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The Ruse of Altruism


Over the last several years we’ve been bombarded with one common and unchallenged refrain: that the Bush administration is the author of inumerable failures at home and abroad. The underlying assumption of this premise is that Bush and his neoconservative scalawags really had the best interests of the country at heart, but had simply blundered their way through one well-intentioned but ultimately misguided policy after another, leaving in their wake the wreckage of good intentions and rose-colored idealism. And that ultimately their strategies and policies have indeed failed. Both assumptions deserve a second look.

On the latter, the notion that Bush has authored one failed strategy after another: this suggests that he really wanted to impart democracy to Iraq, that this was his overriding aspiration and all his efforts were aimed at seeding the Middle East with the secular tools of democratic governance. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Naomi Klein expertly explores in her bestseller The Shock Doctrine, the Bush administration sought, in Iraq at least, to create their own unique notion of the idealized free market economy, unfettered by regulation and government interference, a veritable tabula rasa on which the economy of boundless self-interest could script its utopian future. They wanted to create a perfect neoliberal nation. Democracy was a consideration only insofar as Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld conflated democracy with their free market ideology through the manipulable rubrick of freedom. Otherwise, as Paul Bremer’s numerous actions belie (canceling elections, hand-picking governing councils, etc.), democracy was denied at every instance in which it conflicted with the broader aims of the neoliberal mandate. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that these efforts to inhibit the democratic impulse were the incipient cause of the resistance movement.

It is probably inarguable that the administration underestimated the force required to ensure that their neoliberal dream took wing amid the rubble of that demolished nation, but this only suggests the failure was of a different character altogether. If the administration failed, their failure was an incapacity to foresee the repression required to install a neoliberal regime, and not–as has been ceaselessly implied–a failure to spread the light of democracy to a former dictatorship. Democracy was never the goal. Cracking open a nation with unlimited profit potential was. The administration can’t then be said to have failed to impart something it never truly sought to share. It did fail to create the conditions for the free-wheeling pillage of Mesopotamia it imagined.

But consider the ultimate goal: profits. Through the invention of a war on terror and the implementation of a broad propaganda campaign to convince the American public that it was at imminent risk from a variety of threats (the axis of evil, etc.), it succeeding in justifying the creation of an enormous security economy, facilitated through the Department of Homeland Security and the Iraqi war itself. The unending war on terror provided the rationalization for a massive transfer of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of major corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton, companies positioned to exploit the need for security and reconstruction services. The billions that have been handed off to the corporate sector with almost no resistance from the Democratic Party represents a tremendous victory by the neoconservative element of American politics.

Additionally, or as part of this collossal dollar grab, the military and government have been downsized. Expenses are up, of course, but the number of essential services that are now outsourced–from fighting to interregation to myriad security services–has been dramatically increased, a hollowing out of government that again serves the neoliberal desire to slash government functions. Domestic disasters like Katrina aren’t so much examples of government futility as they are of the administration’s desire not to govern. On this count, as on those of the outcomes of the Iraqi occupation, the administration achieved far more of its program that is popularly recognized.

And it almost not worth mentioning the obvious and overarching national security objective–mentioned in national security documents since the end of the second world war–of controlling the vast petrochemical wealth of the region, a long-term profit play if there ever was one. 

 Once the pretense of altruistic motives is swept aside, the policies of the Bush administration began to re-emerge as rational attempts to execute a derranged strategy of self-aggrandizement, and not the bungled goodwill of an inept government. It is precisely here where Barack Obama draws the line, content to mischaracterize the war as a wrong-headed ‘mistake,’ when in fact it was largely successful as a wealth transfer strategy and effort to populate an oil-rich nation with military bases. Obama knows what the war truly is–a crime of state conducted by war criminals proscecutable under international law. Imagining that he’ll admit as much is nothing more than wishful thinking on behalf of a progressive movement hoping for a sliver of change it can believe in. This unwillingness to expose the underlying motives of the administration also suggests that Obama too is beholden to the corporate interests who are recording record profits from the neverending war on terror, an ominous thought for anyone hoping to reverse course on an imperial agenda that has delivered decades of immiseration to populations around the globe.

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