not even a Herbert Hoover or Alf Landon, but pretty much the spokesman for corporatism now interlaced with militarism. This is hardly a path to authentic recovery, and rather, a paradigm of growth leaving the average citizen behind. Impoverishment is becoming more real each day; I now see men at street intersections begging. Foreign policy has become the Great Distraction covering over social misery at home.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism.  His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism.