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In an interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone Argentina’s former President Nestor Kirchner recalled a conversation he had with U.S. President George W. Bush in which Mr. Bush expressed his view that war is ‘good for the economy.’ Given the context, a high level discussion over the efficacy of government programs to boost ‘the economy,’ Mr. Bush was apparently voicing a crude variant of ‘military Keynesianism,’ the theory that government military spending during WWII brought the U.S. out of the Great Depression. With WWII being one of the greatest slaughters in human history, the difference between the unintended auxiliary ‘benefit’ of the U.S. having the only industrial economy still standing as ‘the West’ was in need of rebuilding and Mr. Bush starting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under the lunatic theory war has constructive benefits seems not to have occurred to him. Put differently, as long as ‘the economy’ for which war is considered good is Mr. Bush’s, the costs in terms of death, destruction and misery are apparently debits destined for someone else’s social accounting.
A quick glance at a map of the world shows Syria, the object of current President Barack Obama’s blood lust, just west of Iraq and just north and East of Israel, with Iran to the east of Iraq and Afghanistan to the east of Iran. Mr. Bush’s war on, and occupation of, Iraq sent approximately one million Iraqi refugees fleeing into Syria and opened a Sunni-Shia divide that is a primary factor in current Syrian tensions. U.S. ‘cold’ hostilities with Iran date to the waning days of the (Jimmy) Carter administration when the Iranian people rebelled against the puppet regime the U.S. had installed to ‘secure’ Iranian oil for the company that became British Petroleum (BP). Oil geopolitics explain some fair portion of the U.S.-Israeli ‘alliance,’ the overthrow of the legitimate government of Iran by the U.S., the repeated wars the U.S. has launched against Iraq and the geographical importance of Afghanistan to U.S. control of the region. In fact, the continuing presence of the U.S. in the Middle East over the last century has been the central cause of political instability in the region. And bogus rationales were given to suggest that slaughter and destruction were in some way for the benefit of those killed in every military conquest the U.S. has carried out in the last century.
Now we have current U.S. President Barack Obama, himself the leaker of classified ‘intelligence’ that has him personally ordering the extra-legal (illegal) murders of hundreds of women and children through his drone program, the political leader who refused to allow the prosecution of senior Bush administration officials for war crimes related to the war against, and occupation of, Iraq and Commander-in-Chief of a military that is one of the shadow protagonists in the ongoing conflict in Syria, claiming that the U.S. has the legal and moral authority to launch ‘official’ war against the Assad regime in Syria. However, under existing international law Mr. Obama lacks the legal authority to do so, given his own culpability for knowingly murdering hundreds of innocents he lacks the moral authority to do so, and as political leader of one of the shadow protagonists he already bears legal culpability for illegal acts being carried out by the U.S. military and intelligence services in Syria. And to paraphrase the charge made against the U.S. when baby Bush was selling his war on Iraq: how do we know Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons?—because Mr. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, still has the receipts. Press reports have it that U.S. ally Great Britain was in fact selling the ‘precursor’ chemicals for Sarin gas to at least one side in the Syrian conflict until the EU (European Union) forced them to stop a few months ago.
Mr. Obama’s ‘official’ rationale for launching war on Syria—that chemical weapons represent a special class and their use requires a U.S. response, might be slightly less ludicrous if the U.S. hadn’t so recently launched an illegal war of aggression on Iraq in which over one million people were killed, the country was substantially destroyed and banned white phosphorous, depleted uranium shell casings, cluster bombs and illegal torture were liberally used against the civilian population. Across the Middle East today U.S. military drones are being used to terrorize and murder civilians and the murders are being covered up with the knowingly inaccurate classification of civilians as ‘terrorists.’ The CIA continues to run illegal ‘black sight’ torture facilities across the Middle East (and the world) where people accused of no crime are routinely tortured, raped and murdered against the Geneva Conventions and international law. And in fact the very same Syrian government now being accused of illegal acts was delivered hundreds, if not thousands, of people by the U.S. to be illegally tortured and murdered through the CIA’s and U.S. military’s ongoing ‘extraordinary rendition’ program. Mr. Obama’s cynicism in selling his war as ‘humanitarian’ intervention is nearly heroic in its contempt for U.S. history in the region, for the people who elected him and for his intended victims.
Public relations surrounding wars of imperial plunder have in recent centuries and decades tidied them up with alleged moral authority replacing naked self-interest as their stated intent. However, oil geopolitics alone tie together the last century of U.S. military actions in the Middle East. Much as with the development of ‘AFRICOM,’ the U.S. military adjunct to Western capitalist expansion in Africa, Mr. Obama’s external goal in Syria is to offset competing imperial claims on Middle Eastern oil. In so doing he is following U.S. geopolitical ‘tradition’ by using military force to maintain a ‘balance of power’ with chaos, death, terror and destruction the tools used to gain and maintain control of resources for the benefit of ‘Western’ multi-national corporations. The official U.S. line has been and remains that oil is a strategic resource, but it is strategic by design. Western corporations have engineered modern economies to be dependent on oil. To use this engineered dependence as the ongoing rationale for military conflict demonstrates Western capitalism to be incapable of the introspection needed for basic self-preservation in the face of changing circumstance–history has most decidedly not yet ended.
Part of the near-term pushback against Mr. Obama’s war on Syria is the implicit admission that Mr. Bush’s war on Iraq was an unmitigated disaster. Mr. Bush’s main accomplishment with his war, in addition to creating murder, mayhem and destruction on an industrial scale, was to demonstrate the limits of American military power. And the presence of Russia as the other central shadow protagonist in Syria points to changing circumstance for the U.S. as imperial power. Across the Middle East, Africa and Asia the cost of imperial capitalism is rising as control of the resources necessary for Western capitalist production is more effectively contested and these resources become more broadly distributed. And Mr. Obama’s desire to go to war in Syria is related in a fashion to his revival of Wall Street, the predatory and dysfunctional financial system in the U.S. and Europe—in that rather than addressing the historical trajectory of the increasing costs of the social and economic catastrophes it causes, Mr. Obama’s intent is to maintain this existing system at all costs. And the reason, as it has always been, is that the class that benefits from imperial capitalism and that has ‘led’ U.S. foreign policy from one catastrophe to another over the last century has control of Western political economy. It is hardly an accident that the Wall Street banks Mr. Obama has pledged undying allegiance to are central players in global commodities (oil, food, water) markets.
With the experience of the U.S. catastrophe in Iraq so fresh in Western minds it is unlikely Mr. Obama’s bid for more of the same will come so easily. Regardless of whether or not he gets his war, the Western political economies of engineered dependence will remain dependent on increasingly costly and destructive imperial wars until the economic system that benefits from chaos, death and destruction is replaced by one that has the possibility of working. Mr. Obama’s implied intent to maintain the existing system at all costs demonstrates the incapacity for systemic ‘self’ correction. And how closely liberal Democrat Barack Obama’s policies have followed those of conservative Republican George W. Bush’s is testament to the unity of interests guiding all public policy in the West. That at this point in history dropping bombs retains an internal logic in ‘official’ Washington demonstrates just how small the realm of political imagination is. To be clear, Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush before him, is calling on the U.S. military to ‘punish’ the political instability the U.S. created and perpetuated along with the use of chemical weapons the U.S. and / or its allies sold for a ‘profit’ into this manufactured instability, all in an effort to maintain control of oil for the very Western corporations that engineered Western political economies to be dependent on this oil. Perhaps Mr. Bush’s minions had it right, but for the wrong reasons, with their idiot chant of ‘freedom ain’t free.’
War is everywhere and always a moral and economic catastrophe. That its costs and ‘benefits,’ to the extent looting and pillage can be considered benefits even to those doing the looting and pillaging, are unevenly distributed, tend to result from the basest of human power relationships and premise social relations on material gain rather than social cohesion make imperial war a rough analog of capitalism. And while Western economic indicators like GDP (Gross Domestic Product) have long been understood to count devastation and carnage as ‘positives’ because economic destruction is not subtracted while the economic production from rebuilding is counted as a positive, these are quirks of national accounting, not indications that death, destruction and carnage are even in a perverse sense ‘constructive.’ That Mr. Bush (and Mr. Obama) was educated at America’s most elite schools and apparently believes that war is ‘good for the economy’ has a class dimension that likely goes beyond his expressed disinterest in the Keynesian economics grudgingly taught in American schools—the class he was born into has tended to benefit greatly from the looting and pillage of imperial capitalism. It was no accident that his Cabinet was loaded with ‘chicken hawks,’ advocates of wars that other people fight, who also happened to be ‘oil men’ (and women) —it is a class privilege in the U.S. With yet another war for imperial capitalism looming, it is time to end this class privilege.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York. His book Zen Economics will be published by CounterPunch / AK Press in Spring 2014.