…[I]lluminating as though it is, the attempt to fit the United States into historical patterns of empires is ultimately misguided. The United States is not in transition from hegemony to empire. The world is in transition to new forms of political organization, whose outlines can be dimly perceived, but whose frontiers cannot yet be fixed.
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An interesting article. Sidelsky writes, “To the extent that empires were always a contest for control of resources, the current American adventure in the oil-rich Middle East fits the traditional imperial logic.” In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter much if we label US policy that of an “empire” or not….what were the decisions of those in power and what were the results? If the Bush administration’s primary motivation for invading Iraq wasn’t control over oil, the oil men in the White House certainly believed that the invasion would “pay for itself” with Iraqi oil. I bet that history will show that our invasion was doomed within its first few days, when oil installations were apparently surrounded by troops while Iraqis watched the National Museum, hospitals, and every other institution in the country being looted while the troops stood by.
“the most spectacular misjudgment in American history, aided and abetted by a network of Soviet spies in the Treasury and State Departments”: not what most of the readership of the NYRB probably believes, I suspect.
Dearieme, you are right. Skidelsky is a smarter guy than most of the contributors to the NYRB, hence worth quoting.
My main interest in this quote is his recognition, which Jim Bennett, Martin van Creveld and some other people seem to be aware of, coming at it from various angles, that the institutional forms which we are used to and take for granted are in for a period of upheaval in the years ahead — for good or ill or, probably, both.
…the oil men in the White House certainly believed that the invasion would “pay for itself” with Iraqi oil…
No, they did not, because anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the petroleum business understands that there is no way to extract enough profit from Iraqi oil to pay the enormous cost of the liberation. People are so eager to believe the paperback thriller model of foreign policy that they never to bother to do a few back of the envelope calculations to see if the supposed economic conspiracy is even viable.
I bet that history will show that our invasion was doomed within its first few days, when oil installations were apparently surrounded by troops while Iraqis watched the National Museum, hospitals, and every other institution in the country being looted while the troops stood by.
Assuming of course that people of Iraq are complete idiots who think mothballed museums and hospitals reserved for the Baathist elite were more important to their futures than their keystone economic assets.
In fact, all Iraqi were keen to protect the oil infrastructure because they understood it long term importance. The Kurds in particular diverted troops to protect facilities that other Coalition forces could not reach. Later, in the south, Shia militia also guarded oil facilities.
Protecting oil facilities only seems a venal act to pseudo-intellectual crypto-Marxist who simply cannot conceive that anyone but themselves acts from unselfish, non-economic motives. For the people of Iraq, however, protecting their oil industry was seen as a means of ensuring their future.
Well, it is not every imperialistic army that provides a Bogdanos.
The great horses in the museum at Venice were hurtled back and forth as treasures for thousands of years until the original artists & owners became unclear. The Elgin Marbles were long protected & viewed by the British. That is the tradition.
Here, the chief purpose of Bogdanos’s unit was to return treasures to common Iraqi, many of which had been looted by Iraqis. I wouldn’t argue that Shannon doesn’t have his priorities straight – he does. But an even stronger point can be made.
Which brings us back to Lex’s original point – this is a different war fought in a different way. That particular art unit may be a very small part of the difference, but to understand the whole is to understand the motivations of that unit.
Discursive: Concerning art & war, The Train with Paul Scofield is powerful.
Gee, Shannon Love, I haven’t been called a crypto Marxist before. (I never claimed to be an intellectual). You are incorrect, I believe, that looting in Iraq post-invasion was restricted to “mothballed museums and hospitals reserved for the Baathist elite.” I heard an account that virtually any metal object was looted, including copper pipes dug up from below the streets of Baghdad. Infrastructure that was not damaged by the invasion itself was even more damaged by looting. Why the US Army was instructed to stand by–since that’s what must have happened–I don’t know. In Baghdad, much of the looting was carried out by Shiites, but I doubt that had much to do with it.
As for the intention of the warmakers in Washington to use Iraqi oil revenues to pay (at least partly) for the occupation, it has been documented in a series of articles by Ed Harriman (who also describes the resulting mindboggling “financial irregularities”) See
And by the way, Shannon Love, I know you supported the war and are upset by how it’s going, but that’s no reason to resort to name calling.
Gee, Shannon Love, I haven’t been called a crypto Marxist before.
He was being polite by trying to avoid calling you economically illiterate.
“Empire” is only a logical notion based on the mercantilistic economic premises of the left. Capitalists have understood for quite a long time now that it’s far more preferrable to trade with producers than try to subjugate them. To a capitalist, your suggestion that it’s somehow profitable to conquer capital is on par with a presciption of leeches to cure syphillis. It just doesn’t follow.
In case you where wondering, that’s why capitalists roll their eyes whenever you mention it.
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