My 10 year old granddaughter has never experienced a time when her country wasn’t at war. Her older sister who is 17 can’t remember such a time. Children in nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine have lived their lives directly confronted each day with the horrors of wars in which the U.S. was directly or indirectly involved. For all of these children war is normal and an era of peace unknown. During their lives, the U. S. has not only been waging war in many parts of the world but has implemented an unprecedented increase in the militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico; it has outfitted domestic police forces with weapons and equipment designed for combat, and generated an extensive program of domestic surveillance that includes U.S. citizens. The question I will explore in this essay and have developed in greater detail in my book, New World Disorder: The Decline of U.S. Power, is why.
Politicians and military spokespeople say the purpose of all of this is to protect the people of the U.S. who are threatened by terrorists. I argue that the main purpose is to preserve the U.S. position as leader of global capitalism and to maintain the global system that the first President Bush termed a “New World Order.”
15 years of war has included the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, military strikes against targets in a number of other places in the world including Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and now a return to Iraq. Yet, fighting continues in all of these places and the ranks of anti U.S. fighters have increased. U.S. direct or U.S. aided attacks have killed many civilians and the effect seems to be to generate even more fighters and attacks on U.S. supported governments. The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that the current round of air strikes and other forms of military support against the newly formed “Islamic State in Iraq” (ISIS) is costing $7.5 million a day or a total of $560 million during the month of August, 2014. And the Obama administration is considering an alliance with the Government of Syria against ISIS after arming and supporting anti government forces as recently as a month ago. At a time when the U.S. can’t adequately fund housing, education and health care for its citizens it is more than willing to spend $22,000 an hour to pinpoint targets for air strikes in Iraq. The U.S. military has flown more than 1200 sorties of this pricey surveillance and targeting during the month of August alone. Given the record of these failed policies it seems the height of madness to continue. Yet, the U.S. does so.
To understand why the U.S. military is doing what it is doing, we need to go back to the origins of all of this military churning and flailing. In New World Disorder, I argue that the global economic system based on mass production in the industrial nations and cheap resources from the developing nations began to unravel in the late 1960s. By the early 1980s a global strategy that aimed to reduce labor’s claims on value had evolved. That strategy was based on mobile capital that allowed production to flow to regions of the world where costs were low. But the resulting economic penetration of developing nations destabilized the lives of many around the world through the destruction of food security, environmental deterioration, and the creation of massive industrial zones where housing and working conditions were below the standard required to live a decent life. Those who serve this New World Order by politically and militarily controlling the populace of these nations are very wealthy and their regimes were riddled with corruption. The bulk of the people who must live under the control of these regimes are mired in poverty and without hope.
But the evolving New World Order system contains contradictions. The former industrial workers of the developed nations now have less to spend. These societies are increasingly unequal. But at the same time developed nations depend on high levels of consumption. Developing nations that were the targets of the new capital mobility need infrastructure for industrial development and lack the means to construct it.
These contradictions were temporarily resolved through the extension of credit; both national sovereign debt and private household debt within nations have soared. The ongoing expansion of credit was made possible by turning debt itself into a phantom “product” that could be bought and sold in global markets. So the New World Order became a system in which 1) the U.S. is “the most powerful nation in the world”, 2) purchasing power depends on debt being a tradable commodity and, 3) profit rates depend on producing value without adequately compensating labor. U.S. military policy evolved to preserve these three features of the New World Order.
This focus of U.S. military policy first became clear during the George W. Bush administration when Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense. The Pentagon generated a world map showing U. S. Military responses to “situations” between 1990 and 2002. The map demonstrated that nearly all of these responses had been in parts of the world termed “the globalization gap.” They concluded, “If you are fighting against or losing to globalization, you are likely a problem for the U.S.” This outlook spawned a new defense strategy. The Pentagon argued that in this era of “globalization” there was a need to go beyond the old concept of “security equals defense.” Pentagon planners introduced the term “transactions strategy” that involved anticipating security problems, then taking action to prevent them from occurring. The strategy attempted to integrate the global economic policy of the Treasury and Commerce Departments, foreign policy of the State Department, energy policy and security. Ultimately, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the strategy included the simultaneous invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pentagon planners articulated specific implications of their security strategy that included a policy of preventive war, greater emphasis on special operations forces, a major emphasis on high tech surveillance and intelligence gathering, and a focus on eradicating “weapons of mass destruction.” They also articulated the sort of weapons required, including the use of drones. These ideas initially appeared as public policy in the National Security Strategy document of September 2002. They were elaborated on in the National Security Strategy document of 2006 and the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2006.
When the Obama Administration took office it was widely recognized that Iraq and Afghanistan constituted a quagmire for the U.S. and the entire New World Order system. President Obama decided the U.S. should begin to pull out of Iraq, but wanted to use the troops that were released to expand operations in Afghanistan. Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, and President Obama’s National Security Strategy document suggest that the analysis and strategy initially developed by the Bush Administration, and based on the logic of the globalization gap, was still the basis for military planning and security strategy. Now the question became one of how to implement the strategy as the economy collapsed, and how to apply the strategy successfully once it had failed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Inside the White House, the debate was between those who favored military action—focused mainly on destroying stateless terror groups like Al Qaeda—versus those who favored building new societies that would become part of the core of global capitalism. These two strategies came to be known as counterterrorism vs. counterinsurgency. Woodward’s Obama’s Wars suggests that since there were strong advocates of both approaches, Obama accepted a sort of hybrid of the two that had been pushed by Vice President Biden. Therefore, the accepted U.S. role of enforcer against opposition to the New World Order of global capital continued.
Today the Obama administration is bombing ISIS positions in Northern Iraq. The use of drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen continues. U.S. Special Forces commandos invaded Pakistan in order to assassinate Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Most recently the Obama Administration has called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to join the U.S. in an attack on ISIS. Meanwhile the resolve and capacity of ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda in Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq continue and Al Qaeda has announced it is opening a new front in India.
If the basis of U.S. military policy was something other than preserving the New World Order system and keeping the status of the U.S. as “the most powerful nation in the world” within that order, there could be other options for dealing with groups like Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. In fact I would contend that the operations of these groups are based on an attempt to overthrow the New World Order.
Drone and fighter jet strikes, assassination of leaders, and massive bombing have only made such groups stronger. The groups we are fighting are unique to the 21st Century. They are, in my view, fascist. But it is a new form of fascism. (See my discussion of the prospects of 21st Century fascism in my book New World Disorder on pages 217-225). Groups like ISIS are not really after state power in the traditional sense. They seek domination of regions in order to have a staging ground to spread their fascist movement. These organizations are not bound by any governmental institutions. They are not interested in public opinion within nations and face no nation-based restrictions on their actions. They are not organized in the same way as nation-based armed forces. Their armed forces are not restricted to citizens or residents of any particular nation. Rather, they recruit their fighters world-wide on the basis of an ideology that addresses wide spread alienation and anger. And they operate as a set of coordinated cells. Assassinated leaders can easily be replaced.
The New World Order depends on national governments that open their nations to economic and political penetration by following the rules of various multi national institutions including trade agreements, and conditions placed on both military and economic aid. To lead this system, the U.S. must find nation-based allies who are willing to join an effort to destroy groups that threaten the New World Order system. Groups like ISIS or the Taliban are not really vulnerable to nation-based military actions. But they do need a significant mass base to operate the way they do. That base would be responsive to an alternative that meets their needs and offers them a decent life without resorting to brutality and war. But the New World Order system cannot offer such an alternative and has in fact made their lives unlivable. Meeting the brutality of ISIS with even greater brutality can only strengthen the mass base of ISIS.
Because the objective of U.S. military policy is to preserve the New World Order and maintain the U.S. as the leader of this order, our nation is caught in a contradiction. The “war on terror” becomes a war on ordinary people. Winning the “war on terror” means that ordinary people will be subject to rules and rulers who will make their lives even more miserable. So the more we bomb, employ special ops forces to attack places where these groups operate, and prop up corrupt regimes, the larger the mass base of stateless groups bent on destroying the New World Order will become.
The only way that my grand daughters will avoid living their entire lives under the fog of war is to eliminate the New World Order itself. As I have argued elsewhere the system itself is in crisis, which opens up the possibility of something new. But as the New World Order becomes a new world disorder, opposition to its rules and operation and social unrest have grown all over the world, including in the U.S. The U.S. government has responded by increasing surveillance everywhere including spying on its own citizens. The U.S. military has also militarized its domestic police forces, giving them heavy weapons and other equipment suitable for a hot war zone. And special ops training is being offered, creating so-called SWAT teams all over the country.
A necessary step toward ending U.S. militarism as described in this essay is to put an end to the New World Order itself and seek paths toward a world where human needs of all become our guiding principle. Perhaps then my grand daughters can discover the joys of peace on earth.