May 20, 2009

Bacevich, Consumption and Empire

“Bacevich, it seems, wants to avoid the banal truth about America’s great empire-that its sole purpose is to enhance the power of Washington bureaucrats, the military Top Brass, and influential lobbies. Particular firms, like Haliburton and Blackwater, might profit from warmaking, but the nation as a whole is left poorer-less able to afford all that Wallmart junk, less able to indulge in out-of-control lifestyles. The empire is itself conscious consumption. One might view the Iraq war as less of a total boondoggle if soldiers actually were dying so the rest of us could buy flatscreens and Tickle-me-Elmoes. But this is simply not the case.”

As someone who has read (and written about) The Limits of Power, I must say that Richard’s closing paragraph on the subject strikes me as both accurate and short sighted at the same time. While it is undeniably true that the Iraq War has left us poorer – and I do not buy the argument that this war was executed to secure access to oil – the Empire is a separate matter. In fact the overt American imperial project was unquestionably built around a desire to secure foreign markets, cheaper access to goods, etc. Whether or not this is uneconomical does not discount the reality that it occurred, nor does it discount the fact that its origins coincide directly with the expansion of the American industrial monolith.

Bacevich’s theory that the consumption cult works hand in hand with the militarists to promote global hegemony may not be perfect fit for Iraq, but it is a very accurate description of the Empire at-large. Governments rarely act in the interests of their citizenry, and of course as Richard notes tax parasites will do anything to make sure the apparatus they cling to for survival stays intact. But this does not account for all government action, particularly the sort of experimentalism that is so common among the social engineers. Even more to the point, it does not account for the tightly wound big government-big business nexus – a very real cabal that has acted to overthrow “undesirables” many times before.

It is nice to pretend that the capitalist model extends to all nations, with the leadership of every country on the planet willing to act in its own self-interest by trading its goods on an open fair market with all other nations. But this is not a reality, as the corruption of our own public officials tells us. Like Bacevich, I believe that the consumption cult is one of the primary influences upon which American foreign policy operates. It is rooted in the mindsets of the managerial statists who run the Empire and it manifests itself in the overwhelming silence that meets intervention after intervention as we spiral our way into bankruptcy. It is one thing to have faith in free markets, quite another to have faith in mass marketing. The false notion that these two things go hand in hand may finally be defeated now that the age of easy credit is coming to an end. God willing, our Empire will meet the same fate.


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