The Iraq War and America's Economic
by Manning Marable, MR Zine
Several weeks ago, with much media fanfare,
the James Baker-Lee Hamilton Committee submitted to President
George W. Bush its long-awaited, bipartisan report on the U.S.
war in Iraq. On balance, the report provided Bush with a face-saving
strategy for pulling out all U.S. combat forces by the beginning
of 2008. The Baker-Hamilton report favors an increase of U.S.
advisers being embedded inside Iraqi troops and direct negotiations
with regional powers Iran and Syria.
Bush, however, almost immediately distanced
himself from key proposals in the Baker-Hamilton report. He now
seems prepared to flagrantly flaunt his contempt for the majority
of American voters, who purged both the Senate and House of their
Republican majorities last November. Why does Bush defy public
opinion by pursuing this unpopular war?
The answer lies not in America's need
to "combat Islamic terrorism" but in the economic necessity
for the United States to control international markets and valuable
natural resources, such as petroleum. Bush's economic strategy
is that of "neoliberalism" -- which advocates the dismantling
of the welfare state, the abolition of redistributive social programs
for the poor, and the elimination of governmental regulations
In a recent issue of the New York Times
(December 5, 2006), Professor Thomas B. Edsall of Columbia University's
Graduate School of Journalism astutely characterized this reactionary
process of neoliberal politics within the United States in these
terms: "For a quarter-century, the Republican temper -- its
reckless drive to jettison the social safety net; its support
of violence in law enforcement and national defense; its advocacy
of regressive taxation, environmental hazard and probusiness deregulation;
its 'remoralizing' of the pursuit of wealth -- has been judged
by many voters as essential to America's position in the world,
producing more benefit than cost."
One of the consequences of this reactionary
political and economic agenda, according to Edsall, was "the
Reagan administration's arms race" during the 1980s, which
"arguably drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy."
A second consequence, Edsall argues, was America's disastrous
military invasion of Iraq. "While inflicting destruction
on the Iraqis," Edsall observes, "Bush multiplied America's
enemies and endangered this nation's military, economic health
and international stature. Courting risk without managing it,
Bush repeatedly and remorselessly failed to accurately evaluate
the consequences of his actions."
What is significant about Edsall's analysis
is that he does not explain away the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq
and current military occupation as a political "mistake"
or an "error of judgment." Rather, he locates the rationale
for the so-called "war on terrorism" within the context
of U.S. domestic, neoliberal politics. "The embroilment
in Iraq is not an aberration," Edsall observed. "It
stems from core [Republican] party principles, equally evident
on the domestic front."
The larger question of political economy,
left unexplored by Edsall and most analysts, is the connection
between American militarism abroad, neoliberalism, and trends
in the global economy. As economists Paul Sweezy, Harry Magdoff,
and others noted decades ago, the general economic tendency of
mature capitalism is toward stagnation. For decades in the United
States and Western Europe, there has been a steady decline in
investment in the productive economy, leading to a decline in
industrial capacity and lower future growth.
Since the 1970s, U.S. corporations and
financial institutions have relied primarily on debt to expand
domestic economic growth. By 1985, total U.S. debt -- which is
comprised of the debt owed by all households, governments (federal,
state, and local), and all financial and non-financial businesses
-- reached twice the size of the annual U.S. gross domestic product.
By 2005, the total U.S. debt amounted to nearly "three and
a half times the nation's GDP, and not far from the $44 trillion
GDP for the entire world," according to Fred Magdoff.
As a result, mature U.S. corporations
have been forced to export products and investment abroad, to
take advantage of lower wages, weak or nonexistent environmental
and safety standards, and so forth, to obtain higher profit margins.
Today about 18 percent of total U.S. corporate profits come from
direct overseas investment. Partially to protect these growing
investments, the United States has pursued an aggressive, interventionist
foreign policy across the globe. As of 2006, the U.S. maintained
military bases in fifty-nine nations. The potential for deploying
military forces in any part of the world is essential for both
political and economic hegemony.
Thus the current Iraq War is not essentially
a military blunder caused by a search for "weapons of mass
destruction," but an imperialist effort to secure control
of the world's second largest proven oil reserves; Bush also invaded
Iraq because it was the first military step of the Bush administration's
neoconservatives (such as Paul Wolfwitz, now head of the World
Bank) to "remake the Middle East" by destroying the
governments of Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
Manning Marable is Professor Public Affairs,
History, and African-American Studies at Columbia University,
New York City. His column "Along the Color Line" appears
in over 400 publications internationally and is available at www.manningmarable.net.
This article was published in the Jackson Progressive, and it
is republished here with kind permission of the author, who retains