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The Bush Doctrine: Guns, Money & Oil

Stan Goff
Date Published: 
February 14, 2003

Imagine a game of chess with four big players and a hundred little players. Imagine a multi-layered chessboard that shifts positions, with pieces held in common by more than one player. This only begins to describe the complexity of the game the Bush Administration is playing with Russia, Euroland, the Gulf States, and China—and the rest of the world. “The Bush Doctrine,” if it can be characterized as a doctrine at all, is not something Bush and his cabinet have designed. It’s a reaction. Robert Biel, Samir Amin, Maria Mies and others have described capitalism as a world-system of accumulation in deep crisis by the 1970s. Peter Gowan has shown how policies from Nixon through Reagan created the ascendancy of speculative capital, or the “Dollar-Wall Street Regime,” which included the abandonment of fixed-currency exchange rates and the gold standard, combined with an alliance between the US and key oil states in the Persian Gulf, wherein the latter invested heavily in US financial instruments. Oil was decisively denominated in US dollars in the 70s, and US banks were suddenly flush with these petrodollars. The US dollar became the currency with which all nations had to pay their energy bills—which stabilized the dollar, but without fixed exchange rates, uprooted other currencies. This is what H. C. K. Liu calls dollar hegemony. The glut of petrodollars recycling through US banks created a huge pool of loan capital. That capital was loaned out to poor nations, who—because of dollar hegemony—now needed dollar reserves to defend their own currencies. The ensuing external debt service became a fresh mechanism for the developed capitalist states, dominated by the US, to further suck the juice out of the global South’s orange. This system of debt peonage came to be known as neoliberalism, and it rescued Northern capital from its accumulation crisis for almost three decades. That’s over now. Dollars and deflation The neocolonial orange is dry. Inter-imperialist rivalry is back. Argentina collapsed. Brazil and Ecuador are not far behind. Asia is engulfed in deflation. Sub-Saharan Africa is tragically immiserated. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—without much fanfare here—are being depopulated in a downward economic spiral presided over by gangsters. The con game of neoliberalism is exposed abroad. The Wall Street Ponzi scheme has been exposed in the US. Only one economy in the world now has the absorptive capacity to eventually challenge the US in an entire region, and that is China. The European Union wants to, but they are still trying to get organized, and the US is quietly pushing to include Turkey, along with Poland, as its stalking horses to disrupt Euroland from within. The important thing to recognize, if we are to understand this period, is that the basis of US power is “dollar hegemony.” That basis is further reinforced by the projection of military power, particularly in the sea-lanes leading into and out of the Persian Gulf. Dollar hegemony is based on rentier nations like Saudi Arabia having invested their surpluses in dollar-denominated financial instruments. This special relationship was developed in an alliance between the Gulf states and the US against the Soviet Union. That situation has evolved, and a hypothetical decision by OPEC giants to reinvest in Euros or Yuan could end dollar hegemony, and thereby US imperialism, like a shotgun blast to the head. As this is written, analysts are saying the Yuan is undervalued on the currency markets—based on China’s stunning trade surplus—and the US dollar may be overvalued by 40 percent—based on a huge trade deficit offset by printing fiat money. The US domestic economy bloated in the 90’s like a corpse in the sun, and when the dotcom Ponzi scheme collapsed in 1999, that corpse popped, and George W. Bush inherited the whole nasty mess. The neoliberal political establishment—now obsolete in the face of systemic failure—was replaced by a military-petroleum complex whose popular base consists of diehard Cold Warriors and pro-Zionist Christian theocrats. The elections were fraudulent, but the neoliberals acquiesced. This brought the Bush II junta to power, but with a severe political legitimation crisis. Until September 11, 2001. The military solution Those attacks provided the pretext for an attempt to restructure the entire geopolitical architecture through imposition of a kind of unilateral military extortion through control of energy supplies. The reason multilateralism has been abandoned is that multilateralism was a characteristic of neoliberalism—the cooperative exploitation of the global South by the Northern capitalist centers. September 11 also provided the pretext for a renewed assault on the living standards of the US working class. In preparation for that assault, xenophobia and racism has been amplified, and the security state strengthened through the selective abrogation of civil liberties. The war on terrorism is widely seen to be a war for oil, and that’s true. But oil is the surface issue. In the substratum, there is dollar hegemony, and deeper still is the utter structural decay of US political hegemony; a hegemony now threatened by rebellion in the hinterlands, European rivalry, and the draining out of the US industrial base by the Chinese giant. There is blood in the water, and it is the deeply wounded US economy. Most of the world’s oil production is in decline, while OPEC Gulf states won’t peak for another decade. Saudi Arabia is number-one, and Iraq is number-two in reserves. The Saudi regime—presently motivated to sustain the US economy because of its massive investment here—is identified by its ever more restive population as an ally of the US and by extension of Israel. The destabilization of Saudi Arabia, where anti-American Islamism is more deeply rooted than ever, could result in a new regime that de-dollarizes Saudi assets and cuts production, precipitating the collapse of US hegemony. So the US junta is caught between the Scylla of losing the petrodollar and the Charybdis of its militant Zionism, the latter underwritten by a powerful electoral base of US Zionists, both Jewish and millenarian Christian. The Bush junta has embarked on a global military solution. Central Asia has been occupied as part of a forward basing strategy. The next targets, in sequence, are likely to be Iraq, then Saudi Arabia, and finally (though not through direct military engagement) China. The phenomenal growth of China is the basis of its deflation-strategy against the US economy. That continued growth will require massive new inputs of fossil fuel. China’s dependence on oil imports is increasing. Seizure of the OPEC giants by the US is seen as the way to checkmate China. The Bush Doctrine’s eggs, so to speak, are all in the military basket. The US military’s doctrine—now a paradoxical combination of two doctrines—is not however equal to the task. And the Bush Doctrine can only worsen domestic conditions. International overreach The Bush Doctrine, driven by systemic weakness and not strength, is a massive overreach, and in particular a military overreach. The erroneous belief in a US military juggernaut is shared by right and left in our society. Careful examination of US military operations, independent of the impressionism of the American commercial propaganda apparatus, however, reveals that the US military can only achieve success through mammoth expenditures and monumental force. This is not reflective of either skill or confidence. Since Vietnam, conventional troops have never been thrown into combat with a single credible ground force. And they won’t. The Powell Doctrine, one of the two prevailing military dogmas, is based on clear military goals with clear exit strategies, devastating mass with little regard for “collateral damage,” and lockstep public relations spin control. These obsessions grow out of Colin Powell’s single experience in a combat zone, Vietnam. The other doctrine—developed under Chair of the Joint Chiefs Hugh Shelton, and greedily seized upon by the current administration, with its collection of tinpot would-be Mussolinis—is called Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD). Full-spectrum dominance means “the ability of US forces, operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations.” “Full spectrum” refers to three things; geographic scope, level of conflict, and technology. This is a doctrine that implicitly aims at world military domination, taking on everything from street riots to thermonuclear war, accomplished with a blank check to weapons developers for an array of highly sophisticated gadgets. This is the doctrine to which Rumsfeld is devoted, and he has a breathtaking—and mistaken—faith in the gadgets. That faith is embodied in a sub-doctrine of FSD, which proponents call “effects-based warfare (EBW),” the elliptical name for technological solutions to tactical problems... which is not in any way original. It is important to make a distinction between FSD and the extreme technocentricity of EBW. Rumsfeld appears to see technology as the dominant feature of FSD. Colin Powell, whose own “doctrine” can accommodate and even welcome a broader range of tactical options, is still a trained military officer who at least understands the Principles of War, which, taken together, emphasize human leadership above all other priorities. Powell is also enough of a realist to recognize the delusion of “any adversary.” The National Command Authority now seems to believe that technical superiority is some guarantee of military success, and that military force can somehow always resolve underlying economic and political contradictions. Powell, for all his inadequacies, knows better. This is something we might refer to as a radical shift, if we can borrow a concept from Marx, in the “organic composition of the military,” that is, the relative weight of technology to people in determining military actions. The dramatically increased reliance on high-technology corresponds to the further “talylorization” of military people, that is, a soldier who does not make decisions, but who is reduced to an adjunct of the technology. Like a Hardee’s employee, who now only has to push the pictures on the cash register, making her more and more an interchangeable part. This inevitably degrades a unit’s battlefield agility and flexibility. The shift in the ratio between military “biomass” and military “technomass,” to borrow a concept from Swedish ecologist Alf Hornborg, requires far higher levels of integration between battlefield (technical) systems, which in turn renders whole systems vulnerable based on the breakdown of a single component of that system. It is only through extremely expensive redundancy that a system can protect itself from this operational entropy. Moreover, it is easily bypassed. The World Trade Center was destroyed by men with box cutters. This is partially the reason any actual ground operations have been relegated to the tiny community of Special Operations within the military. It is the last bastion of military flexibility and initiative, used as a nucleus within local surrogate forces to direct their operations, to avoid US casualties... a principle of the Powell Doctrine. The equally important but less obvious reason Special Operations has taken over ground operations (with conventionals now reduced to a glorified guard force) is that the US has historical experience with non-white, especially African-American, soldiers who are thrown into protracted combat. These soldiers begin to be critical, to see colonial parallels, and return with a sense of social entitlement that politicizes them. Special Operations, however, has the lowest number of African-American soldiers of any sector in the military. This is no accident. The overreach is not a linear equation of simple force projection. It is a technological overreach in the transformation of this “organic composition” of the military itself, based on the perceived requirements of FSD. It is a political overreach that will provoke diffuse and destructive attacks against “soft targets,” including those on US soil, as well as destabilize the political structures of 100 million people throughout Central Asia, the Gulf states, and North Africa. This overall doctrine will quite simply generate more disorder for itself than it can impose, and it is taking the US into an indefinable “war against an indefinable noun,” wherein basic principles of war are violated as a matter of course—the first being objective: “Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective.” Afghanistan is already turning into a Somalia-like tarpit. Domestic crisis In the larger scheme of things, this technical transformation also makes military operations more expensive by orders of magnitude. Military solution cannot be achieved directly through exploitation of the periphery, but only on the backs of the US working class. This intensified attack on US workers will begin with immigrants, but in short order will be directed against public sector workers, with special focus on oppressed nationalities (and I include in that category African Americans). To support this attack, the US working class will be sharply polarized between workers with white privilege and everyone else. The Bush Doctrine will promote racial polarization as part of this attack. This invariably leads to revolutionary nationalism in response. Then the colony confronting Bush will be those who offload American ships, who power the American meatpacking industry, who fill the every broader American service sector, who pick up American trash, et cetera. Prognoses The most recent accumulation cycle of the 80s and 90s pulled an abundance of techno-savvy intellectuals into the margins of management, in the cores and the periphery... what Black revolutionary Harry Haywood called an “overproduction crisis of intelligentsia.” Now that class is being thrown back into the proletariat by recession. This includes the mass of workers laid off in the tech sector, but also the millions of students, who will come to realize that their futures have been mortgaged by a dying empire. An ever more sullen mass of the former reserve army of labor is now external to the accumulation process. When the intellectualized proletariat falls back upon that choleric mass of surplus people, they will urge them to revolt, and will have the knowledge and skills to make it good. But let’s not be complacent in our optimism. The intractable racism of white America could precipitate the embrace of fascism. This possibility should be a clarion call to the left to drop sectarianism, organize around concrete programs, and reconstitute a strong left pole on the American political landscape, that puts oppressed nationalities’ priorities and leadership in the forefront. No task is more critical in this period than this refoundation of a strong, agile revolutionary left in the United States. The Bush Doctrine has brought us to a fork in the road. “In the contradiction lies the hope.” About the Author Stan Goff entered military service with the United States Army in 1970 and retired from 3rd Special Forces Group in 1996. He is the author of Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti (Soft Skull Press, 2000). He is listed with the speakers bureau of the Southern Peace Research and Education Center in Durham, North Carolina. His column, “Military Matters,” is posted at