The People Versus the TPP

It’s not every U.S. presidential race that trade turns out to be a hot-button issue but there’s a brewing populist mood in the country and with it an intensifying scrutiny of free trade agreements and how they have detrimentally affected the American worker. This antipathy has made itself felt on the campaign trail and in Washington D.C as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and most of Congress are all opposing the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement—basically NAFTA for East Asia. The election-year posturing may prevent President Obama from getting the TPP passed before he leaves office but ultimately his economic centerpiece will be approved since, as Mark Weisbrot writes, it “has the most broad and fervid support imaginable among this country’s most powerful corporate and “national security” elite.”

Most of the opposition already supports the TPP but won’t feel comfortable voting in favor of the pact until a few tweaks are made to it. As for those politicos who oppose it no matter what, even they will reluctantly come around because they know perfectly well that the U.S.’s capitalist economy demands access to such a significant market or it will face a depression. There is an additional reason why capitalism needs the TPP and other free trade agreements to survive and that’s because it needs to expand to guard against workers getting the upper hand in the domestic class struggle, as explained in section D5 of the Anarchist FAQ:

“In addition, imperialism allows big business to increase its strength with respect to its workforce in the imperialist nation by the threat of switching production to other countries or by using foreign investments to ride out strikes. This is required because, while the “home” working class are still exploited and oppressed, their continual attempts at organising and resisting their exploiters proved more and more successful… As such, imperialism (like capitalism) is not only driven by the need to increase profits (important as this is, of course), it is also driven by the class struggle–the need for capital to escape from the strength of the working class in a particular country. From this perspective, the export of capital can be seen in two ways. Firstly, as a means of disciplining rebellious workers at home by an “investment strike” (capital, in effect, runs away, so causing unemployment which disciplines the rebels). Secondly, as a way to increase the ‘reserve army’ of the unemployed facing working people in the imperialist nations by creating new competitors for their jobs (i.e. dividing, and so ruling, workers by playing one set of workers against another). Both are related, of course, and both seek to weaken working class power by the fear of unemployment. This process played a key role in the rise of globalization. Thus imperialism, which is rooted in the search from surplus profits for big business, is also a response to working class power at home. The export of capital is done by emerging and established transnational companies to overcome a militant and class consciousness working class which is often too advanced for heavy exploitation, and finance capital can make easier and bigger profits by investing productive capital elsewhere. It aids the bargaining position of business by pitting the workers in one country against another, so while they are being exploited by the same set of bosses, those bosses can use this fictional “competition” of foreign workers to squeeze concessions from workers at home.”… Globalisation cannot be understood unless its history is known. The current process of increasing international trade, investment and finance markets started in the late 60s and early 1970s. Increased competition from a re-built Europe and Japan challenged US domination combined with working class struggle across the globe to leave the capitalist world feeling the strain. Dissatisfaction with factory and office life combined with other social movements (such as the women’s movement, anti-racist struggles, anti-war movements and so on) which demanded more than capitalism could provide. The near revolution in France, 1968, is the most famous of these struggles but it occurred all across the globe. For the ruling class, the squeeze on profits and authority from ever-increasing wage demands, strikes, stoppages, boycotts, squatting, protests and other struggles meant that a solution had to be found and the working class disciplined (and profits regained). One part of the solution was to “run away” and so capital flooded into certain areas of the “developing” world. This increased the trends towards globalisation.”

So when President Obama, Paul Ryan, or any other gung-ho supporter of the TPP says it will open up markets and help the U.S. compete in the region what they are really saying is that the TPP will buoy capitalism by providing it with a safety valve and ensure the economic and political elites keep winning the class war. And, make no mistake, that conflict is very much real, as Warren Buffett admits: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Iran Sanction Mania is All About Economy

The Iran nuclear deal has made it to its first anniversary without any hiccups and is on track to easily last until its expiration if Washington upholds its end of the bargain by guaranteeing that Iran experiences economic relief from sanctions. This has yet to materialize but it will happen fairly soon despite Republicans trying to squeeze Iran for as long as possible by blocking any moves the Obama administration makes to allow for other countries to have normal trade relations with Iran. The Republicans’ determination to prevent Iran from being reintegrated into the global finance and trade system even though Iran has already done all that was asked of it in the agreement should be proof enough for anyone that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was whipped up as a pretext for maintaining and strengthening the strangulation of Iran’s economy. But why have Washington policy-makers and Congress felt the need—one that borders on obsession–to keep Iran straitjacketed by sanctions? It goes beyond Iran simply being a foe of the U.S. from the Islamic revolution onward, as Robert W Jordan explains:

“Most people have not focused on the economic competition that Iran will provide to Saudi Arabia and other countries once the sanctions are lifted. The Saudis would prefer a deal that diminishes Iran’s threat to the Saudi’s interests in the Middle East. They have a one-dimensional economy focused on oil. Because of the sanctions up to this point, Iran’s oil program has been curtailed. They have significant human resources, a well-educated population, a real middle class, and burning ambition to emerge from the sanctions and take their place as a prime competitor in the region. The deal gives Iran a chance to become an economic superpower, particularly when compared to lagging economies and human capital in other parts of the Middle East. The Iranian people may have unrealistic expectations of how soon they’ll see economic benefits, but when they come, it will be substantial.”

Hard-hitting competition with an Iran that has transformed itself into the China of the Middle East is something Washington would certainly prefer to avoid, which is only natural considering that the U.S.–like all capitalist nations–seeks to minimize competition as a matter of general principle and employs an imperialist foreign policy for this goal. These excerpts from Section D.5 of the Anarchist FAQ contain a concise overview of the tactics the developed nations have used in the past and currently use to undercut industry in developing nations: “Imperialism has another function, namely to hinder or control the industrialisation of other countries. Such industrialisation will, of course, mean the emergence of new capitalists, who will compete with the existing ones both in the “less developed” countries and in the world market as a whole. Imperialism, therefore, attempts to reduce competition on the world market…  Imperialism hinders industrialisation in two ways. The first way was direct colonisation, a system which has effectively ended. The second is by indirect means–namely the extraction of profits by international big business. A directly dominated country can be stopped from developing industry and be forced to specialise as a provider of raw materials. This was the aim of “classic” imperialism, with its empires and colonial wars. By means of colonisation, the imperialist powers ensure that the less-developed nation stays that way–so ensuring one less competitor as well as favourable access to raw materials and cheap labour… Globalisation can be seen as an intensification of this process. By codifying into international agreements the ability of corporations to sue nation states for violating “free trade,” the possibility of new competitor nations developing is weakened. Industrialisation will be dependent on transnational corporations and so development will be hindered and directed to ensure corporate profits and power.”

Why is there this need for imperialist domination of the developing world? If these nations locally produced manufactures that the developed nations would normally sell to them, then that would decrease the demand for exports from the developed nations and lead to unemployment and depression there. This industrial development would effectively foreclose markets that advanced capitalist nations need to keep their economies—and capitalism as a whole–going. As Laurence H Shoup and William Minter write in their book Imperial Brain Trust, “Herbert Feis, an active Council [on Foreign Relations] member and State Department economic adviser, expressed the problem [of the relationship between the U.S.’s domestic recovery during the Great Depression and the state of international trade] in a similar way, saying that most countries lived in chronic fear of unemployment and so want foreign markets to avoid “drastic internal adjustments as a result of changes in external markets.”

So when Washington holds back the industry of developing nations, it can sometimes be done for personal reasons but it is always done for business. But those same reasons of furthering commerce and market access also means Washington can’t economically wallop Iran indefinitely. It is ultimately in the interests of the U.S. for Iran’s economy to not become such a basket case that that nation becomes undeveloped and therefore in no position to receive the glut of American exports when bilateral relations are one day restored. Iran must be fully reintegrated into international trade to avoid this, as Shoup and Minter write:

“The first document produced by the economic subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy stressed the danger of another world depression and the need to provide confidence in world economic stability. This necessarily meant that American planners had to concern themselves with the politics and economies of other nations. At a minimum the United States had to be involved in the internal affairs of the key industrial and raw materials producing countries. If one or a few of these nations did not cooperate in a new worldwide economic system, they might not develop rapidly enough to enlarge their purchase from the United States, thereby increasing the likelihood of a depression. The various countries’ economies had also to be efficient; otherwise they could not pay for more imports.”

The U.S. won’t let Iran’s development fall below a certain point which means there will be substantial sanctions relief and therefore I’m confident in saying that the nuclear deal will be seen through to its conclusion.

The Iran Bomb and Globalization

When Republicans held a hearing last month that attempted to put Ben Rhodes in the hot seat over his supposed misrepresentations of the Iran nuclear deal, White House press secretary Josh Earnest shot back “The truth is, it is Republicans in Congress who criticized the Iran deal, who have got a lot to explain when it comes to saying things about the Iran deal that didn’t turn out to be true. And if they want to hold a hearing to determine whether or not Republicans were just wrong and badly misinformed, or if they were purposefully lying to the American people, then they can do that.” All the sky-is-falling claims from Republicans about the deal got enough coverage during the Congressional debate last summer so I have a better suggestion for an inquiry. What we really need to have is a hearing about the way the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was presented by both political parties and Washington policymakers. Or should I say the way it wasn’t presented?

In the cascades of commentary, there was a ton of “we will never allow Iran to get the bomb” and scarcely any “here’s why we have to prevent an Iranian nuke”.  To his credit, President Barack Obama did provide us with a why when he told Jeffrey Goldberg that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East could cause “energy disruptions that we’ve never seen before” and therefore we’d see “the world economy basically coming to a halt.” That case for keeping Iran nuke-free would convince nearly everybody but I find it rather lacking. Assuming Iran had managed to build the bomb, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East would have been far from a certainty because the U.S. has too much leverage on its regional allies and could always reassure them by opening up a nuclear umbrella.

That’s why I think there’s more to the threat of Iranian nukes than what President Obama said and that the greater danger in Washington’s eyes was the more likely possibility of Iranian nukes being used as “access denial weapons” to create an exclusionary trading bloc that would block out American commerce. As Andrew Krepinevich writes “The challenges that China and Iran pose for U.S. security lie not in the threat of traditional cross-border invasions but in efforts to establish spheres of influence in, and ultimately to control access to, critically important regions.” With a nuclear arsenal, Iran would become immune to a U.S. invasion for regime change and thus the Iranian government would be in prime position to make economic moves that shake the foundations of the U.S. economy. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi tried making such moves and we all saw how it ended for both of them.

A nuclear Iran, however, would escape their fate and become a major headache for Washington as Tehran would gain tremendous leverage in its relations with the U.S. The regime might have no intention of ever creating an Iran-dominated sphere of influence but it could easily pretend otherwise to prey on Washington’s fears of an economically-divided world and make demand after demand to strengthen Iranian interests. Then again we might just call their bluff, for even with the nuclear protection, it’s difficult to envision Iran actually establishing a trading bloc that was sustainable. Few nations would join voluntarily and Iran has nowhere near the military power to impose it on their neighbors—especially their Arab ones. It’s doubtful an economic union of Iran and its satellites would get off the ground but the attempt could inspire stronger nations like China and Russia to give spheres of influence a try. When you get down to it, the threat of the Iranian bomb is that it might have hastened the rebirth of an economic environment last seen in the 1930’s. Iran’s hypothetical nukes would never have been used but they nevertheless would have blown up the U.S.-led global economic order.

Iran Deal Was About More Than Nukes

Will we ever see the day when opponents of the Iran nuclear deal are right about their take on what the diplomatic breakthrough means for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East? They came pretty close with their most recent contention—based on a New York Times Magazine profile of Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Benjamin Rhodes–that the American people were bamboozled by the Obama administration’s case for the JCPOA. President Obama’s object all along in landing the deal, according to them, wasn’t to keep Iran from nukes but to reconcile with Iran so we could become their ally and then dump our traditional Middle Eastern allies so the U.S. could, as David Samuels writes, “create the space” for Obama’s long-sought plan for “disengagement from the Middle East.” There was nothing in Samuels’s piece to substantiate such an outlandish claim of a realignment of alliances but he and the other anti-deal critics are nonetheless partially correct.

This agreement was indeed a smokescreen for rapprochement with Iran as there never was a threat of Iran getting nukes since the international community could have forcefully pushed a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone on the Middle East at any time–a move which Iran would happen to welcome as a long-time advocate of that proposed policy. In that case, it is doubtful Iran would violate the NWFZ but if, for whatever reason, it did a massive multilateral coalition (Russia and China included) could have been mustered to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran could have had its nuclear ambitions kept in check very effectively without this deal so—yes—the overriding goal was to normalize relations with Iran.

That’s still a far cry from becoming allies with the Islamic Republic and throwing our other regional allies overboard. Nothing of the sort happened when President Richard Nixon brought China in from the cold and when a future U.S. President reaches détente with Iran they will similarly improve ties without alienating allies. Iran will become a frenemy of the U.S. like Russia and China are today. As Reza Marashi describes it, the two nations would “shift from enemies to competitors” where they will “continue to challenge one another’s power, but with diplomats rather than bombs or bullets.”

The deal opponents are also off-base about the nature of disengagement from the Middle East. For the Obama administration and others who think the pivot to Asia to be the U.S.’s highest foreign policy priority, this “re-balancing” was never intended to be a total abandonment of the Middle East. This dialogue between Richard Haass and Jane Harman addresses the strategic thinking behind the pivot and why the necessities of the American empire mean we’ll always have to be involved in the Middle East:

Richard Haass: Strategically I think there’s a powerful argument for adjusting American foreign policy in two ways. Less in the Middle East. I’m not saying disengage. I’m not saying ignore it. I’m saying less in the Middle East–let’s talk about degrees–more in Asia, and more here at home. If you’re thinking about national security, to me, that is a far more sensible approach… Jane Harman: I don’t disagree with Richard that there are limited brain cells, and a lot more of them have to be put on Asia. However, if we don’t help get the Middle East right, I don’t think we’ll ever get out of there… Haass: When I look at the principle strategic threats facing the United States, and the opportunities, one is Asia, the Asian Pacific, the great powers, where history is beginning to come alive. We do not want 21st Century Asia to resemble 20th Century Europe. It’s that simple. When the tectonic plates are moving, political and military nationalism is beginning to get introduced, it’s not simply an economic arena, unless the United States is actively involved watch this space, watch the interplay between Chinese, Japanese, South Korean nationalism. If North Korea does not get rid of its nuclear weapons, watch what happens… Harman: You talk about the great power game, and I think it’s worth talking about: what are the other great powers out there? China, obviously, and Russia punches above its weight in kind of evil ways. But both of them have eyes on the Middle East. We have to understand that. We have strategic interests in the Middle East…But I’m still saying we have to keep our eye on the greater Middle East. We will be sucked back there because China and Russia will move into the vacuum if we leave…I just think we have to deploy our global brain cells across the world, and when we do that, the Middle East has to be a portion of those brain cells. We cannot move away from it.

Holding those Asian tectonic plates in place is part of the U.S.’s grand strategy of preventing major regional conflicts and World Wars. William Appleman Williams in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy identifies the key reason why:

The great majority of American leaders emerged from World War I fearing war as the midwife of international revolution and domestic unrest. A good many of them remained unconvinced even by 1939 that it was the greater part of wisdom to make war in order to make peace. Worried about “world-wide ruin,” and frightened of the political and social consequences of “another generation of misery,” such leaders opposed war as a “great destroyer and unsettler of their affairs.” Bernard Baruch, for example, thought that “the institutions of government, as we know them, [would] fall down…and that the whole moral attitude of the world would change…Others broadened the analysis, seeing American intervention [in WWII] as leading “to the end of capitalism all over the world” with a resulting “spread of communism, socialism, or fascism in Europe or even the United States.

Given this ever-present worry among Washington policy-makers of wars getting out of hand, the critics of Obama’s approach to the Middle East are, in private, actually glad that this deal has enabled the U.S. to devote more of its “global brain cells” to Asia and thereby decreasing the chances of a war there that’s so terrible that it inspires people everywhere to revolt against the state and capitalism.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Recently I have written about how the greatest threat we all face is the interminable conflict generated from political and economic hierarchies. States are always having to fight against other states because of both the insecurity condition and because this is what the economic hierarchies need in order to maintain themselves. This competition for wealth between the dominant economic classes within nations has escalated into a World War twice. If humanity wishes to avoid a third, we need to band together and rid ourselves of these hierarchies that perpetuate themselves through violence and destruction. In that spirit, let’s examine the alternatives to the status quo.

What about U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders whose talk of a political revolution has galvanized the youth of the Democratic Party? Well, Sanders may identify as a “democratic socialist” but other socialists don’t consider him legit, as we see in Molly Ball’s interview with Vice-Presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Eugene Puryear:

“But as it happens, the real socialists…are strikingly ungrateful. Puryear’s party, the PSL, issued a statement last August, when Sanders began to gain traction, tartly rejecting his campaign. “His program is not socialist,” it noted. “He does not call for nationalizing the corporations and banks, without which the reorganization of the economy to meet people’s needs rather than maximizing the profits of capitalist investors could not take place … He is clearly seeking to reform the existing capitalist system.” … Sanders himself never sought to identify as a socialist: Only when his enemies started accusing him of being one did he, in characteristically pugnacious fashion, reappropriate the insult as a badge of pride. Some critics have pointed out that it would be more accurate to call him a social democrat, rather than a democratic socialist. After all, Sanders has said he defines democratic socialism as something akin to the systems in Denmark or Finland—countries with high taxes and a capacious welfare state, but relatively free markets. “The ideology of the Scandinavian governments is really just a more fair capitalist society,” Puryear told me. True socialism as Marx and Engels envisioned it, by contrast, was intended as a way station on the road to full-fledged communism. “We refer to ourselves as socialists because what we’re trying to promote is the move from capitalism to socialism,” he said. But the ultimate goal is not Finland. It is a fully classless society in which the state has withered away to nothing.”

Sanders’ New Deal liberalism should have made it obvious that he is not a radical alternative but what will come as a shock to most people is that, upon closer inspection, neither are those who are commonly considered to be “real socialists”—i.e. those who, like Puryear and the PSL, advocate the state seizing the means of production. The state cannot be used to create a “fully classless society” because it is not merely a lifeless, neutral tool which any group can easily wield for its own ends–as Marxists and other proponents of “socialism from above” think–but, in actuality, constitutes a class itself. The state, being a centralized hierarchical organization, develops a class status because, as Peter Kropotkin explains, “a highly complex state machine…leads to the formation of a class especially concerned with state management, which, using its acquired experience, begins to deceive the rest for its personal advantage.”  Kropotkin, having studied the origins of the state, found that it is in essence a society for mutual insurance between the landlord, the military commander, the judge, the priest, and later on the capitalist, in order to support each other’s authority over the people, and for exploiting the poverty of the masses and getting rich themselves.”

Luigi Fabbri similarly deduced that the state is more than “the guardian of capital” but “has a vitality of its own” and is “a veritable social class apart from other classes…and this class has its own particular parasitical and usurious interests,” adding that “The State, being the depository of society’s greatest physical and material force, has too much power in its hands to resign itself to being no more than the capitalists’ guard dog.” Errico Malatesta echoed Fabbri, arguing that although “a special class (government) which, provided with the necessary means of repression, exists to legalise and protect the owning class from the demands of the workers … it uses the powers at its disposal to create privileges for itself and to subject, if it can, the owning class itself as well.” Voline also agrees that the state has the ability to be plenty exploitative on its own and he goes into more detail as to why trying to employ the state’s power for socialistic ends results in inescapable failure:

“All political power inevitably creates a privileged situation for the men who exercise it. Thus it violates, from the beginning, the equalitarian principle and strikes at the heart of the Social Revolution … [It] inevitably becomes a source of other privileges, even if it does not depend on the bourgeoisie. Having taken over the Revolution, having mastered it, and bridled it, power is compelled to create a bureaucratic apparatus, indispensable to all authority which wants to maintain itself, to command, to order—in a word, ‘to govern’. Rapidly, it attracts around itself all sorts of elements eager to dominate and exploit. Thus it forms a new privileged caste, at first politically and later economically … It sows everywhere the seed of inequality and soon infects the whole social organism.”

That state socialists have never made any attempts to work towards a stateless, classless society once they were in power and went on to crush all efforts by the working class itself to do so proves all these observations about the nature of the state are true. In every nation where a political party took Marxism as their lodestar, the state wound up becoming the ruling class which then reorganizied the economy in a way that wasn’t socialist but state capitalist—it ended up being, as Kropotkin put it, “a mere substitution… of the State as the universal capitalist for the present capitalists.”

Sanders’ “political revolution” and state socialism are non-starters for revolutionary change so where does that leave us? The answer is in the political philosophy espoused by those who wrote those anti-state quotes that I cited—that is, in anarchism. Anarchism, in short, is stateless socialism where society is organized from the bottom up and workers control the means of production. As the name implies, anarchism seeks to eliminate all hierarchy which is perfect for those who yearn for a world where the primary sources of international and intra-national discord—the latter being in the form of class war–are no more.

Trump is Beta Version of the Billionaire Candidate

A Donald Trump presidency has been deemed a considerable threat to the world economic order, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Whatever threat his election represents is overblown, however—if the Donald happened to get in (which is highly unlikely considering that his reality TV show antics and his flirting with fascism by scapegoating Mexicans and Muslims must mean he trying his best to lose) and he was indeed bent on implementing his protectionist economic agenda, the Deep State would see to it that he is reined in and quickly toes the line. And he wouldn’t even need such prompting anyway. For all the patter about him being an outsider, the Donald is a pillar of the ruling class establishment–just a different segment thereof. There’s a political as well as an economic component to that establishment and—whatever their internal squabbles–both ultimately endeavor to work in harmony together and so Trump knows instinctively not to threaten the order that has made him so fabulously wealthy. In a way, with some of the points the Donald makes about financial capitalism, he’s playing the role that the state normally plays and isn’t performing so well at present—i.e. helping to balance the sections of the ruling class who are in competition for the spoils of exploited labor.

So why is he running the type of campaign that he is? He could have made the same points about immigration and trade deals much more tastefully and without appealing to xenophobia. He could have blended his tell-it-like-it-is political independence that sticks it to lobbyists (to the glee of people who know politics is broken) with a more proper presidential bearing and become truly unstoppable (even now in spite of his zaniness and inflammatory rhetoric, he’s still in a position to give Hillary Clinton a close contest). For a man who is all about winning, why throw the election and the chance to make a significant imprint in the history books?

The way I see it is he’s in the race to discredit populism, doing a solid for the establishment in the process. Trump will make sure that the populists on the right who are his supporters and the populists on the left who back candidate Bernie Sanders can’t bridge the gap between them down the road and threaten the capitalist status quo, which has been a fear of corporate America since the Seventies.* Now when populism explodes in the years ahead as the youth of today continue to take to Sanders’s ‘democratic socialism’–which is really just a rehashing of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal liberalism—in ever increasing numbers and become a potent presence on the political scene this movement will be hampered by its inability to link up—despite the overlap between them on progressive issues–because the Sanders people will be too off-put by the toxic attitudes that Trump is instilling and encouraging in his voters and won’t be willing to work with them. Either that, or populism in general will be easily shot down as fascistic by the centrist D.C. establishment. “Remember Trump?” will go their refrain to the American people, and then arguing further that all populists—even the Sanders leftists–are like him at heart and therefore populism is fascism.

Long Story short, the Donald is a huge fraud and we must always beware of billionaires who play at being tribunes of the people. In fact, another way of looking at Trump’s campaign is that he is testing the waters for the serious billionaire candidates that will be lining up for high office to politically counter the surging populism they can clearly see on the horizon. So far the pool is looking mighty inviting if a Trump who has handicapped himself can put up a fight against Washington’s favored candidates. Trump, win or lose, could end up being the forerunner that ushers in a major watershed in politics where the one-percenters merge with the state to create a neo-feudal nightmare.

*“The Sanders and Trump constituencies are parts of a whole that doesn’t yet exist, but if it were to come into being it could potentially shake the foundations of present market liberal politics. A fear of a similar coalition—in this case between New Left student activists and striking blue-collar workers—motivated the business offensive of the ’70s. In December 1969 in a special issue on “The Seventies,” Businessweek speculated that “the blacks, the labor unions and the young” could “make the Seventies one of the tumultuous decades in American history.” Of course, business’s quick and determined response prevented that from happening, but over the next decades, if market liberal policies lead to further downturns like the Great Recession, as some economists predict, the Trump and Sanders voters could come together.”–John B Judis

Our Millenia Long Insecurity Condition

When there was a flare-up in tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, it was tempting to succumb to simplistic thinking about Sunni-Shiite sectarianism. Even President Barack Obama, not known for taking a less complex view of things, in his State of the Union address claimed the Middle Eastern turbulence is “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.” But there’s nothing remotely ancient about the current animosity, which has little to do with religion and everything to do with politics—namely, the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. “I don’t think the Saudis and Iranians are engaged in a sectarian war with each other; I think they’re engaged in a balance of power conflict for regional influence,” F. Gregory Gause III told Zack Beauchamp “But they use sectarianism.” Gause hits it right on the nose. The Sunni and Shiites of the Middle East are being used as pawns by those two states as part of their competition for regional dominance. States fighting other states—now there’s a type of conflict that truly does date back millennia and what has driven it throughout history is what foreign policy realists call the “security dilemma.” Zack Beauchamp brings this up in his piece on the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia:

“Saudi Arabia sees Iran as bent on overturning a Middle Eastern political order that’s quite friendly to Saudi interests; the Iranians believe the Saudis are actively attempting to keep Iran weak and vulnerable. This creates what political scientists call a security dilemma: one side, fearing attack, ramps up defense spending or supports a regional proxy in order to guard against a perceived threat. The other side sees that as threatening—what if they’re planning to attack?—and feels compelled to respond in kind. This creates a self-sustaining cycle in which both countries to take actions that are designed to make their country more secure, but end up scaring the other side and thus raising both the chances and the potential severity of conflict. “It’s what the US and the Soviet Union were involved in” during the Cold War, Daniel Serwer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, explains. Serwer believes the security dilemma “is what really brings us to this point.” The Saudis and Iranians see regional power in zero-sum terms: the more powerful Iran is, the more vulnerable the Saudis feel. And, again, vice versa: “The rationale [the Iranians] give themselves is very heavily defensive,” he says. That’s why proxy struggles in countries such as Syria and Yemen start to seem so important.”

Chris Layne further elaborates on the security dilemma in his Peace of Illusions:

“Realists also recognize that the great powers’ competition for security causes the (misnamed) “security dilemma” which really should be named the “insecurity condition.” Because the world is a competitive, potentially dangerous place, realists believe that the most basic goal of great powers is to gain security, and thus ensure their survival… When a state increases its military capabilities, prudence constrains others to respond in kind, leading to an open-ended cycle of move and countermove. Yet there is no real way for great powers to avoid this, because fear and insecurity are the facts of life in international politics. The security dilemma is more accurately conceived as the “insecurity condition,” because as long as there are rivals out there, great powers can never take security for granted… As [Ashley J.] Tellis says, because “no state can be certain that its competitors will not use their military capabilities to threaten its existence and autonomy, every state is constrained to attempt eliminating or subjugating its competitors before it suffers a similar fate.”

In short, states have always had to abide by this maxim of Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great: “I have no way of defending my borders but to extend them.” But there is an extra dimension to the security dilemma/insecurity condition, for not only do states have to worry about threats to their existence from abroad but also from within. The U.S. Constitution has that bit about providing for “domestic tranquility” after all and the event that has been marked by U.S. policymakers as jeopardizing that tranquility the most is widespread revolutionary unrest born of lengthy economic depressions. William Appleman Williams, discussing the onset of the Spanish-American War in his Tragedy of American Diplomacy, gives us insight into how the decisions of the bigwigs were guided by the highest priority of warding off market slumps:

“Men like [President William] McKinley and other national leaders thought about America’s problems and welfare in an inclusive, systematized way that emphasized economics. Wanting democracy and social peace, they argued that economic depression threatened those objectives, and concluded that overseas economic expansion provided a means of ending that danger. They did not want war per se, let alone war in order to increase their personal fortunes. But their own conception of the world ultimately led them into war in order to solve the problems in the way that they considered necessary and best.”

This worry about revolution is what I call the “internal insecurity condition” and it is the inevitable result of class divisions that states help uphold. All states, therefore, face the need to expand to ensure that the size of the national economic pie is increased so that more wealth can trickle down to the masses and create the illusion of improvement. It’s not limited to the demands of capitalism either—the Roman Empire’s slave economy and European states under feudalism both sought more land and resources, for example. The attempt of states to expand and gain hegemony for the sake of both external and internal security has been the source of constant conflict and if people everywhere want real security they must unite and put an end to the state, capitalism, and any other economic system characterized by hierarchy and inequality.

How Truly Winning the War on Terror Begins with You

In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made sure that he gave no impression that he was going to phone it in on foreign policy. He wanted to let Americans know that his waning influence won’t be keeping him from staying on the ball and that he’ll be proactively grappling with all the global flashpoints. His spirited don’t-count-me-out-yet tone, however, won’t be translating into a new approach towards those problem areas. As Reuters reports, “former U.S. officials and experts familiar with the White House’s thinking say he appears locked into policies aimed more at containing such threats and avoiding deeper U.S. military engagement in the last year of his presidency.” This will come as a disappointment to those who aren’t fans of Obama playing it safe–“Recent polls show that more than half of Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling foreign policy and two-thirds are displeased with his response to Islamic State and the terrorist threat,” notes Reuters—but they ought to be grateful that the President is confining himself to cautious containment and not, for instance, swallowing the Islamic State’s obvious bait.

Another massive infusion of U.S. troops in the Middle East would rally a ruck of new recruits for ISIS, making them much more difficult to defeat than if we stuck to having the Sunni nations lead the fight. No matter how ISIS’s state apparatus is brought down, the victory lap will be a short one since then they just get degraded, reverting to their earlier status as an ordinary terrorist organization that will continue to target the West and be a beacon for Islamic extremism. Even assuming we manage to destroy ISIS root and branch (doubtful considering al-Qaeda has survived all this time) other radicalized groups will quickly take up the jihadist mantle. We all need to get it through our heads that the ‘War on Terror’ is unwinnable through military means and instead seek to uncover the fundamental causes that breed extremism in Muslim societies. French economist Thomas Piketty digs deep in an op-ed for LeMonde and concludes that inequality—an inequality that may be the steepest in the world–drives jihadism. The Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley provides a summary for English-speakers:

“Piketty writes that the Middle East’s political and social system has been made fragile by the high concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population… This concentration of so much wealth in countries with so small a share of the population, he says, makes the region “the most unequal on the planet.” Within those monarchies, he continues, a small slice of people controls most of the wealth, while a large [slice]—including women and refugees—are kept in a state of “semi-slavery.” Those economic conditions, he says, have become justifications for jihadists, along with the casualties of a series of wars in the region perpetuated by Western powers. His list starts with the first Gulf War, which he says resulted in allied forces returning oil “to the emirs.” Though he does not spend much space connecting those ideas, the clear implication is that economic deprivation and the horrors of wars that benefited only a select few of the region’s residents have, mixed together, become what he calls a “powder keg” for terrorism across the region. Piketty is particularly scathing when he blames the inequality of the region, and the persistence of oil monarchies that perpetuate it, on the West: “These are the regimes that are militarily and politically supported by Western powers, all too happy to get some crumbs to fund their [soccer] clubs or sell some weapons. No wonder our lessons in social justice and democracy find little welcome among Middle Eastern youth.” Terrorism that is rooted in inequality, Piketty continues, is best combated economically. To gain credibility with those who do not share in the region’s wealth, Western countries should demonstrate that they are more concerned with the social development of the region than they are with their own financial interests and relationships with ruling families. The way to do this, he says, is to ensure that Middle eastern oil money funds “regional development,” including far more education.”

Economic and political repression indeed constitute the “powder keg” of terrorism in the Middle East and if the fuse to it is ever to be put out it up to us to do so because Washington won’t be changing the policies that are conducive to U.S. corporate interests. Supporting autocratic governments that subject the majority of their citizens to “semi-slavery” fosters a very friendly business environment as these downtrodden populations are hardly in a state to create labor movements that would threaten foreign investments. Washington also intervenes to steer the region clear of democracy because policymakers don’t want the voting public of these countries (or any other countries, for that matter) to elect governments that would be protectionist, nationalize industry, or that close off their markets to the U.S. by forming exclusive trading blocs—all of which would imperil the Open Door World that capitalism depends upon. So it turns out that, at bottom, our security is most menaced by the imperialism that is needed to perpetuate an economic system that benefits a minuscule few. For the sake of our real security—the security of the people, not the security of the nation-state and the wealth and privilege of economic elites—Americans must do away with capitalism and set about replacing it with something that doesn’t generate international conflict to ensure it runs smoothly.

The Real Reason the I-P Conflict Isn’t Ending Anytime Soon

When writing my previous piece that laid out why Washington prizes its special relationship with Israel so highly, I began to entertain what many scholars and seasoned observers of international affairs would quickly dismiss as a zany notion–could it be possible that the obstinate Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also among the strategic benefits of the U.S.-Israel alliance? Sounds crazy and counter-intuitive, right? Doesn’t logic dictate that it just has to be a strategic liability? Former General David Petraeus, when he was head of CENTCOM, had this to say, after all, about the linkage between the occupation of the Palestinians and Islamic extremism: “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [area of responsibility] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.”

Hillary Clinton also once criticized the overall Israeli-Arab antagonism as “a source of tension and an obstacle to prosperity and opportunity for all the people of the region” and “is at odds also with the interests of the United States.” Obviously, the U.S. would benefit a ton from peace, as its primary goals in the Middle East are stability and prosperity. So why hasn’t Washington used its considerable heft to end the dispute? Why does the U.S. government turn a blind eye as pro-Israel U.S. citizens send hundreds of millions in tax-deductible donations that fund illegal West Bank settlements? It appears as if Washington does indeed secretly support the occupation and does so out of concern for what a resurgence of Arab nationalism would mean for the U.S.’s unrestricted access to Middle East oil, as David Mizner explains:

“The reason behind US support for Israel becomes clear if you consider what would likely happen if Palestinians became autonomous or if they became the majority in a democratic, multi-ethnic state. Either development would upend American-enforced “stability.” Palestinians in Jordan and elsewhere would attempt to exercise their right of return. Repressed peoples across the Middle East would rise up to demand the kind of freedom from dictators that the Palestinians secured from Israel. Palestinian liberation would trigger a chain of events that could entirely free the region from the American grip as people demand that they—not monarchs and not Western corporations—benefit from their oil.”

Washington isn’t about to risk a scenario that lets the region’s people meddle with its most treasured Post-WWII acquisition—what the State Department in the 1940s deemed “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history”–and Stephen Maher concisely summarizes why:

“As FDR’s “oil czar” Harold Ickes advised, control of oil was the “key to postwar political arrangements” since a large supply of cheap energy is essential to fuel the world’s industrial capitalist economies. This meant that with control of Middle Eastern oil, particularly the vast Saudi reserves, the US could keep its hand on the spigot that would fuel the economies of Europe, Japan and much of the rest of the world. As US planner George Kennan put it, this would give the United States “veto power” over the actions of others. Zbigniew Brzezinski has also more recently discussed the “critical leverage” the US enjoys as a result of its stranglehold on energy supplies… should opposition threaten US control of oil resources, a major source of US global power is placed at risk.”

Having their hands on the spigot was also crucial in U.S. planning for a hypothetical Third World War as it would ensure that, not only would the U.S. have a substantial advantage should that war erupt, it would prevent such an eruption in the first place by being in a position to swiftly cut off these oil reserves to its opponents. But the leading reason the U.S. thought it was a necessity to secure cheap Middle East oil was that the economies of Europe and East Asia had to be kept humming in order to keep the U.S.’s economy prosperous and thereby fend off another Great Depression. Walter LaFeber in America, Russia, and the Cold War tells of how “the Ghosts of Depression Past and Depression Future” haunted U.S. policymakers, who accordingly shaped postwar America’s grand strategy to skirt further devastating economic downturns, writing “Washington officials believed another terrible economic depression could be averted only if global markets and raw materials were fully open to all people’s on the basis of economic opportunity.”

Maintaining an Open Door World has the paramount objective of guarding against domestic labor unrest that wells up during times of long-lasting high unemployment, which could be channeled into a revolution against the plutocracy. As Melvin Leffler put it in Preponderance of Power, “Geopolitical considerations provided the connecting tissue between foreign economic distress and the prospective decay of liberal capitalism at home.” So the whole point of U.S. foreign policy, then, is to uphold capitalism and prevent its overthrow in favor of a sustainable, equitable economic model. In this context, Washington obviously must consider the instability caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be less dreadful than the capitalism-ending “instability” that could occur were it to be solved. What this means is that the world isn’t going to see peace there until U.S. policymakers can thread the needle of creating a Palestinian state without triggering an unstoppable wave of Arab nationalism.

Israel’s Role In U.S. Middle East Strategy

Everyone who was avidly watching last week’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu to see if the lingering bitterness over the Iran nuclear deal has had an impact on U.S.-Israeli relations should not have been surprised with how quickly the two have moved on from that spat. The tiff was a tempest in a teapot since Netanyahu–like all the deal’s Congressional opponents—played the foe because he wanted to benefit from the inevitable agreement and it seems like he succeeded. The focus of the get-together was on significantly upping the U.S.’s annual military aid package to Israel to a proposed five billion dollars. A fly on the wall would have certainly heard the Israeli premier justifying the hike as a way that the White House could help out Congressional Democrats who are itching to make nice with pro-Israel donors. While they would doubtless pay the asked-for amount to get back in AIPAC’s good graces, not everyone who would normally be on the Democrats’ side is on board.

The New York Times came out against the five billion figure, writing “It is hard to see how such a large increase could be justified, especially when Congress is trying to keep a lid on federal spending and is cutting back many vital programs. And Israel has long been a leading recipient of American assistance.” That’s a good point and it got me to look into why a well-off Israel receives the most in U.S. foreign aid. I know that 75 percent of that yearly three billion gets recycled back into the U.S. arms industry but there is also something much deeper to it. This passage from an article about the U.S.-Israel relationship by Scott McConnell gets to the heart of why Washington has had to adopt the policy of maintaining Israel’s military superiority over all of its neighbors:

“Surely domestic politics accounts for a good deal of the explanation. But there is another, strategic, reason that is seldom mentioned publicly. It was expounded clearly by Ariel Roth, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and an Israeli army veteran. In an essay in International Studies Perspectives, Roth argued that the key U.S. interest in the Middle East is stability and unfettered access to the region’s oil. This is indisputable; it is the point James Forrestal made to Truman more than 60 years ago. And what is the greatest threat to stability? Well, says Roth, it is Israel itself. Because of its unique history and the heavy weight of the Holocaust in the consciousness of Israeli leaders, Israel is uniquely terrified of being “alone” in the international arena. As a result, any suspicion on the part of its leaders that the US is backing away from it might incite Israel to behave more aggressively than it already does. Those who decry the special relationship “are blinded to how Israel’s sense of vulnerability causes…behaviors that have the potential to undermine American interests.” Israel needs constant “reassurance” that it “does not stand alone.” Supporting Israel through “constant affirmation” and generous arms shipments is the best way to pursue American interests “without the fear of a panicked and unrestrained Israel bringing a cataclysm to the Middle East.”… The threat of Israel’s turning itself into a nuclear-armed desperado striking at will at the oil states in the Gulf cannot, alas, be entirely dismissed.”

Similar thinking about the consequences of an Israel that wasn’t a close U.S. ally accounted for Washington eagerly seeking out a rock-solid military alliance soon after Israel was established. It started off in the immediate Post-WWII period as part of the U.S.’s planning for a possible Third World War against the Soviets, as Irene Gendzier explains:

“As Michael Cohen observes, among the reasons for such a policy was recognition that “a hostile Israel” would adversely affect plans for “the construction of forward airfields on her territory, and the free movement of forces and equipment along their planned lines of communication.” The signing of armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbors in 1949 facilitated such moves. As the memorandum to the secretary of defense indicated: “Because of United States strategic interests in Israel, it would be desirable for her orientation toward the United States to be fostered and for her military capability to be such as to make her useful as an ally in the event of war with our most probable enemy. [illegible due to word VOID printed over text]…of these points justify favorable consideration of eventual establishment of a United States military mission to Israel.”… Third, there was the importance of Israel’s “indigenous military forces, which have had some battle experience,” and, as the joint chiefs contemplated, could be important to “either the Western Democracies or the USSR in any contest for control of the Eastern Mediterranean-Middle East area.” Hence, in the face of a Soviet attempt to “secure or neutralize the oil facilities of the Middle East and to operate against the Cairo-Suez base area,” Israel’s position and its forces would be critical. “Should Israel ally herself with the Western Democracies in the event of war with the USSR, full advantage could be taken of defensive positions in that country and of Israel’s forces for the defense of the Cairo-Suez area and for land operations to defend or to recapture the Middle East oil facilities.” The above considerations were based on the axiom that “the security of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East is of critical importance to the future security of the United States.” This, in turn, assumed that the “stability of the Middle East, including assurance that the peoples of this area will not turn to the USSR and against the United States, is a vital element in United States security.”

If you’re not sure what Middle East stability has to do with the U.S.’s security, Gendzier cites a quote from Philip Jessup which clarifies the connection: “the economic stability and developing prosperity of Palestine and the Middle East area under peaceful conditions could make a very substantial contribution to the economic recovery of the world generally and thus contribute to the economic welfare of the U.S.” All of the strategic reasoning of the early Cold War era continues to apply today. The U.S. still wants to keep rivals like Russia and China out of the Middle East so our “unfettered access” to the oil stays secured. The U.S. still wants stability in the Middle East because, as Jessup pointed out, a thriving Middle East facilitates a sound global economy, the upkeep of which ties into that other great U.S. Post-WWII objective of avoiding another Great Depression. Because of these foreign policy priorities, Israel is a critical pillar of American grand strategy and so it’s totally understandable that some policymakers in Washington were a little freaked out about the possibility of a souring in the relationship over Netanyahu’s political partisanship (not his opposition to the deal which I’m sure they deduced was phony) and were so anxious to get back to bipartisan business as usual.