[translated from GegenStandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 4-04, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich]
And America wants to do a particularly thorough job in that part of the world where it has spotted the worst shortcomings: the Arab-Islamic world between Morocco and Afghanistan — a place the United States sees as being defined by the presence of a strong anti-Americanism. It has undertaken to combat this nuisance by military force wherever necessary, and has also initiated a comprehensive set of reforms aimed at bringing the virtues of free enterprise, democratic customs and the bourgeois rule of law to this troubling region.
In principle and in general, programs for improving the world have always been part of the standard repertoire of American world politics. The more violent and thorough the methods employed by the U.S. government abroad, the more firmly it insists that it thereby seeks to secure freedom, impose the rule of law and in general make the world a better place. With its “Middle East Partnership Initiative” (MEPI) and several additional bilateral and multilateral reform initiatives for the Arab-Islamic states, the incumbent U.S. administration has come up once again with something special.
Whenever the United States looks to ensure democracy, free enterprise and human rights in other nations, its intention is to have these countries comply with its ideas of good governance, its economic interests, and the right of its capitalists to go freely about their business. It makes no secret of this, and none of its targeted rulers deceive themselves on the matter. To the world’s leading democracy, mother country and guarantor of global capitalism, the world power with pivotal influence on what counts as law among the states of this world, there is simply no difference between the rule of the principles and ideals by and in the name of which it executes its public power, and the proven willingness of a foreign state power to submit to and comply with American guidelines, plans and orders. All the same, there is certainly something hypocritical in America’s demand, namely to be surrounded by a world of obliging henchmen for its interests, coming along in the garb of a critical examination and correction of the methods of governance employed in other nations. After all, what America demands is that foreign states fulfill useful functions for America. Whenever the United States calls for ‘democracy’ and complains of “shortcomings” in the relationship between the leaders and the people of these countries in comparison to America’s favorable image of its own form of government, thereby demanding that foreign regimes obtain a greater, or any kind of legitimation from the peoples they rule, the United States in effect reminds foreign state powers that their legitimacy depends on how America judges their activities, objects to these nations’ high-handedness in the use of their own power, and demands that they make a greater effort to obtain Washington’s seal of approval. Whenever the United States reminds a foreign government of its duty to allow its citizens more private initiative, irrespective of whether the means to do so exist or not, and to unleash competition for property, then in fact its concern for foreign enterprise is intended for the foreign success of its own entrepreneurs. When Washington gives its annual report on the worldwide progress of the ‘rule of law,’ its findings on the violations of certain governments of the catalogue of human rights laid down in the American Declaration of Independence indicate the degree to which the U.S. government is dissatisfied with the national programs pursued by foreign leaders. When the American government makes material political demands on foreign states — demands it finds to be more or less ill-served — and translates these demands into ideal standards of good governance that an incriminated government more or less fails to meet, this is on the one hand pure hype, but at the same time totally appropriate in expressing America’s uncompromising demands. In this way, the world power makes plain that it is not merely keen on reaping the benefits of foreign statecraft, but also on having states whose entire political constitution offer an ever-ready guarantee for service and compliance. In critically evaluating the statecraft of foreign governments, Washington is simultaneously free to fine-tune the verdict it passes in a particular case according to the degree of its discontent with the candidate at hand. It can categorize deviations from its proclaimed ideals of good governance as being forgivable omissions, temporary difficulties, serious misdemeanors or systematic faults, however it wants. Thus it can come to pass that freely elected social democratic reformers treat the human right to profitable property with such contempt that it cannot be put right other than by liberating the people from such reformers — if need be by installing a military dictatorship, whose bloodbaths at least “pave the way for democracy.” From hints that Washington is expecting a bit more cooperation and more efficiency in a foreign government’s compliance to increasingly stringent warnings and threats, all the way up to open hostility — with the democratic demand of good governance, the entire spectrum of imperialist domination and blackmail can be carried out. In all this, the world power retains every possible freedom to translate its dissatisfaction into action as it deems necessary and to utilize the general accusation of bad governance to call in certain favors.
There is considerable ideological value in behaving this way in the global political arena. It is above all the numerous critics of the United States who more than anybody else testify to this by judging American imperialism according to how it fulfills its commitment to the same exact principles of good governance that Washington itself employs and — in the eyes of its critics — fails to fulfill. The latter thus turn a blind eye to the content, reason and purpose of contemporary world politics as a whole by interpreting all its perceived effects — war, repression and obvious poverty — in a wholly wrong and idealistically benevolent manner, namely as a deviation from the genuine mission that a world power actually has to fulfill. Thus they might deny the world power’s directors the unrestricted right to police the world, but nonetheless bestow upon them the unrestricted duty to set the guidelines all over the world by all necessary means.
But the democratic human rights ethos set by U.S. imperialism is also of practical value for supervising the world. Hardly any incumbent government and no authority at all worth mentioning refuses to recognize America’s moral leadership in matters of democracy, free enterprise and human rights, even though no responsible statesman, let alone any of the governments compelled by Washington to heed its calls for reform, is in the dark about the real political content and purpose of the prevailing imperatives of good governance. And this is a substantial success. If the United States can drum up respect at any time for the catalogue of political virtues of which it acts as advocate and protector, this means it is basically empowered to intervene in all other nations’ foreign and internal affairs as the ultimate guardian of global political morals. In professing their belief in the ideals of clean politics of which America is the steward, all of them, in effect, declare their willingness to do their best to observe and heed every critique and critical demand coming from America. As a matter of fact, this is not due to the weight of the moral catchphrases America uses, nor to its moral authority, nor is it true that a state committed to political decency must defer automatically to Washington’s judgment on its own political activities. It’s the other way around: with its superior military might and the power of its dollar economy, the United States has managed to compel the rest of the world of states, with all their own national calculations and ventures, to take their orientation from America’s interests, compelling them to acknowledge its global power interests and business needs. After all, with the help of its European allies, the United States even succeeded in breaking the pertinacious socialist half of the world and forced it to give itself up. So nearly no state worth mentioning still sees any use in consistently and effectively defying America’s stipulations for its site policy1, nor in rejecting America’s interference in its official purposes. All nations are inclined to varnish this relationship by conjuring up a list of supranationally accepted guidelines of good governance, which they pretend to follow entirely at their own behest and according to their better instincts, when in fact Washington has rebuked them and left them no reasonable choice but to comply. All modern states declare their support for the American version and interpretation of the “values” of democracy, free enterprise, human and women’s rights — to which the Soviet Union no longer poses an alternative, and another rival who might underscore its own strategic and global interests by posing its own alternative catalogue of supreme values has yet to arise.2 This general acceptance is due to the fact that the hierarchy among the imperialist powers has been unambiguously settled for the time being. In no way does the subservience of the world of states to American values document some noncommittal idealism of good governance, but testifies to their principal recognition of the current balance of power. The U.S. government for its part insists on this recognition and turns it into policy by ruling out any difference between the duty to respect the principles of good governance, a duty taken for granted and acknowledged by all decent states, and its own authority to act not only as moral censor, but as judge over the foreign use of power, and to push through its own strategic ventures and economic interests from this position as the global authority over world order.
With its various reform initiatives for the ‘Middle East,’ America is once again undertaking something new, very much in the spirit of its general policy of imperialist intervention in the name of democracy, free enterprise and human rights. It is planning a comprehensive “modernization” of the Arab-Islamic nations. Washington intends to bring the services performed by the states lying between the Atlas Mountains and the Hindu Kush up to its high standards, so too their aims as the necessary preconditions, and their methods of political rule as foremost guarantee for the correctness of their objectives. But not only this: under American guidance, the governed peoples of these countries are to be molded so as to guarantee that the circumstances under which they live are useful for America’s world order, and in particular that the rule they are subjected to has a reliable orientation towards the United States. Within the entire region, the United States wants to find not only obliging leaders but well-meaning societies. The willingness to adopt American morals, i.e., to live up to America’s every capitalist and strategic interest, is to be “structurally anchored” in these nations’ societies. The will to become like America, that is, to become what the United States expects from useful friends, is to be the determining feature for the material, cultural, political — in short, for the entire life of the people. This comprehensive reform program is not limited to enlisting and using the responsible political authorities for U.S. objectives. On the contrary, in accordance with how the United States appraises the situation, it grants varying degrees of trust or mistrust to the governments, all the way up to a downright declaration of hostilities, as was implemented in an exemplary manner in extreme cases like Afghanistan and Iraq. America is utilizing the incumbent rulers as instruments — which are, if need be, disposable and replaceable — for the remodeling of their nations as the world power sees fit, has resolved on, and definitely intends to keep under its control.
The U.S. government has definitely determined that without all this, without a comprehensive plan of ‘re-education’ aimed at thoroughly transforming the Arab-Islamic societies, there is no way to deal with the problem it sees itself confronted with in this region.3 First of all, there is an enormous amount of oil lying under the soil there, an absolutely indispensable quantity of the stuff that literally fuels the capitalist world economy, and therefore has to remain under the control of the power for whom it is wholly self-evident that the world economy is its own affair. The entire region is consequently of an especially vital importance for America’s grip upon the globe. Secondly, this region just happens to be beset by a militant anti-Americanism. Foes of the world order are able to attack U.S. interests there and to endanger bases and accomplices of the American regime of control over the region. They were even capable of transporting their terror into the American heartland by a never-before seen act of violence. Washington interpreted this act of terror as a hostile opening move in a new and new type of global war, and used the attack as an opportunity to confront the community of states with a new type of world war situation and to open up necessary new front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is only consistent that the U.S. global anti-terrorist campaign also includes a concept of a new world peace. This peace demands nothing less than a reorganization of global society: the irrevocable purge of all conditions that facilitate anti-American terrorism — in a region like the ‘Middle East,’ of all places, that is so vital for the world economy — and the creation of social conditions sufficient for eliminating similar subversive activities once and for all, i.e., living conditions under which America can be certain that such evil will never arise again. This is to be accomplished by the ‘MEPI’ with its four “pillars” — radical reforms in the formation of the political will of the people, free-market moneymaking, education, as well as the emancipation of women — and various accompanying reform initiatives undertaken by the U.S. government in the various ‘Middle East’ states.4
These initiatives complement the brutal realism of a superior power that suppresses deviation and punishes deviants with a list of practical measures aimed at destroying ‘false authorities,’ reorienting social elites towards the U.S. model and creating economic liberties which consist solely in coping with new dependencies. Modern morals are to catch on in these countries, including the adoption of contemporary models of the good life. An easy-to-handle pluralistic party system is to be established along with ‘reasonable’ unions and the middle-class woman as ‘role model’… The whole venture is pervaded by the rather bigoted, self-assured belief that Arabs and Muslims simply have to be shown how people in the United States live, do business, consume, vote, take out loans and say their prayers, in order for them to gradually adopt a pro-American lifestyle and desire to be governed exactly the way the world power wishes, which it will enforce anyway with its superior power.5] With all its ridiculousness, the American reform policy subverts the habits and equally bigoted pious mores of the people in the ‘Middle East.’ Under the catchwords “civil society,” it supports groups and organizations that oppose the unpleasant rulers and the public spirit that America finds suspicious. It fosters and pursues the privatization of economic activities, i.e., the appropriation of productive property by capitalists who know how to accumulate dollars. It spares no material effort to gain sympathizers and seeks to turn local ‘disseminators’ and agitators into “fifth columns” of U.S. imperialism, who then provide the people with pro-American prejudices, immunizing them against anti-American prejudice and subversion. A “Marshall plan” for the Arab world is totally out of the question; however, America is not merely looking to establish some sort of ideological superstructure to the continued functioning of the oil business. Rather, the United States is planning and pursuing a productive destruction of the region’s political, economic and moral balance of power and living conditions, conditions that have given rise to the terrorist aberrance against which America has declared war.
There is no doubt that this is possible. What is also certain is that this venture contains a contradiction that will come to fruition in the same measure as things progress. In its productive intention to produce useful societies, the United States destroys relationships to which it not only owes the problem of terrorism, but also the benefit for which the region has become so valuable. And what it intends to build up is not so different from the state of affairs that has caused its current terrorist problem.
For it simply isn’t true that the America’s ‘Partnership Initiative’ is a crusade against a state of affairs that has arisen without the slightest connection to America’s global dollar economy and world-order policies, that stems from Arab tradition and Islamic bias alone and is caused by an incomprehensible deviation into pure evil, hatred, and powerlessly brutal acts of violence against America’s might.
What the United States intends to reform so thoroughly that no bin Laden or Saddam Hussein will have a chance in the region anymore is in part its own doing: the repercussions of having instrumentalized these countries through and for the capitalist world economy, and of having subjected them to the world power’s strategic arrangements. It is also partly the response, in no way anachronistic, of the affected nations to their “situation” — the results of the efforts made by the rulers, their rank and file, and the local upholders of moral standards towards upholding their own rights within the prevailing world order and according to the strategic and economic rules of procedure already in force. This goes primarily for the basically cooperative state leaders who in America’s most recent estimation have left so much to be desired in getting their territories under control: these leaders owe both their modern constitution and the confined limits of their might to the subordinate status “the West” has relegated them to — relegated in its decades-long struggle against Soviet power, which intended to be, and to offer an alternative to, U.S. imperialism, and relegated to this very day through the calculating utilization of Israel’s anti-Arab campaign for self-assertion. In all their dissatisfaction with their ranking in the competition of nations, the Arab rulers have been following precisely the standards which the same “West” has established as the sole criteria for success and failure in the world of states. The same goes for the bulk of the governed, whose customs and worldview, according to the American diagnosis, provide the ‘breeding ground’ for terrorist misdeeds. Through their Arab nationalism and their devotion to Allah, they attempt to come to terms — primarily in an obsequious and affirmative way — with the desperate material and political situation that their nations and they themselves as pawns of the latter have gotten into, a situation caused by their states’ participation in the modern world market and modern imperialist competition. Nor does the morality preached to them, of which America is so suspicious, reproduce any longer the pious biases and the war- and peacetime customs of a pre-capitalist tribal community. Instead, this morality is trying to come to grips with the spreading decay, the partly deliberate, partly unintentional destruction of a pre-capitalist hierarchical order caused by imperialist force, as well as with a process of ‘modernization’ which got underway long before America’s recent ‘initiatives.’
There is no denying the fact that the quite autonomous and venturesome spirit of figures like Saddam Hussein or bin Laden and their respective followers are behind the dangers of Islamic-inspired terrorism and unauthorized ‘Middle East’ ambitions, both of which the United States now intends to “tackle at its roots.” On the other hand, it is also beyond question that such figures are less products of a strict or false interpretation of the Koran or an oriental power fantasy, but rather the quick and eager pupils of the imperialist power against which they revolt.
All in all, America’s intention to rebuild the Arab-Islamic world from top to bottom by embedding democracy, free enterprise, and human and women’s rights is aimed at the effects of its own policies, which have long been highly successful in furthering the export of democratic global might, capitalist access and expedient legal certainty into the ‘Middle East’ oil-producing region. Thus on the one hand, by subjecting the balance of power in the region to a thorough revision, the United States is endangering the success of its previous regime. It is threatening to upset the benefits it has derived from the circumstances there, circumstances which at least guaranteed these benefits to some extent. On the other hand, it is reproducing and aggravating the effects of its previous influence, namely the enmity of insulted nationalists and moralists who are now striking back against America’s interests in such a negative way. In the case of Iraq, the United States has already damaged everything that up to now has been somehow functioning by violently turning the country into an experimental field for a pro-American revival. It has ruined all the opportunities it expected to create for its global economy and all the strategic assets it hoped to gain for its world-ordering power in the region. What it has gotten instead is terrorism on a whole new scale. Its plan for a new ‘Middle East’ peace is turning precisely this contradiction, which has taken on such drastic forms in Iraq, into a civil program: what the government in Washington has initiated for the purpose of reconstructing the existing ruling order and the moral state of the people is in fact undermining the techniques and achievements of local political power it has made such great use of in the past. And it is aggravating the very same national predicament — the conflict between the demand for compliance with America and the effort to build a society that is successful and morally at ease with itself, a conflict that has already been a source of discord among the native elites and the interested and frustrated masses in their tow. As a result, some have become more or less willing opportunists of the imperialist balance of power, and others more or less fanatic and militant enemies of the U.S. regime over the ‘Middle East.’
This contradiction isn’t changed by the fact that America’s ‘Partnership Initiative” and further ventures have been met with no resistance — it could very well be that the military precedents America has set in Afghanistan and Iraq have had their effect, too. But at any rate, the United States has provoked nothing but avowals from local leaders that they themselves have discovered roughly the same need for reforms — in terms of democracy, free enterprise, human and women’s rights —the United States has unreasonably demanded for the region. Yet what the various local governments seek to achieve through reforms rarely coincides with the American agenda, serving instead as protection against acts of American interference which seem to the former to be quite subversive. And inasmuch as they participate in America’s project for modernizing their countries, they add at best some “secondary contradictions” to America’s “principal contradiction.”6
At least the United States has found some support among its European allies. They are all in favor of “modernizing” the Arab-Islamic world. However, by no means does this facilitate the American project of promoting human and women’s rights. The European governments understand the democratic benefice for their Arab neighbors rather differently: in their eyes, the ‘Middle East’ countries are meant to be developed into an easy-to-handle Mediterranean opposite shore for European imperialism. In addition to all the complications that American world-ordering power itself instigates, gets into and aggravates in the region with its military and civilian policies for improving the world, a permanent front between the Europeans and Americans is opening up: one side is wrestling for more autonomous authority to order the world, the other side is fighting for willing henchmen. The West’s reform project and all the effects of its implementation also provide material for this power struggle and for the intra-Western “rivalry” over which world-ordering power and which global business center will be able to “orient” to itself such an unwieldy region with its currently so irreplaceable resources. Thus two outcomes of the transatlantic cooperation in the ‘Middle East’ are already certain: first, the inter-imperialist discord that came to light so explicitly in the split over the Iraq war, but which is in no way restricted to it, will become more acute: second, the course of this row will be carried out at the expense of those nations whose governments might reckon to take advantage of the situation.
1 Site policy: programs for economic development of the national territory in a globalized world economy [ed.]
2 The ruling party of the Soviet Union also always expressed its will to assert itself against the capitalist world power by confronting the ideals of bourgeois rule with its own set of social and political values. Its defensive recognition of Western virtues of state power in the course of the former policy of “détente” was an index of its unilaterally backing down from this self-assertion. In the meantime, America’s most important allies do not yet dispute the leading power’s “moral authority,” i.e., its recognized supremacy and the implied final authority to define what good governance is, but they dispute America’s monopoly in this regard. America’s allies put forth their own set of imperialist virtues to the rest of the world of states, one that differs from the American catalogue by virtue of the lie that the European world order would be free of violence — or at any rate without unjustified and superfluous wars. The impression they thereby make is as big as their ability to offer other nations a strategic and global economic alternative to America — i.e., not huge.
3 Contrary to America’s expectations, the Middle East problem with its unacceptable Arab nationalism and reservations against Israeli supremacy did not resolve itself into a pro-American “new world order” after the end of the East-West conflict and the first Iraq war.
4 The G8 summit at the end of June, 2004, decided on a “Forum for the Future,” which would establish a permanent dialogue between the G8 states and the states of the region. The issues on the agenda are: progress in political and economic matters, the development of civil society, as well as the difficulties in translating these reforms into action. In addition, certain countries in the region, supported by the members of the G8, were authorized to develop reform programs and conduct “workshops” on the issues of “democracy and political participation,” “the knowledge society,” “the struggle against illiteracy,” “improving education and technical training,” “accelerating economic development,” “job creation,” “strengthening the private sector,” and “economic cooperation,” and regularly report back on their work.
5 In this respect, the entire venture is marked by a rather crazy idealism. To say it politely, there is an internal contradiction in the desire that ‘Middle East’ societies tease out the achievement of a perfect modern class society, i.e., the complete subsumption of the individual under his functional service to capital and state within a bourgeois working life, to which democracy owes its extraordinarily useful equation of material interest and practical subservience, of freedom and calculating submission. And this without any of the preconditions for such a result, i.e., without a general and widespread functioning capitalist exploitation and hence without an established system of actual constraints that could be acknowledged by a productively used majority as a means for their private existence.
6 Principal and the secondary contradictions: a reference to Mao, On Contradiction: “…one must not treat all the contradictions in a process as being equal but must distinguish between the principal and the secondary contradictions, and pay special attention to grasping the principal one.” [ed.]
© GegenStandpunkt 2006