This last week, U.S. intelligence officials and their allies in the corporate media spread the evidence-free claim that Russia has put bounties on American troops in Afghanistan. This propaganda campaign was both an attempt to reinforce anti-Russian sentiment, and a subtle way to manufacture consent for the ongoing Afghanistan war. Which prompts one to ask: why is the empire so committed to perpetuating war? Why haven’t any of the wars it’s started since 9/11 been ended, and why does it evidently have every intention of making sure they don’t end?
The short answer is that this is a reaction to the decline of U.S. global hegemony. The imperialists could afford to pull out of Vietnam, but can’t afford to pull out of Afghanistan, because now they see endless military occupations and war operations as crucial for retaining control over certain areas. What historians call “micro-militarism,” where an empire in decline tries to regain what it loses through military aggression, has been on display from the U.S. for the last two decades.
So from this perspective, America’s perpetual wars are a sign that the system is weakening, a revelation of the empire’s reactiveness in the face of recent geopolitical shifts in favor of its rivals. But this doesn’t mean that the wars themselves are going to stop as U.S. global dominance continues to disappear. Rather the American ruling class will do everything in their power to make the era of war go on, because perpetual war has become the factor that holds the U.S. capitalist power structure intact.
Some limitations will naturally appear on where and how the U.S. can wage war as the empire’s decline progresses. A U.S. invasion of Iran or Venezuela is no longer practical, given how costly either of these would be and how much military aid these countries would likely receive from Russia and China. And the U.S. is being forced to get its troops out of Iraq amid the Iraqi backlash to Trump’s illegal January assassination of General Soleimani. Still, the Washington political establishment will try to make war go on in other forms.
The wars in the Middle East and Africa will go on, increasingly in the forms of drone warfare and privatized mercenary operations. The military has been transitioning to drones throughout the last decade or so because they’re a more efficient option than ground shooting, and the drastic increase of drone strikes during the Trump era shows this trend will continue as Washington looks for less costly ways to project military might. And private mercenary companies have already been moving to take the role of military forces as America supposedly winds down its wars.
America’s foreign occupations and military bases will also be retained to the greatest extent possible, because like the drone wars and the nuclear arms race, these things maintain the weapons manufacturing industry and enrich the high-tech sector. But the demands of the military-industrial complex are just the surface-level reason why Washington won’t ever end its wars.
America’s ruling class also wants to keep war going because in this situation where U.S. influence is declining, and where global capitalism is imploding in on itself amid economic and environmental catastrophe, perpetual warfare has become the corporatocracy’s means for keeping up profits.
When the U.S. empire was still expanding during the mid-to-late 20th century, war didn’t have to be perpetual, because the corporatocracy could expand its profits simply by setting up enterprises within poor nations. The World Bank and the IMF could assimilate these countries into the corporatocracy through debt traps, and the CIA could use relatively peaceful means—like coups and assassinations—to force uncooperative countries to join in on the empire’s business operations. Tremendously violent political repression was involved in these operations, and wars like the ones in Korea and Vietnam were sometimes carried out. There were also proxy wars with the Soviet Union. War didn’t become perpetual, though, like it’s become in the 21st century. The difference is that the corporatocracy’s options are now more limited.
Even after the imperialists overthrew the Soviet Union, Putin has made Russia into a rising power that sets itself up against U.S. interests. China has risen to a point where it can significantly challenge U.S. interests in Africa, South America, and elsewhere. Iranian influence has been increasing as U.S. Middle Eastern influence has been waning. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have created an explosion of jihadist extremism in the region, mirroring what’s happened since the 2011 NATO invasion of Libya.
Aside from the ever-increasing sanctions on its rivals, military operations of various kinds have been Washington’s response; the drone wars in the Middle East and Libya, the proxy wars with Russia in Ukraine and Syria, the continued military operations in Iraq that have involved attacks on Iran, the anti-Russian war games, and the military buildup in the areas surrounding China are all part of America’s micro-militarist phase.
As always happens when empires descend into micro-militarism, these aggressive moves are ultimately speeding up the imperial decline. The sanctions on Russia have strengthened Russia’s alliance with China and weakened the U.S. dollar by creating a sanctioning of dollar transactions. The assassination of Soleimani has provoked international backlash against the U.S. and further strengthened Iraq’s ties with Iran. America’s global military presence has stretched the empire’s resources thin, making it unable to invade Venezuela or Iran. In these ways, the endless wars are backfiring. Yet Washington can’t stop them; they’re crucial for keeping much of America’s remaining influence, they serve a role in the cold war against Russia and China, and their long-term continuation is beneficial for corporate America.
The Pentagon stated something to this effect in one 2018 report, which concluded that if the U.S. wants to maintain military buildup against Russia and China, its corporations will have to create “support for a vibrant domestic manufacturing sector, a solid defense industrial base, and resilient supply chains.” This reflects the observations from columnist Louis Uchitelle, who wrote in the New York Times in 2017 about how integral the war economy has become to American corporate profits:
“The U.S. still leans on the military-industrial complex… Modern factories, even when they materialize, are highly automated, which helps to explain why the manufacturing work force has bumped along at less than 13 million for nearly a decade, according to the Labor Department, although factory output — including weapons production — keeps rising smartly.”
This means that military contractors and Silicon Valley have become dependent on the perpetuation of war—both in terms of the military wars and in terms of the cold war with Russia and China—for a continued profit boom. While military contractors like Raytheon sell weapons, tech companies like Amazon sell technologies to the military. As indicated by the 2018 Pentagon document’s emphasis on the importance of building up the high-tech sector, the Silicon Valley companies especially stand to gain from a continuation of war.
This is because they’re being relied upon to bring about what Washington think tanks call the “fourth industrial revolution,” where U.S. artificial intelligence, automation, and quantum computing technologies outcompete China in these areas (or at least this is what the cold warriors hope will happen). Washington’s pursuit of artificial intelligence technologies as they relate to managing nuclear weapons also present a business opportunity for big tech, since a nuclear arms race with Russia and China is getting in motion.
Micro-militarism and the onset of the 21st century’s great-power competition have produced a myriad of conflicts that Washington is unwilling to back out of. The ones who benefit are the plutocrats who can profit from the many facets of these conflicts. War is how American capitalism has come to be held together. So for as long as America exists, it will keep being at war.
Neoliberalism Is Going To Keep Us In A Perpetual Health Crisis
We’d like to think that this will all be over relatively soon, that the perils from the pandemic will recede by the end of this year or by the end of the next. And right-wing politicians like Trump and Bolsonaro are glad to foster an illusion of safety so that they can justify trying to send people back to work for the benefit of the capitalist class. But these efforts by the reactionary political factions to downplay the crisis will only further seal the neoliberal world’s dark fate.
In contrast to the efficient and well calculated approaches to fighting the pandemic that socialist countries like China have carried out, the response from the capitalist countries has been hindered by numerous systemic obstacles towards effectively combating an outbreak. In the United States, which is where the most Covid-19 deaths have happened, these detrimental factors within capitalism have been the most obvious: lack of an adequate healthcare system amid decades of austerity, lack of a social safety net strong enough to maintain people’s livelihoods during quarantine, a federal government that’s been unwilling to seriously address the virus for fear of losing too many corporate profits, a reactionary population which is so fixated on “liberty” that they start calling Covid-19 a hoax, political polarization that makes it a partisan issue to take the pandemic seriously.
This situation is paralleled in Brazil, whose president has largely destroyed the social safety net and then implored people to ignore the movement restrictions put in place by the country’s governors. This has caused Brazil to have the most Covid-19 deaths apart from the U.S. It’s no wonder why the next two most affected countries are Russia and India, or that Chile and the U.K. also rank within the top ten countries with the most deaths from the pandemic. All of these places have been deeply influenced by neoliberal policies, which has made them especially susceptible to the virus.
While most of them don’t have openly denialistic leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro, their very economic systems are incompatible with the China-style measures that have been shown to defeat a pandemic. Under neoliberalism, people’s ability to stay at home is limited by how much their bosses and their plutocrat-controlled governments are willing to let them shelter from the virus. Unlike in China, where millions of people were very effectively quarantined while the police did their shopping, the U.S. has undergone haphazard movement restrictions that the president tried to undermine long before they could have had a meaningful impact.
People have also been largely forced to violate the lockdown restrictions and the safety advice, because going back to work has often been their only way to keep access to housing, food, and healthcare. In the neoliberal world, the infrastructure and resources simply haven’t been available to bring about a Covid-19 response which matches that of China, Vietnam, the DPRK, and other socialist nations.
The capitalist class within these neoliberal countries has even been able to use this cruel reality to make a case for forcing people back to work. The financial ruin, stress, and suicidal depression that poor people in neoliberal countries have experienced as a result of being in quarantine is portrayed as evidence that lifting the movement restrictions will cause more good than harm. Effectively fighting the pandemic, they’ve argued, would be too costly for our capitalist society.
Fitting the social Darwinist nature of the system we live in, sacrificing the lives of those most vulnerable to the virus has been implicitly viewed as necessary for the wellbeing of the people who can afford a botched pandemic response. If the rich will be alright, the resolution is seen as good enough.
While Bill Gates would never admit that class is the source of these systemic obstacles towards fighting the pandemic, he’s been forced to acknowledge them, having stated recently that the U.S. “isn’t even close” to doing enough to fight Covid-19. “The U.S. in particular hasn’t had the leadership messages or coordination that you would have expected,” he said. “The range of behaviors in the U.S. right now, some people being very conservative in what they do, and some people ignoring the epidemic, is huge. Some people almost feel like it’s a political thing which is unfortunate. The governor of North Dakota, a friend of mine, had to say ‘please don’t be mean to people wearing a mask’ which kind of blows the mind.”
The solution that plutocrats like Gates are pushing forth is one of high-tech surveillance, police repression, and selective distributions of medical care from billionaire philanthropists like himself. Big tech is working with the national security state to plan “smart cities” where everyone is tracked by AI-driven mass surveillance. The U.S. military and its partnered police forces are prepared to employ increasingly warlike tactics as the economic meltdown produces more social unrest. And Gates, who won’t challenge these measures of class repression or try to reverse the inequality they perpetuate, aims to partner with other elites in advancing technocratic solutions which function within the neoliberal paradigm.
Poor people and colonized people, who have been dying the most from the virus, won’t be saved by whatever the system does. Until they overthrow the capitalist state and replace it with a proletarian democracy, they’ll be stuck in a situation where their communities are under a perpetual public health crisis. Covid-19 has become just another mundane hardship that the poor inevitably face under late-stage capitalism, like homelessness or food insecurity.
So will be the case for the future pandemics that appear in this decade and beyond. The warming of the climate and the destruction of biodiversity have made the planet far more susceptible to viruses than it was in earlier decades, and Covid-19 is just the first hint of how these factors will worsen outbreaks. David Wallace-Wells has written that
“The virus is a terrifying harbinger of future pandemics that will be brought about if climate change continues to so deeply destabilize the natural world: scrambling ecosystems, collapsing habitats, rewiring wildlife, and rewriting the rules that have governed all life on this planet for all of human history.”
Global capitalism, which created the ecological catastrophe behind this new era of virus dangers, won’t protect those most vulnerable to the outbreaks. When a society is systemically incapable of prioritizing public safety over profits, in a situation like ours it will find itself trapped in a long-term vicious cycle. Neoliberalism will only ever allow for half-measures to be put in place in response to pandemics, which means the health crisis won’t have a chance to really be fought until neoliberalism ends.
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