Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 14              May 11 - 17, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Pax Americana: Casus Belli[1]
(First of two parts)

Conquest and colonialism is nothing new, indeed, is as old as the state and class society itself.  Economic expansionism of a polity through military subjugation and political domination of others is the universal character of empires old and new.  But the colonial impetus under modern imperialism is qualitatively different from the colonial impulse of classical imperialism. 

By Paul L. Quintos*
Posted by Bulatlat.com

U.S. imperialism has become so brazen that its leading ideologues in and outside of government no longer feel obliged to obscure its renewewd drive for world hegemony.  Take for instance Richard Haass, a member of the National Security Council and director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department under President George W. Bush, who declared that it is necessary for Americans to “re-conceive their role from a traditional nation-state to an imperial power.”  In a paper he delivered in November 2000,  he went on to explain that “to advocate an imperial foreign policy is to call for a foreign policy that attempts to organize the world along certain principles affecting relations between states and conditions within them.  The U.S. role would resemble 19th century Great Britain… Coercion and the use of force would normally be a last resort…”

Commentators in the U.S.’ mainstream press now commonly pontificate about American Empire or Pax Americana.  For instance Michael Ignatieff, professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, wrote bluntly in the New York Times Magazine (July 28, 2002): “Imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary because it is politically incorrect.” He went on to describe the U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan as “an imperial detachment, advancing American power and interests in Central Asia. Call it peacekeeping or nation-building, call it what you like, imperial policing is what is going on in Mazar. In fact, America’s entire war on terror is an exercise in imperialism. This may come as a shock to Americans, who don’t like to think of their country as an empire.  But what else can you call America’s legions of soldiers, spooks and Special Forces straddling the globe?”

Indeed, ever since the collapse of the revisionist regimes in the former Soviet bloc, there has been a much more open acknowledgement of U.S. imperial role in the world as the sole superpower.  But more than official discourse, it has become easier to expose imperialism because, once again, war has brought into relief its harshest reality.  

War on Iraq

The recent invasion and present occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces is highly instructive for a new generation of progressive activists across the globe.  It has demonstrated to all and sundry that we are still very much in the age of imperialism where an imperialist state uses gunboat diplomacy to subjugate a nation  and impose its political control over an erstwhile independent polity in order to secure the economic  and geo-strategic interests of its ruling elite.

In order to seize control of the world’s second largest oil reserves for U.S. oil supermonopolies, channel public resources to monopoly capitalists in the military-industrial-complex, undermine the OPEC, circumscribe the access to oil of rival powers, and fortify its capacity for military intervention in the region, we have all just witnessed U.S. imperialism kill over a thousand Iraqi civilians in less than three weeks and rob the nation, indeed, humanity of its cultural and intellectual heritage.  This is on top of over 150,000 Iraqis killed during the 1991 Gulf War and another 1.5 million Iraqi men, women and children who died due to the economic embargo imposed by the U.S. thereafter. 

In building up to this, the U.S. ruling class tried to galvanize support and manufacture legitimacy for its planned war of aggression by controlling and manipulating information and its channels for dissemination – force-feeding the population with false reports about the threat of WMD in the hands of Saddam Hussein.  Failing in this, the U.S. invaded Iraq anyway, hence demonstrating to the world that imperialist rule is bound neither by international law nor by international opinion.  By so doing, it has severely undermined the credibility of multilateral institutions -- principally the UN -- that serve as a fig leaf for imperialist manipulation of international relations. 

Today, Iraq is governed by an American appointed by the U.S. State Department.  Its interim government is composed of American officials and U.S.-appointed Iraqi (including Kurdish) officials.  This interim government is poised to privatize Iraq’s oil industry and oil-related service industries which U.S. energy companies are expected to corner.  It is awarding contracts to foreign (almost exclusively American) companies for rebuilding its ports, roads, telecommunications infrastructure, schools, hospitals and other vital industries.  At the same time, the U.S. military is now building four bases inside occupied Iraq while aiming its sights on Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran. 

The recent actions of the Bush regime lay bare the predatory and brutish nature of U.S. imperialism, and warn of the pre-eminent threat that it poses against the peoples of the world especially in the countries oppressed by imperialism such as Iraq and the Philippines. 

But now that the brutal reality of imperialism has returned to the forefront of people’s attention, the task of deepening people’s understanding of the imperialist system remains.  We still need to expose the fundamental logic according to which modern imperialism operates; the underlying causes behind recent developments in the world situation so that we are not misled into believing that U.S. imperialism’s deadly swagger today is merely the result of neo-conservative hawks taking power in Washington together with Bush.  Or that they are merely the result of policy choices that can just as easily be reversed by a new, more liberal U.S. administration. 

Colonialism, neocolonialism and wars of aggression

Conquest and colonialism is nothing new, indeed, is as old as the state and class society itself.  Economic expansionism of a polity through military subjugation and political domination of others is the universal character of empires old and new.  But the colonial impetus under modern imperialism is qualitatively different from the colonial impulse of classical imperialism. 

The Roman empire subjugated other peoples primarily to capture more slaves, expand territory and extract more tribute for Rome. From the 16th to the 19th century, the mercantile powers of the Old World such as Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and England likewise plundered their colonies of natural resources but also exploited them as captive markets for manufactures. 

But ever since the closing decades of the 19th century, colonial conquest has been situated in the context of the development of capitalism, specifically in the stage of monopoly capitalism.  This is capitalism wherein free competition has been supplanted by monopoly; when entire industries are dominated by a few giant firms and the economies of capitalist countries are essentially controlled by a finance oligarchy in whose hands merge industrial and bank capital. 

Under monopoly capitalism, the concentration of capital has reached the point wherein further capital accumulation requires monopoly capitalists to export surplus capital or invest overseas in order to exploit cheaper labor, capture market outlets and raw material sources.  The international scope of their economic operations require monopoly capitalists or modern imperialists to seek to exercise decisive political influence or control over overseas territories in order to secure and further their economic interests.  They must be assured that their investments across the ocean would not be expropriated, for example; or that their exchange transactions and contracts would be honored and their loans would be repaid – in short, they must be assured of continued surplus extraction.  For this they must employ the extensive coercive powers of the imperialist state. 

Competing imperialist states partition the world into their respective “spheres of influence” through various means including colonial conquest or wars of aggression against other nations.  Hence, colonial conquest peaked during the last two decades of the 19th century just after capitalism in its stage of free competition reached its apogee and passed into its final stage: monopoly capitalism or modern imperialism.   The world that greeted the 20th century therefore was a world carved up by the Great Powers into colonies and dependencies. 

The impulse of monopoly capital to expand eventually led to attempts to repartition the world according to a new balance of power.  And this, of course, meant inter-imperialist war in 1914-18 (WW1) and again in 1939-45 (WW2) -- the most horrific wars  the world has yet seen . 

But military invasion and colonial occupation is just one form by which imperialist states exercise control over other nations. 

After setting up local state institutions (bureaucracy, military, schools, laws, treaties, etc.) that would conform to the requirements of the imperialist center, the colonizer can then let local comprador elites rule the local polity in its behalf.  This is referred to as “nation-building” by today’s imperialist ideologues. 

The exploitation and domination of erstwhile colonies by imperialist centers can thereafter be maintained primarily through the mechanism of regular economic transactions – trade, investment, finance – backed up of course by a good dose of military intervention. 

The imperialist states were forced to rely more on such indirect forms of political domination or neocolonialism after World War II.  Centuries of colonial plunder and oppression inevitably engendered resistance in the colonies. Thus there was an upsurge in national liberation movements in Asia, Latin America and Africa during the 1950s just as the imperialist states were weakened by inter-imperialist war.  This forced the change from colonial to neocolonial policy.

Nevertheless, in the age of finance capital, the temptation to colonize and occupy another territory is still most acute when the objective is to monopolize raw material sources that are literally buried in the ground.  Oil is of course a pre-eminent example of such a strategic resource, hence the ruthless campaign of U.S. imperialism at present to recolonize the oil-rich regions of Central Asia and West Asia (or the Middle East). 

Today, new wars of aggression are being instigated by the U.S. under the pretext of waging war against terror, or against rogue states, and for promoting freedom (free enterprise!) and democracy. 

Colonial and neocolonial conquest and wars of aggression are inevitable under capitalism, particularly during its highest and final stage -- monopoly capitalism.   To be thoroughgoing in our opposition against wars of aggression is to oppose the imperialist system itself. Posted by Bulatlat.com

[1] Pax Americana or “American Peace” is how some pro-imperialist ideologues refer to American Empire, alluding to the previous empires of Rome and Great Britain which were also referred to as Pax Romana and Pax Britannica respectively.  Casus belli refers to something that serves as an occasion or cause for war. 

*Paul Quintos is the deputy executive director of Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education & Research, Inc. (Eiler) and a fellow of the Center for Ant-Imperialist Studies (CAIS). This paper was delivered at the 19th International Solidarity Affair, The Pearl Manila Hotel, Manila, Philippines May 7, 2003.

Fascism and state terrorism (Second of three parts)

Imperial Overstretch (Conclusion)

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