Monday, July 16, 2007
Now, the United States isn't going anywhere anytime soon (although, I'm sure that many said the same thing about the Soviet Union in, say, 1980), but a number of stories last week prompted me to speculate about what purpose, if any, is currently served by the US, as well as the extent to which, if at all, the country's more odious aspects are capable of being reformed.
First, as discussed here last Wednesday, The Nation ran a pathbreaking article about the occupation of Iraq as it is enforced by US troops. The authors interviewed about 50 soldiers, and the responses shattered any plausibility to the notion that the troops remain in the Iraq for any beneficial purpose.
Along these lines, Nick Turso of TomDispatch also posted an article about the tremendous reach of the US military globally, an article entitled, The Pentagon as Global Landlord. The Pentagon has 766 bases in 39 countries, and stations troops in 140 ones:
Predictably, the Pentagon has no intention of scaling back the immense scope of these facilities. It is instead investigating the means by which it can dominate the ocean and space as it currently does land. Of course, the Pentagon's global presence is objectionable, because it serves the purpose of facilitating global US imperial dominance, resulting in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, and covert operations in Gaza, Lebanon, Iran (and, probably, Venezuela).
Still, to begin to grasp the Pentagon's global immensity, it helps to look, again, at its land holdings -- all 120,191 square kilometers which are almost exactly the size of North Korea (120,538 square kilometers). These holdings are larger than any of the following nations: Liberia, Bulgaria, Guatemala, South Korea, Hungary, Portugal, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, Denmark, Georgia, or Austria. The 7,518 square kilometers of 20 micro-states -- the Vatican, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Maldives, Malta, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Seychelles, Andorra, Bahrain, Saint Lucia, Singapore, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Tonga -- combined pales in comparison to the 9,307 square kilometers of just one military base, White Sands Missile Range.
Some theorists, like Giovanni Arrighi, believe that the US is the means by which capitalism is attempting to consummate centuries of expansion from nation states (the Dutch) to continents (the British) to the entire world. Interestingly, Arrighi is dubious that the US possesses the resources to achieve it. But this question, while an important one, is not the one that interests me. Rather, I am curious as to whether it is impossible for the US to exist at all without engaging in the use of economic coercion and extreme militaristic violence, resulting in the loss of life on a scale just below the genocidal, to assert dominance over others.
To put it another way, can the US be reformed in such a way so as to substantially reduce the violence engendered by its interaction with many of the peoples of the world? Or, will it require the destruction of the American political system by means of international resistance, conceivably resulting in a global conflict involving both nation states and non-governmental groups? Liberalism no doubt opts for the reformist alternative, but it has been singularly incapable of achieving a single success in restraining American violence. With a news report today that Cheney is pressuring Bush to attack Iran before the end of his term, such questions are not idle ones.
Domestically, one might contend that the US is necessary to maintain social order, and provide assistance in the event of a catastrophe. Another important article published last week in the New York Times tragically revealed, however, the inability, if not the unwillingness, of the federal government to assist the evacuated victims of Hurricane Katrina so that they can return home to New Orleans. In a post on Thursday, I described them as The American Palestinians.
The poor, the elderly and the disabled have been spread across the country, living in trailer parks and monochromatic apartments, desperately trying to find jobs as they stretch their monthly income to the limit to meet their basic needs. Evacuees living in trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi face the prospect that they will be zoned out of their housing. Meanwhile, the federal government is destroying low income housing in New Orleans, not building more, making it impossible for them to return to a city where rents have increased substantially. The emphasis appears to be upon exploiting the hurricane so that New Orleans can be rebuild as a tourist theme park, sans those disquieting aspects of everyday life that would otherwise intrude.
As with the US global militarism, the inability of the federal government to assist these victims of Katrina provokes a profound question as well. If the federal government cannot provide assistance in a catastrophe, if it leaves many people to fend for themselves, if, ultimately, one's survival is dependent upon one's economic status, then why have the federal government at all? Money has always enabled people to navigate their way through natural disasters, through political turmoil, and it is noteworthy precisely because it works its magic in the absence of the state, except to the extent that the state validates the currency and establishes mechanisms for its use, monetarism, in other words.
While disinterested in the victims of Katrina, the US seems to work quite well for international lending institutions, for investors, for neoliberal policy makers who want to enforce a new social order on the rest of the world. It also, to be fair, provides a good standard of living (albeit below Western European and Japanese standards) for educated elites who thrive under such policies. But are they accurately described as policies or are they endemic to the US political system? Time will tell, and the answers will go a long way towards determining whether the US transforms itself relatively non-violently, as did the old USSR, or whether it finds itself embroiled in one of the most destructive conflicts in world history.