Only sustained action, not piecemeal and polite entreaty, can help block America's voracious military-economic machine from devastating the region, writes Azmi Bishara
A Pentagon general returning to work today after 20 years of retirement would be in for a surprise. Two decades ago his country had just emerged victorious over the international communist order after some 40-odd years of political, cultural, economic and intelligence warfare, which erupted in countless regional conflicts, revolutions and coups in various areas of the globe, and in which his agency had invested all its energies and resources. So he would have set off into his golden years confident that America was safer and more secure now that it had bested what Ronald Reagan had dubbed the "Evil Empire". His confidence would have been fortified by the fact that the last arms appropriations bill that president had submitted to Congress amounted to a half a trillion dollars in today's terms, the effect of which was to lure the shattered Soviet economy into another arms race. Imagine that retired general's surprise, 20 years down the line after his government laid to rest that mortal enemy to freedom and the American way of life, that his president, today, in 2008, has asked Congress to approve a military budget for this era of peace equivalent in actual terms to the size of the 1987 budget, which is to say in the area of $505 billion.
The US military budget is equivalent to all the other military budgets in the world put together and five times larger than the combined military budgets of the countries the US has identified as its potential enemies (according to an article by Richard Betts, director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, that appeared in the Chicago Sun- Times of 28 October).
Now, the sceptic may argue that the foregoing comparison is unfair because it fails to take into account the need for exceptional costs to cover the wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. To this one can answer, firstly, that Iraq and Afghanistan are no "exceptions". Any 80-year-old in America would be hard put to recall a time when his country was not either at war or preparing for war. Contrary to the first 150 years of US history, the last 80 is an unbroken record of moving from one conflict or military intervention to the next in the course of what might be described as the unfolding emergence of the American Empire we see today. Secondly, the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions are funded through supplementary spending bills outside the federal budget. If you added the $142 billion funnelled into those wars to the 2008 defence appropriation bill you'd arrive at $650 billion, or 25 per cent more than the US's military budget for 1968, at the height of the Cold War and the arms race and at a time when the US was involved in the fiercest military intervention in its history, the war in Vietnam.
Certainly American defence budgeting is shaped by other motives apart from the need to fund the army and the country's current wars. One powerful incentive is scientific and technological research and development, especially in areas that are transferable between the military and civilian industries, and without the outlays for which major US firms would not be able to stay afloat in the capitalist struggle for survival. Regardless of the existence or nature of perceived threats to US national security, the military budget and technological research and production complex form a mainstay of the imperial economy. It creates jobs, develops civil industries and generally pumps life into the entire machine. In other words, contrary to the claims of free market economy pundits, that industrial, scientific and technological development proceeds apace without the intervention of the state, the state, in fact, puts its full weight behind the research, development and production infrastructure. This is one of the factors that have given the US an edge over other countries in many areas.
The American military budget doesn't just fund research into antiballistic missile shields, battle related psychological shock and stress syndromes, not to mention the development of the state propaganda and media machine. With the development of cyber command technology, sophisticated cybernetics research has received such an enormous chunk of defence spending outlays that US cities are vying with one another to serve as bases for research centres and headquarters dedicated to protecting the computer and data networks belonging to government agencies, banks and even the Pentagon from hackers and viruses, which are purportedly to become the next major weapons of "global terrorism" against the West. As is the case with all major technological leaps, the consequences of investment into cybernetics research and development are certain to bring both benefits and banes to future generations.
What concerns us here is that this economic dynamic may be instrumental in, if not exactly actively propelling the US into, military conflicts through the lobbies that represent the constituent members of the military-research-industrial complex, at least in exacerbating international tensions, magnifying threats and generally working to create a climate conducive to more profitable activity. Like the Zionist political and media establishment, the American military-economic establishment, too, has its own representatives, journalists, organisations and staffers in Washington. I would venture that there's some unspoken law that tells them to exaggerate the strength of the enemy and to fuel tensions and, when things begin to appear to spiral out of control, to present events as some form of conspiracy. At any rate, I have no doubt that Bush's statements regarding the forthcoming ability of Iranian missiles to strike targets in the US and the spectre of a third world war should Iran obtain a nuclear bomb, and Rice's remarks that Iran now presents the greatest danger to American national security, will go a long way towards satisfying the US military-economic establishment's craving for humungous budgetary allocations.
All of which leads us to another world, the other face of progress: escalation occurs for reasons that pose as "rational" in the sense that they seem to present logical arguments for deploying military allocations, or, perhaps, gaining control over the world's major oil reserves, or, perhaps, serving the interests of Israel. In fact, however, these rationalisations exploit stereotypical ideas and images that are far from rational. The stereotypes may already exist in latent form, but they are concertedly magnified and channelled through the press, populist politicking, Hollywood-type films and other media until they form a prevailing culture. It is in this constant subliminal mobilisation of the mass public that resides the other impetus to technological progress.
Still, one cannot help but to remark on the quantities of deliberate lies or unintentionally held myths about the countries and peoples targeted by these campaigns. These are the lies and myths that will be pressed into the service of escalating tensions with an eye to possible recourse to force, in particular against those countries that resist imperial hegemony and strive to promote themselves as powers within their geographical spheres. Regardless of our own opinion of such countries, surely there is something perverse in our parroting the claims and stereotypes produced by the American propaganda machine. After all, why should anyone in the Third World accept the premise that the US should be the party empowered to determine who may or may not possess nuclear energy and who may or may not pose a threat if they possessed it? The US is the only country to have used nuclear weapons since that technology was invented; secondly, it used this weapon against heavily populated cities; and thirdly, this occurred when it alone had a monopoly on that technology. Even after other countries joined the nuclear club, that instance has remained the only time in history that nuclear weapons were used. No socialist country ever used one, not even on the eve of the collapse of that order. Nor has any Islamic country, or India, or any other country. Only the US holds that laurel.
But instead of alarm at its audacity to claim itself the sole judge on matters of nuclear proliferation and instead of horror at Israel's monopoly in this region of both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, we find sarcasm directed at Mohamed Al-Baradei's "naïve" attempt to uphold the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), of which the US was a founding father. The Nobel Prize laureate, whom the West had virtually hailed as a hero, believes that the IAEA should determine how to inspect nuclear technology if an agreement is reached with Iran and how to act if an agreement is not reached. This seems perfectly reasonable. But political commentators and the media have immediately fallen in line with the whims and caprices borne of the arrogance of American might. It is shocking that American political discourse has been adopted uncritically. And political it most certainly is; which means that it is not neutral and that it is meant to lead to the conclusions the US wants everyone to draw.
Anyone who accepts the precedent of branding an official government agency of one country as a terrorist organisation without this label being applied to any other government agency in the world, including certain Israeli ones with their protracted history in the planning and practice of terror, will fall for any categorisation in the American pegging system the ruling criteria for which have nothing to do with objective standards and everything to do with Washington's formulation of the pretexts for doing exactly what it wants. Washington's arguments convince few abroad. Not that this matters to it, since it has the might and power to make its definitions stick. It almost intervened militarily in Darfur on the grounds of its (and the Zionist lobby's) classification of the horrific violence there between agricultural and nomadic tribes -- a conflict that successive Sudanese governments have exploited in different ways through their shifting alliances -- as "Arab genocide against Africans".
Opponents of US policy will get nowhere by trying to convince the US of the errors of its definitions. Their only chance of success resides in their ability to persuade it that in putting its definitions into effect in one locale it will place its interests at risk in another. This is something that cannot be accomplished in an academic conference on terrorism and the definitions thereof. Warding off the natural culmination of a policy of confrontation and its attendant psychological warfare and mobilisation requires sustained struggle. It also entails a certain type of awareness. There's a difference between taking a stance against war on Iran while simultaneously criticising Iranian policy and a stance against war on Iran while blaming Ahmadinejad for courting American aggression. The latter position is actually an elegantly turned around way of supporting the war. And it meshes nicely with the American position, which, officially at least, is not war at all costs but rather if Iran doesn't agree to certain conditions then Iran is responsible for the consequences.
Few countries, including Israel, go on the warpath without offering assorted justifications. The difference in this case is that some people in this part of the world are chorusing America's justifications for going to war against Iran. I imagine that, in part, this echoing of America's position has its origins in a curious argument. It holds that America is a crazy country and that its president is off his rocker, so other governments would be wise simply to do as he says because otherwise their leaders will be held responsible for the catastrophes that descend on their countries. Suddenly, all those governments in the world that are normally accused of being irrational are expected to be more rational than the world's sole superpower and the man who leads it. But if American foreign policy is really that irrational surely this must be a solid enough reason to oppose it, for the only service the above-mentioned argument performs is to aid and abet a form of international blackmail.
Opposing the war, as noted above, requires sustained action. This is the time not for futile arguments but for building a pro-peace coalition or an anti-war movement, which has taken shape elsewhere in the world but not in this region yet.