IS IT REALLY A "WAR AGAINST TERRORISM?"
A New Democracy Editorial
In the wake of the horrific events of September 11 our political leaders declared a "war on terrorism" which they claim will last "for fifty years" and may include as many as 60 countries as enemies. President Bush's $379 billion Pentagon budget includes $48 billion for fighting terrorism.
Why would the government launch such a vast undertaking? Nothing is as it seems in this war. The government is lying about just about everything. Beneath the rhetoric about terrorism and "the clash of civilizations," their real goals are very different and have more to do with controlling the American people and working people around the world than they have with a real strategy to fight terrorism.
What is the US government really trying to accomplish? Three things:
1) Ratchet up social control in the US to dramatic new levels.
2) Project military power more aggressively to places around the globe where elite power is threatened.
3) Establish a permanent US military presence in Central Asia, to secure that region's vast resources – read "oil" – for US needs.
Of these goals, number one is the most important. But since the other two are more easily explained, let's look at them first.
PLAYING "THE GREAT GAME" FOR OIL
For more than a century Afghanistan was the object of the "Great Game" played by the British Empire and Russia for control of this crossroads of Asia. When it recruited and armed the mujahadeen in Afghanistan to attack Russian invaders in 1979, the US became a key player in the game.
Afghanistan has even more importance now than it did in the nineteenth century. Central Asia and the Caspian region hold the greatest proven reserves of oil and gas in the world after Saudi Arabia – from 60 to as many as 200 billion barrels of oil and 236 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to John Maresca, Vice President of UNOCAL Corporation, in Congressional testimony of 2/12/98. The difficulty is getting these vast reserves to market. Afghanistan is the best route for an oil pipeline to deliver these products. The chief obstacle to construction of the pipeline has been political instability: "Construction of the pipeline... in Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders, and our company."
The US media have of course kept mum about the oil pipeline, lest Americans suspect that the real goals of the government in this war are not as pure as it claims.
PROJECTING US POWER
The ferocious bombing of Afghanistan, complete with cluster bombs and 15,000 pound "daisy cutters," the largest non-nuclear device in the US arsenal, provided an awesome display of the military might of the US elite and an object lesson to any country on Earth that may have ideas about bucking the New World Order. The message is pretty clear: the US has unchecked, unmatchable firepower. Get out of line and you will get a taste of what Afghanistan has got.
The US is also using the war to project military power more aggressively to "hot spots" around the globe. Since there is no longer a credible Communist threat, the US is using "Islamic terrorism" to legitimize global intervention on behalf of local elites and US and European investors. The US is filling the power vacuum in Central Asia left by the collapse of the Soviet Union, establishing military bases at key points in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, as well as in Pakistan in South Asia, where there is growing instability. The US has announced that these military emplacements are long-term. In mid-January the US dispatched 660 troops to the Philippines, having supposedly discovered a link between Al Qaeda and Moslem rebels there. The government has also found supposed links between Al Qaeda and Colombian "terrorists," by which it means not the right-wing death squads which work hand-in-glove with the US-supplied Columbian armed forces, but the peasant guerillas who have been fighting for over thirty years against the wealthy elite of Columbia.
WAR AND SOCIAL CONTROL
Near the end of the Cold War, as the Soviet Union was about to self-destruct, Boris Yeltsin made a very revealing comment to the US government. He said, "We are going to do something very terrible to you. We are going to deprive you of an enemy."
What did he mean? The 50-year long Cold War had proved extremely useful for both the Soviet and US elites. The "Soviet threat" justified gigantic military budgets and a world system of US military bases. It legitimized US attacks on popular revolutionary movements in Central America and Indochina and other places too numerous to mention and the installation of US client regimes by the CIA in Iran and Guatemala and elsewhere. The "Soviet threat" gave much-needed cover to repression in the US against militant trade unionists and against the early civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement. The Soviets, of course, used the "capitalist threat" in similar ways, to justify anti-democratic repression in Hungary and Poland and throughout Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union itself. If the Cold War had not existed, Soviet and US ruling elites would have had to invent it.
The use of war by ruling elites for social control is hardly new. In a recent article in Le Monde, Philip Golub says, "Indeed, every war has both a foreign and a domestic agenda; Aristotle [writing 2400 years ago] reminds us that a tyrant declares war 'to deny his subjects leisure and to impose on them the constant need for a leader.'"
The US has needed a new Cold War to take the place of the Soviet threat for over ten years. Sure, the government tried to pump up Saddam Hussein as "worse than Hitler," but how seriously can you take an enemy which is defeated in a few weeks with fewer than 80 American battle deaths? The government tried to scare us with images of "rogue states" like North Korea, but North Korea is on life support. Not a very credible threat.
The "war on terrorism" represents a dramatic escalation of the strategy of social control undertaken by the corporate elite in 1972 as a counteroffensive to the revolutionary upsurge of the 1960s and early '70s. The essence of that strategy was to introduce insecurity and fear into people's lives at every possible point. Now the government has taken the extraordinary step of promising us "a generation of war." This war on terror is designed to terrorize us, with threats of a sinister enemy from whom we have to be protected, and to grant the government limitless powers to police us. If we raise our voice against the government, we ourselves are under threat of being identified as "with the terrorists."
It is important to see this new elite strategy in historical perspective. At the close of WWII, governments here and in Western Europe adopted a "welfare state" approach to pacify their citizens. While there were still great inequalities and injustices, the lot of most Americans improved. But what was expected to be a period of social peace erupted in the 1960s into a "revolution of rising expectations" here and abroad.
In 1972 the government and corporate leaders went on the counteroffensive, to lower expectations and tighten their hold on society. For 30 years now they have attacked people in every area of their lives in the name of "the free market" or "globalization."
In the last few years, however, this strategy has reached a dead end. Everywhere they look, the corporate and government elite see growing resistance to their rule:
The growing anti-capitalist, anti-"globalization"
movement. The mass demonstrations against the World Trade Organization that
took place in Seattle, Quebec, Sweden, and Genoa represent the emergence of
something which has not been seen for 100 years: an international
anti-capitalist movement not controlled by Communists. The demonstrations are
concrete expressions of the emerging agenda of people around the entire globe.
It is true that this movement is an extremely mixed bag and has not formulated
any clear answers or widely-accepted vision of what a new society to replace
capitalism might be or how we might get there, but these are the questions with
which it is concerned. As the depredations of capitalism on human society become
ever more obvious, the tendency of the movement to pose revolutionary answers to
these fundamental questions will only grow.
An end to belief in capitalism as a system. Millions
of people, perhaps billions worldwide, have lost their confidence in the future
under capitalism. This ironically is an inevitable effect of thirty years of
corporate attacks on people's security, but the rulers had no other choice. They
had to lower people's expectations and they did. The absolute conditions of life
for most of the world's people have worsened dramatically in the last decades,
and their relative conditions, compared with the wealthier people in their own
societies, have grown even worse. Loss of confidence in the system is very
dangerous for elite rule; it leads people to search for alternatives.
A growing willingness to see the system as the problem. Ten years ago, when the few of us who founded New Democracy began talking with each other, it struck us that the problems people were then experiencing—high unemployment, homelessness, health care priced out of reach—seemed to many people to be like the weather. No one was responsible for them, they were just there: "Shit Happens." Few people actually saw these things as functions of government or corporate policies. The political movements of the time mostly revolved around "identity politics" – gay rights, feminism, multiculturalism and such.
Now this has changed. Millions are aware that the rich have stacked the deck. They see Enron executives cashing out and leaving their employees robbed of their life savings. They see the corporate hand behind attacks on health care and job security and public education.
This new restiveness isn't just in the US, of course. Capitalism has devastated wide swaths of the globe in these years. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, promises of a better life through capitalism have proved hollow. China has experienced decades of social dislocation and increasing inequalities which some experts believe presage uncontrollable social upheavals. The standard of living in Mexico and some other Central and South American countries is less than a third of what it was in 1982. In Argentina mass resistance to capitalist measures toppled four governments in December, 2001 and threatens to spread to other countries.
Where is all this leading? It's not clear. It is not that the elite expect revolutionary upheaval tomorrow, but they see the possibility of revolution growing larger on the horizon. The elite understand that they cannot continue to rule in the old way, with democratic liberties and a world at substantial peace. The "war on terrorism" is how they are preparing for the future in a society which is rapidly discovering that it has no future. This new elite strategy is an admission of profound, potentially terminal weakness.
The fact that capitalism has nothing to offer but endless war does not mean that the system will collapse of itself or that we necessarily will succeed in creating a new society. Revolutions are built on hope, not despair. We can only find our way to a new society if we make this our goal and if we have a path to take us there.
From New Democracy Newsletter, November 2001 - February 2002.