Bush's World-Historical Gamble (a Marxist take on Iraq)

The author of this:


Argues that he have reached a Hegelian moment in history. That is, that the internal contradictions of one global system (sovereign nations coexisting with a shared set of liberal values) have been exposed by an antithetical system (radical Islam), and the only way out is to form a new system (I’m massively simplifying).

In detail, he argues that the liberal world order the west created after WWII, in which nations no longer went around colonizing people and stealing their resources (or at least not doing so as often, or as forcefully, as nations historically have), created a situation in the middle east in which nations became fantastically wealthy without doing any of the things that would, in a non-liberal world order, have created that wealth. They were, in essence, given all this oil money without ever having to create the social structures that would enable them to effectively deal with the realities of the modern world. Hence, they are free to engage in delusional thinking, such as “we will kill all the Christians.” The problem for the west, he argues, is that the current world order is simply not up to the task of dealing with the radical Muslim antithesis.
Please don’t respond to my summary; read the article.

One sentence to cover the whole article:

Nuke them nuke them and nuke them.

I think it’s BS.

Ah, glad to see you are capable of critical thinking and lucid discussion of complex, non-binary issues. Especially glad to see that you read the rather ambiguous conclusion:

"… it is possible for men of good will to differ profoundly over the wisdom of this or that particular response - and not only possible, but necessary … To call prudence appeasement is wrong. …

No one’s crystal ball is in such good shape that they can afford to be too vehement in denouncing those who disagree with them. Fear and trembling is the first order of the day, both on the part of those who counsel action and those who do not. "
Please, if you aren’t capable of understanding things written for grown-ups, don’t read them.

(pardon my spelling)
The author is making a case for war. I believe he is right in many respects. There obviously has arised a world situation never before encountered. The US wants to explicitly perform a “pre-emptive” strike to protect its safety (and powerfull economic interests). It has asked the UN’s blessing for it, and it has been denied.
I believe the world is at a cross-roads, but not the kind the author describes, in which supposedly powerfull and morally superior forces override “squeamish” inernational institutions so as to defuse and overthrow dangerous regimes. The real cross-roads is not letting these overwhelming military forces do as they please. This is the superior value that is being sought for right now. A semblance of international law is to be mantained. He scornfully mentions the right of “self-determination” as a lesser value to safety. I disagree. The US is a shining example of freedom for its citizens because it defends freedom and self-determination of individuals above all else. You don’t imprison a man because he might be thinking of killing someone. Why? Because if you do that, you lose more than you gain. This precious wisdom that americans have and enjoy for themselves, is something that the rest of the world envies and would like to at least see it observed in international affairs.

furt, I haven’t got the time to offer any kind of sustained response to your article. But I’d like to point out that it’s not at all a “Marxist take on Iraq.” It mentions Marx, but mainly by way of invoking Marx’s debts to Hegel. But no self-respecting Marxist would ever make this argument, not least because Marx didn’t (as the article implies) adopt Hegel; rather, he reversed his logic. What you’ve got here is a kind of Hegelian take on Iraq though, IMO, not a very consistent one. This is more of a “Clash of Civilizations” meets “The End of History” argument and if feel pretty certain that Marx would call it, um, philosophy as farce ;).

The self-determination he is writing about is not of individuals, but of nation-states, and the problem that arises when you have powerful “non-state actors” that cannot be dealt with in the present system. What happens if nation X decides that they want to actively shield terrorists out to attack nation Z? If we we still think of national sovereignty as inviolable, does nation Z have the right to attack nation X? On what legal basis? Do they have to wait to be attacked? What if the weapons are nuclear?

To take a concrete example, and at the risk of hijacking my own thread: Israel finds out with utter certainty that Hamas has a nuke and is planning on wiping out Tel Aviv. Does Israel have the right to go into another nation and attack preemptively? Assuming that calling the UN is even feasible, do we really expect the UN to act in some sort of enlightened manner for the good of all mankind? What if this is 2050, and France is now 35% Muslim and they veto?

The point is, when nation-states go to war, they generally do a cost/benefit analysis, which enables other nation-states to deal with them on a rational basis. But the ObL types are essentially operating under a different mindset; they seem reckless of “cost” insofar as they are quite willing to die.

I think that quite apart from this specific conflict in Iraq, which can be opposed on purely pragmatic grounds, there is the much larger question of whether the current world system is structurally capable of dealing with people who are essentially operating with an utterly different mindset.

I rather expected that this article was going to make an appearance on this board soon. I’m not sure what to think about it just now, except that the analysis it employs is clear-eyed and insightful. I still find myself weighing the points made against their intended and logical aim; a Western hegemony that we must trust to act with benevolence. Not many outside of the U.S. are going to feel comfortable with this sort of doctrine and no one should blame anyone who feels that way. The premises that lead to that conclusion still exist and should be confronted; they cannot simply be dismissed as “BS.”

The world today already knows the sort of anonymous threat that has no clear response within the classical liberal framework. There are no easy solutions and unfortunately the rules of the game are fast becoming irrelevant. I think the U.S. realizes that it cannot maintain its world position and, by extension, the Pax Americana by being forced into the reactive role. The nuclear genie is already escaping the bottle, the monopoly on force maintained by two opposing superpowers is transforming into something else entirely. Unfortunately, conventional military force means very little in the face of an irrational entity with access to the modern technology of war. There is no precedent for the state of affairs that exist today and it is not clear that the current international framework is even capable of dealing with what the future may throw at us. Taking the jump and abandoning the framework in order to “save it” offers its own slew of problems, not the least of which is that essentially all bets will be off.

But I still think there is a distinction between the empire that the U.S. is accused of becoming and the brutal, self-serving empires of history. Reality shows us that the U.S. is not that kind of empire; though we certainly could be if we truly wanted. Instead we strive to protect our interests through maintaining world stability. The question is how to best achieve that stability. It is certainly open to debate as to whether the course of action Bush seems to be taking is the best way. Just as it is debatable whether or not containment truly serves the world’s long-term interests.

In order to accept the sort of conclusions that this writer seems to have come to I think one must have a certain level of faith in the intentions of the United States. Clearly, the U.S. that goes to war “to steal oil” is not the kind of nation that inspires that level of confidence. Even if that particular accusation is out of line, the U.S. hasn’t historically shown itself to be the soul of innocence. As an American I am left wondering, if I can’t trust my own government, who do I trust? And yet my more skeptical, more cynical nature snickers at that sort of question.

I doubt that is a good sign.

Azael: There are no easy solutions and unfortunately the rules of the game are fast becoming irrelevant. I think the U.S. realizes that it cannot maintain its world position and, by extension, the Pax Americana by being forced into the reactive role. "

But the thing is, Azael, that it is the US as much as any country that is making the rules of the game irrelevant. And the Bush administration has backed itself into a reactive role. Had the Bush administration been willing to meet its reluctant allies halfway, they would have urged a timetable of some kind; or they might have insisted that France give more than lipservice to its professed commitment to disarmament by committing X # of troops should that timetimable not be successful. Instead, by refusing to comprise and brandishing threats and bribes all over the place, the US has arrogantly bucked world opinion–including the opinion of most of the world’s democracies–in a way that has reasonable people in foreign countries believing that the US is more dangerous than are countries such as Iraq

furt: “The point is, when nation-states go to war, they generally do a cost/benefit analysis, which enables other nation-states to deal with them on a rational basis.”

One can make a pretty good argument that the United States has failed to do such a cost/benefit analysis; that is, the US is now seen as having forsaken the rationality of international cooperation in favor of flexing its muscle because (it thinks) it can. The costs of flouting world opinion and going to war in a more or less unilateral fashion are not outweighed by the benefits. The only people who believe otherwise have persuaded themselves that Saddam Hussein at the present moment poses some kind of imminent threat: yet I think very few in the Bush administration genuinely believe that.

Well, if you’re going to go with the “vendetta” or “rabid lust for blood” angle, you can do so, but no sane person believes you. Certainly France et al. don’t, otherwise they wouldn’t even be bothering to try to talk the US out of it.

As you suggest, they may well be completely wrong in their cost/benefit analysis; that’s another thread. But I don’t think you can seriously say that the US – as a nation, regardless of who is in charge at the moment – is not seeking its own self-interest. If the majority of the population really believed that any President wasn’t even trying to do what was best, that he was deliberately aiming to ruin the country, he’s be replaced post haste.

The problem is that there are significant numbers of people in the world that really wouldn’t care if you killed them, their freinds and family and burned their hometown, so long as they could get one shot at the great satan.

I do understand the distinction you’re making furt, but I would say that the difference is much more a distinction of degree than one of kind. That is, the Bushies are suprisingly fundamentalist in their mentality. By his own rhetoric Bush is fighting for freedom against the forces of evil. Some Muslims see their fight to the death in comparable terms, such as Osama who urges followers to martyr themselves in order to free Islam wicked American influence.

I actually don’t believe that the US is seeking its own self-interest; though I do believe that Bush is seeking what he perceives as his personal political interests (and so, for that matter, is Osama). US national interests could be served by any number of means, and fighting Iraq right now on these terms serves no particular interest that couldn’t be better served in some other form. It is bad for the economy, bad for the US’s standing in the world (which has substantially declined), and will commit the US to a messy, expensive and dangerous aftermath that the Bush administration itself, were it more rational, would much rather do in conjunction with allies. Consider that during the first Gulf War the majority of the tab (80% IIRC) was picked up by other countries. Not so now. Where’s the self-interest in going it alone? If you really examine it it’s a crusade pure and simple.

Of course, some might argue that it’s a gamble: b/c if the war is really quick, and if there aren’t too many civilian casualities, and if the aftermath goes smoothly and the Iraqis are or seem grateful, then Bush and perhaps the US as well may get some political capital–at least for a time. But even those ifs I’ve named don’t exhaust the full range of hypothetical problems. If Pakistan doesn’t become destabilized. If the Kurds and the Turks don’t end up in some kind of clash and Iraq doesn’t become the next Yugoslavia. If occupation doesn’t become incredibly hazardous for American troops. If the US economy isn’t seriously screwed up by prolonged war. Etc. That’s an awful lot of ifs for this gamble!

This article reminds me of some of the embarrasingly convoluted and ultimately painful philisophical arguments used to justify things like colonialism and ‘manifest destiny’.

Let’s look at some specific arguments. First, he argues that Arabs are particularly wierd because they gained riches without stuggling. This ignore the fact that Arab history did not begin with oil. The Middle East has a long, rich culture full of all kinds of struggles. I’d argue that by this guy’s criteria, the Middle East is far better equipt to handle riches than, say, Sweden. I particularly like how this argument justifies colonialisation, slavery and all kinds of nasty stuff on the part of the West- I guess having failed attempts at bad stuff builds character or something. The West can apparently do no wrong, but the only justification and proof for that seems to be that the West is in power right now. So the West can do no wrong because it is in power because it can do no wrong because it is in power because…

Apparently because of this, the Arabs have time for “fanatasy”. Those silly Arabs! Now I wouldn’t call knocking down the World Trade Center a fantasy, because they did it. If they are able to actually do what they want, isn’t it no longer a fantasy? But anyway, I’ll play along and call them fantasies. I really fail to see how these differ from Hitler’s fantasies, which were certainly born through struggle.

And how the hell does North Korea fit in to this?!?! North Korea is part of our “axis of evil” focus, and is certainly some sort of threat. But they are not “free of stuggle”, nor are they Muslim.

So far we have an argument that boils down to “I don’t understand Arabs, and that must be because they are different than us…so…ummm…they gotta die”. Not much of an argument is it?

But then we take it to the next conclusion. The only way to prevent a world torn up by war, is apparently to create a world torn up by war. If we don’t take it into our hands to create war and constant struggle now, we’ll be inudated with war and constant struggle! We must take action now!!!

I’ll pass, thanks. I don’t need to make any bizarre and nonsensicle arguments to justify not killing people.

Again, the point is that for now at least, for better or worse, Bush has the tacit … if not support, at least not opposition from, the majority of the population.

This does not mean the current GWB course is wise or good or noble. For the sake of argument, I’ll say that it is the biggest mistake in US history. *That makes ZERO difference to this conversation. * The salient fact is that the US, as a nation more-or-less is going along with the strategy because they see it, rightly or wrongly, as in their interest. If at some time, the nation is persuaded that it is not, they will act accordingly; and if the leaders don’t follow, we replace them. In short, the US can be persuaded, can be wooed, can be threatened, can be bought, if we decide it is in our interest; and that tells other nations how to approach us, and vice versa.

But how do you deal with someone who has no interests other than killing you?

So, if you ,as a nation, don’t go through the exact processes, like the west has, you don’t have any sense of reality?
Or even better, you have no right to wealth?

The presumption is made that a, western style, industrial, democratic state is the only viable form of society.
To prove this he points to the west and says “See, it is rich, that is because they are democratic”
Now these feudal states are rich too, despite them not being democratic, so something must be wrong here.
The conclusion is that it is wrong for them to be rich.
This is, of course, absurd.

furt: *"Again, the point is that for now at least, for better or worse, Bush has the tacit … if not support, at least not opposition from, the majority of the population.

This does not mean the current GWB course is wise or good or noble. For the sake of argument, I’ll say that it is the biggest mistake in US history. That makes ZERO difference to this conversation.

Sorry, furt, but your logic is all over the place. The basic tack of the article is to insist on an absolute difference in worldview/mentality between Islamic fundamentalist leaders and Bush. I don’t see how public support in the US “proves” that Bush is the enlightened rationalist while Osama or Saddam (who while power-nuts is actually less religious than Bush) is the crusading warrior bent on destruction. US public support is actually notably wavering considering how substantial this effort is: something like 66% would like to give inspections more time. Public support has also been actively coerced as more and more Americans are deluded into believing untruths: 45% now believe that Iraq was directly responsible for 9/11; 55% believe that Saddam funds Al Qaeda. How can public support be said to be based on rational self-interest when it doesn’t even have the facts straight? Moreover, public support in other parts of the Western world, where people haven’t been hammered with misleading rhetoric, is overwhelmingly against Bush. Yet by the article’s account, Bush is the supposed bastion of Western rationality. Conclusion: the article is just making excuses for Bush’s egregious activities and coming up with a pseudo-historical, pseudo-philosophical spin in which his egregious unilateralism is glossed as some kind of Western imperialist destiny in the inevitable clash of civilizations.

“But how do you deal with someone who has no interests other than killing you?”

That is an interesting question but one that is not faithfully dealth with by the article you posted. First, a distinction needs to be made between Saddam and Osama. It’s not at all clear that Saddam has no interest other than killing us if the “you” in that question is meant to be the Western world. Saddam’s very clear interest is in maintaining his own power and that’s why he’s been so cagey during this process; and also one reason among many why it makes no sense to pretend that ousting him as a solution to 9/11.

It is indeed difficult and unprecedented for the West to have such to face terrorism at the hands of a mass, transnational movement that sees itself on a religious mission to rid the world of the scourge of certain Western influences. And the ways to go about combatting such a complex enemy are indeed complicated. There are have been other threads on this subject. Keeping in close concert with allies is one part of the strategy. Another is to reach out to those parts of the Islamic world where there is there is the most tolerance, and to help such nations and the people of such nations so that their youth are no longer attracted to such apocalyptic visions. Another is to do something about Israel and Palestine which is an ongoing source of resentment for such people.

Note that Bush’s war does nothing towards any of these goals: in fact, it hampers them. Indeed, if Bush’s war on Iraq constituted any kind of rational strategy for quelling fundamentalism, then why is it that even friendly Muslim nations such as Turkey are so leary of it? or why countries such as Pakistan are too afraid to touch it?

No, Bush is himself a different brand of fundamentalist: don’t be fooled by the suit and tie.


I’m going to have to disagree with you here, I think that if the Bush administration could have held the other security council members to a timetable then they would have done so for resolution 1441. That is certainly what we are pushing for right now and France’s hardline stance against war isn’t making that anymore feasible now than before. Certainly I can see the benefit of attempting to meet allies halfway and I won’t try and defend Bush’s hamfisted attempts at diplomacy but I am still skeptical as to the relevance of the point you are making here. I am aware that many countries percieve the U.S. to be the most dangerous of all but I also realize how ultimately short-sighted that fear is. There is no moral equivalence between the U.S. and her enemies and it is naive to think in such terms.


Case in point.


Here at least you are making sense, you understand that some kind of cost/benefit calculus is at least being employed in our government. Well try and understand that people with a much better grasp of the situation than yours have come to a different conclusion regarding the costs and benefits. It is tempting to assign irrational motives to those we don’t agree with (ie. they haven’t done a cost/benefit analysis at all, they are simply “flexing muscle”); tempting yes, but intellectually dishonest in the extreme as well. That of course doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with you that the costs of the present course of action seem rather excessive. I’m not convinced that Bush is doing the wrong thing (the status quo in Iraq presented an untenable situation), but I would certainly agree that Bush is making a mess of things. But in reading some of your responses I see that that is just about all I am willing to agree with you on.

Azael, you are free to agree with me or disagree as you wish but, in so doing, please do not put words in my mouth. At no point did I suggest a “moral equivalence” between Bush and anyone else. Indeed, morality never came up at all.

Bush is, in my view, a type of fundamentalist: but that does not mean (as I have pointed out) that he is exactly the same kind of fundamentalist as the kind he seeks to combat, morally or otherwise. What it does mean is that his actions do not deserve the cover of arguments–such as the posted article–in which he is painted in light of the Western, rationalist tradition and its history.
To the contrary, he has broken with that tradition to an alarming and unprecedented degree. And while it’s true that European popular criticism’s of the danger he poses to the world are often overstated, and/or regrettably phrased, it’s also true that Bush’s actions have incited such feelings, and instead of quelling them he and his spokespeople have repeatedly fanned the flames.

As to who has the better grasp of the relevant costs and benefits–those who are advising Bush, or those who disagree with them–there is a lot to be said and a lot to be seen. But I suggest you read more carefully and refrain from condescension.

But these states are deeply flawed; they are kept alive by outside, artificial means (Saudi Arabia) or often brutal internal repression (Iraq, Iran). Moreover, they are not really rich, but display a concentration of unnaturual wealth. On top of tat, these sattes are not nations and have no identity. It is not “wrong” for them to be rich. However, they do not have the same stake or experience in the world other nations do.

No, we are accepting that the game has changed. It does not look, from this position, that there can be an effective and worthwhile compromise; I do not believe anyoen could do it. The US is simply going to move to the next step in the game and take the position of actor rather than reactor.

You are going from the assumption that a coalition can be made to work against Iraq; I do not believe it to be so. regardless, the old order is crumbling. We must take the lead in establishing a new one atop it or we risk losing all the good of the current international community.

In fact, France is the one trying to destroy it. they risk tearing the UN apart for a passing political gain, which will have zero effect on the Middle East’s future. Chirac simply wants to screw us over for his personal good. You say the US is arrogant, but I say we have earned the top spot. We do expect obeisance, but we do expect respect and we do not receive it.

Although with the widespead practice of committing molesters after they’ve served their criminal sentences, apparently we now imprison people because they “might be thinking” of molesting children.

Sorry about the hijack. Anyway, I just finished reading the linked article and would like to say that for the most part he simply states the obvious. By paying vast sums of money for petroleum and then selling the products of our technology, such as weapons, back again, the West has been subsidizing and empowering regimes that do not have the values or cultural traditions to have acquired that wealth and power independently. To borrow a quote from Lenin, we have been “selling them the rope to hang us with”. One commentator put it this bluntly, by calling the Saudis “The Islamic equivalent of The Beverly Hillbillies”.