Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mosaic News - 4/29/08: World News from the Middle East

Inside Story - Global food crisis

Twenty-seven key UN agencies have been meeting in the Swiss capital Bern to hammer out a solution to the growing global food crisis. The meeting is expected to produce a plan of emergency and long-term measures to combat the crisis. Inside Story asks how workable such a plan will be and what obstacles it might face.

Israel is suppressing a secret it must face

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By Johann Hari

How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago end up throwing filth at cowering Palestinians?

When you hit your 60th birthday, most of you will guzzle down your hormone replacement therapy with a glass of champagne and wonder if you have become everything you dreamed of in your youth. In a few weeks, the state of Israel is going to have that hangover.

She will look in the mirror and think – I have a sore back, rickety knees and a gun at my waist, but I'm still standing. Yet somewhere, she will know she is suppressing an old secret she has to face. I would love to be able to crash the birthday party with words of reassurance. Israel has given us great novelists like Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, great film-makers like Joseph Cedar, great scientific research into Alzheimer's, and great dissident journalists like Amira Hass, Tom Segev and Gideon Levy to expose her own crimes.

She has provided the one lonely spot in the Middle East where gay people are not hounded and hanged, and where women can approach equality.

But I can't do it. Whenever I try to mouth these words, a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit. Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.

Standing near one of these long, stinking brown-and-yellow rivers of waste recently, the local chief medical officer, Dr Bassam Said Nadi, explained to me: "Recently there were very heavy rains, and the shit started to flow into the reservoir that provides water for this whole area. I knew that if we didn't act, people would die. We had to alert everyone not to drink the water for over a week, and distribute bottles. We were lucky it was spotted. Next time..." He shook his head in fear. This is no freak: a 2004 report by Friends of the Earth found that only six per cent of Israeli settlements adequately treat their sewage.

Meanwhile, in order to punish the population of Gaza for voting "the wrong way", the Israeli army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working. The result? Vast stagnant pools of waste are being held within fragile dykes across the strip, and rotting. Last March, one of them burst, drowning a nine-month-old baby and his elderly grandmother in a tsunami of human waste. The Centre on Housing Rights warns that one heavy rainfall could send 1.5m cubic metres of faeces flowing all over Gaza, causing "a humanitarian and environmental disaster of epic proportions".

So how did it come to this? How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago with a promise to be "a light unto the nations" end up flinging its filth at a cowering Palestinian population?

The beginnings of an answer lie in the secret Israel has known, and suppressed, all these years. Even now, can we describe what happened 60 years ago honestly and unhysterically? The Jews who arrived in Palestine throughout the twentieth century did not come because they were cruel people who wanted to snuffle out Arabs to persecute. No: they came because they were running for their lives from a genocidal European anti-Semitism that was soon to slaughter six million of their sisters and their sons.

They convinced themselves that Palestine was "a land without people for a people without land". I desperately wish this dream had been true. You can see traces of what might have been in Tel Aviv, a city that really was built on empty sand dunes. But most of Palestine was not empty. It was already inhabited by people who loved the land, and saw it as theirs. They were completely innocent of the long, hellish crimes against the Jews.

When it became clear these Palestinians would not welcome becoming a minority in somebody else's country, darker plans were drawn up. Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in 1937: "The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war."

So, for when the moment arrived, he helped draw up Plan Dalit. It was – as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe puts it – "a detailed description of the methods to be used to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; and laying siege to and bombarding population centres". In 1948, before the Arab armies invaded, this began to be implemented: some 800,000 people were ethnically cleansed, and Israel was built on the ruins. The people who ask angrily why the Palestinians keep longing for their old land should imagine an English version of this story. How would we react if the 30m stateless, persecuted Kurds in the world sent armies and settlers into this country to seize everything in England below Leeds, and swiftly established a free Kurdistan from which we were expelled? Wouldn't we long forever for our children to return to Cornwall and Devon and London? Would it take us only 40 years to compromise and offer to settle for just 22 per cent of what we had?

If we are not going to be endlessly banging our heads against history, the Middle East needs to excavate 1948, and seek a solution. Any peace deal – even one where Israel dismantled the wall and agreed to return to the 1967 borders – tends to crumple on this issue. The Israelis say: if we let all three million come back, we will be outnumbered by Palestinians even within the 1967 borders, so Israel would be voted out of existence. But the Palestinians reply: if we don't have an acknowledgement of the Naqba (catastrophe), and our right under international law to the land our grandfathers fled, how can we move on?

It seemed like an intractable problem – until, two years ago, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted the first study of the Palestinian Diaspora's desires. They found that only 10 per cent – around 300,000 people – want to return to Israel proper. Israel can accept that many (and compensate the rest) without even enduring much pain. But there has always been a strain of Israeli society that preferred violently setting its own borders, on its own terms, to talk and compromise. This weekend, the elected Hamas government offered a six-month truce that could have led to talks. The Israeli government responded within hours by blowing up a senior Hamas leader and killing a 14-year-old girl.

Perhaps Hamas' proposals are a con; perhaps all the Arab states are lying too when they offer Israel full recognition in exchange for a roll-back to the 1967 borders; but isn't it a good idea to find out? Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.

‘Blood Diamonds’ ‘Blood Oil’ and ‘Blood Food’

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True commitment to stopping the war in Iraq requires a global human rights strike, in which the working population of the world stops producing, until the governments and the corporations realize that the voice of the people does indeed matter, says Pablo Ouziel.

For a while now, I have been thinking about what George W. Bush signifies from a socio-political perspective. Looking at the world from the time of the ‘Big Bang’ of September 11th, 2001, until today almost seven years later, one can clearly observe how monstrous our human interaction has become. After much reading and analysis, I now understand that September 11th was not the starting point of a new world order, but to the contrary, it was purely the end of a specific human state of affairs.

When one grows up in the west, our history books tell us stories about past events in our world. As we grow up, those same stories shape the way in which we look at the world around us. Once this history is indoctrinated into our minds, it frames the scope of our objective judgment. This in turn, leads to a very narrow analysis of our current reality.

As westerners we have the tendency to feel superior to the rest of the human species. Somehow, we have come to believe that our crusades, empires and colonization have led us to a higher understanding of kindness, compassion, love and equality. As westerners, we seem to see ourselves in a higher plane of collective awareness, intellectual and spiritual attainment. I do not doubt for a single minute that in other cultures they have similar prejudices, but I learned from an early age through Christian scriptures, that one must look deep into his or her consciousness, in order to identify mistakes and make corrections. Therefore, for me it is important to focus only on the culture that I know, I live, and that I am an active member of -- the western world, as defined by the politicians of the ‘Axis of Good’ who govern us.

We are very comfortable in the west, all of us. Even the most deprived are not as deprived as the whole of Iraq, and by the whole of Iraq, I do mean everyone including the Al Qaeda terrorists, the international soldiers, the Iraqi militias, the possible Iranian insurgents, the government officials, doctors and nurses, contractors, private army operatives, NGO workers, the rich, the poor, the women, men and the children. Nobody there is as good as we are here. Iraq is just one of the many examples of places where the whole population is on its knees as we in the west enjoy our ‘morally evolved’ societies.

People in Haiti are eating mud cakes because of the soaring food prices, the people in Gaza have no electricity, in Afghanistan, the only royal visit they receive, is of a British prince dressed in military gear going to kill on Afghan soil. In India, the farmers are committing suicide due to failed harvests of genetically modified Monsanto crops. Around the world, people are rioting because of lack of food or basic human necessities. Yet in the west, we can move around freely, we can cross borders and fly our budget airlines from capital to capital, observing the comforts of western existence. Organized streets, clean cars, wonderful shopping malls, great monuments, everything is civilized and could be admired, that is, if it was honest. But it isn’t, it is morally wrong and deep down we all know it. We know it, but we just don’t want to do anything about it, because we are comfortable. Only a very small proportion of the population would truly change their position for that of a person in Iraq. I suppose that is why we choose to keep Iraq as a problem of our governments, and the terrorists whom must be eliminated to protect us from ‘evil’.

As westerners, we feel that our commitment to morality and justice is apparent once in a while, with an Anti-War demonstration scheduled in a city for a particular day. We come out to the streets that day, all united, the young ‘Che’ impersonator, holding hands with the 60’s hippy, the businessman who inherited his mother’s company and is well established within his city, the University professor who still holds faithful to her ‘liberal’ values, the working class family which feels that a one day revolution is better than nothing, the yuppie banker, etc… Representations of various segments of our population are present at the event. It lasts a few hours, there is music on the streets, the cameras are filming everything to air it across the television channels of the world. Once the demonstration is over, we all go back to our jobs, we have expressed our concern on schedule and we should not disrupt the system of things any longer. After all, we all have bills to pay, we all must take care of our families or simply ourselves, and there is not that much we can do beyond demonstrations. At least that is the sentiment, which seems to perpetrate from the tragic reality of these events, which although well intended are not truly committed.

True commitment to stopping the war in Iraq requires a global human rights strike, in which the working population of the world stops producing, until the governments and the corporations realize that the voice of the people does indeed matter. If we had the courage to do this, the power would shift automatically from the politicians, bankers and corporations to the majority of the population. This would have been unimaginable just seven years ago, but with the advances in communication technologies and the global mobility of the work force, a global change is plausible.

People in the west however, are generally not interested in change, at the moment. Things are still good. We are having hiccups in our economies and problems in our internal social systems, but these issues are not yet affecting a large enough proportion of our population, in order to get us united. Besides, most people are not fully aware of the connection between the human strife in other countries and the policies of our governments and growth strategies of global corporations. Right now, for most of the west, it would be too cumbersome to focus honestly, on the cruelty which our governments are perpetrating around the world to keep us from loosing our mortgaged style of living.

As speculators are busy speculating with food and commodity prices, causing instant death around the world and indescribable misery, creating a market for ‘blood food’ and ‘blood oil’. We in the west will attribute this failure to a few unwanted elements in our society. It is evident now, that if the west attacks Iran, the western population will pinpoint the blame on George W. Bush. He will then move on, and someone will clean up the mess. The fact remains however, that George W. Bush is indeed serving the interests of America and its allies. Unless the western population is willing to lower its standard of living and cut down on its thirst for natural resources, we are going to fight a perpetual war, defending our privileges and exploiting the basic human rights of others.

For this war, George W. Bush is the right man. However, if we decide that annihilating the rest of the world is not the way to go about it. We must learn to cut back on spending, organize ourselves as tax payers, and begin to demand disarmament from our governments, to pull them out of those apparently “unwanted” wars. Until then, the diamonds in our stores will be bloody, the food in our supermarkets will be bloody and the gasoline at our pumps will be bloody. Washing our hands of the problem will maybe help us in the short-term, but in the long term, we will see that just like in the times of the Nazi’s, our collective hands are tainted with innocent blood.

It is time for the west to accept that although some might hate George W. Bush’s style, he is fighting to guarantee our privileges and is a reflection of our socio-political interests. Let us stop our double standards and begin to look at our reality. A lot of people are dying hoping for some solidarity, yet in the west, we are reluctant to accept responsibility for our cruelty to other human beings.

Driven To Starvation

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By William A. Cohn

How the auto industry continues to destroy the environment and is now abetting global hunger and poverty -

In the wake of widespread food riots which have resulted in fatalities and political turmoil in poor countries around the world, on April 14th the head of the World Bank warned that 100 million people are now at risk due to food shortages and escalating prices. Yet Robert Zoellick’s proposed New Deal for Global Food Policy offers more of a band-aid approach than a cure to the causes of such needless world hunger. Oddly, the World Bank failed to call for an end to those ethanol and other biofuels subsidies which have exacerbated global hunger and poverty by prioritizing feeding cars over feeding humans.

Speaking at the United Nations on April 21st, Bolivian President Evo Morales called his country’s food crisis “an external problem” caused by policies in which “cars come first, not human beings.” Peruvian President Alan Garcia joined in saying that biofuels harm the world’s poorest people. Morales previously blamed the world’s leading polluters for causing the severe weather which has ravaged Bolivia with floods since November 2007, destroying more than 1.2 million homes. On April 22nd, the environmental group Friends of the Earth released a report warning the EU of the perils of expanding biofuels use in Latin America.

Josette Sheeran, head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), told the BBC on April 22nd that WFP is now delivering food aid to an additional 100 million people who did not need assistance six months ago, “but today simply can’t afford enough food for their family.” International organizations have begun the unpleasant task of addressing the relationship between our addiction to transport fuels and the plague of world hunger and poverty. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convenes a high-level conference on the food crisis this week, it appears that the long-anticipated resource wars are heating up.

On April 28th, Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapportuer on the right to food, called for a 5-year moratorium on the production of biofuels. He called the present US and EU policies a “criminal path” which are a main cause of the current worldwide food crisis. And things will only get tougher – the planet’s population is expected to grow by 50% to 9 billion in some 40 years, and the number of cars and trucks are expected to double to more than 2 billion in 30 years. And twice as many jetliners are projected to be in the skies in 20 years. The International Energy Agency says the world’s total energy demand will rise by 65% over the next 20 years. Corn ethanol, offered as a quick fix to oil depenednecy, is now seen as energy inefficient and environmentally destructive, as well as a cause of food scarcity.

Much of the global energy demand comes from cars. About 25% of the world’s oil goes to the US, and of that, more than half goes to its cars and trucks. US oil consumption has surged since the oil shocks of the 1970s and 1980s. In large part, this is because the US has some of the lowest gas prices in the world, the lowest energy taxes and the least fuel-efficient cars. Presidential candidates McCain and Clinton have played to voters short-term instincts by calling for a suspension of the federal gas tax during the summer travel season. Others, such as China, which has seen a seven-fold increase in vehicles between1990 and 2006, to 37 million – a figure projected to reach 300 million by 2030, feel that it is their right to follow suit. Sadly, the US has set the example of denying the need for sacrifice and change.


2007 was a breakthrough year in educating the public of the need for dramatic action to avert the most disastrous consequences of global warming, culminating in Al Gore and the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in this regard.

Responding to public pressure, politicians have put forth reform proposals which have met with resistance from affected industries. None have been more successful at resisting mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to sustainable ecologically responsible business models than the automobile industry. While the auto industry has killed the electric car, and defied efforts to mandate greater fuel efficiency, it has embraced the development of cars using hydrogen and biofuels. This has aligned it with powerful economic and political interests in support of ethanol and other biofuels as the central initiative in response to global warming. Critics contend that these initiatives are designed simply to divert pressure for change.

The consensus is that biofuels are causing greater environmental harm in that they produce more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels given the pollution caused in producing these so-called green fuels. As well, we have seen resulting food shortages as farmers gear their crops for transport fuels. The fallacy of the touted silver bullet biofuels policies is in their failure to adopt a holistic approach to combating climate change. The danger of course, beyond the human suffering it has caused, is that such an omission wastes time and resources in addressing our precarious ecological situation.

Car crazy blowback

We live in a world that idolizes the car. Marketing tells us that the car gives us power, status and independence and that she is sexy, responsive and puts us in control. Cigarettes have been, and in parts of the world still are, marketed in a similar manner. Yes, our culture has given us a preference for the car. But our culture formerly gave us a preference for slavery and child labor. Change was seen as undesirable because it would impose a greater burden on us. Yet change happened suddenly when people realized such practices were wrong and must stop – even if cotton, for instance, would be more expensive.

An essential change in combating the direst global warming prospects is to protect and preserve our dwindling and threatened rainforests. Such action seems far-removed from the power of the common person. Getting away from the car is within the immediate control of most people, and it can produce a big impact. Christian Brand of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University recently completed a study commissioned by Tesco, the British supermarket chain, to analyze its employees carbon emissions over a year – the emissions generated by car travel dwarfed all other activities. The February 2008 report found that “Personal travel is generally dominant over items like electricity use (with car and air travel accounting for more than 75% and as much as 90% of personal emissions for most, especially younger and higher income, people). Car travel is the dominant factor.”

While people are switching their light bulbs and lowering their thermostats, few have been willing to forego the car. A study by the British environment agency Defra found that 75% of people were prepared to change their behavior to limit climate change, “But not in the ways that count most: Only 5% of car drivers said they had driven less because of environmental concerns.” Studies have shown that car ownership is a one-way door: once a person has a car they won’t give it up, and they then tend to want a bigger and better one – which means more pollution. Studies also show that cars tend to be used simply because they are there.

According to Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy, it is time to slam the door on our car addiction: “I listen when the scientists say that if we fail to mitigate climate change, the environmental, social, and economic consequences will be stark and severe. . . . There comes a moment when it is clear what you must do . . . [we must] create a low-carbon economy. In saying this, I do not underestimate the task. It is to take an economy where human comfort, activity and growth are inextricably linked with emitting carbon and to transform it into one which can only thrive without depending on carbon. This is a monumental challenge. It requires a revolution in technology and a revolution in thinking. We are going to have to rethink the way we live and work.”

Greenhouse gas emissions and climate context

The successes and failures of IPCC 2007, the 4th assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, can be measured in myriad ways including a drumbeat of media coverage of carbon footprints and green alternatives. One notable success is on the political front – following Kevin Rudd’s resounding defeat of John Howard as Australian Prime Minister, he quickly reversed national policy on climate-change, and in December signed the Kyoto Protocol in Bali, thus leaving the United States isolated as the only major country to reject it (On Feb. 26th, the White House signaled its conditional consent to a mandatory international agreement on climate change).

Lest we get too pleased with the developments of 2007 and early 2008, it is instructive to put this in recent historical context. In 1992, at the “Earth Summit” in Rio, the US and almost every country of the world endorsed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The treaty, ratified by the US Senate and other national legislatures, bound every industrialized (Annex 1 – the US, Canada, Japan, Europe and then Eastern Europe) country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of returning emissions to 1990 levels. Excepting the Eastern bloc countries, whose economies were crumbling, none of these Annex 1 countries progressed towards compliance, but rather, emissions increased despite follow-up negotiations in 1995 (Berlin), 1996 (Geneva) and 1997 (Kyoto).

The Kyoto Protocol, an addendum to the 1992 Treaty, which reduced the commitments of the signatories, has the EU states commit to the goal of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perflourocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) to 8% below 1990 levels by 2012. The US and Japan had lesser targets, and the US rejected the Kyoto Protocol following a $13 million anti-Kyoto advertising campaign by The Global Climate Coalition, a lobbying group sponsored by General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, ExxonMobil, Shell and Texaco. The authors of Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future trace the nexus between the auto and oil sectors, which they term the “industry of industries,” and how the two have shaped the international landscape.

In 1993, Bill Clinton pledged that the US was committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, saying; “Unless we act now, we face a future in which the sun may scorch us; where the change of season may take on a dreadful new meaning; and where our children’s children will inherit a planet far less hospitable than the world in which we came of age.” Seven years later Clinton made essentially the same speech, yet when he left office in 2001 greenhouse gas emissions were 15% over their 1990 levels. The dire warnings of IPCC 2007 are not new. Is time passing us by consigning us to the ash heap of history?


Resistance to real and sustainable solutions is still found at many levels, including those industries whose growth has depended upon carbon emissions. The award-winning 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car by director Chris Paine asserts that the technology exists which would allow us to dramatically reduce global warming emissions and our dependence on costly foreign oil, and improve our respiratory health.

General Motors developed a prototype electric car which could go fast and emit no exhaust fumes or carbon emissions. Like a mobile phone, it plugged in at night, and would be ready to drive in the morning. The electricity needed costs a fraction of the price of petroleum for the same travel distance. The auto and oil industries lobbied fiercely to defeat laws aimed at promoting the electric car. Why? Why kill such a potentially profitable new technology? Marketing electric cars as ‘clean’ transport would mean admitting their core product is dirty, and since electric cars run on a battery rather than a combustion engine, and it threatened the business model of the auto industry which profits by maintaining and replacing internal combustion engines. The biggest criticism of the electric car was that after 60 miles the battery needed to be recharged (as well, there is the issue of the source of the electricity which powers these cars – is it coal? or is it clean and renewable?). So the engineer Stan Ovshinsky created a battery that could run up to 300 miles at 70 mph on a single charge. According to The Independent, the auto and oil companies then bought that technology, and it has not been seen since.

In 1993, the US govt. agreed to subsidize the auto industry and to provide it with military technologies that would enable US carmakers to build prototype sedans capable of getting 80 mpg by 2003. As we know, the goals of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles have not been realized. The GM Precept (equipped with 2 electric motors), the aluminum bodied Ford Prodigy, and the largely plastic Dodge ESX3 were wheeled out with much fanfare at the 2000 North American Auto Show in Detroit, and then wheeled away, never to be seen again. Then in 2002, after more than a billion dollars of federal money had been spent, the Bush administration Energy Secretary flanked by the top executives of GM, Ford and Dodge announced the scrapping of the Partnership project explaining that the administration and the automakers now aimed to produce vehicles that would run on pure hydrogen.

Zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell cars have been touted by General Motors, Daimler Chrysler and lawmakers since 1990, but over the past five years less than 200 of these clean cars have been built. Meanwhile, battery electric cars have proven a more practicable and potentially enduring option, yet regulators have defied logic by continuing to promote the more expensive and cumbersome hydrogen alternative. Critics contend that the manner in which the auto industry and its politicians keep changing the tune is just smoke and mirrors, mere ploys intended to take the heat off and distract the public.

Running on empty

Drivers have been burning fossil fuels at artificially low prices. The warning of the renowned economist Sir Nicholas Stern that climate change is “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen” has been heeded by eminent economists and climate scientists. The operation of free market forces can encourage sustainable allocation of resources only when goods and services are priced properly. This can be achieved through heavy taxation (like alcohol and cigarettes), regulatory standards (like fuel efficiency for cars), or various cap and trade approaches. A carbon tax is widely seen as the most effective way to place overall costs at their source. (On pricing importance and challenges see “Big Foot,” The New Yorker, Feb. 25, 2008)

Making carbon emissions more costly provides incentives for conservation and investment in clean and renewable sources of energy. The 1972 Clean Water Act provides a relevant example of how industrial and consumer behavior can be modified towards ecological sustainability. The US today manufactures more products using less water than it did in 1972. Prior to then, people did not value water since it was free. Likewise, a heavy carbon tax will make consumers more mindful of the cost and the value of scarce resources. Yes, providing economic incentives for ecologically responsible behavior is essential to combating climate change. Currently, affected industries and the politicians they support are providing the wrong incentives.

In late February, the Canadian province of British Columbia proposed a carbon tax in its latest budget, which would be the first such tax in North America. The US, Europe and others have been resistant to adopting a carbon tax, despite a growing consensus that it is the best way to properly price the consumption of energy. Leaders have generally denied the need to make lifestyle changes which are seemingly essential to climate change adaptation, opting instead for a technology-based approach as enabling us to have our cake and eat it too. The European preference has been for cap and trade schemes which have been criticized for being a form of eco-colonialism which allows the rich to buy the right to impose their emissions on the rest. This in turn leads to finger-pointing and provides those short-sighted “leaders” in positions of power with excuses for inaction.

Get the lead out

While the auto industry purports to be developing hydrogen car technology, it resists efforts to promote greater fuel efficiency from cars fired by fossil fuels. Indeed, it has a long track record in this respect – one similar to the deceptive practices of the tobacco industry. In February, Bob Lutz, the Vice-Chairman of General Motors Corp, the largest US automaker, told a group of reporters that global warming was a “total crock of shit” – a statement he stood by in subsequent questioning. A 40-year auto industry veteran and long-time campaigner against higher fuel efficiency standards, Lutz wrote in 2006 that forcing the auto industry to sell smaller cars would be “like trying to end the obesity problem in this country by forcing clothing manufacturers to sell smaller, tighter sizes.”

In Auto Mania historian Tom McCarthy uses archival records to examine a series of decisions made by the auto industry since 1900. The earliest cars were made to run on ordinary unleaded gasoline. In 1921, a team of GM researchers discovered that by adding small amounts of lead to the fuel supply they could solve the problem of engine knocking. The toxicity of led was well known at that time, and so GM and Standard Oil, which had formed a joint venture to manufacture leaded gas, launched a PR campaign to convince the public that there was no alternative to leaded gas. When the govt. took a hands-off approach leaded gas became the standard at US filling stations.

It is estimated that by 1996, when the sale of leaded gasoline for use in cars was banned in the US, seven million tons of lead had been released from auto exhaust pipes into the air, and nearly 70 million American children had been exposed to dangerous blood-lead levels. Lead is especially dangerous for children, and high blood-lead levels can result in physical and mental ailments including brain damage, anemia, liver and kidney damage and even death. McCarthy characterizes the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles as an evasive tactic to avoid the more effective but politically riskier step of raising fuel-efficiency standards. The average new car sold in the US today gets 20 mpg – the same as 15 years ago, and less than Henry Ford’s Model T got when it went on the market more than 99 years ago.

Noxious fumes

Studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) and NGOs have reached alarming conclusions. In France, auto emissions kill almost 10,000 people a year according to the Agency for Health and Environmental Safety. A WHO report covering Austria, Switzerland and France found that some 40,000 people die every year as a result of auto emissions. “Human natural defense mechanisms fail to prevent airborne fine particulate matter from penetrating into the lungs,” the German Council for Environmental Questions reported. The German Council found that auto particulate matter is “the most important health problem linked with air pollution.” These agencies propose a tax on cars proportionate to their fuel consumption and the costs of their toxic emissions.

CO2 emissions from road transport in Europe increased by 26% from 1990 to 2004. Since 1993, the European Union has been working to reduce passenger car CO2 emissions, but has encountered stiff resistance from auto industry lobbyists. For instance, the German car industry, which has lagged behind in reducing emissions, uses scaremongering tactics. In 2007, DaimlerChrysler deputy chairman and board member Erich Klemm told reporters that if the EU Commission proposal were approved, then factories would need to be closed costing 65,000 workers their jobs.

Some 70 paid auto industry lobbyists are based in Brussels, including those of the European Car Manufacturers Association and individual carmakers. Thus in 2007 when the European Parliament sought to establish binding targets for new passenger cars marketed in the EU, MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a prominent member of the MEP-industry group the Forum for the Automobile and Society stated, “we will not completely dismantle this proposal, but we will shape it in such a way that it will protect both the climate and the car industry.” Indeed, last December, the 33 carmaker lobbyists accredited to the EU Parliament helped water down a long-awaited European Commission proposal for curbing global warming pollution generated by new cars. The final version was much weaker than the original proposal, both in terms of carbon limits and penalties for offending carmakers

Environment NGO Greenpeace issued the following statement on December 19, 2007: “Last week in Bali, the European Union stood up like a lion for the world’s climate – this week the Union’s executive arm is going down like a lamb and putting carmakers’ short-term profits before our common survival. Car manufacturers are in the driver’s seat at the European Commission . . . [which] has come up with a pathetic legislative proposal that fails to demand any significant changes from the road transport sector, whose carbon dioxide emissions are continuing to rise.”


European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned EU leaders on March 13th that the EU would be left with “zero credibility” if it yields to pressure to renege on the commitments it made last year to combat global warming. As the Commission’s mid-March meeting in Brussels got underway, Germany and France were seeking concessions to heavy industry and Berlin was seeking exemptions for its carmakers. Echoing Daimler Chrysler as she made the claim that those countries that manufacture big cars should not be treated any worse than countries that make smaller cars, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “I will be standing up particularly for jobs in Germany’s car sector.” “Let them eat cake” has now become “let us drive SUVs.” There is much that could be done but for the Pavlovian resistance to change. For instance, a simple climate-fix is for carmakers to use lightweight material, such as carbon-fiber composites, because weight (not size) accounts for 75% of the energy needed to propel a car.

The Czech Republic, Germany, France, Austria and Italy want a pledge that heavy users of energy will be exempted from the Commission’s measures so that they will not lose investment. Talk about a loophole large enough to drive a truck through! Germany, with Europe’s biggest economy, also expressed concerns that its carmakers would suffer under the Commission’s proposal which subjected makers of heavy polluting luxury vehicles (like BMW, Mercedes Benz and Porsche) to heavy fines if they fail to reduce their carbon emissions.

The EU professed to be at the forefront of combating climate-change. Recall Ms. Merkel’s strong statements of leadership on the issue upon taking office as Chancellor and EU President (and in August pushing the G8 to commit to halve global carbon emissions by 2050). The March 31st Newsweek report on “Europe’s Worst Double Talkers,” looks at how Germany has talked green while “German policymakers in Berlin and Brussels are taking a different tact altogether,” concluding that the “rhetoric is failing to stand up to the reality.” The report notes the unusually close relationship between industry and government in Germany, and looks at the revolving door between government and the auto industry, with its powerful lobby. EPM Claude Turmes says “the German government defends German private companies, rather than the common interest.”


A new car that gets 20 mpg and which is driven 100,000 miles will produce more than 11 metric tons of carbon (a metric ton weighs 2,205 pounds). Every gallon of gasoline consumed produces about 5 pounds of carbon, meaning that in a 40 mile commute a SUV releases about a dozen pounds of carbon into the air. As Elizabeth Kolbert notes in her book Field notes from a catastrophe: Man, nature and climate change, “Carbon dioxide is a persistent gas, it lasts for about a century. Thus, while it is possible to increase CO2 concentrations relatively quickly, the opposite is not the case.” There is a growing recognition that every SUV bought today diminishes the prospects of human life in the future. We thus confront a moral imperative to break our self-destructive habits.

Greenhouse-gas emissions have risen dramatically in the past two centuries, and levels today are higher than at any time in the past 650,000 years. Climate-change is a global problem which demands global solutions. The rapid-growth of China and India surely means many millions of new car owners. Car ownership in these countries is extremely low relative to US standards (there are 9 personal vehicles per thousand eligible drivers in China and 11 in India, compared with 1,148 in the US – yes, more than a car per driver). Rapid income growth in these states means that many millions more will soon be able to buy cars.

In January 2008, Tata Motors of India unveiled its Nano, the world’s cheapest car, calling it the “people’s car” made of plastic and glue rather than welded steel and selling for 100,000 rupees ($2,500 USD). Nano is priced to get Indians, of which there are more than a billion, into a car. The Nano is expected to force other automakers to cut prices and to develop cheap cars, bringing millions more drivers onto the roads. A super-cheap auto will encourage people to rely on their car rather than mass transit. “This car promises to be an environmental disaster of substantial proportions,” says Yale environmental expert Daniel Esty. As the authors of Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future write, “Just consider the scale of the potential problem – for instance, the effects on global warming of 750 million more cars in India and China, belching carbon dioxide.” By most estimates, China has already surpassed the US as the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases.

Indian climatologist and IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri criticizes the climate impact of Nano: “Before we unleash this kind of animal on the streets of India, we ought to explore the public transportation options.” The Nobel Prize winner says the Nano “is clearly a carbon-intensive option. We need to impose a price on that carbon.” He proposes making drivers pay carbon tolls.

Given the information and scenarios for the future put forth by IPCC 2007, the issue is clearly how we get from here to there – both in terms of how we transport ourselves and in achieving needed climate-change mitigation. Some analysts maintain that the technology exists to double fuel efficiency. Passenger vehicles in the US now account for 40% of its oil use and 10% of global oil use. But the political will to reduce carbon emissions has been lacking. In fact, the will has been to stifle solutions aimed at promoting a sustainable energy policy (recall that in January 2001 upon taking office President Bush sought to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and appointed Dick Cheney to head an energy commission charged with establishing US energy policy, yet the administration has steadfastly refused to disclose who served on and consulted the Commission).

Energy policy, developed behind closed doors, has even overridden anti-bribery laws (see Peter Maass, “The Fuel Fixers,” New York Times Magazine, 12-23-07) prompting British and US officials to call off bribery investigations and prosecutions in deference to a need for scarce oil. As well, secretive energy policy based on antiquated obsolete premises has led to costly wars precipitated by a perceived need to maintain access to foreign oil. Such reliance on old school thinking will surely necessitate ever-more brutal overseas interventions. As Peter Maass concludes, “The choice is simple: Make painful but necessary changes to reduce our addiction to oil, or sink deeper into our moral sludge.”

Fossil fools

In a March 26th editorial, the International Herald Tribune lamented that the Bush administration’s “shortsighted policies . . . mean the country is far too dependent on oil that is both ruinously expensive and ruinous for the environment,” concluding that “the era of cheap oil is truly over” and “the nation has to replace the oilmen in the White House.” The IHT also called for greater fuel efficiency, noting that until last December US fuel efficiency standards had not been raised for 30 years, and that US per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide are twice that of Germany and Japan and three times that of France.

A 2002 report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the health risks from automobile emissions bears the words “don’t cite, don’t quote” on each page. This caution was prompted by fears that the auto industry would sue the EPA, which had sought strict limits on emissions in 1977 but had to relent under pressure from the auto industry. More recently, the EPA has become a willing accomplice of the auto industry’s efforts to thwart emission controls. The December 21, 2007 New York Times editorial “Arrogance and Warming,” opined, “The Bush administration’s decision to deny California permission to regulate and reduce global warming emissions from cars and trucks is an indefensible act of executive arrogance that can only be explained as the product of ideological blindness and as a political payoff to the automobile industry.”

In late December, the EPA told 17 states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, that they could not set their own more stringent standards for carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks. Denying a two-year-old application from the states to act pursuant to the 1974 Clean Air Act, the agency said that it was up to the federal govt., not the states, to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. The Bush administration thus prevailed for the time being, despite the April 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that the states could act. The director of the Environmental Defense Fund noted, “The Administration’s denial of California’s request relies on a flawed argument that the federal courts have already rejected.”

Carmakers lobbied using the arguments they made against the catalytic converter and other changes that made cars cleaner, saying the proposed emissions standards were not technologically feasible, would cost too much, would deny consumer choice, and now added that the states have no right to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA, using the auto industry’s rationale, said that it was up to the federal govt., not the states, to regulate CO2 emissions from vehicles. This was the first time the EPA fully denied California a waiver under the Clean Air Act. EPA staff reported that the agency’s head ignored their conclusions, instructing them to provide the legal rationale for his decision. One staffer told a reporter, “California met every criteria . . . on the merits, the same criteria we have used over the last 40 years.” Insiders at the EPA suggested to the Los Angeles Times that Dick Cheney was behind the action. The states had adopted tougher fuel efficiency and tailpipe standards, scheduled to be phased in between 2009 and 2016, to cut global warming emissions by 30 percent. In January 2008, California sued the US govt. asserting that it is “ignoring the will of millions of people who want their govt. to take action in the fight against global warming.”

Once again, as in the Dept. of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco companies, administrative agency political appointees acted at the behest of the White House and against the findings of their own experts. Commenting on the March 14th disclosure that Bush had issued an executive order to the head of the EPA on its anti-smog rule, John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said “Never before has a President personally intervened at the 11th hour, exercising political power at the expense of the law and science, to force the EPA to accept weaker air quality standards than the agency chief’s expert scientific judgment had led him to adopt. It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference.” Why such obstruction?

Exxon Mobil earned a record $40.6 billion in 2007, besting its own 2006 record for profits earned by a company. Bush and Cheney have financial interests in the oil and gas industries as well as in corporations like Halliburton which provide ancillary services. Despite growing recognition of the serious threat posed by global warming, in 2008 the US govt. will spend 88 dollars on the military for every dollar it spends on climate-related programs according to the 2008 study by the Institute for Policy Studies entitled Military vs. Climate Strategy. “While we spare no expense to wage war, we seem to have no money to spare on averting climate disaster,” says the report’s author.


Legislation in the US and EU has turned ethanol into big business which has spawned industry lobbying groups such as the “American Coalition for Ethanol.” In March 2007, EU leaders pledged to raise the share of biofuels in transport from 2% to 10% by 2020. DaimlerChrysler and other automakers have promoted clean, green biofuels as a response to environmental pressure groups. In January 2008, however, the EU Commission’s in-house scientific unit completed a study which found that EU biofuels promotion policy’s environmental costs outweigh its potential benefits. Likewise, in the US, where some 200 govt. biofuels subsidies cost taxpayers $7 billion per year, General Motors and other carmakers have promoted biofuels. Biofuels are also promoted as national policy in Brazil, China, India and elsewhere.

Almost every European or American who owns a car is already partly running his engine on ethanol, as the law de facto imposes forced blending of an increasing percentage of ethanol into regular gasoline. Carmakers and others have thus jumped on the ethanol bandwagon by producing cars that can run on any blend of gasoline and ethanol. Every liter of ethanol produced in the US enjoys a govt. subsidy of some 50 cents. Towards what end? UC Berkeley Professor David Pimentel found that ethanol production is neither economical (absent state subsidies it would not be viable) nor ecological. His 2005 findings have gained much recent support.

Two studies published in February 2008 in the venerable journal Science conclude that almost all the biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels when the pollution caused by producing these fuels is taken into account. These studies looked for the first time at the comprehensive emissions effects of the vast lands that are being geared towards biofuels development, and found that the resulting rainforest and other destruction of natural ecosystems has dramatically increased the release of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Princeton University environment and economics scholar Timothy Searchinger, the lead author of one of the studies, characterized the net increase of greenhouse gas emissions as substantial. His study finds that despite EU restrictions on the type of biofuels produced (most of the biofuels produced in Europe is biodiesel made from vegetable oils), biofuels promotion in the US and Europe is transforming land use and indirectly destroying natural habitats. Brazilian farmers, for instance, are deforesting the Amazon to produce soya beans for US consumers whose farmers have shifted to producing corn-based ethanol. And, according to a February report of Friends of the Earth, the increasing demand for palm oil created by the EU biofuels policy is causing the destruction of Indonesia’s forests and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and leading to other human rights abuses there.

As stated by a UN Environment Programme spokesperson, “There was an unfortunate effort to dress up biofuels as the silver bullet of climate change.” Overlooked was the effect on land use and its ecological consequences. As Princeton’s Searchinger noted: “The land-use problem is not just a secondary effect. It is major. The comparison with fossil fuels is going to be adverse for virtually all biofuels on cropland.” This is not to suggest that biofuels have no potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but simply that present biofuels initiatives are ineffective and must be rethought. Indeed, the unintended consequences of biofuels promotion are many.

Hungry for change

With the price of essential food staples rising dramatically, people have begun asking why energy policy favors feeding automobiles rather than people. The US govt. response to climate-change is inappropriate at many levels, including its misguided incentives to promote corn-based ethanol as the primary substitute for foreign oil. This massive agribusiness subsidy does not reduce carbon emissions, but it has reduced nutrition for the poor and middle class, who have been hit hard by the steep rise in food prices in recent months as farmers have been given the incentive to gear their crop production towards the automobile.

Ethanol plants are projected to use half of America’s 2008 corn harvest (even if the entire corn crop were used it would replace only 7% of US oil consumption), and the diversion of corn usage from food to fuel is resulting in higher food prices (e.g., theApril 11th IHT reports that corn doubled in price in the last 2 years, and The Economist reports that world wheat prices rose 25% during the last week of February 2008 to its highest price in 28 years) and widespread food shortages as soaring prices have led farmers to replace crops such as wheat with corn. The resulting shortage of wheat and many other related foods has exacerbated poverty, hunger and starvation not just in America, but globally (see “The Fight between Fuel and Food,” Risk Management Magazine, April 2007). As well, the severe weather which has resulted from climate-change has disrupted agriculture and food production.

Food stocks are dwindling worldwide. On March 6th, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, said that as a result of climate change, high food and oil prices and low food stocks, the world economy “has now entered into a perfect storm for the world’s hungry” which will likely increase in the coming years and continue for the foreseeable future resulting in major social disruptions. On March 7th, noting that “the world’s poorest are hit hard,” Ms. Sheeran warned the EU that its biofuels policy had driven food prices to record levels. We are in a vicious cycle whereby our addiction to transport fuel produces severe weather which threatens food production, and then the effort to find alternative transport fuel adds further to global hunger and poverty. Critics contend that all the convoluted solutions of the oil and auto industries are designed to avoid a simpler one – reducing the consumption of transport fuel.

Biofuels policy is socially inequitable as well as ecologically irresponsible -- it shifts the financial burden of fuel consumption from those actually consuming it at the fuel pumps to the whole of society since only the relatively affluent drive a car, but everybody needs to consume food. As well, promoting ethanol shifts the cost of fuel consumption from industrialized to developing countries because corn is a primary source of nutrition. And this costly endeavor is increasingly being shown not to fulfill its stated purpose – to mitigate climate change. To the contrary, it seems to be exacerbating ecological destruction as well as social dislocations and human suffering.

On April 11th, the head of the World Bank reported that “In just two months, rice prices have skyrocketed to near historical levels, rising by around 75% globally.” Mr. Zoellick also noted that the price of wheat has risen 120% over the past year and that the poor spend as much as 75% of their income on food. The World Bank estimates that food prices overall have risen by more than 83% over the past three years. Also on April 11, a European environment advisory panel urged the EU to suspend its targets for biofuel use in transportation fuels, concluding that Europe’s rush to biofuels was causing deforestation in Southeast Asia and higher grain prices. And the April 15th New York Times reported that at the April 12-13 G7 conference several finance ministers and central bankers called for a reconsideration of recent biofuels policies. An economist commenting on the food crisis told the Times, “Ethanol is about the only lever we have to pull, but none of the politicians have the courage to pull it.”

Reality check

There are no silver bullets for fixing the ecological harm caused by our greenhouse gas emissions. Just as the ethanol solution failed to take an integrated approach (conveniently, negligently, or just unwittingly overlooking its actual environmental impacts), other green alternatives to fossil fuels such as the hydrogen car tend to overlook the fact that the production of hydrogen requires using energy. Half the electricity generated in the US comes from burning coal (and coal is the largest source of energy in China), so if that energy comes from coal, then the carbon emissions have not been fixed – just rearranged. So, unless the electricity which fuels hydrogen or electric cars comes from clean and renewable sources, the best car of the future is likely no car at all.

The laws of thermodynamics present humanity with the inconvenient truth that the use of matter and energy produces waste products (just as you can’t make something from nothing, you can’t make nothing from something). These waste products, including carbon, have reached a level that clearly threatens the natural ecosystem which sustains us. David Pimentel, now professor emeritus at Cornell where he has led studies on the energy impacts of ethanol and other biofuels, wrote on March 18th, “The science is clear: The use of corn and other biofuels is an ethically, economically, and environmentally unworkable sham.”

As noted by the global community at the 1992 Rio and 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summits, “present day production and consumption patterns are unsustainable.” If we wish to protect biodiversity and our progeny, our energy policies must evolve from the way we have become accustomed to doing things towards allocating resources with a broad global perspective on impacts and sustainability. Our present biofuels policies have not yet done that.

We are in a vicious cycle whereby our addiction to transport fuel produces severe weather which threatens food production, and then the effort to find alternative transport fuel adds further to global hunger and poverty. Critics contend that all the convoluted solutions of the oil and auto industries are designed to avoid a simpler one – reducing the consumption of transport fuel.

The Military Option

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By Uri Avnery

WAR WITH Syria? Peace with Syria?

A big military operation against Hamas in the Gaza strip? A cease-fire with Hamas?

Our media discuss these questions dispassionately, as if they were equivalent options. Like a person in a showroom making a choice between two cars. This one is good, and so is the other one. So which should one buy?

And nobody cries out: War is the height of stupidity!

CARL VON CLAUSEWITZ, the renowned military theorist, famously said that war is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means. Meaning: war is there to serve policy and is useless when it does not.

What policies did the wars in the last hundred years serve?

Ninety-four years ago, World War I broke out. The immediate cause was the assassination of the Austrian heir apparent by a Serbian student. In Sarajevo they showed me how it happened: after a first attempt on the main street had failed, the assassins had already given up hope when one of them came across the victim again, by sheer accident, and killed him. After this almost accidental killing many millions of human beings lost their lives in the following four years.

The assassination served, of course, only as a pretext. Every one of the belligerent nations had political and economic interests that pushed it into the war. But did the war really serve these interests? The results suggest the opposite: three mighty empires - the Russian, German and Austrian - collapsed; France lost its standing as a world power beyond all hope of recovery; the British Empire was mortally wounded.

Military experts point to the shocking stupidity of almost all the generals, who threw their poor soldiers again and again into hopeless battles, which achieved nothing but slaughter.

Were the statesmen any wiser? Not one of the politicians who started the war imagined that it would last so long and be so horrible. In early August 1914, when the soldiers of all the countries marched into the war with merry enthusiasm, they were promised that they would be home "before Christmas".

No political aim was achieved in that war. The peace agreements that were imposed on the vanquished were monuments of unbridled imbecility. It can be argued that the main result of World War I was World War II.

THE SECOND World War was, seemingly, more rational. The man who launched it practically single-handed, Adolf Hitler, knew exactly what he wanted. His opponents went to war because they had no choice, if they did not want to be overrun by a monstrous dictator. Most of the generals on both sides were far more intelligent than their predecessors.

And in spite of this, it was a stupid war.

Hitler was, basically, a primitive person who lived in the past and did not understand the Zeitgeist. He wanted to turn Germany into the leading world power - an aim that was wildly beyond its capabilities. He intended to conquer large parts of Eastern Europe and to empty them of their inhabitants, in order to settle Germans there. That was a hopelessly obsolete concept of power. Like all ideas of establishing settlements as a national instrument, it belonged to centuries past. Hitler did not understand the meaning of the technological revolution that was about to change the face of the world. It can be said: Hitler was not only an evil tyrant and a monumental war criminal, but ultimately also a thoroughly stupid person.

The only aim that he almost achieved was the annihilation of the Jewish people. But even this mad endeavor failed in the end: Jews today have a strong influence on the most powerful country in the world, and the Holocaust played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel.

Hitler wanted to destroy the Soviet Union and reach a compromise with the British Empire. He belittled the United States and almost ignored it. The result of the war was that the Soviet Union took over a large part of Europe, America became the main world power and the British Empire disintegrated forever.

Indeed, the Nazi dictator proved, more than anybody else, the utter futility of war as a political instrument at this point in time. After the destruction of Hitler's Reich, Germany did achieve his goal. Germany is now the dominant economic and political power in a united Europe - but this was attained not with tanks and heavy guns, without war and military might, solely by diplomacy and exports. One generation after all the German cities had become heaps of ruins in the Nazi adventure, Germany was already flourishing as never before.

The same can be said about Japan, which was even more militaristic than Germany. It achieved by peaceful means what the generals and admirals had failed to achieve by war.

FROM TIME to time I read enthusiastic reports by American tourists about Vietnam. What a wonderful country! What a friendly people! What good business can be done there!

Only a generation ago, a brutal war was running amok there. Masses of people were killed, hundreds of villages burned, forests and harvests destroyed by chemical agents, soldiers fell like flies. Why? Because of dominoes.

The theory went like this: if all of Vietnam were to be taken over by the Communists, all the other countries of Southeast Asia would fall. Each one would bring down its neighbor, like a row of dominoes. Reality has shown that this was complete nonsense: the Communists took over all of Vietnam, without affecting the stability of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. When the war memories faded, Vietnam indeed followed the path of its northern neighbor, Red China, but in the meantime China has a flourishing capitalist economy.

In the Vietnam War, the stupidity of the generals competed with that of the politicians. The champion was Henry Kissinger, a war criminal whose towering ego disguised his basic stupidity. At the height of the war he invaded the neighboring peaceful Cambodia and broke it into pieces. The result was a gruesome auto-genocide, when the Communists murdered their own people. Yet many still consider Kissinger a political genius.

THERE ARE those who maintain that for sheer futility, the invasion of Iraq takes the cake even in this fiercely competitive field.

It seems that the political leadership in Washington foresaw the dramatic rise of the world-wide demand for oil. They decided, therefore, to strengthen their hold on the oil of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea basin. The war was intended to turn Iraq into an American satellite and to station there, under a friendly regime, a permanent American garrison that would keep the whole area under control.

The results, up to now, have been the opposite. Instead of consolidating Iraq as a united country under a stable pro-American regime, a civil war is raging, the state is tottering on the brink of disintegration, the population hates the Americans and considers them a foreign occupier. The output of oil is less than it was before the invasion, the immense costs of the war undermine the American economy, the price of oil is increasing incessantly, America's once elevated position in world public opinion has reached rock bottom and the American public is demanding that the soldiers be brought home.

There is no doubt that American interests could have been safeguarded far better by diplomatic means, using the economic clout of the US. That would have saved thousands of American soldiers and ten times as many Iraqi civilians, and trillions of dollars. But the problematic ego of George Bush, who hides his hollowness and insecurity behind a bluster of noisy arrogance, caused him to prefer war. As to his cerebral prowess, a world-wide consensus has been achieved even before the end of his term in office.

IN THE 60 years of its existence, the State of Israel has fought six major wars and several "smaller" ones (the War of Attrition, the Grapes of Wrath, the two intifadas and more.)

The 1948 confrontation was a war of "no alternative", if one justifies the Jewish intrusion into Palestine by the fact that there was no other solution for the problem of their existence. But already the second round, the war of 1956, was an example of incredible short-sightedness.

The French, who initiated the war, were in a state of denial: they could not admit to themselves that in Algeria a genuine war of liberation was taking place. Therefore, they convinced themselves that the Egyptian leader, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, was the root of the problem. David Ben-Gurion and his aides (and particularly Shimon Peres) wanted to remove the "Egyptian Tyrant" (as he was then uniformly called in Israel) because he had raised the banner of Arab Unity, which they considered an existential threat to Israel. Britain, the third partner, was longing for the past glories of Empire.

All these aims were totally negated by the war: France was expelled from Algeria, together with more than a million settlers; Britain was pushed to the margins of the Middle East; and the "danger" of Arab Unity proved to be a scarecrow. The price: a whole Arab generation was convinced that Israel was the ally of the nastiest colonial regimes, and the chances of peace were pushed back for many years.

The 1967 war was intended at the beginning to break the siege on Israel. But in the course of the fighting, the war of defense became a war of conquest which drove Israel into a vertigo of intoxication from which it has not yet quite recovered. Since then we have been captives in a vicious circle of occupation, resistance, settlements and permanent war.

One of the direct results was the 1973 war, which destroyed the myth of our army's invincibility. Yet without this being the intent of our government, this war had one positive result: three unusual personalities - Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter - succeeded in translating Egyptian pride over the successful crossing of the Suez Canal into a peace agreement. But the same peace could have been achieved a year earlier, without war and without the thousands of killed, if Golda Meir had not arrogantly rejected Sadat's proposal.

The First Lebanon War was, perhaps, the most hopeless and dim-witted of Israel's wars, a cocktail of arrogance, ignorance and complete lack of understanding of the opponent. Ariel Sharon intended - as he told me in advance, to - (a) destroy the PLO, (b) cause the Palestinian refugees to flee from Lebanon to Jordan, (c) drive the Syrians out of Lebanon, and (d) turn Lebanon into an Israeli protectorate. The results: (a) Arafat went to Tunis, and later, as the result of the First Intifada, returned to Palestine in triumph, (b) the Palestinian refugees remained in Lebanon, in spite of the Sabra and Shatila massacre that was intended to panic them into fleeing, (c) the Syrians remained in Lebanon for another twenty years, and (d) the Shiites, who had been downtrodden and beholden to Israel, became a powerful force in Lebanon and Israel's most determined foe.

The less said about Lebanon War II the better - its true character was obvious right from the start. Its aims were not frustrated - simply because there were no clear aims at all. Today Hizbullah is where it was, stronger and better armed, shielded from Israeli attacks by the presence of an international force.

After the First Intifada, Israel recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization and brought Arafat back to the country. After the Second Intifada, Hamas won the Palestinian elections and later took over direct control of a part of the country.

ALBERT EINSTEIN considered it a symptom of madness to repeat again and again doing something that has already failed and to expect a different result every time.

Most politicians and generals conform to this formula. Again and again they try to achieve their aims by military means and obtain contrary results. We Israelis occupy an honorable place among these madmen.

War is hell, as an American general pronounced. It also rarely achieves its aims.

As gas prices and oil profits soar, Bush promotes giveaways to corporations

Go to Original
By Joe Kay

US President George W. Bush used a White House press conference Tuesday to trot out his familiar litany of right-wing proposals, ostensibly intended to address rising gas prices and the growing economic crisis facing millions of Americans.

The proposals are all designed in one way or another to increase the power of the oil companies, even as these conglomerates have begun posting record profits for the first quarter of 2008. Bush proposed opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling, increasing incentives to companies for refinery construction, and blocking new regulations and emissions targets for domestic energy producers.

Bush sidestepped questions on his administration’s position on a limited proposal, advanced by Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain, for a summer moratorium on the federal gas tax. Such a move would have only a marginal impact on gasoline prices.

Bush said there was no “magic wand” to deal with gasoline prices, and he blamed Congress for blocking previous energy bills that included some of his proposals.

Rising gasoline prices are beginning to have a major impact on the living standards of millions of people in the United States and internationally. In the US, prices on Monday topped $3.60 a gallon, a record in inflation-adjusted terms and more than 21 cents above the price just two weeks ago. The price for diesel fuel, used in trucks, tractors, and other vehicles, is at a record $4.20 a gallon.

According to a poll conducted on behalf of the Kaiser Family Foundation, 44 percent of the American population now cites the price of gasoline as a “serious problem”—more than any other economic concern. The effects are predictably felt most keenly by those earning the least. About 63 percent of those with incomes of less than $30,000 said gasoline prices were a serious problem.

In a country where the automobile is the primary and often only available means of transportation, it is not uncommon for a worker to have to fill his or her gasoline tank several times a week, compounding the impact of any price increase and putting a severe dent in household budgets already strained by rising food and other costs.

In some parts of the country, gasoline prices are soaring much higher than the national average. In San Francisco, California, average prices topped $4.00 a gallon over the weekend. The statewide average was $3.91.

In Europe, prices are sharply higher as well. In England, where regressive taxes make up much of the price, gasoline is close to £1.10 per liter, or about $10 a gallon.

In the US and in England, many independent truckers are unable to turn a profit off hauling goods, as the cost of filling a tank with diesel can now exceed $1,200. The cost of transport often exceeds truckers’ pay. On Monday, about 100 truckers staged a protest in Washington, while dozens converged on London. Independent truckers staged slowdowns and stoppages throughout the country at the beginning of the month.

Within this context, the position of the Bush administration is essentially to do nothing. White House press secretary Dana Perino emphasized this point on Monday, saying, “I think it would be disingenuous and unfortunate for American consumers for them to be led to believe that there is a short-term fix [to gasoline prices]. There’s not going to be one.”

The proposals from the Democrats are no more serious. In addition to the tax moratorium, Clinton is proposing a suspension of oil input into the Strategic Petroleum reserve, a marginal increase in spending on alternative energy sources, and an increase in fuel economy over a period of 20 years. Obama has rejected the tax moratorium on the grounds that companies would just increase their prices to make up the difference, and supports fuel economy standard increases and alternative energy investment.

None of the candidates are capable of raising the basic issue: that the energy market, so critical to the livelihood of billions of people and to the functioning of the world economy, is largely controlled by private companies, and that these companies exercise enormous influence over the political establishment in the US.

As usual, the oil companies and wealthy investors are reaping fortunes off of the economic hardship inflicted upon the vast majority of the population. The current sharp spike in gasoline prices has been driven largely by the rise in crude oil prices, which reached close to $120 a barrel on Monday—once considered an unimaginable price. The average price of oil in the first quarter was $97.94, up 68.9 percent from a year ago.

There are a number of factors behind the increase in oil prices, including rising demand from China and India and a weak US dollar, in which oil is priced. One of the principal factors, however, is the flood of cash into basic commodities, including oil and food, as wealthy investors have liquidated holdings in more risky financial assets and are looking for hedges on inflation. This is creating a new bubble in commodity markets, forcing billions of people around the world to pay the higher prices generated by artificial demand.

Whatever the cause, the rise in oil prices has been a boondoggle for oil companies, which have begun announcing their first quarter 2008 profits this week. Europe’s two biggest oil producers, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, announced profits on Tuesday that far exceeded analysts’ expectations.

The combined profit for the two companies was close to $17 billion—$9.08 billion for Shell and $7.6 billion for BP. These figures include earnings attributed to the rise in oil prices. If this rise is factored out (as is done in the so-called current cost of supplies figures), Shell’s profits were $7.8 billion and BP’s were $6.6 billion. That is, at least $2 billion in profit for the two companies can be attributed solely to the recent rise in oil prices.

Analysts expect the profits for Exxon Mobil, the largest private energy company, to soar to $11.2 billion in the first quarter, an increase of 22 percent over 2007. If the company’s profits exceed expectations, however, it could beat its fourth quarter profits from 2007 of $11.66 billion—the record for a US company.

Of course, the top executives and investors will benefit enormously from these windfalls. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson received an 18 percent raise in 2007, pulling in $21.7 million. The oil companies will also give back billions to investors in the form of stock buybacks and dividends.

The news from Shell and BP came as a surprise to analysts, who have been concerned about profit troubles in the refinery component of production, which transforms crude oil into useable products like gasoline and diesel. Giants like Shell and BP, and US companies Exxon and Chevron, are vertically integrated, including in their operations both oil extraction and refining.

In fact, independent refinery operations are fairing poorly, which could indicate that gasoline prices will continue their upward march over the next several weeks as refiners struggle to raise their own profits. Valero Energy, a refiner, reported a 77 percent drop in first quarter net income on Tuesday, complaining that it had been unable to shift all of its increased costs (from purchasing crude oil) onto consumers.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “While the price of gasoline has been rising at the pump, those increases have so far been modest in comparison to oil. In a bid to save their bottom lines, companies operating refineries, especially on the West Coast, are reducing their output. That would likely drive fuel prices higher.”

The Sacramento Bee reported that some of California’s refineries “have had problems returning to full production following their usual winter-spring overhauls,” and that this has contributed to the near-$4 a gallon price of gasoline in that state. There are indications that refiners have in the past artificially manipulated capacity and downtime in order to influence prices.

The integrated oil giants can make windfall profits on either the oil extraction or refining (the upstream or downstream) sides of the energy market. Last summer, when gasoline prices were at $3.22 a gallon, much of the profits were booked on the refining end, and attributed to a shortage in refining capacity. This has been the long term trend, as oil companies have shut down refineries in response to low prices.

In this context, Bush’s insistence Tuesday that Congress grant incentives to increase refining capacity is absurd. Bush noted on several occasions, “It’s been more than 30 years since America built its last refinery.” This fact—an indictment of the state of American infrastructure—has been a product of a deliberate policy of reducing refining capacity in order to force gasoline prices up. The oil companies have no interest in building new refineries, with or without tax incentives.

Prices of basic foods such as rice and wheat also have soared in recent months. Among the factors behind this price explosion is the shift to ethanol production, which has increased demand on some food items, particularly corn in the US. Ethanol production, which Bush championed on Tuesday, has largely been intended as a boondoggle for agribusiness. Also on Tuesday, Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest processors of grains and other foods, posted a 42 percent increase in its quarterly profits ending on March 31.

The ability of the oil companies to maintain record profits has been facilitated greatly by the enormous consolidation of the industry over the past 20 years. The top five energy companies now control about 15 percent of global oil production, more than 50 percent of US domestic refinery capacity, and 62 percent of the retail gasoline market.

The entire structure of energy production on a global scale is completely irrational. However, the consolidation of the energy industry has made the rational solution clearer: There is no conceivable reason why these giant corporations—which straddle the globe in search of profits, have done much to encourage war and colonial occupations in key strategic areas, and have worked assiduously to block any attempt to deal with global warming—should remain in the hands of private individuals and under the sway of the profit motive.

Instead, the giant productive forces that control the lives of billions—including the energy and food infrastructure of the globe—must be transferred into public utilities, socially owned and democratically controlled.

Military or Market-Driven Empire Building: 1950-2008

Go to Original
By Prof. James Petras


From the middle of the 19th century but especially after the Second World War, two models of empire building competed on a world scale: One predominantly based on military conquests, involving direct invasions, proxy invading armies and subsidized separatist military forces; and the other predominantly based on large-scale, long-term economic penetration via a combination of investments, loans, credits and trade in which ‘market’ power and the superiority (greater productivity) in the means of production led to the construction of a virtual empire.

Throughout the 19th to the middle of the 20th centuries, European and US empire building resorted to the military route, especially in Asia, Africa, Central America, North America and the Caribbean. By far the British and US colonized the greatest territories through military force, followed by the introduction of state directed mercantile systems, the Monroe doctrine for the US and imperial preference for the British. South America following independence became the site of the growth of market powered empire building. British and later US capital successfully captured the commanding heights of the economies, especially the agro-mining and petroleum export sectors, trade, finance and in some cases attached customs and treasury to cover debt collection. As late developing capitalist countries and emerging imperial powers (EIP), the US, Germany and Japan faced the hostility of the established European empires and limited access to strategic markets and raw materials. The EIP adopted several strategies in challenging the existing empires. These included demands for free trade with their colonies and the end of imperial (colonial) privilege/ preference. The EIP established parallel colonial settlements and concessions, bordering the old empires. They fomented and financed ‘anti-colonial’ revolts to replace existing colonial collaborators and pursued economic penetration via superior production. They disseminated political propaganda promoting ‘democratic’ values within a market driven empire. World War Two marked the decline of the European military based colonial empire and the US transition from a predominantly market to military-based empire. This ‘transition’ was facilitated by earlier military occupations in the Philippines and the Caribbean and a multitude of invasions in Central America.

Nationalist liberation movements, based on liberal, nationalist and socialist leaders and programs, drawing on returning soldiers, weakened colonial control and post-war European anti-fascist and anti-war sentiments, led to the dismantling of their military-based empires. Internal reconstruction and domestic working class radicalism influenced the agenda for most European colonial powers. The attempts by the European powers to re-impose their colonial empires failed despite bloody wars in Indo-China, Kenya, Algeria, Malaya and elsewhere. The French, English and Israeli invasion and occupation of the Egyptian Suez (1956) marked the last major attempt at military-driven imperialism.

The US opposition to this effort at European re-colonization marked the supremacy of US-centered empire building and, paradoxically, the beginning of US military-driven empire building. The European powers, especially Great Britain, engineered a strategic shift from a colonial-military empire toward market-driven empires based on supporting pro-capitalist nationalist against socialist revolutionaries (India, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.). While Europe transited to the market-driven empire building model based first and foremost on the reconstruction of their war-torn domestic capitalist economy, the US quickly moved toward a military based empire building approach. The US established military bases throughout Europe, militarily intervened in Greece, elaborated a complex and comprehensive military buildup to challenge Soviet spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and intervened in the Chinese and especially the Korean and Vietnamese civil wars.

Immediate Post-WWII: The Combination of Market and Military Roads to Empire

Because the US economy and military came out of the victory during WWII with enormous resources far surpassing any other country or group of countries, it was able to pursue a dual approach to empire building, engaging in military and economic expansion. The US dominated over 50% of world trade and had the greatest surplus public and private capital to invest overseas. The US possessed technological and productivity advantages to promote ‘free trade’ among its would-be competitors and to increase domestic living standards.

These advantageous circumstances, directly related and limited to the first decade of the post-WWII period, became embedded in the practice and strategic thinking of US policymakers, Congress, the Executive branch and both major parties. The conjunctural ‘world superiority’ generated a plethora of elite ideologies and a mass mind set in which the US was seen to be ‘by nature’, by ‘divine will’, destined by ‘history’ and its ‘values’, by its ‘superior education, technology and productivity’ to rule over the world. The specific economic and political conditions of the ‘decade’ (1945-1955) were frozen into an unquestioned dogma, which denied the dynamics of changing market, productive and political relations that gradually eroded the original bases of the ideology.

Divergence in the World Economy: US-Europe-Japan

Beginning with the massive military buildup with the ‘Cold War’ and the subsequent hot war in Korea, the US allocated a far greater percentage of its budget and GNP to war and military empire building than Western Europe or Japan.

By the mid-1950’s, while the US vastly expanded its state military apparatus (armed forces, intelligence agencies and clandestine armies), Western Europe and Japan expanded and built up their state economic agencies, public enterprises, investment and loan programs for the private sector. Even more significantly, US military spending and purchases stimulated Japanese and European industries. Equally important state-private procurement policies subsidized US industrial inefficiency via cost over-runs, non-competitive bidding and military-industrial monopolies.

US empire building via projections of military power absorbed hundreds of billions of dollars in government expenditures in regions and countries with low economic payoffs in the Caribbean, Central American, Asia and Africa.

While military-driven empire building did increase short term domestic growth and rising income, and led to some important civilian spin-offs and technological breakthroughs that entered the civilian economy, European and Japanese market-based empire building moved with greater dynamism from domestic to export led growth and began to challenge US predominance in a multiplicity of productive sectors.

The US prolonged and costly war against Indo-China (roughly 1954-74) epitomized the replacement of European colonial-military empire building by the US version. The hundreds of billions of dollars in US government war spending spilled over into Japanese and South Korean high-growth manufacturing industries. Western European manufacturing achieved productivity gains and export markets in former African and Asian colonial nations, while the US Empire’s murderous wars in South East Asia discredited it and its products throughout the world. Domestic unrest, widespread civilian protests and military demoralization further weakened the US capacity to pursue its imperial agenda and defend strategic collaborating regimes in key regions.

The relative decline of US manufacturing exports was accompanied by the massive growth of US public debt, which in turn stimulated the vast expansion of the financial sector which then shaped regional and national policy toward de-industrializing central cities and converting them into a finance-real estate and insurance monoculture.

The contrasting and divergent roads to empire building between the US on the one hand and Europe and Japan on the other, deepened with the advent of the ‘Second Cold War’ under the Carter-Reagan years. While the US spent billions in proxy wars in Southern Africa (Angola and Mozambique), Latin America (Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala) and Asia (Afghanistan), the Europeans were expanding economically into Eastern Europe, China, Latin America and the Middle East. Even at the moment of greatest imperial success, the overthrow of Communism in the USSR and East Europe and China’s transition to capitalism, the US militarily driven empire failed to reap the benefits: Under Clinton the US promoted the raw pillage of the Russian economy and destruction of the state (civilian and military), market and scientific base rather than stabilize and jointly exploit its existing markets and human and material resources. The US spent billions undermining Communism, but the Europeans, primarily Germany, and to a much lesser degree France, England and Japan, were the prime beneficiaries in terms of securing the most productive industries and employing the better part of the skilled labor and engineers in the former Soviet bloc. By the end of the Clinton era and the bursting of the information technology speculative bubble, the European Union eclipsed the US in GNP, outperformed the US in accumulating trade surpluses and foreign debt management.

Market Versus Military Empire Building in the 1990’s

During the Bush-Clinton years, US military-driven empire-building vastly expanded its commitments in financing and providing troops into the Balkan and Iraq wars, military entry into Somalia, the bombing of the Sudan, the increased subsidy of Israel’s colonial wars, the Afghan wars, Colombia’s counter-insurgency and to a lesser extent the Philippine’s counter-insurgency and counter-separatist wars. While the US spent billions to prop up a gangster-ridden and corrupt KLA regime in Kosova in order to spend billions more in building a huge military base, Germany was reaping the economic benefits of its economic hegemony in the relatively prosperous regimes of Croatia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. While the US spent hundreds of billions in the First and Second Gulf Wars, China, the new emerging market-driven empire builder, was looking to sign lucrative oil and gas contracts in the Middle East, especially with Iran. While the US was backing an unpopular minority regime backed by its client Ethiopian military force in Somalia, China was signing major oil contracts in Sudan, Angola and Nigeria and even in Northern Somalia (Puntland). While the US military-centered empire-building state was giving away over $3 billion in military aid (plus transferring its most up-to-date military technology to competitor firms) per year to Israel, European, Asian and Latin American private and public enterprises were signing long-term lucrative contracts with the Gulf oil states as well as with Iran.

A clear sign of the long-term economic decay of the US global competitive position between 2002-2008 is evidenced by the fact that a 40% depreciation of the dollar has failed to substantially improve the US balance of payments, let alone produce a trade surplus. Despite the handicap of appreciating currencies, China, Germany and Japan continued to accumulate trade surpluses, especially with the US. While the US spent hundreds of billions in Asian wars, CIA propaganda and subversive operations in the former USSR, Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, the Caribbean (Cuba/Venezuela) and the Caucuses, the principle beneficiaries were the revitalized European market-driven empire-builders and the newly emerging market empire builders.

While the US spends enormous sums in building new military bases surrounding Russia, including new offensive operations in Kosova, Poland and the Czech Republic, with new preparations for NATO bases in Georgia and the Ukraine, Russian, Chinese and European capital expands buying out or investing in privatized and public-private strategic mining, petrol and manufacturing enterprises in Africa, Latin America, Australia and the Gulf.

While China harnesses foreign capital, including major US MNCs to make itself the ‘manufacturing workshop of the world’, Germany with its high precision heavy manufacturers are prospering by ‘constructing the workshops’ for the Chinese. US manufacturers and productive capital flee to state-subsidized (via tax reductions and low interest rates) financial, real estate and speculative sectors, and go overseas to avoid high rent and fringe payments to US labor. The resulting decline of the domestic market and a shrinking base of industrially trained labor reinforce the overseas and speculative movements on US capital. These capitalist structural changes undermined the economic fundamentals underlying the financial sector.

The deterioration of the US economy became apparent as the speculative paper pyramid (sub-prime and credit crises) collapsed during the 2007-08 recession. The recycling of multiple layers of ‘exotic’ financial ‘instruments’ each more precarious than the other, each more divorced from any tangible productive unit in the real economy characterized this period. Their predictable collapse dragged the US into recession. Even among the big banks and financial houses there is no knowledge of the real value of the paper being traded or of the ‘material collateral’ (housing and commercial property being held). The fictitious economy revolves around unloading the devalued paper, to cover costs and lessen losses…and let the next holder of the paper face the risks and uncertainties. As a result there is a total lack of confidence in the market because the ‘objects’ up for sale have become so lacking of value, i.e. so intangible and unrelated to the real economy.

The decline of the real producer basis of goods and social services and the predominance of the paper economy accentuated the divergence between military-directed empire building and the global economic interests of the US. The paper economy is not directly influenced by imperialist militarism, as is the case with US MNC’s with physical assets at risk from imperial wars, armed resistance, the disruption of trade routes, the destruction of overseas markets and the disarticulation of access to minerals and energy sources.

The ascendancy of speculative finance capital coincides with the greater autonomy of the militarist empire builders over and against the residual influence of American manufacturing and commercial interests supporting market imperialism. The extraordinary role that the pro-Israel power bloc plays in shaping a bellicose Middle East foreign policy over and above what US oil companies looking to sign contracts with Arab countries exercised, can only be understood within the large upsurge of ‘militarist driven imperial policy’.

Washington’s unconditional support of Israel’s militarist colonial regime reflects two important structural changes in US empire building. One is the extraordinary organization and influence of the principle pro-Israel Jewish organization over local, regional, national legislative and executive bodies and in the mass media and financial institutions. The second change is the rise of a political class of executive and legislative militarist policy-makers, which has an affinity with Israeli colonialism and its offensive military strategy. Israel is one of the few – if not only – military-driven ‘emerging imperial powers’ and that is part of the reason for the ‘resonance’ between Jewish leaders in Israel and Washington policy-makers. This is the real basis of the often stated and affirmed ‘common interests and values’ between the two ‘countries’. Military-driven imperial powers, like the US and Israel, do not share ‘democratic values’ – as even the most superficial observer of their savage repression of their conquered peoples and nations (Iraq and Palestine) can attest – they share the military route to empire-building.

Historic Comparison of Market and Military Driven Imperialism

A rational cost efficient evaluation of the US major and minor military invasions demonstrates the high economic cost and low economic benefits to both the capitalist system as a whole and even to many key economic enterprises.

The US blockade and subsequent war with Japan ultimately unleashed the Asian national liberation movements, which undercut European, and US colonial-style military imperialism. The Korean War ignited the massive re-industrialization of Japan and created optimal conditions for Korea’s model of protectionism at home and free trade with the US (so-called Asian state-led export model). The result was the creation of two major manufacturing rivals to the US economic expansion in Asia, North America and later in the rest of the world.

The US invasion, colonial occupation and imperial war in Indochina and its subsequent defeat severely weakened the military capacity to subsequently defend global imperial interests and client states in Southern Africa, Iran and Nicaragua. More to the point, by concentrating resources on war-making the US lost markets to the emerging market empire-builders and diverted capital from increasing the productivity and productive forces which create market dominance.

In the broader picture, military and market driven imperialism, which coexisted and seemed to complement each other diverged in the period between 1963-1973, with the militarist faction gaining supremacy in directing US empire-building. The divergence was papered over by several instances of complementary activity such as the overthrow of President Allende in Chile on behalf of US MNCs and similar earlier cases as in Guatemala (1954), Iran (1953) and in other countries where quick imperial victories over smaller countries did not seem to carry any significant economic or political costs.

The ascendancy of Reagan and the negative long-term economic impact of new arms buildup were obscured by the break-up of the Communist system and the Chinese and Vietnamese transitions to capitalism. The windfall gains to US economic interests in the former European communist countries, especially Russia, were largely based on pillaging existing resources in alliance with gangster-capitalists. Long-term, large-scale benefits were not due to US capitalist taking over and developing the forces of production and developing the internal markets of the ex-communist countries. The political and military gains that accrued to US military empire building obscured the continued loss of economic power in the world marketplace to the market-driven imperial powers. Moreover, China unleashed a large-scale, long-term process of dynamic capital accumulation, which in less than two decades displaced the US from manufacturing markets and challenged its access to energy markets.

In other words favorable resolution of the US-Soviet conflict led to their mutual economic decline. What is worse from a practical historical perspective, the military-driven empire builders saw their ‘victory’ over Communism as vindication and license to escalate their militarist approach to empire building. According to this line of argument, the Soviets fell because of military pressure, backed by ideological warfare. Moreover in the absence of a countervailing military pole, the Bush-Clinton-Bush Presidencies saw an open field for pursuing the military road to empire building.

From the Gulf, to the Gulf and Back to the Gulf : 1990-2008 (and beyond)

The first Bush Presidency assumed the military road to empire building but tried to avoid the high costs of occupation and colonization. The Israeli colonial model had to await the Zionist occupation of policy-making positions in later administrations. The first Iraq War was intended to project US imperial military power, secure US economic interests among the Gulf oil states (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) as well as expand Israeli influence in the Middle East. Most of all it was seen as the launching of a ‘New World Order; centered in US world supremacy, supported by docile allies and financed by rich Arab oil states.

Shortly after the Gulf War, the triple alliance, which emerged during the war, collapsed as Europe pursued its own market-driven empire in competition with the US, Saudi Arabia paid some of the US military expenditures and then abruptly ended its funding, and domestic opposition grew as the electorate demanded less imperial expenditures and the re-building of the domestic economy.

Military-Driven Empire-Building (MDE) and Zionism

The Zionist Power Configuration in the United States successfully secured from the White House and Congress massive sustained multi-billion dollar military and economic grant and aid packages for Israel throughout the 1980’s ensuring Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East. Yet both Presidents Reagan and Bush (father) tried to maintain a balance between the interests of major US oil multi-nationals working with Arab regimes on the one hand and on the other Israeli and Washington’s military-driven empire building (MEB).

Bush Senior’s attack of Iraq in the First Gulf War, greatly reduced Baghdad’s military capability but he refrained from destroying its armed forces or overthrowing Saddam Hussein as Israel and the ZPC were demanding at the time. Above all Bush did not want to destabilize the region for US oil deals in the Gulf, even as he imposed a US military presence to ensure dominance.

With the election of Clinton and the Democratic-controlled Congress, the MDE and the ZPC gained strategic positions in the elaboration and implementation of foreign policy. Madeleine Albright, ‘Sandy’ Berger, Dennis Ross, Cohen, and Martin Indyk and an army of lesser known functionaries, militarists and Zionists launched a series of wars, military attacks and severe sanctions against Yugoslavia, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq. They devastated their population (over 500,000 children died in Iraq as a direct result of US starvation sanctions), destroyed their national productive facilities and, intentionally disarticulated and fragmented their nations into violent ethno-tribal and religious mini-states. While Clinton embraced the military road to empire building, he was also totally committed to the financial sector of the US economy (in particular, the most speculative activities) by de-regulating all controls, oversight and constraints on ‘hedge funds’, investment banks and equity houses. Under the tutelage of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, the pro-Israel Alan Greenspan, the Clinton regime became the launching pad for the full conversion of the US into a speculation-driven economy, culminating in the dot-com bubble which burst in 2000-2001, and the massive Enron and World Com swindles leading up to the current financial meltdown of 2006-2008.

While the MDE gained a dominant role, the ascendance of speculative capital marginalized and eroded the political influence and economic weight of productive capital, forcing it overseas and/or to transfer funds into the financial-speculative sector. The socio-economic basis of market-driven empire-building (MDEB) was weakened relative to the militarists and the ZPC in setting the US foreign policy agenda. This new power configuration opened the door for the total takeover by these same forces during the 8 years of Bush (Junior)’s presidency. The latter quickly eliminated any residual influence of the market-driven imperialists, forcing the resignation of his first Treasury Secretary O’Neal and others. Even hybrid market-militarists like Colin Powell who went along with the global war strategy but raised tactical questions were subsequently forced into retirement.

MDE were in total control of the government in all spheres, from the elaboration of war propaganda, the build-up of a global network of terror and assassination teams, to colonial wars and the systematic use of torture abroad and the savaging of elementary freedoms at home. Within the MDE, the ZPC gained dominance, especially in the formulation and the implementation of total war strategies in Iraq and the unconditional backing of Israel’s genocidal politics in Gaza and the West Bank. Every sector of the government was geared to war, bellicose action and especially to subordinating economic policies to military practices informed by the military-driven Israeli colonization.

The convergence of policy and practice between the MDE and the ZPC within the highest levels of government and their mutual reinforcement, gave US foreign policy its extremist military character. Zionist cultural and media power provided an army of academic and journalistic ideologues and mass media platforms which the MDE previously lacked – and amplified their message. The linking of traditional US MDE and the emerging power of the Israeli-ZPC buttressed the spread of authoritarian controls and harsh and widespread censorship over any politician, intellectual or media critic of Israel and its unconditional supporters in the ZPC.

The joint forces of the MDE and ZPC have reshaped the US military command to serve their plans for new major wars – against Iran – and the prolongation and extension of wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon and elsewhere. The MDE have failed to pursue the free trade openings in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East – leaving the field wide open for entirely new trading and investment networks involving China, Europe, Japan, India, Russia and the Middle Eastern sovereign funds. Even with the onset of the recession in the US and the meltdown of the financial markets, the militarists have refused to change or alter their stranglehold on the budget and foreign policy, causing the government to resort to printing currency to finance the bailout of speculators and their investment banks.

Imperial Wars, Social Revolutions and Capitalist Restorations

The historical record demonstrates that imperial wars destroy the productive forces and social networks of targeted countries. In contrast, market-driven economic empire building gains hegemony via collaboration with local political and economic elites, taking control of strategic industries, minerals and energy via direct investments and loans, privatizations and denationalization, and favorable trade and monetary agreements. Market-driven empire building takes over, it does not destroy the productive forces; it does not demolish the social fabric, it reconstructs or ‘adjusts’ it to accommodate its accumulation needs.

The evolution of social revolutionary regimes in a post liberation period shows a common pattern reflecting the political-economic external constraints imposed by military imperialism. The revolutionary regimes expropriate and nationalize the major means of production, control foreign trade and organize the planning of the economy. They eliminate foreign control over strategic economic sectors, centralize political and economic control as well as redistribute land and income. In many cases these radical measures were imposed upon the revolutionary governments by imperial economic boycotts, the flight of capitalist and landlords, the non-cooperation of managers and technicians and by the necessity of reconstruction in the face of large-scale destruction. The US embargo and similar constraints on external financial aid have forced revolutionary governments to rely on the rationing of scarce resources for priority public projects, limiting its capacity to increase individual consumption.

As a result, the post-revolutionary regimes were forced to deal with market-driven empire builders. They contracted large-scale short-term and long-term trade agreements, joint investment ventures through equitable profit sharing agreements and a broad range of technological contracts involving royalty payments. In other words, given the unfavorable position of the revolutionary economy in the world market and the low level of development of the forces of production, the market-driven empire building countries were in a position to secure lucrative economic opportunities. In contrast, the military driven empire attempted to inflict maximum economic damage to compensate for its military defeat.

The revolutionary regimes under Communist leadership featured characteristics, which foreshadowed positive future relations with market-driven imperial countries. Their vertical leadership and concentrated political power facilitated quick and relatively easy changes from collectivist to neo-liberal policies, while hindering the democratic mechanisms, which might have corrected erroneous and harmful economic decisions. Secondly, unchecked power at the top in a time of scarcity led to the conversion of power into privilege, corruption and social inequalities. These developments created a wealthy nepotistic elite with an interest in deepening ties with their capitalist counterparts from the imperial states. These internal changes coincided with the interests of market-driven capitalists willing to establish lucrative ‘beach heads’ and relations with elite groups in the post-revolutionary society and state. Market-driven empire builders were attracted to the tight controls exercised over labor and the lack of competition from other military-driven imperial states.

Post-revolutionary economies continued to be embedded in the world capitalist marketplace and subject to its competitive demands. In the best of circumstances, even with a democratic and socially egalitarian leadership and relatively favorable world commodity prices, the revolutionary regime would need to balance the social demands of a socialist domestic economy (with demands for increases in income, social services and workplace improvement and consumer goods) and the world market demands for greater efficiency, increased capital investments, rising productivity and labor discipline. Given the built-in biases toward political and military security embedded in the bureaucratic centralist structures, it was not surprising that production would stagnate. The constraints and the centralized elites’ inability to micro-manage the economy beyond the period of reconstruction was one reason for stagnation. The other was that the regime would prefer a hierarchical organized capitalist structure (over any democratic changes from below), which would not challenge, but rather strengthen, the communist elite’s position in a ‘new’ eclectic system.

In other words there would be a dual transition from imperial-dominated extractive capitalism to centralized socialism which would entail a period of reconstruction and national unification with an organized and disciplined labor force. This would be followed by a transition to a centralized mixed state capitalist economy, increasingly penetrated by market-driven imperial capital.

Was ‘Socialism a Detour to Capitalism’? Were ‘Imperial Wars Necessary for Capitalist Expansion’?

The historical record documents the continued growth and expansion of market-driven empire building throughout the post World War II period, without wars, significant military intervention, boycotts, embargos or other offensive belligerent actions. The expansion took place in the context of non-revolutionary, revolutionary and post-revolutionary regimes. Germany’s market-driven empire builders traded with the Communist East, China and Russia before, during and after the fall of Communism, accumulating huge trade and productive advantages over the US. The same occurred with Japan with regard to China and other Asian communist countries.

The market imperialists did not depend, as some apologists for military imperialists argue ‘on the protective umbrella’ of US militarism, but on their superior position in the world market and the greater development of the forces of production, which allowed them to enter and secure favorable and lucrative economic positions.

In contrast, the US empire builders, who started the post-war 1945-50 period in a uniquely favorable position in the world market, wasted their massive economic resources in funding wars against successful revolutions - China, Korea, Indochina, Cuba, and now in prolonged colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Billions more have been spent in numerous surrogate wars in Angola, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Chile with no economic payoffs for US MNCs over and against its European and Asian competition. The US imperial wars failed to enhance its economic empire. US Empire builders shifted massive resources away from producing goods for the international market and upgrading their industrial productivity in order to retain world and domestic market shares to its monstrous and wasteful military budgets. The result has been a steady decline of the US economic empire relative to its competitor market-driven empires. Ironically, when the centralized collectivist regimes eventually made the transition toward capitalism, it was because of their inner social and economic contradictions and not because of US military policies. The restoration of capitalism had little to do with the hundreds of billions of dollars in US military spending.

In contrast, the market-driven empires from the end of the 1940’s benefited from US imperial wars, by securing lucrative US military contracts and were able to concentrate their state expenditures and investment policies on securing overseas markets. They were in an ideal position to reap the benefits resulting from the socialist regimes’ transition to capitalism.

Given the emergence of post-Communist political and social ruling elites who blindly adhered to free market dogma with their corrupt, authoritarian and privileged political practices, in retrospect ‘socialism’ did appear as a ‘detour’ to capitalist restoration. However the structural changes of some communist political elites, especially in China and Vietnam, created the essential foundations for a capitalist take-off. They unified the country, educated and trained a healthy, disciplined work-force, launched basic industries, eliminated war lords and local ethnic fiefdoms. Subsequently Communist liberalization opened the door to the peaceful economic invasion of market-driven imperialism, safeguarded by a strong centralized state limiting any working class or nationalist opposition or protest. The Communist elites established a framework ideal for subsequent imperialist reentry and expansion.

The historical record makes it clear that imperial wars were not necessary for economic expansion. Empire-driven militarism thoroughly undermined the US long-term competitive position. If the driving force of empire building is economic conquest, then market-driven empires are far superior to military-driven empires. The goal of ‘colonial political dominance’, pursued by military-driven imperialists, is in the modern period, a chimera, as demonstrated by a history of political defeats in Asia, Africa, Latin America and now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military-Driven Imperialism Today and the Newly Emerging Imperial Powers

One might conclude that the US imperial leadership would have ‘learned the lessons’ of failed military-driven empire building from the their experience over the past 50 years. But as we pointed out earlier, the internal structural dynamics of the US economy and the reconfiguration of the political elite directing the political system have led in the opposite direction. The 21st century has witnessed the ascendancy of the most zealous exponents of military-driven empire building in the entire post-World War II period. An overview of US imperial policy shows the proliferation and intensification of direct wars, surrogate wars, military confrontations in which the US favors militarist allies over countries with lucrative markets and profitable investment opportunities in natural resources.

Market-Driven Versus Militarist Alliances

The militarist and Zionist takeover of US empire building in the 21st century is manifested in their strategic decisions, alliances and priorities, each and everyone of which is diametrically opposed to market-based empire building and ultimately doomed to further erode the position of the US empire.

The newly emerging empire building states (like China), rely almost exclusively on market-driven strategies designed by political elites linked to industrialists and technocrats. They are quickly dominating manufacturing markets, accessing strategic raw materials and securing long-term trade agreements at the expense of the increasingly militarist, but internally deteriorating US empire. Near the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the imperial policies of the US militarists and Zionists have demonstrated their willingness to make deep sacrifices in market growth by choosing to align the US with costly and dubious militarist regimes in all regions of the world, beginning with the US alliance with Israel.

In the Middle East, unlike market-driven empire builders, the US militarists and Zionists have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, destroying many lucrative oil deals and joint ventures and leading to the quadrupling the world price of oil. Instead they have invested (and lost) over a trillion dollars in non-productive, non-economic, military activity. Militarist imperialism has weakened the entire economic fabric of the US Empire without any ‘compensatory’ gains on the military side. The prolonged war in Iraq (6 years and running) has demoralized the US ground troops and weakened US military capability to engage in any ‘third front’ in which the US has important economic interests. US liberal market-driven imperialists describe this as ‘imperial overstretch’. While the US invests in non-productive and unsuccessful military conquests, profoundly indebting the domestic economy, China, India, Korea, Russia, Europe, the Middle East and even Latin America pile up trade surpluses while expanding their economic empires via private and sovereign investments.

Largely because of the political fusion and strategic convergence of interests between militarists and Zionists, the US empire builders choose to sacrifice lucrative ties to the richest markets among the Gulf State in the Middle East and among predominantly Muslim countries in order to favor Israel, a resource-poor militarist-colonial state with a third rate market for goods and investments. US militarists have subjected America’s empire building to strategies in the Middle East, which mostly favor Israel’s colonial and regional hegemonic drive. This places the US on a direct confrontational path with Lebanon, Syria, Iran and even the Gulf States who feel threatened by Israel’s constant resort to offensive military power to attack its neighbors. No Arab oil country, no matter how conservative and pro-capitalist, can afford to open its economy to the US, if it believes that Washington will subordinate it to the vision of a militarist Israel-US dominated sphere of influence. By unconditionally backing Israel’s colonial and hegemonic interests, American militarists have gained a strategic domestic political ally (the Zionist Power Configuration) but it has come at an enormous cost to US economic empire building. Moreover the Israeli state has run the biggest and most aggressive espionage operations in the US of any country since the fall of the USSR, thus calling into question its ‘security benefits.’ The multiplicity of enemies resulting from Israel’s racist-colonialist policies ensures that the US will be engaged in decades of war, or as long as the US taxpayers can sustain the demands of the military empire.

Military-driven empire building is manifested not only in the Middle East but throughout the world. In Africa, the US backs the Ethiopian military regime and its weak and isolated puppet regime in Somalia against an Islamist-secular nationalist coalition representing the majority of Somalis. Washington and Israel finance and arm the Sudanese separatists in Darfur against the oil-rich central Sudanese government. In both Somalia and Sudan, China and other emerging imperial powers have secured access to strategic oil rich sites. While the US spends billions of dollars on endless wars, propaganda campaigns and sanctions, China reaps hundreds of millions in profits. While the US financed African wars destroy the entire fabric of production and society in Somalia, militarizing impoverished Ethiopia, the Chinese build roads and infrastructure to facilitate exports in both the Sudan and Northern Somalia. Pentagon-directed colonial wars in Africa, conducted by surrogates, undermine the political support of economic collaborators while the market-driven empires enhance their ties with local economic elites and political rulers.

In Latin America, the US military imperialists have so far contributed $6 billion dollars in military aid to Colombia’s militarist regime during the 21st century, destroying the entire social fabric in the rural areas, while the rest of Latin America expanded their ties with Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Washington has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in failed efforts to destabilize Venezuela’s nationalist-democratic Chavez Government. As a result US capitalists have lost out on billions of dollars in investments and trading contracts in Venezuela to China, Russia, Brazil, Argentina and Iran. By making Colombia the centerpiece of their South American policy, US militarist empire builders have lost out on the enormously lucrative economic opportunities accompanying the commodity price boom in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In Asia, despite the deepening US economic dependence on China to sustain to the rapidly depreciating US dollar (China holds $1.5 trillion dollars in foreign reserves which has lost 60% of its value since 2002), the US militarists still engage in sustained anti-Chinese propaganda campaigns and highly provocative incidents. The US-backed violent protests against the Chinese presence in Tibet fomented by the Dalai Lama and CIA-funded exile organizations is only the more recent example. American Zionists have directed a political campaign against the expansion of Chinese investments and contracts (market-driven imperialism) in the Sudan. The Zionist role in the so-called ‘Darfur’ campaign is based on Sudan’s support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel’s genocidal policy in Gaza.

China has so far generally overlooked US military provocations such as the shooting down of a Chinese fighter plane, spy flights over Chinese offshore territory, the deliberate bombing of its embassy in Belgrade and the sale of advanced missiles to Taiwan. The US financing of the separatist demonstrations among Tibetan exiles is designed to tarnish China’s image in the lead up to its hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics. China’s market-driven empire builders ignore US military provocations because they had little effect on Chinese overseas and domestic economic expansion. Nevertheless China has increased spending on modernizing its military defense capabilities. More significantly, as the US economy declines and enters a deep recession in 2008, and as the dollar continues to fall ($1.60 to 1 Euro as of May 2008), China has turned toward the Asian, European, Middle Eastern markets. Asian markets now account for 50% of world trade growth as of 2008. In 2007 China increased production and the development of its market to sustain growth rates at least five times higher than the militarist-dominated US Empire. Even more significant, the great majority of Chinese exporters (over 800,000) have shifted payments to Euros, Yen, Pounds Sterling and the Renminbi in its trading with non-US trading partners.

Russia, shaking off the shackles of Clinton-backed pillage during the gangster capitalism of the Yeltsin years in the 1990’s, has taken off during the 21st century under the leadership of President Putin. US military-driven empire builders were able to integrate and subordinate all the former members of the Russia-centered Warsaw Pact into the US-dominated NATO. In the 21st Century, the Russian economy has expanded rapidly between 6% and 8%, established majority control over strategic resources and has sought to lessen its vulnerability to US military encirclement. While Germany, Italy and most of the major Asian trading countries (China, India and Japan) have obtained lucrative trading and investment agreements with Russia, the US militarists have concentrated on military encroachment along Russia’s European and Asian borders. The US is pushing to incorporate Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, and preparing to station offensive, so-called ‘missile shields’ in Poland and the Czech Republic on the absurd pretext that such highly sophisticated installations are intended to protect Western Europe from attacks by distant Iran rather than target Moscow, just 5 minutes away by missile attack.


US military-driven empire building has made costly military alliances with peripheral countries at a catastrophic economic cost. The persistence of militarist empire builders has systematically undercut market-driven empire building and has pushed the domestic US economy to near bankruptcy. The twin motors of the contemporary empire and domestic economy, speculative finance and militarism, have driven the US economy backwards at the same time that established and emerging imperial competitors are advancing.

Comparative historical data covering the entire half-century to the present demonstrates that European, Japanese and now China and India’s market-driven expansion has been far more successful in securing market shares, developing the productive forces and accessing strategic raw materials than US military empire building.

Market-driven empire building has both resulted from and created a strong civil society in which socio-economic priorities take precedent in defining domestic and foreign economic policy over military priorities and definitions of international reality. US empire builders, academics and political advisers have interpreted, what they call ‘the rise of US global power its victory in the Cold War and the decline of Communism’ as a vindication of military-driven empire building. They have ignored the rise of capitalist competitors and the relative and absolute decline of the US as an economic power. It can be argued that the newly emerging market-driven former Communist countries (like China and Russia) represent a greater global challenge to the US Empire than the previous stagnant bureaucratic Communist regimes.

Militarism is deeply embedded in the structure, ideology and policies of the entire US governing class, its political parties, the executive and legislative branches, the judiciary and the armed forces. Over the same half-century countervailing market-driven empire builders have declined as a defining force in the formulation of foreign policy in the US. The growing encroachment of the militant Zionist power configuration within the policy-making directorate has been greatly facilitated by the ascendancy of militarism and the relative decline of economic-empire building.

The long period of incremental decline of US economic empire building and the trillions of dollars wasted by military-driven empire building has come to a climax. In the new millennium with the profound devaluation of the imperial currency (the dollar), the huge indebtedness and loss of markets Washington is totally dependent on the good will of its commercial partners to keep accepting constantly devalued dollars in exchange for essential commodities.

The immediate outcome is likely to be a major domestic crisis, which could be accompanied by one more desperate and futile military attack on Iran and/or Venezuela or a forced confrontation with China and/or Russia. Desperate acts of declining military empires have historically accelerated the demise of imperial rulers.

Out of the debris of failed empires two possible outcomes could emerge. A new rabidly nationalist authoritarian regime or the re-birth of a republic based on the reconstruction of a productive economy centered on the domestic market and social priorities, free from foreign entanglements and power configurations whose only purpose is to subordinate the republic to overseas colonial ambitions.

The dismantling of the military driven empire will not occur ‘by choice’ but by imposed circumstances, including the incapacity of domestic institutions to continue to finance it. The demise of the militarist governing class will follow the collapse of their domestic economic foundations. The result could be a withered empire, or a democratic republic. When and how a new political leadership will emerge will depend on the nature of the social configurations, which undertake the reconstruction of US society.