Friday, January 8, 2010

Ponytails vs The Company

"Avatar is not only a stunning work of movie technology, it is a stunning attack on America and the West, reports Greg Sheridan." (Fact & friction on a big screen, The Sunday Telegraph, 3/1/10)

Apparently, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, whose presentation of the Palestine/Israel conflict can best be summed up as The Hamas Terrorist Death-Cult vs The Plucky Country, finds the plot of Avatar way too melodramatic: blue people "with long necks and ponytails who swing through the trees like Tarzan" and "live in perfect harmony with nature" vs the "big, evil company, which is naturally American" and "wants to mine the blue people's home for a precious mineral called - you won't believe this - unobtainium."

"This is," he rails, "a version of the left-wing interpretation of Iraq, and even of Afghanistan and Vietnam," and "doesn't make any sense and it's utterly unhistorical. If the Americans had just wanted Iraq's oil they could have simply bought it from Saddam Hussein and saved the billions the military operation has chewed up."

Regarding Iraqi oil, I'm actually inclined to agree with him. Where we part company, however, is over his typically neoconservative misrepresentation of Iraq's death throes as birth pangs.

Well, if Iraq wasn't/isn't primarily about oil, what was/is it about? US sociologist James Petras is a reliable guide here:

"The imperial policies adopted by Washington are a direct response to the power and centrality of the biggest multi national corporations (MNCs) in the US economy. Free trade agreements, IMF and World Bank policies, privatizations, the lowering of tariff barriers and the establishment of over 180 military bases in more than 130 countries are responses to the structural imperatives of the US economy and more particularly to the biggest US MNCs, which operate throughout the world. Imperialism is not a policy, a conspiracy or a product of any single administration, but a structural reality with political determinants and an economic basis. However, policies based on the economic imperatives of this structure are formulated by decision makers in Washington and implemented via the state apparatus.

"Most of the key policies that support US imperial economic interests are not made in the context of broad public debate. Nor are imperial interests stated as such. A small circle of mostly non-elected officials make decisions 'behind closed doors' and plan imperial policies, aided by the 'advice' constructed by a host of Washington-based policy forums such as the US Centre for Foreign Relations (the choice of east coast 'liberal' trilateralists), the Heritage Foundation (preferred by George Bush the elder) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) (run by Dick Cheney's wife, and one of several forums used by the latest generation of neo-conservative neo-imperialists). The public is then fed the ritual rhetoric of 'freedom', 'democracy' and so on, presenting the imperialist project in its various forms (the Iraq War, for example) as an advance of the 'forces of freedom, democracy and free enterprise' (to quote from George W Bush's 2002 National Security Report).

"The structural determination of strategic interests is compatible with, if not necessitated by, these 'closed doors'. Thus the argument that proposes 'conspiracies' to be more significant than structural determinations is misplaced and based on false distinctions. Structural and 'conspiratorial' determinants operate on different if not incompatible levels. Structural economic factors, such as MNCs, establish the general framework of US policy, while policymakers elaborate policies to advance these companies' interests. This process takes place out of public sight, and hence is conceivable as a 'conspiracy', but not without the active participation of the CEOs of the major multi-nationals. Moreover, there are moments when particular policy makers can carve out a degree of independence from particular MNCs in specific regions and pursue their own ideological agendas even at the cost of the MNCs. The most striking example of this exceptional circumstance is the behaviour of sectors of the US state apparatus with relation to the Middle East during the George W. Bush presidency. An influential group of US Zionists, closely allied with and having strong loyalty to the Israeli state, formulated a strategy of permanent war in the Middle East based on the unilateral use of US military power to enhance the survival of Israel.

"Zionist policymakers targeted several oil-producing countries that have provided exorbitant profits for American MNCs, purchased US treasury notes to balance the current US account deficit and had major ties with US financial institutions. Moreover, these Zionist policymakers exacerbated the political and diplomatic isolation of the US in the world and created oil price volatility and huge budget deficits. In theory, and in their own eyes, these Zionists are not opposed to American MNCs, nor are they against forcefully building US imperial power. However, by harnessing US imperial power to Israeli interests, they effectively overrode the structural imperatives of some American MNCs.

"This was clearly the case in the launching of the Iraq war. To destroy Iraq's economy, the infrastructure was destroyed and pillaged; to destroy Iraq's national unity, religious and ethnic groups were politicized and polarized. The result: Israeli power in the Middle East was enhanced and the US move towards new targets. Syria was boycotted by the US; Iran became a target for attack; and Saudi Arabia has been the focus of fierce ideological critiques to the advantage of Israeli interests. As an unintended result, the US empire has become bogged down in a prolonged, losing colonial war, its budget and trade deficits have grown geometrically, the entire Middle East has been destabilized and the pro-Israel animus towards Muslims has awakened and transformed hundreds of millions into enemies of the US economic and military presence. Strategically, it has been argued, the US military has been stretched to and beyond its capacity to defend or expand the empire. Conscription would polarize the country and weaken support for imperial politics. By any objective measure, the Zionist attempt to fuse US empire-building and enhanced Israeli power by inventing a joint US-Israeli power bloc in the Middle East has been a dramatic failure. In fact, it has eroded imperial power.

"This is a clear example of how policymakers have acted not only behind the backs of the public, but behind the backs of the MNCs and against the structural imperatives of empire. Clearly there is not always a direct relationship between the structural imperatives of empire and the effective realization of corporate global interests. Ideological factors can lead policymakers to deviate from prioritizing MNC interests in favour of other loyalties, as we have seen today in the case of US Middle East policy. No doubt at some point in the not too distant future, Zionist policies may provoke a 'correction' in US imperial policymaking. Already the state is divided between pro- and anti-Zionists, between Israel-firsters and empire-builders. To the degree that Israeli Middle Eastern ambitions jeopardize the greater interests of the biggest US MNCs, there is likely to be a major political showdown, with the Israeli power bloc in the US mobilizing all its resources to pressure Congress, the political parties and the President to back Israeli ambitions against the MNCs, and with the MNCs' spokespeople calling on the same to focus on the 'bigger picture' of inter-imperialist competiton, an overextended military and a hostile Middle East investment climate.

"Ultimately the test is whether powerful economic structural imperatives based on the massive presence of US MNCs in the world economy will be a match for a politically powerful faction of Jewish capital located in leading economic sectors such as the mass media and finance. Ultimately the structural imperatives of empire-building will predominate over the parochial interests of the Israel-first crowd. But there may be profound domestic and international crises before the issue is resolved.

"In conclusion, delineating the economic strengths and relative weaknesses of the US MNCs helps us to partially understand imperial politics. But it is also necessary to analyse the political and institutional sphere in which imperial politics are elaborated and pursued. While the imperial state represents the MNCs, it does so in its own manner, and occassionally policies pursed may sacrifice one set of imperial interests for another." (Empire with Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neo-Liberal Capitalism, James Petras & Henry Veltmeyer, Zed Books, 2005, pp 32-34)

[See also my 22/12/08 post Absent-Minded Professors Inadvertently Set Iraq Ablaze]

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