Saturday, March 24, 2012

Two Imperialist Tactics

Reading through an article on Iraq in the most recent New Left Review I was reminded of the subtlety of imperialist tactics. Imperialism,of course, is not simply a matter of overt military conflict and violent intervention. It's a much more complex process, capable of taking a number of different forms. I want to look at two examples drawn from the excellent article mentioned above.

The first is probably the oldest and most infamous imperialist tactic of the them all: divide and conquer. There are numerous examples of how this tactic has played out in the course of Washington's occupation of Iraq, but I'm only going to look at one. When US "advisors" oversaw the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, it was deliberately designed in such a way that "the specific division of powers between national and regional authorities--a central function of any constitution--was left undefined, thus inviting the struggle vigorously on display at present."

What's more, "a further article pledged both federal and regional governments to 'formulate the necessary strategic policies' to develop Iraq's oil and gas wealth, 'using the most advanced techniques of the market principles and encouraging investment'. Numerous international advisors were on and to elucidate what these were."

By asking both federal and regional governments to formulate "necessary strategic policies" regarding Iraq's oil and gas wealth, the Constitution invites conflicts between them. This intra-national conflict is great for imperialism. First, it forestalls the sort of national unity that would enable the government to have a relatively strong bargaining position vis-a-vis multinational oil corporations (or, worse yet, to nationalize oil fields entirely). Second, struggles between federal and regional governments enable Washington or oil majors (to the extent that there is a clear line of demarcation) to step in and "play the role of helpful catalyst" between them. Exxon-Mobil, who has a "commanding position" in Iraq's newly opened oil/gas sectors, is doing just this:
"In October 2011 Exxon became the first oil major to sign deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), winning six oil blocks in the Kurdish region despite vocal opposition from Baghdad... Exxon has emerged as the pivotal actor, with a crucial hold over Iraq's future oil output and the means to play Baghdad and Arbil off against each other."
As I say, this is but one example of divide and conquer in the context of Washington's imperialist venture in Iraq. There are numerous others.

The other tactic I wanted to examine concerns arms sales and the political relations of dependence that they entail. The Maliki government is currently buying military equipment from the US, especially F-16 fighter planes. As the authors of the article make clear, this "isn't just a matter of the White House exploiting their position to ensure the sales of American defense contractors... It also serves to bind Iraq more tightly into the American system of dominance in the region."

Kenneth Pollack, National Security Council director under Clinton, is as excellent a proponent of the imperialist point of view here as we'll find:
"one of the most important lessons from the Arab Spring and Mubarak's fall bas been the tremendous utility American arms sales can have in the Middle East... the modern military history of the Arab states makes clear that Arab allies of the US become dependent on the US and lose the capacity to project power without American support (and therefore approval). Today, Jordan, Egypt and all of the GCC states coordinate all of their major, external military activities with the US."
This is insidious but refreshingly honest. It nicely illustrates how dynamic imperialism can be.

Predictably, Obama will want to portray the shift of December 2011 in Iraq as a "victory" for his Administration that he can use in the election to tout his competence as commander-in-chief. But, in reality, December 2011 was nothing more than a re-configuration (or re-positioning) of US forces in the region, not a retreat. The basic fact is this: "Iraq lies along the major faultline of Middle Eastern security, a crucial geostrategic arena for the world's most powerful firms and states. As long as the world turns on oil, the US will never leave the region."

No comments: