Harry Truman surprised Americans with his call for European-style government guaranteed health care for all, Johnson with the extent of the Great Society reforms, and even Nixon with the avalanche of regulatory legislation and social spending he approved, outperforming Johnson on a number of “Keynesian” fronts. Hillary Clinton will offer no such surprises. Her consistent record in the context of the Party’s rightward gallop allows us to infer with iron confidence what we can expect from the Monstress on both the foreign and domestic fronts.
Her coming onslaught against the working population combines neoliberal austerity with some of the dominant strategies of neoconservative-Democratic party foreign policy. What follows is a relatively brief précis.
Full Spectrum Dominance and the Limitlessness of Imperial Ambition
If we knew nothing of the history of capitalist imperialism and its present incarnation, and took for granted a world of nations exhibiting differing levels of wealth and power, we might imagine a geopolitical settlement wherein the world is divided into different regions, with the nations exhibiting the largest economies wielding the greatest regional influence. ‘Regional influence’ might be reflected in more authoritative powers determining, after consultation with other regional sovereignties, the prevailing patterns of trade relations, aid arrangements and investment policies. This would be a “multipolar” world with no single global hegemon. Potential conflict might be averted by 1. no major power aspiring to global dominance, and 2. the region’s primary powers, representing the legitimate interests of the regions’ constituent nations, participating in conflict-avoidance negotiationss with other regional primary powers. I neither recommend nor discourage such an arrangement. The point is that it is one of a number of possible global settlements that presents to the political eye no immediate horror. It is not the world we live in.
Our world features a Washington establishment fully committed to what the Pentagon and the rest of the Deep State call Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD). The concept is implicit in the imperial project. Once imperial ambitions are in place, the world is and must be the limit. In today’s world, dominated exclusively by capitalist powers, and in which every region is implicated both industrially and financially with almost every other, capitalist competition means that imperial power cannot be shared. When multiple modern would-be empires have co-existed, the arrangement has been short-lived: war has always rendered subordinate all but one.
Washington’s putsch for FSD means that the hegemon must be on permanent war footing. Liberals prefer to pin the doctrine of permanent war on Bush, Cheney & Co. But FSD is the Washington Consensus, and permanent war was assured by Obama in… his Nobel Peace Prize speech!
With Washington unchallenged by any power comparable to the Soviet Union, all the imperial stops are pulled: if you are not with us, you are against us. The U.S. must not only be unsurpassed in military power, it must be unequalled. I.e., any nation able to deter American aggression is to be considered an enemy state. U.S. elites see China and Russia as the major actual and/or potential deterrents to U.S. global hegemony. Accordingly, Russia is surrounded by U.S. military power, the former Soviet republics are sucked into Washington’s major alliance NATO and U.S. naval fleets hover in or very near to China’s territorial waters. The Navy Times (March 3, 2016) bluntly reports that “The U.S. just sent a carrier strike group to confront China… The U.S. Navy has dispatched a small armada to the South China Sea.”
This is part of what the “tilt to Asia” is about. And Hillary Clinton is behind it lock, stock and gunship. An ounce of historical consciousness recognizes this as a set-up for armed conflict. There need be no conscious intention to go to war. But this is the kind of scenario that magnifies enormously the risk of military confrontation. I shudder to think of what tomorrow’s Cuban Missile Crisis would look like.
The Tilt To Asia and the Ongoing Immiseration of the American Working Class
It has been a mantra of elites and the(ir) president that American workers must learn to submit to lower wages and declining living standards in order to “lay a new foundation for growth” or to acknowledge the realities of globalization or… In an April 14, 2009 speech at Georgetown University Obama told us “we” must “consume less at home and send more exports abroad.” That same year General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, two years before he was appointed head of The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, reminded the Detroit Economic Club that “We all know that the American consumer cannot lead our recovery. This economy must be driven by business investment and exports…”
These remarks harbor an implicit logic spelling out the implications of the end of the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society and the return to the economy of the 1920s: no government supplement to the low and stagnant free-market wage, virtually all productivity increases going to capital and the mathematically inevitable consequence of these policies, great and growing inequality. Now, low wages perform double duty: they depress the single largest component of total production costs and hence enhance profits, and in a period of heightened international competition, low wages are the key cost-reducing factor enhancing export competitiveness. In a 2010 speech to the Import-Export bank, Obama stressed the policy priority of export competitiveness: “The world’s fastest-growing markets are outside our borders. We need to compete for those customers because other nations are competing for them.” As Immelt put it in 2011, “We’ve globalized to sell our products. We’re a big U.S. exporter…. Today we go to Brazil, we go to China, we go to India because that’s where the customers are. That’s where the markets are… Of our big products, 80% of them will be sold outside the U.S.” The message is plain: overseas consumers are to perform the now discarded function of the U.S. worker – they will purchase the output of U.S.industry. American workers will look like the low-wage slaves of export-dependent poor countries.
Hillary Clinton has hopped on board the immiseration boat. In 2011 she announced that “Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia.” The “tilt to Asia” is as much about replacing the cash-strapped American worker with overseas, primarily Asian, purchasers as the customer base for American companies as it is about preserving U.S. global hegemony. American workers will of course continue to purchase, with debt-supplemented wages, the output of U.S. industry, but they will be seen by elites and policy makers primarily as costs of production rather than as sources of revenue. Clinton will direct her energies to this project. There’s no way American workers will fail, over time, to catch on to the president’s war against workers. I won’t be surprised if her future unpopularity surpasses her current level of popular disdain.
We cannot overestimate the priority in ruling circles of re-gearing the U.S. economy to what are seen by elites as the markets of the future. Last year U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spelled out in some detail the geostrategic foreign policy imperatives undergirding elites’ tilt to Asia/low-wage policy:
We already see countries in the [Asia-Pacific] region trying to carve up these markets… forging many separate trade agreements in recent years… Agreements that… leave us on the sidelines. That risks America’s access to these growing markets. We must decide if we are going to let that happen. If we’re going to help boost our exports and our economy… and cement our influence and leadership in the fastest-growing region in the world; or if, instead, we’re going to take ourselves out of the game… Asia-Pacific is the defining region for our nation’s future… half of humanity will live there by 2050… more than half of the global middle class and its accompanying consumption will come from that region… President Obama and I want to ensure that… businesses can successfully compete for all these potential customers… over the next century, no region will matter more … for American prosperity. (emphasis added)
In a speech one month later, Carter would spell out the geopolitical aggression required to sustain the new export putsch: “There should be no mistake: The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world.” And he made clear that this was how Washington would maintain Full Spectrum Dominance in Asia, declaring Washington’s intention to become “the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.” The bit about “wherever international law allows” is nonsense. Washington has been explicit that where international law conflicts with imperial ambitions, international law takes the fall.
Neoliberalism at home dovetails with imperial aggression abroad. Washington’s overall agenda is nothing if not consistent. Clinton’s regime portends intensely worrisome outcomes here and abroad.