US Imperialism and Globalization After Iraq

By Jerry Harris

(Race & Class, Vol. 50 #1, 2008)

What is the future direction of US imperialism? The strategic choices being debated by ruling elites are framed by the disaster in Iraq. While the exact outcome remains unclear, one thing is obvious, the US has been defeated in its Middle East invasion.

To properly judge the US war we must remember its original goals – a compliant pro-US government, a privatized economy run mainly by  US capital, 14 permanent US military bases, and a Middle East ready for regime change in Iran, Syria and wherever else the US deemed necessary. None of this has been achieved.

Shelby Steele from Stanford’s Hoover Institution articulates the original vision in unambiguous terms; “victory in foreign war has always meant hegemony: You win, you take over…A complete American victory in Iraq would put that nation…entirely under American power and sovereignty. We would in fact ‘own’ the society as a colony.”  (2006, p. A16.)

In fact, the opposite has occurred with the US unable to control the battlefield and the political course of events. Iran emerges stronger, terrorist networks more organized and the region more unstable. A defeat on this scale, comparable to Viet-Nam, will have far reaching ramifications in US ruling circles on the role and capabilities of the military in the decades to come. Even Charles Krauthammer, who first popularized US unilateralism, admits “The unipolar moment is now over.” (Dinmore, 2007a, p. 9)

But if the unipolar moment is over, has the globalist era fully asserted itself? For all the power of economic globalization there is a political and military disconnect. In Davos, world elites bemoaned political violence and turmoil during a “golden period” of economic integration and success. (Wolf, 2007, p. 11) Much of this unease is centered on the war in Iraq and growing  protectionism. While capitalist globalization continues apace its political structure and corresponding military policy seems mired in nationalism.

This presents serious problems for a transnational capitalist class (TCC) whose existence is rooted in global production, trade and finance. Post-national capitalism has transformed institutions such as the WTO and its economic character is clearly distinguished from nationally based capital. (Harris, 2007, Robinson, 2004, Sklair, 2001)

But what would transnational political and military policy be and how would it differ from the nation-centric international system? A fully integrated TCC would have a political process of debates held in world based institutions with efforts to develop mutual consensus and common military policy. This project is partially evident in the UN and Nato. But the existence of the US as the world’s sole military superpower undermines the emerging transnational system.

In the US there are several global projects: unilateral imperialism as defined by the neorealist and neoconservative doctrine of US domination; traditional realists whose views on a US led international system is linked to cold war national competition; and the globalist approach of humanitarian interventionism.

An article from the Army War College distinguishes three basic security approaches for the 21st century. The first labeled “Primacy” or “Domination” refers to hegemonist policy that seeks stability through an “imbalance of power…heavily dependant on military requirements (that) place immense burdens on the nation’s gross product.” “Selective Engagement” reflects the realist position that relies on economic and political power as well as military might, “striking a balance between doing too little or too much militarily.” The globalist approach is titled “Cooperative Security” and looks to “multilateral cooperation and collective consensus through international organizations” with military interventions entailing mutual efforts by a concert of powers. (Beck, 2005) These three distinct and identifiable strategies demarcate the lines of debate inside the military/industrial complex.

“Cooperative Security” is the closes position to globalist military policy that by definition would need to be translateral. William Robinson argues, “The beneficiaries of US military action around the world are not US but transnational capitalist groups.”  (Robinson, 2004, p. 139) Yet transnational elites around the world opposed the US invasion of Iraq. As French president Jacques Chirac said, “The Americans always want to impose their point of view…I told Bush 36 times that he was committing a monumental error.” (Financial Times, 2007, p. 4)

Globalists’ interest cannot be represented by singular national leadership linked by  history to the cold war international system. Military policy promoting hegemonic domination commanded by the nationalist wing of US capitalism does not represent a transnational process. Secondary effects may open previously closed markets to transnational penetration, but if power and leadership is unilateral then the policy is historically attached to the nation-centric system rather than a new global order. A globalist political/military system would need be translateral and integrated in the same manner as the transnational economy. Currently the most advance articulation are calls to recognize a polycentric world order with different regional centers coordinating multilateral policy.  This arrangement is a step beyond the US led cold war international alliance, but still reliant on nation-centric political actors, not a fully developed system of an integrated and organic TCC.

If history moves two steps forward and one step back, then the Bush years have been a step back to geopolitical and imperial policies. A globalist military project was emerging during the Clinton administration although it never achieved a hegemonic position within the military/industrial complex. (Harris, 2002) After six years of unilateral leadership the globalist voice has been weakened and modified. Certainly the transnational economic project continues to expand with cross border- mergers and acquisitions, foreign direct investments, capital flow and financial speculation. But it has faced serious problems on a number of fronts, not just US unilateralism. The Doha round of the WTO continues to be road blocked and anti-neoliberal political movements have gained strength, particularly in Latin America. From a historical viewpoint such problems are not unexpected. During transitional eras there is often a disconnect between rapid economic developments and slowly changing political structures.

A number of important studies have recognized this nationalist/globalist split in the US ruling class. Ismael Hossein-zadeh  in The Political Economy of US Militarism addresses the “conflict between the two major competing factions within the ruling elite at home: multilateralist proponents of neoliberalism, representing primarily the interests of nonmilitary transnational capital, on the one hand, and unilateralist advocates of nationalism and militarism, who tend to represent the interests of military industries and of the internationally noncompetitive businesses.” (2006, p. 4) Rather than oil and resources the author argues the main drive for war is the tremendous profits and economic needs of the military/industry complex. This analysis points to the permanent nature of aggressive imperialist policies built into the economic and political structure of the government and Pentagon.

Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler contend that wars are driven by the accumulation needs of the “Weapondollar-Petrodollar Coalition.”  The authors also see two dominant capitalist factions tied to distinct regimes of accumulation. The first being the oil and armament corporations whose accumulation is “fuelled by stagflation and driven by conflict,” the other being the “new economy coalition led by civilian high-tech companies.” (2006. p. 18) This globalist faction is interested in “securing free trade and open capital flows, tries to establish political stability and international peace (and has) no need to physically conquer new territory.” (p. 10) Nitzan and Bichler argue oil is allied to the military/industrial complex and that energy resources have been a major element in all the wars that have raged in the Middle East. They do this in a detailed study of price and profits in the oil and weapons industry before and after each war, linking the two industries as one faction of dominant capital. (2002)

As insightful as the above authors are they present an overly economist view of the military/industrial complex and the drive to war. Hossein-zahed argues that the oil industry has never advocated war and prefers stability, but ignores the fact that energy security is an essential question for the entire capitalist class, not just oil companies.  Nitzan and Bichler limit their analysis to the competition between two models of accumulation and the capitalist factions that are linked through profits and power to either broad economic expansion or inflation and stagflation. Ignored is the power of ideology and culture embedded in nationalism that plays a subjective motivating force among both elites and the population. This goes beyond mere propaganda. Consciousness becomes an objective force in political organization. We can’t reduce political economy to rates of accumulation and the drive for profits, as important as these may be. Furthermore, while all three authors correctly point to nationalist and globalist class factions, they fail to recognize this split extends into the military/industrial complex itself.  (Harris, 2003a)

Investigating these splits and possible military and political directions in the post Bush years will be the main subject below. How will failure in Iraq affect hegemonists, realists and globalists as they struggle to redirect US imperialism onto the road of recovery?

Down But Not Out

Hegemonists have called for US domination of the twenty-first century. This unilateralist project was most clearly articulated by the neo-conservatives but reflects a broader base than this cadre of think-tank activists. Hard-line nationalists from the realist school of foreign policy participated in the formulation of this strategy. This included neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, but also neo-realists Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Together they developed the unilateralist strategy in the influential policy paper titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century” published by the Project for the New American Century. Their strategic vision prepared the field for the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. But it would be a mistake to see this policy as simply the product of some neoconservative coup. Its real influence came about because it represented a clear statement for major elements within the military/industrial complex articulating a map for political power and profits in the post-Soviet world.
(Harris, 2007)

By following this path the White House/Pentagon leadership team created what many in the ruling class see as the most serious strategic blunder in US history. As former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote, “…the war in Iraq is a historic, strategic and moral calamity.”(2007, p. 13) The looming defeat in Iraq allowed other fractions within US ruling circles to challenge the hegemonists. Concerned the fiasco could severely restrain US imperialism in the future The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the National Defense University (NDU) jointly sponsored a “Symposium on Iraq’s Impact on the Future of US Foreign and Defense Policy” in October 2006.

Panelist Steven Miller from Harvard laid out a grim picture,

The United States, with a half-trillion-dollar-a-year military, with 150,000 well-trained, well-armed forces in Iraq, possessing total superiority in the air, with a massive technological advantage is being stymied by 5,000 Ba’athist bitter-enders. What this told you was that there were ways for adversaries to confront American power that rendered irrelevant or neutralized many of our advantages militarily and gave them a chance to achieve their interests over ours. And I assume that anybody who’s out there on the world stage who thinks they’re on Uncle Sam’s target list has noticed this. And if we come after them they know what to do…The point is that there is now a demonstrated, asymmetric strategy that can bog down, hog tie and stymie the United States of America. (2006)

The magnitude of the defeat is such that neoconservatives will be kept on the outskirts of power in the post-Bush years. But their bold rejection of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group and their escalation of the war shows they may be down but not out. Just as CFR was declaring “The idea of talking to Iran is now the consensus position,” (Dinmore, 2006, p. 5) Bush was pushing more troops into Iraq plus increasing threats against Iran. The counter-insurgency escalation indicates the strong attraction that military power and domination through victory maintains.

Widening the war brought renewed support from neo-realists Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Like Cheney and Rumsfeld, neorealist abandon the crusading democratic rhetoric of the neoconservatives, but see victory in Iraq as central to promoting hegemonic power. Some neo-conservatives hope McCain can become their new standard-bearer, as William Kristol writes; “The Republican Party will have to choose, in the very near future between Baker and McCain.” (Broder & Toner, 2006) Another neoconservative argues “McCain could prosecute the war on terror vigorously with the kind of innovative thought that realists hate and the country needs.” (Muravchik, 2006)

McCain defends the need for a deeper commitment to war – a position long favored within the military/industrial complex and most clearly articulated in Collin Powell’s doctrine on overwhelming force. This was one of the first battles within the Pentagon and swirled around Rumsfeld’s implementation of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that called for a smaller, flexible and technologically advanced army. (Harris, 2003b) This doctrine worked well in Afghanistan and the taking of Baghdad. But some military leaders argued that a force of 250,000 or more was necessary to control Iraq. This continued to be a controversy during the entire occupation. Bush’s post-Rumsfeld surge strategy and the resulting support of neorealist and neoconservatives is a shift away from RMA, but maintains the object of world hegemony intact.

In Foreign Policy Joshua Muravchik makes an appeal on “how to save the Neocons.”  He writes,

One area of neoconservative thought that needs urgent reconsideration is the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed. This love affair with technology has left our armed forces short on troops and resources…Let’s now take up the burden of campaigning for a military force that is large enough…to assure that we will never again get stretched so thin. Let the wonder weapons be the icing on the cake. (2006)

The renewed hegemonist/neorealist strategy emerged out of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in the paper titled “Choosing Victory, A Plan for Success in Iraq” by Frederick W. Kagan, a neoconservative and associate of the Project for the New American Century. Faced with the Baker-Hamilton group, vice-president Cheney asked Kagan to draw-up an alternative policy that advocated victory over what they saw as Baker’s plan for defeat. This led to the surge strategy calling for more soldiers, money and time. (Kagan, 2007)

Some at the AEI even accused troops of avoiding combat. Kagan’s fellow neo-conservative Michael Ledeen wrote; “We’ve got lots of soldiers sitting on megabases all over Iraq. They should be out and about…I don’t know how many guys and gals are sitting in air-conditioned quarters and drinking designer coffee, buts it’s a substantial number. Enough of that.” (2007) This after over 3,000 dead and 25,000 wounded.

The surge strategy relies on the counter-insurgency doctrine advocated by General David Petraeus and argues the military must protect citizens from violence and win their hearts and minds through economic aid. But as history shows counter-insurgency campaigns target civilian populations because guerrillas are embedded among the people. For insight we can turn to two more associates of the AEI , Eliot Cohen and Bing West. They call upon the US military to increase the Iraqi prison population by 600 percent complaining that releasing prisoners has been “the single weakest link in the US strategy.” (2007) One can easily imagine the house to house sweeps this would entail and the anger and fear it would create among Iraqis. A returning American interrogator from Abu Ghraib reported more than 80% of the current prisoners are innocent Iraqis picked-up in neighborhood raids. (Marlan, 2006)

A more concrete assessment of counter-insurgency difficulties is given by Antulio Echevarria II from the Army War College and Director of National Security Affairs. Echevarria writes,

What terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and (to a lesser extent) Al Qaeda actually have done is integrated themselves into the social and political fabric of Muslim societies worldwide. Hamas and Hezbollah, especially, have established themselves as organizations capable of addressing the everyday problems of their constituencies: setting up day cares, kindergartens, schools, medical clinics, youth and women’s centers, sports clubs, social welfare, programs for free meals, and health care. Each has also become a powerful political party within their respective governments…in short, they have become communal activists for their constituencies, which have, in turn, facilitated the construction and maintenance of substantial financial and logistical networks and safe houses. (2005)

In light of this assessment counter-insurgency wars, in Iraq or elsewhere, clearly would have to attack the local population that constitutes the support network for insurgents.

This review of changing tactics in Iraq is important because it sets the stage for future wars. Overwhelming force and counter-insurgency doctrine are strategies for occupation. But all imperialist occupations face the same political problem. They are opposed by local people who yearn for self-determination. This fundamental truth is something no Washington think-tank or Pentagon general can admit to, not even to themselves. They always believe in the rightness of their cause, be it the white man’s burden or the war against terror.

Such hubris blinds military/industrial intellectuals time and time again. Their understanding of conditions is framed by the bias and dogmas formed in the imperial center, leaving them ignorant to the complexities of third world societies. National chauvinism that originates in power and wealth never accepts that less powerful, less wealthy and less technologically endowed societies can run their affairs better than the imperialist center, consequently defeat seems unimaginable.

Just listen to the eloquent arrogance of neoconservative Richard Perle shortly before the war;

Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korean or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority…if we do it right with respect to one or two…we could deliver a short message, a two-word message, ‘Your next.’  (Perle, 2001)

But the future imperialist occupations envisioned by Mr. Perle will have no better results than those from the past. History shows that insurgencies fighting colonial forces have been very successful over the past half century, while those insurgencies most often defeated are engaged in civil wars facing limited or no foreign military presence. This was a major difference in the success of guerrilla wars in Africa and their failure in Latin America. The post WW II anti-colonial struggles in Africa liberated Algeria, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Anti-occupation victories can also be marked in Viet-Nam, Afghanistan, and in WW II in Albania, Yugoslavia and China. But the internal revolutionary insurgencies of the 1960s through the 1980s in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela were all defeated. Here is the lesson hegemonist have failed to learn, remaining willfully blind to the colonial character of preemptive wars and occupation.

Realist Resurgence

Mainstream foreign policy elites have long been part of the realist school that advocates US leadership of an international alliance with a combination of hard and soft power. As the debacle in Iraq grew deeper their voices became louder culminating in the Baker-Hamilton report which called for a regional diplomatic solution and a phased withdrawal of US troops.

Realists see global order as a balance of power set in a framework of alliances that recognize legitimate areas of influence for national competitors. For example, during the cold war Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. Containment and engagement are its policies of choice, with wars limited to peripheral areas of the third world or vital national interests. In the Middle East they seek a renewed balance of power that maintains US influence and contains Iran. But containment is not preemption and occupation.

Habitually on the inside, realists are bitter over their treatment by the White House. Richard Haass, president of the CFR, refers to realist success and hegemonist failure when he states the “US dominance of the Middle East has ended…It is one of history’s ironies that the first war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the Middle East and the second war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end.” (2006) Adds another CFR member Ray Takeyh, “This has got to be the most incompetent administration in history.” (Dinmore, 2006b, p. 5) Such harsh conclusions by the CFR has important impact in Washington. CFR is a major center for foreign policy and has been since its founding in 1921. As Hossein-zadeh writes, “the organization is composed of wealthy, influential and largely global-oriented corporate leaders, with networks and ties to major industrial, financial, and trading corporations, as well as with elite academic and legal experts in Ivy League schools and Wall Street law firms.” (2006, p. 42)

The strongest argument for realists was the success of Desert Storm lead by George Bush Sr. after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bush built an effective international coalition including many Arab states with the intention of reestablishing stability and security to the Middle East rather than regime change.

The war held to the Powell Doctrine that asks eight fundamental questions:

  • Is a vital national security interest threatened?
  • Do we have a clear, attainable objective?
  • Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  • Have all other non-violent policy means been exhausted?
  • Is there a plausible exit strategy?
  • Have the consequences been fully considered?
  • Is the action supported by the American people?
  • Does the US have broad international support?

Most of these questions were answered before the start of Desert Storm, and just as completely ignored in the Iraq invasion. The Powell doctrine was developed to avoid large-scale occupations as occurred in Viet-Nam and to argue against small scale “humanitarian wars” favored by the globalists.

Global Alliances

Beyond realist/globalist opposition to hegemonist policies are two strategic disagreements concerning alliances and the role of nation-building. For hegemonists, alliances restrict US power and force unnecessary compromise. If any issue grated on realist sensibilities it was this.

As the CFR and the NDU were holding their post-Iraq symposium the Army War College published an important paper titled “Alliance and American National Security.” The paper helps define foreign policy principals for the post-Bush years and was part of the realist push to get beyond the war. Author Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall defends the central importance of alliances as a strategic orientation that is multifaceted and set within cooperative international arrangements. Characterizing the hegemonist approach as “sloppy thinking” she argues the difference between a “coalition of the willing” and long-term alliances “could not be starker” and are “two entirely different organisms.”(2006, p.3)

For Sherwood-Randall, alliances are akin to “long marriages” in which the perspectives and interests of each partner bears on common decision making.  As she writes,

in developing policy initiatives and in deciding on course of action, the United States explicitly would give allies more voice and more capacity to influence their own future.” ( p. 28) Yet Sherwood-Randall still advocates a hegemonic US role arguing, “The purpose of alliances in US national security policy must be fourfold: To generate capabilities that amplify American power; to create a basis of legitimacy for the exercise of American power; to avert impulses to counterbalance American power; and to steer partners away from strategic apathy or excessive self-reliance. (p. 10)

The author seems trapped between two eras, promoting US leadership yet recognizing fundamental changes in the cold war order. Grappling with this problem she writes, “ the United States must accept the reality that its allies no longer depend as they once did on the American security guarantee, (and) needs to spearhead a sustained initiative to reconcile the tension between the regional rootedness of its partnerships and the increasingly globalized nature of the 21st century.” (p. 25)

What Sherwood-Randall fails to realize is that allies will be more independent in a globalized world wheter or not the US allows it. The European generation that welcomed US troops to fight Hitler and invited them to stay to counter balance the Soviet Union will soon be gone. In its place will be those who remember the wars in Viet-Nam and Iraq. Such enduring memories will provide little attraction to US leadership.

In addition, while the author calls for a world spanning network of alliances somehow China is excluded. Realists still fail to understand how fully globalization has undermined the Hobbesian nation-centric order. There will be no stability without the inclusion of China and other emerging powers. Furthermore, Sherwood-Randall’s definition of security is overly defined in military terms. There is no recognition of the environmental crisis or pandemic diseases. Yet global warming, according to the prestigious Stern report, may create 150 million refugees. How can any country be secure in such a world without a common global effort?

Globalist’s views have a more restrained attachment to US power and allow greater room for a polycentric political order. Speaking at the CFR Iraq symposium Dana Allin argued that working with Europe gives the US additional capacity, legitimacy and restraint. These are linked by “embedding our power in the imperfect order of global institutions and governance (and) allowing ourselves to be restrained by international opinion – a restraint that would be good for us. If we had accepted it in 2003, we might have avoided disaster in Iraq. If we accept it now, we might avoid future disasters.” (2006)

Another speaker, Ronald Steel, also voiced support for a polycentric order. When asked if the US should seek a trilateral policy with Russia and China he replied, “I think it’s all very well to talk about the case for American hegemony and the case for Goliath is reassuring, but it isn’t reassuring and it doesn’t work. Therefore, I think the only truly intelligent policy would be precisely to move  towards a concert of powers.” (2006)

A Globalist Alternative?

Building a common strategic security project may be the hardest task for transnational capitalists and globalist intellectuals. Security and military power goes to the very essence of nation-state identity and purpose, and the attacks of 9/11 have strengthen the nationalism and militarism still inherent in the old international system. Yet terrorism has forced security questions into a qualitatively different context from statist realities and superpower stand-offs. As a non-state threat terrorism necessitates a global response based less on overwhelming might than on cooperation, coordination and mutual reliance. Rather than military occupations and unilateralism a cultural war for the ideological hegemony of universalist human values is essential. When asked what he thought about the French revolution Zhou Enlai famously stated, “Its too soon to tell.” His words ring true today, as the political and social ideas that sprung from the enlightenment are challenged by fundamentalist religions of every type.

Faced with both military and cultural challenges is the TCC capable of developing a security and military doctrine for globalization?  The TCC seeks to build a stable environment for the expansion of capital into every nook and cranny of the world. Countries that challenge their global empire or follow a different logic of development are labeled rogue states needing to be disciplined, often through intervention. Both terrorism and regional stability are rationales for military action. But while globalist rely on hard power, they believe in balancing military force with soft power. As Joseph Nye points out, the attraction of cultural and ideology is as important as the coercion of missiles and tanks. (2004) The globalist approach is actually close to the Marxist theories of Antonio Gramsci who showed the most effective method of capitalist rule combines both cultural hegemony and force.

The problem is developing a strategic vision that aligns military institutions to soft/hard power principals. The most successful attempt was the Clinton years. It was during this period that “humanitarian intervention” was promoted hand-in-hand with nation building.  This produced small wars that sought to intervene in ongoing civil conflicts and stabilize countries through institution building and economic integration into global accumulation. The US military was still the main actor on the world stage but most often in coordination with the United Nations or NATO. Interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo sought justification as humanitarian efforts to stop bloody civil wars, as was the US occupation of Somalia. In Haiti the US invasion attempted to stabilize the country by reinstalling Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. But while important components of a globalist policy were forming, the attack of  9/11 cut-off its full-blown articulation.

“Humanitarian interventions” under Clinton were never supported by the realists or hegemonists who criticized them as unnecessary adventures outside US vital interests. Nation building was seen as a waste of effort and money and not the military’s job. Hegemonists and realists also saw international relations revolving around national competition and rejected the globalist’s definition that national interests were linked to common world concerns. The biggest win for the globalists is recognition of the importance of nation-building, economic reconstruction and civil institutions. Even hegemonists acknowledge nation building is an “essential component” of occupation. (Kagan, p.4) But this only came after the terrible price paid in Iraq and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

In addition, the globalist appropriation of human rights rhetoric remains problematic in a world of economic inequality and military intervention. The TCC may have room for Chinese capitalist, but imperialism is a system built upon structural inequalities. At its very core is the expropriation of wealth from the labor of others. Therefore, rebellions and alternative models will continue to confront their global project.

A Global Military?

There are three global military institutions, the US armed forces, NATO and the UN. Any fully articulated globalist military doctrine would need to promote coordinated action and policy between these three. In addition, countries of growing importance would need to be part of any configuration. This would include Russia, China and India through UN participation. In 2006 the UN had 100,000 soldiers, police and civilians under its control overseeing the second largest deployed force after the US. Costs topped $5 billion with an expected $7 billion to be spent in 2007. The UN has been involved in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Ethiopia-Eritrea, East Timor, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia and in 2006 sent 10,000 troops to Lebanon that included forces from Italy, France and Germany. The three top global contributors to UN forces are India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and there are 18 ongoing UN-led deployments. (Turner, 2006 ) But peacekeeping is the UN mandate. Military interventions are to provide space and time for a political process to unfold between belligerent sides. In addition, UN forces specialize in nation-building projects, oversee elections and help in economic reconstruction.

NATO is the other military force essential for any globalist doctrine and is struggling to define its expanded role in the world. Their greatest thrust into global affairs is the presence of 35,000 NATO and US troops in Afghanistan. Meeting in Riga in 2006 the alliance pushed its mandate to include peacekeeping, counter-terrorism and failed states. The globalist argue NATO should evolve into a military consortium for the world’s democracies. Writes Ivo Daalder and Robert Schuman, “genuine co-operation and burden sharing – real multilateralism – is possible and, indeed, necessary…An effective NATO is the sine qua non of democratic multilateralism…Only by beginning to develop NATO as a global institution of democracies will the allies be capable of not just talking the multilateral talk, but actually walking the multilateral walk.” (2006, p. 13) Ron Asmus, executive director of the Transatlantic Center, calls on NATO to reinvent itself for a “strategic leap to a new era…to become a more global alliance that takes it to places beyond the European heartland and on missions beyond the imaginations of the founding fathers.” (2007, p. 11)

The big test for NATO is Afghanistan where British, Canadian, Dutch, Polish and US forces are involved in fighting a resurgent Taliban. In addition French, German, Spanish, Turkish and Italian troops are also present but show reluctance to engage in combat. Taliban attacks on NATO forces increased by 270 percent in 2006 and their area of operations increased four fold. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues for  “immediate increases and to create a fully resourced long-term plan to fight a long war,” (2007, p. 13) But a split divides NATO between advocates of political and military solutions. As a senior NATO diplomat explains, “There are basically two camps in NATO – the countries that emphasize the need for more military resources for Afghanistan and the countries that emphasize a greater political effort.” (Dombey & Sevastopulo, 2007, p. 8)

There is no way out of this contradiction for either unilateral or global imperialism. Globalists may desire stability as the best way to insure uninterrupted accumulation, but since capitalism engenders inequality instability results from the inherent nature of the system. This leds to military interventions which often end-up causing unintended consequences, prolonged occupations and as a result — greater instability. Faced with such circumstances globalists tend to split into two camps, one relying on multilateral military force, the other defining security issues more broadly as economic development, global warming and world poverty. Splits between hard and soft power advocates appear as sharp tactical differences. But the real question is whether or not they will develop into deeply rooted strategic differences as globalism further integrates world economies.

Nation Building

The flip side of military occupation is nation building. Those who argue for a greater use of soft power see nation building as the policy that can best produce long-term peace. Those who rely on military might see nation building as an exit strategy from occupation. Although the debate now favors nation building, realities in Iraq and Afghanistan make concrete application difficult.

A disregard for nation-building was deeply embedded in Rumsfeld’s  Pentagon. Their lack of planning was evident from the start when three weeks of looting erupted in Baghdad that destroyed 17 out of 23 ministries and caused $12 billion in damage. Rumsfeld’s response was “stuff happens.” In his autobiography, invasion commander General Tommy Franks devotes hundreds of pages on the planning and execution of the war but only a page and half on the planning for reconstruction. In this short space Franks states that he received neither the guidance nor funding to adequately plan for stability. Such astonishing disregard for the social impact of war is still apparent in 2007. There are only 345 officials working on provincial reconstruction compared to the 8,100 deployed during the Viet-Nam war. With two million Iraqi refugees and another two million internally displaced, the US has budgeted a mere $500,000 for refuge aid, or what the military will spend in two and a half minutes on the war and reconstruction efforts. (Financial Times, 2007, p. 10)

Although realists and hegemonists made clear their opposition to nation building during the Clinton years their rejection went beyond Washington party politics. Their objections were based in military and economic doctrine. The first being that the military excels as a fighting force not as peacekeepers, followed by an ideological commitment to neoliberal market solutions for all problems. This was evident in Iraq where a vast privatization of state assets was planned. Even as reconstruction failed to provide jobs and services they were painstakingly slow to understand the importance of nation building. The surge was evidence that military solutions continued to be perceived as the path to stability. Yet reality has its own way of enforcing itself. Under the new counter-insurgency doctrine the job of on-the-ground troops in Baghdad was described in the following manner, “In their new role, the Americans find themselves acting as jailers and doctors, construction workers and garbage men, guardians and detectives—all in the effort to restore lasting order.” (Santora, 2007)

Economic reality also started to impact military officers. Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation, has promoted the revival of state-owned Iraqi enterprises. The government still owns 192 companies outside the energy and security sectors and continues to pay part of the salaries of 600,000 employees. Little of the $38 billion in American reconstruction money has gone to local companies and unemployment rates are put somewhere between 30 to 60 percent.

But American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, part of the neo-conservative circle in Washington, argues the United States should use private enterprise before Iraqi state companies because, “That’s obviously the right thing to do.” The New York Times reports that Green Zone officials have “retained their unbending orientation toward privatization.” When asked why the US was buying buses abroad when a struggling state-owned firm makes similar vehicles a US official answered, “We’ve denied these people access to the global free market for 15 years; I’m  not going to go back to them and say that you’ve got to buy buses from some state-owned enterprise.”  Brinkley argues that when factories “are laying idle due to our policy of shutting them off, we have an obligation to restore them to the Iraqi people.” (Glanz, 2007)

Lt. General Peter Chiarelli, a major proponent of the counter-insurgency doctrine, also calls for expanded social, economic and agricultural programs to employ Iraq’s “angry young men.” Chiarelli calls this “nonkinetic policies” arguing that, “a lot of people say ‘If we just go down and kill and capture them everything will be O.K’…I’m not saying that every insurgent is going to take a job making 55-gallon drums. But my point is, do you try and reintegrate them into society, or do you just believe that everybody around here wants to have a gun…” (Burns, 2006)

Unfortunately nation-building efforts are often in conflict with battlefield conditions. The Pentagon’s new “FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency” doctrine states, “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction. The best weapon is sometimes none at all. The prime objective is not to kill as many insurgents as possible but to maximize support from the local population.” In order to get “close to the population” troops should be thought of as “nation-builders as well as warriors” involved in “armed social work” with political and cultural workers attached to each company. (Economist, 2006, pp. 42-43)

The new strategy may sound all well and good. But heavily armed young men are trained in the “warrior ethos” where each solider declares ready to “engage and destroy the enemies of the United States.” What will be the reaction of these troops in an environment where they can be “greeted with either a handshake or a hand grenade”? (Ibid) Similar circumstances in Viet-Nam created a common military outlook that saw every Vietnamese as the enemy and lead to widespread attacks on civilians. There is plenty of evidence that these same feelings run deep among soldiers in Iraq. Numerous reports of US troops killings civilians by accident or in retribution continue to filter out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chiarelli tries to put a human face on imperialist occupation believing that the US is a benign force for good. The view from the Iraqi side is something all together different. It’s hard to paint foreign occupation as anything less than a Western war on Islam. Attempts at humanitarian nation-building are already far too late.

The same problem confronts US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Since the defeat of the Taliban there has been little attention paid to the humanitarian needs of the local population. As one Western diplomat pointed out, “Reconstruction projects were planned, but never materialized…’We are all scratching our heads as to why the aid has not rolled out …It’s not for a lack of resources. We are meeting basic needs, but when it comes to sustainable livelihoods and jobs, it’s not happening.’’’ (Gall, 2007)

With the Taliban resurgence, fighting has spread and so has civilian deaths.  Although NATO is guided by a counter-insurgency doctrine that calls for  winning hearts and minds, battlefield conditions contradict the strategy. The New York Times reports, “As suicide bombings have taken their toll on troops…the soldiers have frequently resorted to lethal force, calling in airstrikes and firing on approaching cars, often killing and wounding civilians and further worsening the public mood.” (Ibid) As one village elder stated, “They did not come to bring peace for us, they came to destroy us.” (Ibid.)

As in Iraq the White House only grudgingly recognized the need for greater Afghanistan reconstruction aid. Asking Congress for $10 billion more in 2007, $8.6 was earmarked for military purposes. For the Bush administration nation-building remains a poorly understood strategy, regarded as a rear guard action in a deteriorating situation.

It’s not that the US lacks the ways and means to do large-scale humanitarian reconstruction, the problem is political will. The US had no problems building its own state within a state inside the Green Zone in Baghdad. The US embassy covers 104 acres, six times larger than the UN complex in New York. It employees 1,000 people plus private-sector body guards, provides its own water, sewers, electricity, maintains six apartment buildings, a Marine barracks, swimming pool, shops and 15 foot thick walls. (Dinmore, 2007b, p. 2) Yet for Iraqis little is accomplished, as late as 2007 electrical power had not returned to pre-war levels. 

One additional element undercuts nation-building as a central objective. The arms industry has billions of dollars sunk into the production of weapons. The proposed military budget for 2008 would enable the Pentagon to spend $1.2 million a minute and be the world’s 16th largest economy. (Sevastopulo, 2007, p. 5) Nation building redirects government funds towards different types of skills and commodities that are in direct economic competition with the military/industrial complex. Given the influence of military corporations inside the Pentagon the push for weapons contracts and military solutions to world problems will continue unabated.

The mess in Iraq and Afghanistan has made nation-building a primary concern for US foreign policy elites. The CFR convened a task force under the leadership of retired General William Nash, Brent Scowcroft and Samuel Berger, top figures from the Bush senior and Clinton administrations. Among task force members were representatives from RAND, Brookings, the World Policy Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Also represented was the National Defense University, the Marine Corps and transnational corporations such as Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bechtel.

Their report, “In the Wake of War: Improving US Post-Conflict Capabilities,” argues nation-building is “not just a humanitarian concern, but a critical national security priority that should be on par with war-fighting and urges the United States to equalize the importance of the two.” (CFR, 2005a) The report goes on to state that “Stability and reconstruction needs to be understood and treated as a mission as important to America’s security as high-intensity combat operations.” Furthermore, the report recommends the establishment of a “multilateral reconstruction Trust Fund” of one billion dollars managed by the Group of Eight with the UN and World Bank on board. For good measure they recommend a new undersecretary of state responsible for stabilization and reconstruction. (Ibid)

The report is a mixture of realist and globalist views and reflects the majority ruling class consensus on the direction the US must take in the post-Bush years.  It’s also an important statement on how far mainstream realists have come to accept nation-building and how deep their split goes with neo-realists like Cheney and Rumsfeld. Even so, the report still accepts the possibility, even the probability, of military occupations. But its primary focus is on creating a multilateral global regime to maintain world stability through humanitarian intervention.

Following publication of the report the CFR convened a number of symposiums to promote its policy initiatives pointing out the nation-building lessons of the 1990s were “disregarded with devastating consequences.” As Scrowcroft explained,

From the military standpoint they want to focus on their primary mission. You know, the term that was the ‘shock and awe’ and so on: ruthless force, overwhelming. And we don’t want to train paratroops to escort kids to kindergarten. Well, those are slogans and the facts is if you look at the likely nature of conflict over the next generation its going to be much more this mixed kind of conflict than ‘shock and awe’…war-fighting does not solve the problems…after the shooting stops you have the problem of what you do, how you put that political entity on a course of reform, stability and reconstruction to make it a useful member of the international community rather than a running sore. (CFR, 2005b)

The Scrowcroft-Berger 2005 report was a precursor to the Baker-Hamilton 2006 Iraq Study group. Both were efforts by realists and globalists to stop the unilateralist train to disaster. With their efforts dismissed with little more than a sneer, realists will likely treat hegemonists in a similar manner when Bush is gone. But as each wing of the capitalist class pursues one or another imperialist strategy all will continue to generate instability and opposition. The main difference is “humanitarian intervention” is less likely to produce large scale wars.  But certainly wars and occupations will occur, particularly so if globalists continue to compromise with the Hobbesian fears that drive the realist worldview.

The Battle for Energy

Oil has been of key importance to US foreign policy, but particularly so after 1972 when oil production began to decline. Self-sufficient during W.W. II, foreign oil now supplies 56 percent of total US needs. Access to oil is a concern that reaches far beyond the oil industry itself. It’s of strategic importance to the entire economy and therefore viewed as a national security matter. It’s a commodity different from all others and one that fuels 97% of US transport needs. In addition the military itself, entrusted to safeguard world access, is dependent on oil to fuel its own global capabilities and industry. (Klare, 2004)

For some in the military establishment oil is the very essence of America. For example, Captain Donald Root writes;

The economy is the heartbeat of the American society and way of life. Energy keeps that heartbeat strong and oil is the blood it pumps…A thriving US economy is the embodiment of the spirit of the American way of life; a strong economy supports political freedom, economic freedom, the unlimited potential of the people and the projection of those ideas across the globe. Individual prosperity and security is the backbone of US national security. (Root,  2005, p. 2)

This entanglement of oil, global ambitions and the “American way of life” creates a cultural/political mix tied to the control of foreign energy. A dangerous configuration that justifies ongoing wars and occupations.

Realists may avoid such language, but they see energy as the object of national competition. Consequently China’s deepening economic ties to Iran, Africa and Latin America are a threat and political challenge. Russia’s desire for a fair oil price from Ukraine becomes nationalist interference with the market. And the underbelly of the old Soviet Union has become a hotbed of military and political competition over oil and gas resources. It is not only access that drives geopolitical fear but concern over how oil profits are used. China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are all outside of US political control with economic models or political priorities that are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility. As pointed out in a report by the CFR, countries from “ Russia to Iran to Venezuela are able and willing to use their energy resources as leverage to pursue their strategic and political objectives. Because of their oil wealth, these and other producer countries are fee to ignore US policies and to pursue interests inimical to our national security.” (CFR, 2006) If realist geopolitical views continue to dominate concerns over oil security competition will become more pronounced and insecurity increased. With the US position weakened in a post-Iraq Middle East, greater tension will result in every region of the world as the US seeks to shore-up its power and access.

But none of this makes sense when viewed from a globalist perspective. In an integrated world economy with cross-border investments and production what is needed is a stable energy market with open access for all.  When China imports more oil from Angola and Iran it suits the needs of US transnationals, all of whom have manufacturing facilities in China that cry out for more energy. Competition continues and will be fierce, but is this between global corporations or national economies? Energy is a highly integrated transnational market of exploration, production and trade. Much of this is under the control of nationally owned corporations dealing with some of the world’s biggest and most profitable corporations. State ownership of 90 percent of the world’s oil resources gives the market its particular geopolitical character. In fact, the six largest state controlled companies have ten times the reserves of the six largest oil transnationals. Consequently there is a dual nature to the market, one rooted in nationally identified economics, the other in the expanding transnational economy. Therefore, strategic military policies can promote or retard either accumulation model depending on the political agenda of the class fraction in control of the state. This corresponds to the transitional character of the era and the contradictions between transnational and nation-centric capitalism.

How is this all reflected in future US energy security policy?  A growing sector of corporate, military and political elites are pushing a strategy of  energy independence. Battered by the war in Iraq and with fears of global oil instability their answer is to back away from geopolitical competition and recognize “the realities of global energy interdependence.” The most important statement of this strategy is “Recommendations to the Nation on Reducing US Oil Dependence” by the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC). The Council is made-up of former high ranking generals and important corporate representatives including those from Goldman Sachs, UPS, Dow Chemical, FedEx and Southwest Airlines.

Unlike the hegemonist who see geopolitical competition over oil as a way to assert US leadership and provide profits to the military/industrial complex the ESLC takes the opposite view. Insecurity and economic waste are the results of the global spanning military network protecting oil access. As the report argues,

The magnitude of our dependence on oil provides leverage to our strategic adversaries, makes us vulnerable to terrorist actions, exacerbates geopolitical competition, creates additional military requirement, and undermines efforts to support democratic polices worldwide. Each year the US expends enormous military resources protecting the chronically vulnerable oil production and distribution network while also preparing to guarantee international access to key oil-producing regions. Americans would be well served to recognize that the current struggle for oil security gives rise to burdens that are not reflected in the retail price of gasoline. (ESLC, 2006. p. 19)

Therefore, reducing oil consumption (particularly in transportation), developing energy alternatives (ethanol) and increasing US production (Alaska and the continental shelf) are all ideas emphasized by the report. Globally the report recommends a mutual defense of energy resources that includes India and China. As ESLC notes, in an “interconnected and interdependent world economy” open markets and reciprocal foreign investments are a factor for stability. While advocating certain “green” policies this is not an environmentalist strategy but a geostrategic policy concerned with security. The report is a hybrid of nationalist and globalist ideas. As Herb Kellehner, chairman of Southwest Airlines said, “Two or three years ago I wasn’t preoccupied with these issues but I have become more sensitive to them, especially our oil dependency, I’ve become a crusader from a patriotic standpoint.” (Daniel, 2007 p. 4) This patriotism isn’t defined as world hegemony but rather as independence from foreign involvement and “oil peacekeeping” as best for stable global competition.

The CFR argues for a similar although somewhat more aggressive plan. Convening a task force under the direction of John Deutch, former head of the CIA and John Schlesinger, former Defense and Energy Secretary, the task force included representatives from Lockheed Martin, Lehman Brothers, the Scowcroft Group, the Soros Fund and other business and think tank elites. Their report parallels the ELSC in recommending biofuels, slowing transport consumption and expanding domestic drilling. Energy independence is also the main concern of the CFR. As the report states, “America’s dependence on imported energy increases its strategic vulnerability and constrains its ability to pursue foreign policy and national security objectives” thus the US must “begin the transition to an economy that relies less on petroleum.” (CFR, 2006)

But the realists at CFR cling to their national fear of foreign powers. Reliance on oil means concessions to Russia, Venezuela and Iran, seen as nasty political choices that can be avoided by energy independence. So rather than encouraging multilateral security aimed at “oil peacekeeping” the CFR advocates a new “energy security directorate” that can “integrate energy issues with foreign policy” by coordinating policy between the “National Security Council, Defense and State departments and intelligence community.” (Ibid) The Task Force doesn’t turn its back on the international community and argues for a revitalization of global institutions, but places less emphasis here than the ELSC.

Preparing for Defeat

As Bush talked of expanding the war others were confronting defeat. An early critic of the war, retired General William Odom wrote, “What’s wrong with cutting and running? There is no question the insurgents and other anti-America parties will take over the government once we leave. But that will happen no matter how long we stay. Any government capable of holding power in Iraq will be anti-America, because the Iraqi people are increasingly becoming anti-American.” (Odom, 2005)

Even as Bush sent 21,000 more troops to Baghdad others inside foreign policy circles readied plans for retreat. In early 2007 the Brookings Institute issued an analysis paper titled, “Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover From an Iraqi Civil War,” and the CFR published “After the Surge: The Case for U.S. Military Disengagement from Iraq.” The main thrust of both papers is containing the disaster through a pull-back to neighboring states and working with regional and world powers to prevent violence spilling into the entire Middle East.

“Things Fall Apart” by Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack was issued in January 2007. Their study is an encompassing analysis of civil wars throughout the world and draws a grim picture of spreading violence and chaos to neighboring states. These include massive flows of refugees, greater terrorist activity, radicalization of neighboring populations, secessionism, economic loss and regional interventions. Their conclusion is that “the only rational course of action, horrific though it will be, is to abandon Iraq’s population centers and refocus American efforts from preventing civil war to containing it.” Byman and Pollack suggest a variety of steps including both military and diplomatic options. These include simultaneous military warnings and diplomatic openings to Syria and Iran. But with sizeable Shia populations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain and Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Iran and Syria the authors feel the danger of regional war is “considerable.” (2007)

“After the Surge” by Steven Simon is the result of a CFR task force study. The report presents a grim assessment of internal Iraqi conditions although its regional analysis is not as dark as Byman and Pollack’s. Recognizing the surge will fail, Simon sees “no alternative policy with the potential  to turn things around.” As he explains,

Saddam’s rule dismantled civil society before twelve years of sanctions hollowed out Iraq’s middle class. US intervention decapitated its leadership, swept aside its remaining institutions, and created the security vacuum that empowered militias and reduced society to a state of Hobbesian misery. Iraqis have thus been stripped of the capacity to build a post-Ba’athist state. (2007)

There is evident anger in the report that speaks volumes to splits within the US ruling class. As the author bitterly states, “ Military disengagement will be a severe blow to the United States, which staked its prestige and defined its security on a war to disarm Iraq and transform its politics. Disengaging will signify the inability to achieve these strategic goals…Some disasters are irretrievable.” Who is to blame? “Amateurish American leadership imbued with a grandiose conception of its power and committed to a flawed political program.” The results? An American presence “floundering ineffectually in Iraq while supplying the Muslim world with iconic images of seeming weakness and cruelty.” (Ibid)

Facing up to defeat the report calls for disengagement “without reference to Iraqi progress toward national reconciliation,” and a containment policy carried out through diplomacy.  This effort would include Syria and Iran, UN participation as well as China, Russia and the European Union. Motivating Simon is the desire to avoid a Viet-Nam like debacle.

As the author states:

There are also compelling strategic reasons to draw down in a deliberate fashion. In disengaging, the United States must seek to shape the narrative of its intervention in Iraq in order to preserve the greatest possible credibility in a painfully compromising situation. Thus, the United States would want to avoid the appearance of a rout or panicky departure…shaping the narrative comes down to ensuring that no American leaves under fire from the embassy roof in a helicopter…Better to withdraw as a coherent and somewhat volitional act than withdraw later in hectic response to public opposition to the war. (Ibid)


All this draws attention to the weakening of US power and an end to the unipolar moment in history. The world has entered a period neither under the hegemony of Washington nor guided by the cold war international system of alliances. Yet the world also lacks a clearly defined globalist political/military strategy under the leadership of the transnational capitalist class.  Realists may want to rebuild a system of US led allies but the world is rapidly changing as economic power becomes further diffused in a transnational system. Muddling through the post-Bush White House will mix realist and globalist concerns, taking military actions by consulting with allies and using the rhetoric of fighting terror, seeking stability and bringing humanitarian aid. Nation-building will play a larger strategic role and some action towards energy independence will be taken. But as long as global integration is led by the needs of imperialist accumulation there will be no end to instability, wars and occupation.

Yet the looming crisis of global warming may force a different translateral system to be constructed. This multifaceted problem poses a threat greater than terrorism and affects everyone in the world. The only way forward is through global coordination of political, economic, social and technological policies. The nature of the problem, spanning at least the next 100 years or more, is such that a translateral political system will be necessary to avoid global chaos. The world spanning nature of the crisis will undermine nation-centric solutions and ideology.

But can the TCC provide leadership by going beyond the limited construct of capitalist logic so wedded to accumulation and growth? If not, the world may well sink into nationalist survival strategies that attempt to wall off the wealthy from the rest of humanity in a struggle over shrinking resources. The best hope lies in a post-capitalist society based on sustainability. But to achieve such a world a grassroots international political movement needs to be built on the principals of radical democracy and social solidarity. A path neither the national nor transnational capitalist class will take.


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