Back on March 21, 2007, in a column on The Political Junkies.net, the predecessor webmagazine to TPJmagazine.us, I speculated that perhaps the primary objective of the Iraq Invasion from the beginning was not “oil and bases” which so many of us figured it was when the war was commenced. Rather, I then surmised, it was to establish the basis for Permanent War. At that time I thought that the reason for doing this was political, to establish the basis for Karl Rove’s dream of a Permanent Republican Majority. The real purpose of the so-called “Surge” in my view, an action that was strongly opposed by none other than James Baker et al and Bob Gates (see the article referenced above), was to establish the on-the-ground implementation of that strategy.
Unfortunately for that Bush/Cheney aim, Iraq is enough of a politically advanced country to have eventually told Bush that the US had to get out. It will be, next year. Come what may on the ground. The current Iraqi government (no radicals they) simply does not want US troops on the ground for very much longer. So, Permanent War folks, what to do? Afghanistan, that’s what. But why, you might ask. The GOP is not in power, at least not formally, although through the use of the filibuster in the Senate they effectively run the Congress. Well let’s take a look at that question.
In 1987 the Yale historian Paul Kennedy published a prescient book entitled The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York: Random House). From the back cover copy: “Although the United States is at present still in a class of its own economically and perhaps even militarily, it cannot avoid confronting the two great tests which challenge the longevity of every major power that occupies the ‘number one’ position in world affairs: whether, in the military/strategical realm, it can preserve a balance between the nation’s perceived defense requirements and the means it possesses to maintain those commitments; and whether, as an intimately related point, it can preserve the technological and economic bases of its power from relative erosion in the face of ever-shifting patterns of global production. . . . [T]he United States now runs the risk, so familiar to historians of the rise and fall of previous Great Powers, of what might roughly be called ‘imperial overstretch:’ that is to say, decision makers in Washington must face the awkward and enduring fact that the sum total of the United States’ global interests and obligations is nowadays far larger than the country’s power to defend them all simultaneously.”
Indeed. In his book (from which he has fairly recently backed away some), Prof. Kennedy identified two major factors (other than direct defeat in war, viz. fascist Japan, Italy and Nazi Germany) in the fall of virtually all of the great Imperial powers going back to the Rise of Europe but most especially Spain and the United Kingdom. First, overseas military commitments that were simply beyond the physical ability of the metropolitan power to maintain. Second, being overwhelmed by the financial costs of attempting to do so and falling into major foreign debt that could no longer be sustained. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, the US leadership, both on the political side and much more importantly on the corporate/financial class side, seem not to have read Prof. Kennedy’s book. Or if they have, they have chosen to totally ignore its import in their determination to maintain the near-term profitability of their companies, as well as their third boats, their fourth houses, and their tenth cars.
The U.S. Afghanistan policy makes no sense in terms of what might be accomplished on the ground, just as no similar policy has made sense in that country since Alexander the Great failed to conquer it for his empire at the end of the Fourth Century, BCE. But now, the US proconsul there, Gen. Petraeus, has effectively announced that the previous US policy, announced by President Obama last year, is no longer in force. In fact, he is calling for a new “Surge,” Afghanistan-style. When he was putting together the Iraq “Surge,” it was clear that his speeches were being written for him by the GOP White House. This time around, on first hearing his spiel the first word that jumped into the heads of many on the Left I’m sure was “insubordination.” It surely was the first one that jumped into my head. Now, given what the White House has said following the General’s current round of interviews, I am not at all sure that that’s the case. Indeed I am thinking that the corporate/financial class that effectively runs US policy regardless of who is in the White House now sees Afghanistan as the perfect opportunity to create Permanent War.
No outside power has ever “won” there. The Taliban are medieval religionists (who ironically share many Old Testament Biblical interpretations with the Republican Religious Right as it happens, but that’s another story.) They make a great enemy. They cannot be defeated but they cannot defeat the U.S. and as many NATO partners it is able to suck into staying either. Wow! US military expenditures take up about 53% of the Federal budget. That’s lots of profit for the arms industry. U.S. military activities around the world use lots of oil while at the same time protecting the supplies for the highly profitable U.S. oil industry, and so on and so forth. These economic interests simply cannot be kept afloat politically without instituting Permanent War and the domestic supports for it, centered as this War is on the Muslim world, such as spiraling Islamophobia. What else could explain the Right Wing hysteria about a Muslim cultural center, to be built in a former Burlington Coat Factory building two blocks from the northeast corner of 9/11 ground zero, opposite the New York City Hall, on the historic 19th century “newspaper row,” transformed by the likes of Pat Buchanan (“Morning Joe,” Aug. 17) into a “mosque on hallowed ground.”
Permanent War is not politically useful to the Democratic Party, but it is very useful to those corporate interests which run the current Democratic Party through the Democratic Leadership Council. Add the expanding “secret war” in Yemen et al, plus all the well-known round-the-world other military stuff, and there you have it folks: the master recipe for Permanent War. And who is to lead it on the ground in Afghanistan for the Democratic White House? Why none other than the man who was chosen by the GOP White House to lead it on the ground in Iraq for them. This time around, the specific scripts may not have been written for Petraeus in the West Wing, but I think that those folks who think he wandered off the Obama reservation to do this have another think coming. What, you think that a so-called “liberal” cannot engage in imperialist foreign policy? Think Truman, think Johnson. In the 19th century UK, a real Liberal in the old-fashioned English sense, William Ewart Gladstone, was just as much of an imperialist, especially when it came to the Jewel of the Empire, India, as was the Tory leader Benjamin Disraeli.
Until now, the U.S. seems to have been able to maintain its empire and its imperial ambitions. But as of now, if I am right about Afghanistan and the reach for Permanent War, the Tipping Point has come. The U.S. is entering the phase of Kennedy’s “imperial overstretch,” just as Spain did beginning in the early 18th century (viz. the War of the Spanish Succession) and Great Britain did in the latter part of the 19th century (viz. the Boer War). The U.S. military is running out of troops. It has too many overseas obligations. It is also running out of money. The mis-named “entitlements” will be cut back but they can be cut back only so far. The taxes on the rich who now run the country so well in their own interests will be raised a bit, but only so far. With the export of so much U.S. capital and the conversion of its economy from a basis on manufacturing capitalism to finance capitalism, the current army of the unemployed is going to become permanent. That helps in the final battle of the corporate class to kill off virtually all of the remaining unions in the U.S., but it does create increasing instability at home.
And so, what tipping point has then been reached? The only way for the corporate/finance class to suppress and control that rising discontent among those who will no longer be taken in by the race-based policies of divide-and-conquer will be all-out physical repression. I see nothing but the advent of religio-fascism ahead, very likely lead by Hitler-in-heels-with-a-Smiley-Face. I hope I’m wrong, of course. I’m getting up there but I do have children and grandchildren. I would like nothing better than for a commentator to tell me how wrong I am.
And oh yes, there’s that other tipping point, in global warming/climate change, that the Earth may well have now actually reached, well before any of the gloomiest scientific projections said it would. But that’s another story.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.