Chris Harman


Why the US wants to run the world

(8 November 2003)

Comment, Socialist Worker, No.1876, 8 November 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Chris Harman reviews a new book that reveals the roots of US imperialism

SEVENTY FIVE percent of people across Europe now believe the war against Iraq was wrong.

Even in the US feeling against the cost of the occupation of Iraq is beginning to put in doubt George Bush’s prospects for re-election next year. And the war was a major factor in New Labour’s loss of support in by-elections here.

But Bush and Blair show no sign of retreating from their commitment to holding on to Iraq – and still hint about further adventures in the direction of Syria or Iran.

Why are they behaving like this?

This is a question that perplexes many opponents of the war. A new book by Alex Callinicos, The New Mandarins of American Power, makes a powerful and easily accessible attempt to answer it. It begins by a frontal assault on all the arguments used to defend the war that you hear from Bush, Blair and their supposedly “liberal” supporters like Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovitch.

Everyone who has campaigned against the war will find it useful to read these arguments. But the real strength of the book comes when Alex goes on to discuss the real reasons for the war.

He does so by tracing the rise of the people who now make policy in the White House, the “neo-conservatives” clustered around the Project for the New American Century. Alex shows how they are not motivated merely by the desire to increase the profits of the oil companies or even by the need to keep supplies flowing to the gas-guzzling industrial heart of US capitalism.

At stake is something more fundamental – the determination of all US governments in living memory that their capitalism should be able to enforce its interests on the rest of the world.

This has meant attempting to crush liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It has also meant laying down the law to the ruling classes of other advanced capitalist states.

Alex shows the degree of continuity between what Bush is doing and what Clinton and Madeleine Albright did before him.

Clinton showed greater willingness to engage in “coalition building” with the other advanced states than Bush has. But his administration actually sent troops to attack foreign countries more often than the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.

But, as Alex stresses, there is discontinuity as well.

The neo-conservatives reflected a powerful feeling inside the US ruling class in the 1990s that not enough had been gained from using the arms race of the Reagan years to bankrupt and break apart the old USSR.

They insisted there was a window of opportunity that had to be seized if the new century was going to be the “American century”.

And that meant the government should stop pussy-footing with the docile leaders of the main European capitalist states and embark on a massive new arms drive, accompanied by a much more aggressive foreign policy than that of any previous administration, replacing the language of “containment” with that of “pre-emptive strikes”.

Iraq, they insisted, was a key country to be subdued, as part of a drive to control the oil supplies on which the other advanced Western states depend. It is an understanding of this drive, Alex suggests, which lies behind the unwillingness of the right wing French government to back Bush in the way that Blair does.

It also ties in with the US’s unhesitating support for Ariel Sharon in Israel. This is not a result, as some commentators claim, of “the Jewish lobby” in the US.

Nor is it a result of the way a new breed of traditionally anti-Semitic Christian fundamentalists have suddenly discovered biblical support for Israel emptying Palestine of its people.

US support for Sharon flows from the role the Bush gang, like the Clinton gang before them, see an Israeli state dependent on US money and arms playing in shaping the whole region in the interests of American capitalism.

It is this which leads virtually the whole of the US ruling class, mainstream Christian, fundamentalist Christian, agnostic and Jewish alike, to line up behind Israel.

Finally, the Bush gang’s concern with world power also leads them to portray China as a potential threat.

Hence the Son of Star Wars programme on the one hand and a ring of bases from the Philippines right round to Uzbekistan on the other.

Alex is able to make the connection between the drive to war and the devastation to people’s lives in other ways.

“The dominant fact about this world is not the ‘war against terrorism’,” he writes, “but the remorseless growth of poverty and inequality.”

“Will the imperial war machine finally fall by bringing on the great catastrophe which market capitalism has long been secreting within itself, in the process destroying the rest of us, and perhaps the earth itself as well? Or will collective political action bring the great juggernaut to a halt, as it did the Pentagon’s attempts to subjugate Vietnam?”

He wrote these words six months ago, just as Bush was triumphantly proclaiming mission accomplished.

These words are even more relevant today as, haunted by the vision of a new Vietnam, the gang in the White House have begun to openly row with each other.

Last updated on 13 December 2009