13 December, 2006

Big Plans

We're all Abu Ghraib guy. Hooded and muted, afraid to move.

We who oppose The War, the great global death worship of all against all from Sierra Leone to Kashmir to Utah, "The War itself as tyrant king," we are terrified of the big pronouncement, the demand for what we and our families need, the truly human statement that we have a better way to do things.

I don't mean a program, a manifesto, a six-point plan. I mean a diagnosis and the simplest prescription
Patient: Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I go like this.
Doctor: Try not ramming that pitchfork into your forehead.
We don't just need to "get out of Iraq" or "elect Ciro Rodriguez" or "stop the war machine." We need to give up the empire.

By comparison, here's what we're up against. Yesterday, hours after it came out that the Saudi ambassador had gone home to "spend more time with family," Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote a column in which he laid out a scenario he said is supported by some Washington "hawks" (more accurately vultures). They want to create a pro-U.S., Shia-dominated country or group of countries in control of Iraq, Iran, and the oil-rich north of Saudi Arabia.
We hate the Saudis and the Egyptians and all the rest of the standing Arab governments. But the Iraqi Shi'a were oppressed by Saddam. So they'll like us. So we'll set them up in control of Iraq. You might think that would empower the Iranians. But not really. The mullahs aren't very powerful. And once the Iraqi Shi'a have a good thing going with us. The Iranians are going to want to get in on that too. So you'll see a new government in Tehran. Plus, big parts of northern Saudi Arabia are Shi'a too. And that's where a lot of the oil is. So they'll probably want to break off and set up their own pro-US Shi'a state with tons of oil. So before you know it, we'll have Iraq, Iran, and a big chunk of Saudi Arabia that is friendly to the US and has a ton of oil. And once that happens we can tell the Saudis to f$#% themselves once and for all.
This scenario gained credence today with this N.Y. Times story, "Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq." Those of us with critical faculties might find it hard to imagine the U.S. voluntarily signing up to fight a proxy war against Saudi Arabia, the Iranian mullahs and Iraq's Sunnis, while also trying to hold off the depredations of anti-American Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr. Then again, we probably wouldn't have set up the baroque lunacy of the Arms-for-Hostages deal, which involved our new Secretary of Defense.

While we fiddle and diddle, the people who started the war -- people who might share this insane, bones under the tread of tanks babies with bloated bellies child amputee rape rape power drill to the forehead vision of the future -- try to convince the world they're the sane ones, that no one questioned the War (the 15 million on Feb. 15 (as important a date as March 19) 2003 were ghosts and figments, easily canceled noise against a signal of necessity to kill, maim, wreck) and no one truly questions it now.

The latest CBS News poll gives me hope that their magical thinking is running out. 21% of U.S. poll respondents say Mr. Bush is doing a good job in Iraq. That represents 60 million people, which sounds like a lot until you recall that just as many believe that justice was served in the O.J. Simpson trial, approve of how the Catholic Church handles pedophilia and think the killing of civilians in Vietnam was "relatively rare."

Speaking of Vietnam, CBS News also found this remarkable fact:
Today, 62% of Americans call it “a mistake” that the U.S. sent its troops into Iraq, considering the developments that have occurred since the war began.

Yes 62% No 34%

These sentiments are slightly higher than any recorded in Gallup Polls in the early 1970's about the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, the percentage that felt sending troops there was a mistake rose as the war went on. 24% called Vietnam a mistake in a 1965 Gallup Poll, 41% called it a mistake by 1967; 61% said so in 1971 and 60% thought so in 1973.
Of course this isn't another Vietnam, because the Vietnam War took place in Vietnam, and Iraq is very far from Vietnam. (Old joke.)


Without 'empire,' defined however you will, there would be no shipping in the straits of Hormuz, nor around the Horn of Africa, nor through the straits of Lombok & Malaca. There are enough people out there whose daily need of energy demands that these stay open. Ergo, there will be empire. Only question is whose power. The US is not the only nation sending troops hither and yon to run an empire. Look at France's deployments around Africa, particularly around those all important sources of uranium for the French power grid. Look at China's adventures in the Sudan. Look at India's port calls around the Indian Ocean. And that's to say nothing of the now-relatively-powerless Russia. And for a truly ghastly vision, imagine the empire that Bin Laden fantasized about in Afghanistan. Now imagine any of those powers taking America's place. You can't seriously claim that would not make for a more brutal world.

Anyway, anti-imperialism starts at home. Can you live without a car?  

Posted by Omri

(a) "because it is, it will be forever. got a better idea?"

(b) look at that melting iceberg. we should really do something about that, like maybe run it over with an aircraft carrier so no photographers find it.

(c) "energy security" can be defined to mean something other than gunships. most times it is, i think.

(d) hedgehogs can drive? 

Posted by hibiscus

a. I think we both have the same better idea. I'm just mystified at how you think we can roll back the empire before implementing it. b. COver it with coal ash. Hides it real good. c. Historically, no, sorry, it does mean gunships. 

Posted by Omri

Wait, why exactly can't we roll back empire? Because we need gas? Are you seriously suggesting that we cannot drastically reduce our gasoline consumption? You well know this is absolutely false. We have empire because people are interested in power for its own sake, not because there are actual imperatives that demand we exercise it. I'll point to the current boondoggle quietly sucking away billions of dollars, missile defense, as evidence.

Also I'll suggest that asking "can you live without a car?" is a lazy rhetorical way of implying that you can't. Of course you can. 

Posted by saurabh

Saurabh, you totally get me wrong. I do beleive we can cut it down dramatically. But drastically, as in quickly? No. Turnover in cars is what, 20% a year? Turnover in housing, which is very important, is 2% a year. That's a slow pace of urban infill we're talking about. And rolling back our power projection BEFORE we cut consumption is just utterly insane. 

Posted by Omri

I'm not clear on how our power projection is actually positively influencing the availability of oil; more the opposite. Market forces are doing that much better, I think. 

Posted by saurabh

(a) (re:a) we have the same idea. multi-national forces guarding shipping lanes, using both nationally- and internationally-held equipment? or, the treat the disease idea. also i am not the writer of the post, starting letter not withstanding.

(b) (re:c) history is bunk. for instance, the energy security act  from 1980 includes no visible "nuke 'em" provisions.

i meant to say, also, (e) it's a false choice, between american hegemony and bin laden. one aspect of bin laden is a manifestation of wide growling among muslims, but that doesn't make him president of islamistan. anyway incapacitating the bands of brigands in afghanistan following the 9/11 attack is exactly what industrial-duty international cops would have been expected to do. 'winger mockery of international counterterrorism forces comes from their desire to tag everything as for-their-eyes-only. i think, even absent a wider "empire"-empire, such a WMD cop force would be useful. 

Posted by hibiscus

also, our energy supply comes almost completely from this hemisphere, and mostly from this continent. in we wanted to, we could turn over some military equipment to international control, do some quick domestic logistics shifts and equipment upgrades, and keep on truckin' with mexican and canadian fuel without looking back.

also, turning over with a big intercity bus system would be much faster than waiting for car turnover, which is a silly, expensive, dangerous, and self-indulgent idea.

ay-yah, i forgot -- friday is spam day apparently but i have to go -- hedgehog: i don't think the 21% is quite "60 million people" -- ahmm, CBS news polled "adults" and census says 25% of USA is under 18. another 7% are not eligible to vote. how about "between 43 and 60 million"? 

Posted by hibiscus

The problem with pseudonyms like mine is I can't drop my car-free cred on Omri. But yes, I can live without a car. I'm 36 and have never owned one; I've probably driven a total of less than 15,000 miles in my life, almost all of it on lengthy road trips -- a type of travel I have also done by bicycle. So yes, I'm comfortable saying I can live without a personal vehicle.

Not that it matters much. I gain the benefits of empire. I have all the teeth I was born with. On days when the rain makes me want to leave me smooth-riding bicycle at home, I ride a reliable train to work and have no fear that it will stall or explode. My quality of life is well above that of royalty 150 years ago -- reliable food, flush toilets, antibiotics on demand, you name it. The other night I drank a $10 cocktail in a world where half the people survive on $2 a day.

But a comfy life this year isn't my highest priority. I worry that when I'm 72, the consequences of empire will make my life so much worse that all this comfort in my middle age will seem immaterial. Consequences like the victims of empire coming back to get revenge, or the debts of empire leading to economic collapse, or the brutal xerxes enforcers of empire turning their swords and tortures on the domestic population.

You argue that China, France, and other countries have empires as well. Certainly every country, and every city, has a hinterland from which it drains resources if it can. But at some point that process of extraction becomes an end in itself, no longer profitable for the homeland. I think we in the USA are well past that point. So just out of self-interest, we should back off the empire -- we would be happier bombing our own country with $100 bills rather than bombing Iraq with 500-lb high explosives.

And your implication that other countries' empires would be more violent, or that the contest between empires would lead to more violence, than the unipolar world, isn't backed up. One thing states got much better at in the 20th century was talking through their differences before armed conflict began. Note the shocking reconciliation of Europe, which was to the 19th century what the Central Africa has been for the past decade -- the site of our species' greatest bloodletting. The worst exception to this trend was the USA, which had the means of diplomacy and had a stable political situation and yet continued to resort to guns before gab. There was simply no reason to invade Iraq. There was little reason to invade Afghanistan. The goals of those invasions could have been more successfully accomplished through more subtle means.

I suspect that a contest among countries for resources would be unpleasant, yes. But that's no reason to add to the horror. Our resource profligacy in the US not only drives our imperial demand for more stuff, it also deprives others of the necessities of development, making it more likely that they will become scrappier and more violent in the search for resources. Note the practices of the residents of the Niger Delta in their quest for petrol. 

Posted by hedgehog

still with the US ordinary economy (not market) leaning on the military spending, it's almost like you have to match that spending dollar for dollar in your proposals when you say WMDs and invasions are a bad plan. like, replace the F-22 program with one to build a thousand turbines. buses instead of attack subs and carriers. go item by item, each military expenditure, replace it with something useful that would involve spending a similar amount of money in some of the same districts. demonstrate a commitment to providing gravy. 

Posted by hibiscus

hedgehog, as far as I'm concerned, your word that you are not car dependent is enough. Now repeat 300,000,000 times and we're all set.

Saurabh: oil allocations do work better under market forces. But those market forces are at work because the United States Navy says they should be at work. Without the USN, the world's energy infrastricture would be organized under far more mercantilist lines. And in fact, energy mercantilism is an emerging challenge that grows stronger every day as countries go into the market with long term bilateral contracts.

Posted by Omri

Chalmers Johnson, who has done more than anyone to illuminate our national transformation into Empire, has an article in the latest Harpers describing the country's militarism as a military Keynesianism, which is a good way to think about it. It's basically a social program to keep the populace happy; one that also satisfies the industrialists.

This applies to how we can multiply by 300 million. Sitting in my uninsulated apartment, where it's currently about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, my fingers numb as I type, I wonder why $600 billion-with-a-b a year ($2,000 per resident) couldn't be spent insulating homes, mitigating the less desirable parts of urban density (so as to create more of it), improving the national rail infrastructure and financing industrial energy efficiency. Those are the obvious no-brainer ways to cut U.S. energy use in half or more. There's no reason that any big rig drives more than 500 miles with a load. There's no reason for people to choose between shivering and wasting energy. There's no reason why someone who wants to live in a dense city shouldn't be able to find a home in one.

Omri, I'm curious what you mean by energy mercantilism. It seems like long-term supply contracts are just regular capitalism but I suspect you have an insight that I'm missing. 

Posted by hedgehog

When two corporations take part in the oil futures market, it is a transaction of oil for money and nothing more. When China and the Sudan sign a long term bilateral contract, there is more on the table, and a lot more under the table. China gets oil at slightly lower than market prices, and Sudan gets protection against United Nations Security Council resolutions concerning the Darfur genocide. That is the difference between energy capitalism and mercantilism.

It's also a poignant example of what I mean about the world being more brutal when players other than the United States are better able to flex their muscle. American hegemony would have allowed for much more leverage against Sudan with which to force an end to the janjaweed predations, because America lets such things enter in foreign policy calculations. The Chinese Communist Party does not care less about a pile of dead Darfuris. The same applies to France, albeit to a smaller degree. You're of course free to turn a blind eye to it.

You're also free to ignore another glaring issue. Look at almost any blood-soaked, failed-state region in the world. Which firearms proliferate there? They ain't the M-16. There's a reason for that.


Posted by Omri

m-16s jam? 

Posted by hibiscus

M-16A1s don't. But unlike the AK-47, the M-16 hasn't been made available for decades to every thug & psychopath interested in starting a "people's front of X" or "X people's front." Well, it has been offered to some, but sheesh, the AK's been given to every mandril out there, and everyone on every mandril's Myspace friends list.  

Posted by Omri

You might want to check on who has consistently been the leading seller of small arms for many, many years. The AK-47 is certainly the most popular single weapon in the world, but the United States is definitely on top of the list of countries ghoulishly fueling conflicts around the world by supplying them.

You can't seriously believe oil companies don't play politics (or worse). The hegemony of the US Navy doesn't produce some ideal market that's being corroded by shady bilateral agreements. It produces, unsurprisingly, a system favoring American corporations and American interests. We happen to be in America, so perhaps this is a reason to favor that hegemony, but it's an extremely dull one. Some of us have more divided loyalties.

As to the allegation that American hegemony is somehow benevolent, that just makes me extremely angry. We have a terrible, bloody history - we've supported horrible, evil butchers when the oceans of blood they were spilling were at high tide - my god, do I even need to list the dozens of evil regimes we've backed? America lets such things enter into its foreign policy calculations, but whether the equation balances in favor of death or against it is at best an even chance. 

Posted by saurabh

Saurabh, I'll stick to the original observation. The AK isn't just the most popular single weapon. It is the most popular weapon in every blood soaked failed state out there. And that is because unlike the M-16A1, the AK 47 has been made available to every Tom, Dick and Harry out there who decided to turn his gang into a militia and recite the right shibboleths in front of a reporter, no matter how ghastly or psychopathic he might be. There is a huge difference between supplying arms to conventional armies and supplying them to what might politely be called "nonstate actores".

Furthermore, oil companies do play politics. But oil companies don't go around arranging deals of oil in exchange for preventing UN action against an ongoing genocide. It takes states to do that, both state suppliers of oil and state consumers. The Sudan-China oil deal arranged for more ghastliness than all the dirty dealings of the corporate oil oligopoly in this century. And that's just for a start. There is a continuum between oil mercantilism and capitalism, true. But lots of things do. So what? America, in 1945, decided that a world order that is forced toward the capitalist side is one in which oil is less of a prize of war, and thus less likely to lead to more wars, more invasions, more recolonizations. That was the main American interest pushed by the US Navy in the Mediterrenean and Indian Ocean. Compared to the other state actors, that is downright angelic.


Posted by Omri

the AK's been given to every mandril out there 

"given" is a word i'd use for how the gun was distributed before the wall came down. since that time, it looks like people operating inside many different FSU states have sold it. here, i'll make the failure rate of former bloc economies an issue, bring in the question of how hard the USA worked to demolish the finances of the soviets in the 80s along with trying to change their politics, that'll enliven this quite a bit. gosh, why did the FSU states all end up as havens for black marketeers. transition? what transition? enemies should be punished and then raped.

we aren't exactly putting our foot down on this. we just bought a couple hundred truckloads of these guns for the iraqis, from the russian and balkan suppliers. some of those guns disappeared -- nod if you believe the loss was unanticipated by our representatives in iraq.

omri i really feel like this state-focused vision you're pitching is behind the times. the gains of working together are too big for anybody to ignore. and harping on darfur is nuts, when nobody was stopping us from intervening in rwanda and we still sat back and watched. if there were no other interference (impossible in international affairs but let's say it), would we go in there to the rescue? would we leave iraq and enter the sudan instead on a purely humanitarian mission? AYFKM? 

Posted by hibiscus

Well, Hibiscus, since you dropped several other things we're locking horns over, I'll recapitulate what I'm saying. American hegemony has declined, so steeply that I'll admit my state-focused vision is sounding behind the times, alas. But the hegemony's decline is nothing to celebrate, let alone advocate for, not because America is an infallibly benevolent hegemon, but because the competing powers already have an established record of being more willing to engage and sponsor greater brutality, and less willing to let moral issues figure in their foreign policy.

Oil mercantilism was a major cause of World War 2. So in 1945 America set out to force an oil capitalist world order. That order certainly benefitted America, but it also benefitted the world at large. Both the winners and the losers in the oil market benefitted from fighting with dollars rather than navies. Now oil mercantilism is rearing up its head again. This is a Bad Thing (TM).

I brought up Darfur to demonstrate this. A more powerful America would have forced a ceasefire in Darfur using economic sanctions alone. Instead, today's America put its weight against Sudan, but was outweighed by China. And so the genocide continues. As for military intervention, I don't see it being feasible. The supply lines between the African shore and Darfur stretch insanely long through prime territory for Islamists. That kind of deployment is bound to chew up the GIs without achieving much for the Darfuris.


Posted by Omri

There are two major threads here, I'll respond to them separately.
Guns: As I understand it, M-16s are designed to tighter tolerances and work less well in mud and other adverse conditions. AKs can be made in pirate workshops all over the world. Sure, the Soviets handed them out to a lot of assholes, but it's not like the Contras, UNITA, or the Mujahedeen were saints -- or "state actors" to use the polisci jargon. Nowadays I don't know who receives discounted M-16s but would bet that our Somali warlord friends, our pals in the hills of Colombia (and Venezuela?), and in the anti-Castro training camps aren't toting Kalashnikovs. I'm open to new evidence but for now I'm not going to accept that the U.S. has a moral foreign policy when it comes to small-arms distribution. Which segues to

Oil mercantilism:  The U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE (and formerly Venezuela) is the ultimate in what you call oil mercantilism. These countries all have state-run oil companies. The U.S. has no state-run oil company (instead we have a state run by the oil companies) but for decades, we have desperately needed to get our petrodollars back, lest our currency lose value. The agreement, which some say is tacit and others say has been made quite overt in meetings, is that the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emirates spend their excess money on U.S. investment, from T-bills to real estate. In return we keep buying their oil with dollars. It's a Ponzi scheme and it has nothing to do with the free market. If they were investing for maximum return, they would have shifted to euros in early 2001 when it was clear that the American bubble was ready to burst -- not just in equities but in foreign exchange. From early 2002 through early 2005, the euro rose  from costing about 80 cents to costing about $1.30, where it remains today. The Canadian dollar soared from 63 cents to about 90. These proportions will continue to degrade as long as the U.S. runs a current account deficit and fails to invest in its own education and prosperity.

Venezuela under Chavez has left the reservation and started moving its foreign currency reserves into euros. (Iran and Venezuela have been threatening for years to start an oil exchange that would trade in euros, but keep putting it on hold. There are those who claim this is the real reason the U.S. is rattling sabres at Iran.) China has considered such a policy, but they are even more addicted than the Saudis to U.S. dollar-stability at this point, so any move that could deflate the dollar will hurt them so much in the short term that it seems almost impossible for them to do. But I digress.

The worst side of our petrodollar situation is how it distorts our supposed national ideals. Look at how we pamper the Saudis even as they bubble over with anti-Semitism, they decline democratic reforms and they remain hated by many of their residents (I won't say citizens, because that excludes Filipina slaves). For an indication of where such policies go, recall how well it worked out when the U.S. supported the Shah.

The U.S.'s foreign policy, whether in the invasion of Iraq, the positioning of a fleet in the South China Sea (China's import route from the Persian Gulf and Indonesia), or our ongoing support for dollarized despots in the Arab world, is absolutely oriented toward securing our country a supply of oil. No, we didn't set up a mercantilist contract with Saddam Husseing (at least not after he fucked with our pals in Kuwait). Instead we TOOK OVER THE COUNTRY. If that isn't using foreign policy in the interest of an industry, what is?

Your fantasy that the U.S. gives a flying fuck about genocide is cute but sad. The U.S. has set up a likely genocide in Iraq (as I detailed in a post a few clicks below this one) and may be about to take sides to ensure it gets carried out. I'm not sure what to make of your relative disparagement of France and China. I have no great respect for any country, but I think weak countries, like my native Canada, at least tend to learn how to rely on negotiations first and force last. The U.S., like a fast-food-bloated, testosterone-driven prick behind the wheel of a Hummer, has this tendency reversed. 

Posted by hedgehog

More on the morality of U.S. gun distribution : This article says a guy named Vance was arrested in Iraq without habeus corpus or any other human dignities because, among other things, "he had also witnessed another employee giving American soldiers liquor in exchange for bullets and weapon repairs." 

Posted by hedgehog

> ... has an article in the latest  Harpers describing the country's militarism as a military Keynesianism ..."

=v= Well, dagnabbit, I've been saying that since I first learned about Keynes in high school. I want my royalties, dammit!!! 

Posted by Jym

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