By Jim Miles – Canada
The first part of this essay introduced the theme of the unison between three of the larger global concerns – the economy, the war on terror and the environment. While looking at the economy necessitated turning to the military, the following look at the military necessitates a turn towards the military.
Back to the Economy
Any discussion of U.S. military efforts by necessity overlaps with economic and corporate interests around the world. Consider General Smedley Butler and his oft-quoted statement in the socialist newspaper Common Sense in 1935:
“I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras ‘right’ for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested…. Looking back on it, I felt I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.”
Butler’s wars were not the first of the wars about money – in deed that was what the American Revolution was all about, the control of taxes and revenue – and it is what has had a huge impact in all the wars of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries. Certainly World War II had other significant elements but the main impetus behind this and other wars was the imperial desire for power and control of resources and wealth. From Rome to Washington the lessons of history are oft repeated but never learned, as indicated by Paul Craig Roberts:
“The Obama administration’s belief that it can continue with Bush’s wars of aggression while it engages in a massive economic bailout indicates a lack of seriousness about America’s predicament. Rome eventually understood that its imperial frontiers exceeded its resources and pulled back. This realization has yet to dawn on Washington.” (1)
On with the War
Superficial appearances – the media glitz, the Hollywood glamour, the everyday spectacle of the U.S. citizen going about their free democratic lives in the sprawl of shopping malls and suburbia – hide the reality that the U.S. society is a militaristic one. The military budget of the U.S. is more than the total of all other countries combined – with a Pentagon budget of $711 billion equalling 48 per cent of global military budgets (2), but not including other items from areas such as the CIA and security departments as well as foreign aid to some countries that augment the military expenditures. Military bases span the globe with over 750 bases of some kind or another (I have read of up to more than a thousand but without reference) scattered across the world on land, while they have supreme dominance with air power globally from both land and sea based platforms, and have a tenuous equality of mutual nuclear destruction – although the neocons have tried to turn this into first strike pre-emptive nuclear capabilities. The U.S. command has divided the world into several command sectors, each with their own powerful ‘proconsul’ protecting the rights of the empire. (3)
Yet for all this wealth and power, the U.S. military finds itself caught up in ineffective occupations of two other countries and through its own rhetoric and ignorance has alienated most of the rest of the world, exempting the few colonial hanger-ons such as Britain, Canada, and Australia, and including the full spectrum of the Muslim world. Where it is not occupying countries, it is supporting oligarchies, dictatorships, and autocrats in many other countries around the world, and in some areas where it matters least (as in Zimbabwe) doing nothing at all. It is pushing NATO well outside its original charter and its intended protective area into the Middle East and into Eastern Europe and the former states of southern Soviet Union. Having helped dismember Yugoslavia, the U.S. now has major bases set to control the Middle East’s oil using camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, several bases in Iraq including the huge “embassy”, and the Diego Garcia Islands, the British Colony more recently colonized by the U.S. military.
There are many compliant governments around the world. With its central concern and energies focussed on the Middle East, some Latin American countries have been freeing themselves from the yoke of the empire, only to find that they are so tied into the Washington Consensus financial systems with the IMF and World Bank that it is a limited freedom. In the Middle East, most countries have some sort of supporting role with U.S. interests, three countries in particular stand out as being in full compliance with U.S. interests: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. All are supported financially by the U.S.; all receive armaments from the U.S. (in order to return that cash to where it originated and keep the U.S. economy healthier, but not that of the countries in need of aid); and all have interwoven ties supporting their own elitist powers in relations with Israel.
The Roots of Terror
There always has been terror of some sort going on somewhere in the world, with the worst propagators being governments against their own people (American indigenous genocide, the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union) and governments against other peoples of the world in the name of empire and its rhetorical rationales of civilizing missions, modernization, free markets, and democracy. Most recently terror has been defined by the corporate media along the U.S. government lines that terrorists are essentially people of any kind who do not like what the U.S. is doing around the world, which at the moment makes most of the world into terrorists. While Obama has spoken much more of reconciliation and moving forward without looking back, and open dialogue, little has changed on the ground in affected countries.
The real roots of terror do not lie in the philosophical realm of “they hate us for what we stand for”, but in the much more obvious though rarely accepted reality that it is western nations in particular that have occupied much of the world’s land surface and controlled its waterways for much of the last two or three centuries. The colonial era has not gone away with the great movement forward for the independence of colonies around the world after WW II, but has morphed into a newer era of financial obligations (here comes the economy again) that tie most countries to the machinations of the IMF, World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury. Unfortunately for these countries, the “hidden fist” is what keeps those finances in place, ready to smack down any country that indicates it does not want to follow the edicts of the U.S. leaders.
Terror is an excuse, an excuse to continue occupying (or reoccupying) Middle East territories. The Middle East is not a monolithic block of western hating Muslims, but a highly varied area of different cultures, beliefs and resources. Terror is an excuse to project U.S. militarism to all realms of the earth including near space, and into the unknown realms of time, into the next century. The main protagonists of terror throughout the world have been the British with their empire, other European countries, and the United States. It is their desire for control, for wealth, for the sacred energy resources of oil and gas that has created the terror in other areas of the world. That this terror was once visited upon the U.S. in a spectacular, but by far not the worst, terror act in the world came as a surprise mainly to the citizens of the U.S. who are generally kept ignorant of U.S. atrocities overseas, or who are willfully ignorant of it all so as to not disturb their comfortable consumptive utopia.
9/11 could have readily been foreseen. Its consequences, if scripts notated to bin Laden are to be believed, were also foreseen, with the U.S. embroiling itself in small wars and occupations that are helping to bleed its economy and resources even further than the economists have. For a very brief while, the U.S. had global sympathy against terror, but since then has done everything in its power to aggravate those sentiments and turned the U.S. into one of the most reviled countries in the world. Bin Laden’s complaints were several: keep the infidels out of the holy land (Saudi Arabia in particular); kick the Russians out of Afghanistan; kick the Indians out of Kashmir; free the Palestinians from Israeli occupation; and to manipulate the U.S. into self-destructing by trapping it in ongoing low scale insurgencies in hostile territory. He has had much more success than the U.S. has seen so far with its Middle East goals.
At the heart of it all are the Palestinian territories, occupied by Israel since 1967, and before that back to the founding of Israel with its takeover of Palestinian territory in the nakba of 1947-48. With 3.8 million people living in contanments that are in some cases no more than open-air prisons, the Palestinian people suffer under the Israeli occupation that is fully supported by the U.S. administration. (4)
For the Palestinian people, life is a daily fight for survival against impossible odds as all aspects of their lives are controlled by the Israeli government and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). For westerners, Palestine has been a thorn in the side that festers occasionally, with the IDF applying the necessary treatment to keep it under control if not fully removed. Israelis use the rhetoric of terrorism and fear – very similar to U.S. rhetorical arguments – to rationalize their many incursions, the IDF attacks against a variety of targets, and the building of the wall. Behind the rhetoric is the reality of encroaching Israeli settlement onto Palestinian land to fulfill the dream of Eretz Israel as a contiguous and homogenous Jewish unit from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. U.S. media presents only the Israeli side of the argument as it continues its relationship with Israel within several ideological fronts: religious fundamentalism, militarism, energy and resource control throughout the Middle East.
Israel for all intents and purposes is unbeatable militarily. No nation state around them would survive if they perpetrated any form of attack as Israel could, and would, retaliate with the full force of its estimated 200 nuclear weapons, based on land, sea, and air – very similar to U.S. strategies. While many of the Arab-Muslims states speak against the atrocities within Palestine, their real intentions and purposes from their actions suggest they are much more interested in maintaining their own elitist status quo in their relationships with Israel and with the U.S. But as both Israel and the U.S. have learned, a territory occupied and oppressed by a military power with a different worldview creates nothing but counter-terror towards the invaders.
The only force that could convince the Israelis to pull back to the Green Line (the 1967 borders) is the U.S. and that is not likely to happen with the new Obama administration. Obama gave full verbal support to the Israeli government before and after the election. His choice of Emmanuel Rahm as White House Chief of Staff indicates that Israel’s position will not be ceded to anyone else lightly. This was recently demonstrated with the proposed appointment of Charles Freeman for the chair of the National Intelligence Council, which was aborted after a short but vicious slander campaign by Israeli allies in the power corridors of the U.S. capital. It did not seem to be noticed by anyone that the greatest irony was the highlighting of his relationship with Saudi Arabia, while Bush’s relationship with the Saudi prince’s and their petro-military dollars received much less if any attention in mainstream media. Whether the U.S. needs Israel or whether Israel needs the U.S. seems to be a moot argument as they both tend to encourage the liaison for their own sometimes diverse reasons.
At its heart then, the Palestinian occupation becomes a symbol. It is a symbol of the Arab League’s failure to be able to do anything about it; at the same time it symbolizes their somewhat thorny accommodation to regional Israeli politics. Beyond the Arab League, the occupation is symbolic of the west’s suppression, hostility, and control of Muslim lands from Western Africa through to South East Asia. With the advent of al-Jazeera television, the Muslim world finally had a view of the world not controlled by their own elitist powers, a view that revealed the atrocities visited upon their religious kin across the region, with the savage Israeli attacks into Palestinian territory, into Palestinian lives, visible for all to see.
As in Palestine, so in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the terror of occupation gives rise to the ‘terror’ of resistance. The unifying element is the occupation, seen rightly as a combination of resource take-over and religious fundamentalist belief in the superiority of the invaders cause. Across the region, the increase in violence and terrorism can be directly attributed to the global war on terror announced by the Bush administration shortly after 9/11. For Obama the trend continues.
The Long War – into Pakistan?
The new Obama administration, again full of wonderful rhetoric of hope and looking forward, has not changed significantly the U.S.’s militaristic tendencies in the Middle East. Still describing the mission as one against terror, Obama is making a few tactical shifts while retaining the overall strategy of occupying Muslim states in order to contain and curb Russian and Chinese activities and control access to and transportation of oil and gas resources.
The ruse is not subtle. Some 35-50 thousand troops will remain in Iraq, while the contingents in Afghanistan will be increased. Both areas are suffering immensely from the occupation of the U.S. and its allies. The Obama administration is now turning its sights on Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Muslim country of 170 million people. (5) If the smaller populations of Iraq and Afghanistan are any warning, any military ventures into Pakistan will have disastrous unintended and perhaps unimaginable outcomes. For now, there are no direct land operations, apart from special units operating in certain areas, the use of aerial drones to attack ‘terrorist’ positions – or weddings or festivals – and the political manipulations between the elites and the U.S. trying to control the various factions of the military, the intelligence services and the various and complicated tribal relationships.
The results of any increased actions within Pakistan are unknowable other than to be certain that it will not be pretty. At the moment, the people in power and the military are appear to be following U.S. edicts and performing as the U.S. wishes. It is within itself a diverse area, with some strongly modernized urban areas and other areas still operating as tribal lands as they have for centuries. Tribal lands are divided by the artificial boundary, the Durand Line, created to separate Afghanistan from Pakistan, but breached readily by the native population. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas are only somewhat federally administered, with ongoing hostility between federal forces, tribal loyalists, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other sundry warriors and drug lords.
Kashmir is quiet for the moment but its largely Muslim population is divided between Pakistani control – with its attraction for Muslim mujahideen – and Indian regular forces. Pakistan also has worries about increased Indian presence in Afghanistan creating a double-sided front against its traditional enemy. China and Russia also have interests that cross into Pakistan. The Pakistani government is shaky, with various parties largely based on tribal affiliations manipulating for power, a power that has to operate with a military that historically has been happy to take over power when convenient or warranted, depending on one’s interpretation. There are a variety of Muslim fundamentalist relationships between the army, the intelligence service, the political parties, and the various tribal fiefdoms. It is not a stable area, and it will not be made more stable by increasing U.S. activity in the area. Expect the worst.
The real certainty is that “terrorism” will not be beaten. The U.S. is the occupying force and the natives will remain restless until they are all dead or the occupiers leave. As with Iraq and Afghanistan, any move to increase military activity within Pakistan will only increase the reaction of the people against the U.S. The natives will not be returning home in defeat – they are at home, a home where they have previously witnessed the fall of empires.
Great Game – End Game – End Results
The ultimate end game of all this military activity has nothing to do with democracy and freedom, or civilization and modernization. It is about dominating the region’s resource wealth, using its captive population for cheap labour and open financial markets that allow the massive transfer of wealth to the U.S. and other imperial countries to continue. Whether those markets are democratic or not matters little to the U.S., as they already interact quite well marketwise with such non-democratic countries as Saudi Arabia, Jordan et al. The U.S. – and they are not alone in this, just the prime candidates to date – is quite willing to deal with whatever country has the requisite resources and a further ability to keep the new frontier stable. The Great Game for control of the Middle East, and Central Asia continues, with more than likely similar results of previous rounds of the great game.
The end results could have a heavy influence in many areas. The extended financial requirements of wars projected in time and space are huge, not just the ongoing operating costs, but the costs in the homeland where the social and medical costs of on-going warfare add up quickly and significantly. The military itself consumes huge resources to keep itself operating, not just oil resources to fuel the war machines, but also the material resources to garrison and resupply the hardware and personnel.
Apart from those effects on the U.S. there are obvious long-term effects on the countries that have been invaded, occupied, or simply bombed. Death, disease, industrial and agricultural capacities, essentially the whole of the occupied societies are altered for the worse. Leading into the third component of my overall theme of the negative effects of a corporate inspired debt ridden consumptive life style is the environmental destruction that accompanies it all, a component seemingly neglected in the face of the other two major elements of war and financial ruin.
Simply put, there are too many countries fighting for too many resources, and those resources that are gained are not equitably distributed, creating a wealthy powerful elite and a less wealthy – at the moment a greatly declining wealth – group of citizens. We are consuming our planet and in doing so consuming our environment.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.
(1) Roberts, Paul Craig. “Is the bailout breeding a bigger crisis?” Counterpunch, March 26, 2009.
(2) See Arms Control Center.
(3) The best works recently discussing the U.S. military empire are from three authors: James Caroll – Crusade, House of War; Andrew J. Bacevich – American Empire, The New American Militarism; and Chalmers Johnson – Blowback, The Sorrow of Empires, and Nemesis. There are many others that cover the same area but not with as much depth. One of the best works for militarism and the Middle East see Eric Margolis’ American Raj.
(4) There are many excellent references for Palestine: many on line, including www.palestinechronicle.com; for a wide list of texts relating to Palestine, search “Jim Miles” on the Palestine Chronicle website or see here.
(5) for references on Pakistan see: J. Peter Scoblic – US vs. THEM; Tariq Ali – The Duel; Eric Margolis – American Raj; Ahmed Rashid – Descent into Chaos; Michael Scheuer – Marching Toward HELL; an interesting website that explores the many issues within Pakistan, with a distinctly anti U.S. flavour, see here.