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Capitalist Imperialism: The (Sadly) False Charge By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Osama bin Laden’s video tape, released to mark the sixth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States (for which he again took credit), was entitled “The Solution.” In it, the al-Qaeda leader juxtaposed Islam with American democracy, which he defined as “man-made positive laws that serve the interests of those with the capital and thus make the rich richer and the poor poorer.” It has long been the argument of theocrats that the problem with democracy is that it allows people to support leaders and policies that do not conform with holy writ as interpreted by the theocrats. This argument was made by al-Qaeda against the elections held in Iraq.

In his new video, Osama went beyond this fundamentalist objection to democracy, taking inspiration not from the Koran, but from very secular, left-wing ideologues. The aging radical Noam Chomsky, whose hatred for American wealth and power seems to be the only thing keeping him alive, was mentioned by name. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, the Castro-style authoritarian Marxist, had also cited Chomsky in his rambling diatribe against American imperialism at the United Nations last September. Chomsky sees the world as one of class conflict rather than international rivalry. His theme is that since Washington only represents capitalists and corporations, there is no national interest worth defending and no basis for patriotism. For the Left, the patriotic unity felt by Americans in all walks of life when the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked, had to be torn asunder as quickly as possible to conform with their civil strife ideology, and to cripple the projection of U.S. power overseas.

The leftist screed that Osama channeled is false on many grounds, but particularly its central theme that America is dominated by “warmongering owners of the major corporations,” and that U.S. foreign policy is devoted only to “sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations.”

This is an old view of imperialism from a time when corporations still had national identities (and their executives national loyalties) and when their foreign operations still brought economic benefits back to their home countries. As P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins put it in their masterful study British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688-1914, “Successful expansion, reinforced by colonial acquisitions, generated profits and revenues, helped to service the national debt, and contributed to employment and political stability....[the aim] was to secure resource pools, to open markets and to put in place a set of allies who would ensure that the values defended by war were reinforced by a lasting peace.”

The most famous statement of this symbiosis for Americans is that of Charles Wilson in 1955. He told a Senate committee, “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa.” Wilson was then Secretary of Defense, after being CEO of GM. He had been brought into the Eisenhower administration to apply efficient business practices to the Pentagon. He also implemented a new defense policy which was meant to avoid fighting another Korean War. He cut ground troops in favor of airpower and nuclear weapons which were to deter war. This more “bang for the buck” approach would also keep government spending and taxes down, which was good for the economy and business. Here is the seed for conflict between corporate and national strategy, whose growth over the last decade of business “globalization” Osama overlooks.

Major corporations may still be headquartered in the United States, but they have become transnational in outlook. They care nothing for international geopolitics and only hope concerns over national security do not get in their way. They clamor for the borders to remain wide open, for illegal as well as legal transit, despite the threat of terrorist infiltration. On May 9, 2007, the National Foreign Trade Council (an umbrella group of transnational firms) joined other business associations to urge the Senate to reject legislation that would “impose broad, unilateral U.S. sanctions resulting from foreign entities doing business with Iran.” The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were among the co-signers, representing firms that are not bothered by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, support for terrorism, or role in attacking Americans in Iraq. And corporate support for an appeasement policy towards China, despite its clear ambitions to become a peer competitor of the United States in every strategic arena, is on display daily in Washington.

Such actions are reminiscent of the Anglo-German Society, formed in 1935 by such major firms as Dunlop, Unilever, BP and the British Steel Export Association to do business with Hitler’s Nazi regime. They drew on even older British economic theorists who promoted “free trade” meaning “free” of geopolitical constraints. Even as his country battled Napoleon in 1813, David Ricardo was objecting to how the war was being financed, claiming “parliaments have something more to do than furnish ministers with the means of preserving the greatness and glory of the country.” In the 1930s, Winston Churchill warned in vain of Germany’s growing economic capabilities “with her factories equipped to the very latest point of science by British and American money.”

The real problem facing the United States today is how to pull corporations back into the national fold to stop the hemorrhaging of industrial capacity, technology, and capital to overseas rivals, and to mobilize financial strength behind U.S. security objectives. Osama noted that America is “the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well....spending on this war and its army more than the entire world spends on its armies...being the major state influencing the policies of the world.” This dominant position is due to the successful harnessing of capitalism and private enterprise to national development in the past. Americans should wish to maintain their dominant position in the world with the same fervor that Osama (and Chomsky) show in their desire to bring them down.

William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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