AFRICANGLOBE – Introduction: To the growing army of critics of US military intervention, who also reject the mendacious claims by American officials and their apologists of ‘world leadership’, Washington is engaged in ‘empire-building”.
But the notion that the US is building an empire, by engaging in wars to exploit and plunder countries’ markets, resources and labor, defies the realities of the past two decades. US wars, including invasions, bombings, occupations, sanctions, coups and clandestine operations have not resulted in the expansion of markets, greater control and exploitation of resources or the ability to exploit cheap labor. Instead US wars have destroyed enterprises, reduced access to raw materials, killed, wounded or displaced productive workers around the world, and limited access to lucrative investment sites and markets via sanctions.
In other words, US global military interventions and wars have done the exact opposite of what all previous empires have pursued: Washington has exploited (and depleted) the domestic economy to expand militarily abroad instead of enriching it.
Why and how the US global wars differ from those of previous empires requires us to examine (1) the forces driving overseas expansion; (2) the political conceptions accompanying the conquest, the displacement of incumbent rulers and the seizure of power and; (3) the reorganization of the conquered states and the accompanying economic and social structures to sustain long-term neo-colonial relations.
Empire Building: The Past
Europe built durable, profitable and extensive empires, which enriched the ‘mother country’, stimulated local industry, reduced unemployment and ‘trickled down’ wealth in the form of better wages to privileged sectors of the working class. Imperial military expeditions were preceded by the entry of major trade enterprises (British East India Company) and followed by large-scale manufacturing, banking and commercial firms. Military invasions and political takeovers were driven by competition with economic rivals in Europe, and later, by the US and Japan.
The goal of military interventions was to monopolize control over the most lucrative economic resources and markets in the colonized regions. Imperial repression was directed at creating a docile low wage labor force and buttressing subordinate local collaborators or client-rulers who facilitated the flow of profits, debt payments, taxes and export revenues back to the empire.
Imperial wars were the beginning, not the end, of ‘empire building’. What followed these wars of conquest was the incorporation of pre-existing elites into subordinate positions in the administration of the empire. The ‘sharing of revenues’, between the imperial economic enterprises and pre-existing elites, was a crucial part of ‘empire building’. The imperial powers sought to ‘instrumentalize’ existing religious, political, and economic elites’ and harness them to the new imperial-centered division of labor. Pre-existing economic activity, including local manufacturers and agricultural producers, which competed with imperial industrial exporters, were destroyed and replaced by malleable local traders and importers (compradors). In summary, the military dimensions of empire building were informed by economic interests in the mother country. The occupation was pre-eminently concerned with preserving local collaborative powers and, above all, restoring and expanding the intensive and extensive exploitation of local resources and labor, as well as the capture and saturation of local markets with goods from the imperial center.
The results of contemporary US military interventions and invasions stand in stark contrast with those of past imperial powers. The targets of military aggression are selected on the basis of ideological and political criteria. Military action does not follow the lead of ‘pioneer’ economic entrepreneurs – like the British East India Company. Military action is not accompanied by large-scale, long-term capitalist enterprises. Multi-national construction companies of the empire, which build great military bases are a drain on the imperial treasury.
Contemporary US intervention does not seek to secure and take over the existing military and civilian state apparatus; instead the invaders fragment the conquered state, decimate its cadres, professionals and experts at all levels, thus providing an entry for the most retrograde ethno-religious, regional, tribal and clan leaders to engage in intra-ethnic, sectarian wars against each other, in other words – chaos. Even the Nazis, in their expansion phase, chose to rule through local collaborator elites and maintained established administrative structures at all levels.
With US invasions, entire existing socio-economic structures are undermined, not ‘taken over’: all productive activity is subject to the military priorities of leaders bent on permanently crippling the conquered state and its advanced economic, administrative, educational, cultural and social sectors. While this is militarily successful in the short-run, the medium and long-term results are non-functioning states, not a sustained inflow of plunder and expanding market for an empire. Instead what we have is a chain of US military bases surrounded by a sea of hostile, largely unemployed populations and warring ethno-religious groups in decimated economies.
The US claims to ‘world leadership’ is based exclusively on failed-state empire building. Nevertheless, the dynamic for continuing to expand into new regions, to militarily and politically intervene and establish new client entities continues. And, most importantly, this expansionist dynamic further undermines domestic economic interests, which, theoretically and historically, form the basis for empire. We, therefore, have imperialism without empire, a vampire state preying on the vulnerable and devouring its own in the process.
Empire or Vampire: The Results of US Global Warfare
Empires, throughout history, have violently seized political power and exploited the riches and resources (both material and human) of the targeted regions. Over time, they would consolidate a ‘working relation’, insuring the ever-increasing flow of wealth into the mother country and the expanding presence of imperial enterprises in the colony. Contemporary US military interventions have had the opposite effect after every recent major military conquest and occupation.
Under Saddam Hussein, the Republic of Iraq was a major oil producer and profitable partner for major US oil companies, as well as a lucrative market for US exports. It was a stable, unified secular state. The first Gulf War in the 1990’s led to the first phase of its fragmentation with the de facto establishment of a Kurdish mini-state in the north under US protection. The US withdrew its military forces but imposed brutal economic sanctions limiting economic reconstruction from the devastation of the first Gulf War. The second US-led invasion and full-scale occupation in 2003 devastated the economy and dismantled the state dismissing tens of thousands of experienced civil servants, teachers and police. This led to utter social collapse and fomented ethno-religious warfare leading to the killing, wounding or displacement of millions of Iraqis. The result of GW Bush’s conquest of Baghdad was a ‘failed state’. US oil and energy companies lost billions of dollars in trade and investment and the US economy was pushed into recession.