Archive for November 2015
By Stephen Gowans
The idea that the United States has “interests” abroad is an affront to democracy and geography. How can a country have interests, and not only that, but vital ones, in every corner of the world, unless we ignore geography and the idea that the people who live in a place ought to own it, and organize their own affairs? All the same, US leaders regularly pronounce that the United States has vital interests abroad, and that the possession of these interests warrants the “projection of power,” which is to say the establishment of a military presence in a region to intimidate its people and governments to acquiesce to US demands.
Rarely, if ever, is it said what these “vital interests” are. They simply exist, and must be defended. Occasionally, their nature is at least superficially glimpsed, as in the idea that the Middle East is a vital US interest owing to its vast reserves of oil, and that if these reserves were to come under the control of a “hostile” power, the world could be held to ransom. Elements of this view can be traced to the Carter Doctrine and form much of the basis of what is presented as US strategy in connection with the Middle East.To members of the general public it is likely that this thinking translates into the idea that the United States must interfere in the Arab world to guarantee the security of oil supplies, and thus the US way of life. What this overlooks, however, is that Canada is by far the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States, accounting for 43 percent of all imports , versus just 22 percent in 2012 from six Persian Gulf suppliers,  and that the United States itself, is a major producer of oil, third ranked in the world, behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia . Moreover, the United States is on track to become the world’s leading oil producer in just five years . “[I]ncreasing production and declining consumption have unexpectedly brought the United States markedly closer to a goal that has tantalized presidents since Richard Nixon: independence from foreign energy sources” . “The chimera of ‘energy independence’,” observes The New York Times, has begun “to look more tangible” .
As a major producer of oil, the United States has never been as dependent on Persian Gulf oil as it is popularly believed—and indeed, has never been dependent on the Persian Gulf for supplies of oil to any significant degree. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s, when consumption began to outstrip domestic supply, that the United States began to import oil from the Persian Gulf. An observation made by the sociologist Albert Szymanski in 1983 is still relevant today. “Much has been made of supposed US reliance on the Persian Gulf area for petroleum. But while tremendous profits are made by US-based petroleum corporations that continue to dominate the petroleum industry in this region, the United States is not in fact especially reliant on petroleum imports from the Gulf.”  Indeed,
“until the mid-1970s, very little Middle Eastern petroleum was imported into the United States, even though US transnational corporations had controlled the petroleum consortiums in the area for a generation. During this time, US transnational corporations took the oil out of the ground and sold it to Europe and Japan (as well as to the less developed countries) making tremendous profits, which they in good measure repatriated to the United States.
“In 1976…US petroleum companies in the Middle East exported less than 7 percent of their output to the United States while selling 82 percent to third countries.” 
Despite the minimal role the Persian Gulf has played in satisfying North American oil requirements, figures central to US foreign policy have justified US military intervention in the Middle East on the grounds of safeguarding security of supply. Bernard Lewis, an intellectual attached to the enormously influential US foreign policy organization, The Council on Foreign Relations, outlined the reasons for the US military intervention in the Persian Gulf in 1991 in the Council’s magazine Foreign Affairs, with reference to the need to protect the security of the world’s oil supply:
“If Saddam Hussein had been allowed to continue unchecked he would have controlled the oil resources of both Iraq and Kuwait. If the rest of the region observed that he could act with impunity, the remaining Persian Gulf states would sooner rather than later have fallen into his lap, and even the Saudis would have had either to submit or be overthrown. The real danger was monopolistic control of oil—which is a very large portion of the world’s oil.” 
Richard B. Cheney, then the US vice-president, invoked a similar rationale in August 2006 to explain the US invasion of Iraq in 2003: “Armed with an arsenal of…weapons of mass destruction, and seated atop 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of the world’s energy supplies.”  (Note the false conflation of Persian Gulf oil with the “world’s” energy supplies.)
Since not all of the world’s oil lies in the Persian Gulf, and much of it is found in Russia and North America, the idea that Saddam Hussein could control the world’s oil supply—and threaten the economy and living standards of North Americans—is transparently false. Lewis and Cheney had engaged in deliberate fear-mongering to mobilize public support for illegitimate interventions in the Middle East to bring about the political and economic domination of the region by the United States. The real motivation was not to safeguard the security of energy supplies, but to eliminate a threat to the profits of US petroleum corporations posed by Arab nationalists. In his book Devil’s Game, Robert Dreyfuss paints a picture that doubtlessly agitated the minds of US foreign policy planners.
“The oil monarchies are ruled by royal kleptocracies whose legitimacy is nil and whose existence depends of outside military protection. Most Arabs are aware that the monarchies were established by imperialists seeking to build fences around oil wells. Arabs would gain much by combining the sophistication and population of the Arab centers, including Iraq, with the oil wealth of the desert kingdoms. At the center lies Egypt, with its tens of millions of people and Saudi Arabia with its 200 billion barrels of oil. Uniting Cairo and Riyadh would create a vastly important Arab center of gravity with worldwide influence.” 
It is fairly certain that were Arabs to unify, overcoming the artificial political divisions imposed on them by the British Sykes and French Picot after WWI, and overcoming the sectarian cleavages that outsiders have sought to deepen, that more of the benefits of the sales of their petroleum resources would be retained at home, available for their own development, and less would be transferred to accounts of the capitalist class in the United States. There’s no danger that a pan-Arab power in possession of its own resources would blackmail those countries that depend on Middle Eastern oil. Cutting off the supply of oil would destroy the economy of the pan-Arab state, since it would depend on oil sales to earn revenue to import goods and services from the same countries it would presumably be seeking to hold to ransom. Because underdeveloped countries typically rely on the developed world to supply them with a wide range of goods and services, which they pay for with a few agricultural or resource goods, “historically it has been the advanced countries that have been able to effect disciplined boycotts against the poorer countries, far more than the reverse.”  What “the less developed countries…are interested in,” observed Szymanski, is “securing significantly better terms of trade for themselves.”  But, of course, significantly better terms of trade for themselves means leaner profits for US shareholders and investors. And therein lies the motivation for the United States’ hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East, namely, preventing the natives from throwing off their exploitation by US corporations.
Who Rules America?
Szymanski and others, among them Ralph Miliband (The State and Capitalist Society), G. William Domhoff (Who Rules America?), Thomas Ferguson (Golden Rule) and Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (“Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Internet Groups, and Average Citizens”), have made that case that US society is dominated politically by a wealthy class of billionaire bankers, investors, and corporate titans. Gilens and Page, reviewing a vast empirical literature on the political influence of various sections of US society, have summarized the research this way: “[E]conomic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”  The Gilens and Page analysis comes from academe, but a careful reading of major newspapers furnishes scores of instances that resonate with the duo’s conclusion. For example, The New York Times of October 10, 2015 reported that just 158 families and the companies they own and control, mostly in finance and energy, have contributed half the funds to Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in the 2016 presidential race , from which the not unreasonable conclusion can be drawn that just 158 families and the companies they own and control, have an impact on US politics far in excess of their numbers (but not their wealth)—another way of saying that the United States is more a plutocracy than a democracy.
The enormous wealth commanded by members of the US capitalist class allows them to use their money to shape electoral contests, spending just a small fraction of their income. For example, Chicago hedge fund billionaire Kenneth C. Giffen has contributed $300,000 to Republican presidential candidates in the 2016 race, well beyond the capabilities of an average citizen. But Giffen’s contribution represents less than one percent of his monthly income of $68.5 million.  The titles of the following articles further point out the role of wealth in shaping US politics: “Hillary, Jeb and $$$$$$” (New York Times, February 21, 2015); “Bloomberg starts ‘Super PAC’, seeking national influence” (New York Times, October 17, 2012); “The businessman behind the Obama budget” (Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2012); “Which millionaires are you voting for?” (New York Times, October 13, 2012); “Close ties to Goldman enrich Romney’s public and private lives” (New York Times, January 27, 2012); “Conservative non-profit acts as stealth business lobbyist” (New York Times, April 21, 2012); “Number of millionaires in Congress: 261” (CBS News, November 17, 2010); “White House opens door to big donors, and lobbyists slip in” (New York Times, April 14, 2012); “Obama sends pro-business signal with adviser choice” (New York Times, January 21, 2011); “Wall Street ties linger as image issue for Hillary Clinton” (New York Times, November 21, 2015); “Obama’s not-so-hot date with Wall Street”(New York Times, May 2, 2012). The last article appears to indicate that limits exist on Wall Street’s influence in Washington (the not-so-hot date) but in point of fact describes US politics as a contest between various factions of the capitalist class to persuade average voters to back their favored candidate. This calls to mind the wry observation that the art of politics is to enable the wealthy to persuade the rest of us to use our votes to keep the representatives of the super-rich in power.
However, the influence of the dominant economic class on politics extends well beyond the electoral arena. Szymanski offers a concise summary of the mechanisms the wealthy use to dominate US politics.
Szymanski on the Theory of the State 
There is a wealthy class that dominates the US state and the US government and runs the state in its interest and against the interests of the vast majority of people. There are various ways that the wealthy class is able to dominate the US government even though there are elections in which everyone is eligible to vote. There are at least seven different ways by which the wealthy are able to control the US government. The first four are instrumental mechanisms. The last three are structural mechanisms. Instrumental mechanisms refer to ways in which the rich directly intervene in the US government. Structural mechanisms refer to those conditions that constrain the decision-making process. They operate independent of instrumental mechanisms. Hence, even if wealthy people don’t influence the government, the government is compelled by the ideological environment, the imperative of maintaining business confidence to avert economic crises and military intervention to make decisions in the interests of big business.The direct mechanisms are:
• The placement of wealthy individuals or elite corporate executives in the top policy-making positions in the state.
• The pressure exerted on elected representatives and regulatory commissioners by lobbyists to legislate and rule in favor of business interests.
• Campaign funding. Politicians have to do the bidding of business if they want to receive the campaign funds they need to seriously contest elections.
• The role of key policy-formation groups, including the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Business Council—very powerful, exclusive, private organizations that formulate public policies and are able to transmit them to the government, by putting their people in top positions, holding regular conferences, and sending reports to the government.
There are 7-8 full-time lobbyists in Washington DC for every elected member of Congress. Virtually all work for big business.
Congress people, heads of regulatory commissions, and top generals are recruited by large corporations at the end of their public service careers to work as lobbyists, usually earning more money than they make in public service. Aware of the lucrative possibilities for their post public service careers, they ingratiate themselves with their prospective employers by acting in their interests while in politics, to ensure that they’re later offered remunerative positions.
There are no teeth in laws aimed at limiting the role of money in election campaigns. Consequently, the wealthy are able to spend as much as they want to get politicians who are sympathetic to their interests elected.
Policy-formation organizations are generally composed of two-thirds elite business people and one-third academics and major intellectuals and other influential people. They hold seminars and meetings with government officials, as well as transmit many policy recommendations to the government.
The structural mechanisms:
• Ideological hegemony: The ability of business to put ideas in our heads, so that we think like them, and thereby act the way they want us to act.
• Business strikes: Business’s ability to move outside a jurisdiction if the state’s policies are not conducive to profit-making. Businesses’ freedom to invest their capital as they see fit limits what governments can do.
• Military hegemony: If a government gets out of line and encroaches on business interests the military can take over.
Most people get their news and political values from the major media and educational system. Major media are major private corporations interlocked with major banks. But not only are they major private businesses themselves, they depend on advertising from major businesses. They are, then, doubly dependent on big business. If the media’s content becomes anti-business, sponsors cancel. So how we get our ideas is doubly controlled by big business.
The boards of trustees of universities are generally dominated by business people. Business people also make the major contributions to universities and therefore are in a position to influence what academics study.
Hence, schools and mass media are dominated by big businesses. We get our political values and ideas from the mass media and schools—hence, from big business.
We think our decisions about who we vote for are freely made, but our political ideas and values have been instilled by big business through the institutions of the mass media and education system which it dominates. All mass media and all universities are pro-business.
Suppose a state tripled the minimum wage and gave corporations six months to stop polluting. Business would move to another jurisdiction where wages were lower and there were no laws against pollution. Massive employment would ensue. In the next election, the government would be blamed for the economic crisis. It would lose the election to a right-wing party that would promise to bring jobs back by passing business-friendly legislation. It might propose to abolish the minimum wage altogether and to rescind all laws against pollution.
As long as business is free to invest or not invest—as long as it makes the economic decisions—the government has to structure the environment to serve businesses’ profit-making imperative; otherwise it will face a serious economic crisis. The only way to circumvent this structural constraint is to deny private business the freedom to make economic decisions, which is to say to nationalize them, so that capital cannot be relocated or made idle and is mobilized in the interests of a majority of people, rather than a wealthy minority of owners.
There are only eight countries in the world of say 160 capitalist countries that unremittingly had elections and parliamentary forms from about 1940: Britain, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden. All others had a dictatorship or military government at some point. Hence, the normal state for capitalist economies is to have military rule. Only the wealthiest capitalist states haven’t had military rule. But when a capitalist country encounters a severe crisis that challenges capitalist rule, it resorts to military rule.
Often the military takes over, and then relinquishes power. When this happens, civilian governments know that if they implement anti-business policies, the military will intervene once again. Hence, they are careful to remain within the bounds of acceptable big business policy. If ever there were a deep crisis in the United States that threatened capitalist rule, US generals would act as their counterparts in other capitalist countries have.
The Council on Foreign Relations
Szymanski cites the elite policy-formation organization The Council on Foreign Relations as one of the principal organizations through which US capitalist class policy preferences are transmitted to the US government. Laurence H. Shoup has recently written a major treatise on the Council, titled Wall Street’s Think Tank, an update of an earlier analysis he co-authored with William Minter, titled Imperial Brain Trust. Shoup argues that the Council is the major organization through which the US capitalist class establishes its agency and direction, becoming a class for itself. As such, it is worth a closer look.The Council is a private organization with a chairman (for years David Rockefeller, who remains the honorary chairman) and board members (typically billionaires or near billionaires) and approximately 5,000 members, who are selected by the board. The raison d’être of the organization is to bring together intellectuals, prominent business people, leading members of the media, state officials, and top military leaders, into an exclusive club which formulates foreign policy recommendations and promotes them to the public and government. The Council’s interlocks with the US state are extensive. Beginning with the Carter Administration and moving forward to the Obama Administration, Shoup found that 80 percent of the key cabinet positions, which he defined as State, Defense, Treasury, National Security Adviser, and US Ambassador to the UN, were filled by Council members. Presidents (George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) and vice-presidents (George H.W. Bush and Richard Cheney) were members at the time they were elected to these posts. One president, Carter, became a member after leaving the presidency.
The table below shows how many current Council members have filled key positions in the US state. They were usually members of the Council before they were appointed to these posts:
Secretary of Treasury, 10
National Security Adviser, 10
US Ambassador to the United Nations, 9
Secretary of State, 8
Secretary of Defense, 8
CIA Director, 8
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, 4
Head of the Federal Reserve, 4
World Bank President, 3
Director of National Intelligence, 2
Director of the National Security Agency, 1
Seventeen key current and former members of Obama’s administration are members of the billionaire-directed private club: James Jones Jr. (national security adviser); Thomas Donilon (national security adviser); Susan Rice (national security adviser, US ambassador to the UN); Timothy Geithner (treasury); Jack Lew (treasury); Robert Gates (defense); Chuck Hagel (defense); Ashton Carter (defense); David Petraeus (CIA); Robert Zoellick (World Bank); Janet Napolitano (homeland security); John Bryson (commerce); Penny Pritzker (commerce); Ernest Moniz (energy); Sylvia Burwell (health and human services); Mary Jo White (securities and exchange); and Michael Froman (US trade representative.) John Kerry, while not a Council member, is married to near billionaire Teresa Heinz Kerry, who is.
On top of placing its members in key state positions, the Council also directly influences policy by dominating external advisory boards established to advise the secretaries of state and defense and the director of the CIA. The Foreign Affairs Policy Board acts “to provide the Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretaries of State, and the Director of Policy Planning with independent, informed advice and opinion concerning matters of U.S. foreign policy.” It consists of 20 advisers, 18 of whom belong to the Council as members. The Defense Policy Board provides “the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy with independent, informed advice and opinion concerning major matters of defense policy.” Fourteen of its 22 members belong to the Council. On September 10, 2009 then CIA Director Leon Panetta announced the establishment of an external advisory board of “distinguished men and women” who would visit CIA headquarters “periodically and offer their views on managing [the CIA] and its relationships with key customers, partners, and the public.” Ten of the 14 advisers Panetta named to the board—the majority—were Council on Foreign Relations members.
The Council is interlocked with other influential foreign policy-related organizations, including the Trilateral Commission (an international version of the Council, reaching beyond the United States to include counterparts in Canada, Western Europe, and Japan), Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group.
Human Right Watch’s co-chair Joel Motley; vice-chair John Studzinski (global head of the investment firm Blackstone); board member Michael Gellert; executive director Kenneth Roth; and deputy executive director Carol Bogert, are all members of The Council on Foreign Relations. A major source of funding comes from Council member George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
The International Crisis Group has extensive overlaps with the Council. ICG Chairman Emeritus, George J. Mitchell, is a Council member, as are the following trustees: Mort Abramowitz; Samuel Berger; Wesley Clark; Thomas R. Pickering; Olympia Snowe; George Soros; and Lawrence Summers. Council members who serve as senior ICG advisers include Zbigniew Brzezinski; Stanley Fischer; Carla Hills; Swanee Hunt; James V. Kimsey and Jessica T. Mathews. Soros and Rockefeller are major sources of funding.
The Council membership includes an assortment of billionaires and prominent business people, including Peter Ackerman (supporter of non-violent overthrow movements and head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House); Bruce Kovner; Henry R. Kravis; Penny Pritzker; David M. Rubenstein; Frederick W. Smith; George Soros; Leonard A. Lauder; Mortimer B. Zuckerman; Eric E. Schmidt; Stephen Schwarzman; John Paulson; Lloyd Blankfein; Edgar Bronfman Jr.; Jamie Dimon; Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.; and a number of Rockefellers, a Roosevelt, and members of other wealthy families. It also includes a media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, and prominent journalists: Tom Brokaw; Leslie H. Gelb; Robert W. Kagan; Charles Krauthammer; Nicholas D. Kristof; Lewis H. Lapham; Judith Miller; Peggy Noonan; Walter Pincus; John Podhoretz; Dan Rather; David E. Sanger; Diane Sawyer; George Stephanopoulos; and Barbara Walters. Not only does the Council place its members in key positions in the state and in influential civil society organizations, it also co-opts leading media figures to promote the Council’s views to the public.
Antipathy to Public OwnershipSignificantly, every country in which the United States has intervened militarily either directly or through proxies, or threatened militarily, since WWII has had a largely publicly owned economy in which the state has played a decisive role, or has had a democratized economy where productive assets have been redistributed from private (usually foreign) investors to workers and farmers, and in which room for US banks, US corporations and US investors to exploit the countries’ land, labor, markets and resources has been limited, if not altogether prohibited. These include the Soviet Union and its allied socialist countries; China; North Korea; Nicaragua; Yugoslavia; Iraq; Libya; Iran; and now Syria. We might expect that a foreign policy dominated by a wealthy investor class would have this character. It would react to the restrictions of communists, socialists and economic nationalists on US profit-making as obstacles to overcome, even at great cost to the lives of others. For example, asked in 1996 about a UN estimate that US-led sanctions had killed 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright (a Council member) told 60 Minutes that “It’s a hard choice, but I think, we think, it’s worth it.”  Italian philosopher and historian Domenico Losurdo has pointed out that the Clinton administration’s murder through sanctions-related hunger and disease of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis is a crime far in excess of any of which Soviet leader Joseph Stalin can been accused, since the deaths attributed to Stalin were the consequences of decisions he took as defensive responses to a permanent state of emergency the USSR faced during his years in power, including the aggressions of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and the Cold War, aggressions which threatened the very existence of the Soviet Union. By contrast, the United States faced no security threat from Iraq. Even so, then US president Bill Clinton chose to sacrifice the lives of numberless Iraqis in pursuit of the foreign policy goal of establishing US hegemony in the Middle East to facilitate the accumulation of capital by his country’s economic elite.  If Stalin is portrayed as a monster, then by what greater category of monster must we describe Clinton, or for that matter, George W. Bush, leader of the trumped-up 2003 war on Iraq? It is one thing to take decisions which lead to innumerable deaths in response to significant threats against one’s country, and quite another to kill numberless people in the absence of a threat in pursuit of foreign policy goals related to the profit-making interests of bankers, investors and oil companies.
US Foreign Policy Goals in Syria
We need not tarry too long on the idea that the intervention of the United States and its allies in the struggle in Syria is motivated in any way by considerations of human rights and democracy, since (a) the United States counts as its principal allies in the Middle East, despotic regimes whose disdain for human rights as elemental as the right of women to drive automobiles (in the case of Saudi Arabia) knows no parallel, and yet Washington is perfectly comfortable to dote on these anti-democratic monarchies, emirates and dictatorships, selling them arms, establishing military bases on their territory and protecting them against condemnation in international forums and from the opposition of democratic forces at home; and (b) these same tyrannies are the major supporters, along with the United States, of barbaric, sectarian Sunni jihadists who have butchered their way across Syria for the last four years. When their attacks are directed at Syrians, the brutality of these sectarian fanatics is mechanically noted then passed over quickly by the Western news media, in contrast to the copious coverage afforded to equivalent butchery aimed at Western targets. Hence, the ISIS attack in November of 2015 in Paris was given wide-ranging coverage and elevated to an event of earth-shattering proportions, while similar attacks carried out almost daily in Syria and Iraq, and in Syria by “rebels”, including the non-ISIS Sunni Islamists dubbed “moderates” by the US government, are largely ignored. For example, in August 2013, ISIS, the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and other Islamist fanatics slaughtered more than 200 Alawite villagers, and at the same time kidnapped more than 100 women and children.  There was no Western media-orchestrated outpouring of grief for these victims of Sunni Islamist terrorism.
There is a confluence of factors that seem to have conduced to making the Syrian government a target for US-sponsored regime change through militant Sunni Islamist proxies, but two appear to be primary.
The first is the status of the Syrian government as the last bastion of Arab nationalism. Arab nationalism threatens the ability of the US corporate class to draw a Himalaya of profits from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf, the traditional range of the Arab nation. Instead of a free flow of profits to the United States, facilitated by Arab kings and emirs who have no legitimacy with their own people and rely on Washington’s support to continue their despotic rule, the proceeds of the sale of the region’s petroleum resources would be used for the region’s own internal development, if Arab nationalist aspirations were brought to fruition. The carriers of the Arab nationalist contagion must, from the point of view of US foreign policy planners, be eradicated.
The second is the existence in Syria of a major role for the state in the ownership and control of the economy. The idea of state control of industry and enterprise is an anathema to the US foreign policy establishment, as well we would expect it to be, given the enormous influence of bankers, investors and major corporations in Washington, in no small measure exercised through The Council on Foreign Relations. US capital is looking for places to export to and invest in. It is no accident that one of the first tasks undertaken by the dictator Washington initially installed in Iraq in 2003, L. Paul Bremer (not surprisingly, a member of the Council), was to remove most restrictions which the toppled Arab nationalist government in Baghdad had imposed on US investors and exporters. Tariffs and duties were abolished; scores of Iraqi enterprises were put on the auction block; much of the economy was opened to foreign investment; foreign investors were allowed to repatriate 100 percent of their profits; and a 15 percent flat tax was established. 
Likewise, much of the growing US hostility to China, signaled in the Obama’s administration’s military pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, and the Council’s call for Washington to “balance the rise of China” (which is to say eclipse its economic growth), is based on opposition to the significant role the Chinese Communist Party plays in China’s economy. Saying that Washington is opposed to state economic control is another way of saying that the US foreign policy establishment bristles at restrictions which prevent US investors and businesses from fully realizing the profit potential of Chinese land, labor, resources, and markets. US investors, US business people and US bankers want China as a wonderful source of profits, an aspiration that fails to comport fully with China’s own development strategy.
Similarly Damascus’s significant management of Syria’s economy at the expense of US investors and US corporations has very likely been a major consideration (among others) behind the decision taken by the big business-dominated US foreign policy establishment to attempt to engineer the ouster of Assad’s Arab nationalist government.
It is said that countries have interests, not friends, but is there any democratic or geographically legitimate sense in which they have economic interests on someone else’s territory? Only imperialists have economic interests beyond their own borders, enforced through threat and coercion, and that US state officials regularly invoke the phrase “our vital interests” in other countries in order to justify interventions is a measure of how unabashedly imperialist US foreign policy is. The vital interests the United States claims to have in the Middle East, Asia and Europe are no more valid than the vital interests Nazi Germany claimed to have in Europe, fascist Italy claimed to have in Africa, Imperial Japan claimed to have in East Asia, and Britain claimed to have in Asia and Africa.
An analysis of who exercises sway over public policy making in Washington leads to an inescapable conclusion: US foreign policy has a class content. It is that of bankers, investors and major shareholders of the United States’ key corporations who, through instrumental and functional mechanisms, dominate US public affairs. This class has an interest in unimpeded access to the land, labor, resources and markets of the entire world (and beyond ) for purposes of making itself ever wealthier. For this reason, US foreign policy is, and has always been, hostile to the threat posed by the economic self-determination of foreign populations which aspire to control their own wealth-producing assets for their own purposes. This is no less true in connection with Syria, whose government represents the last bastion of an Arab nationalism which is against US corporate control of the Arab heartland, and which plays a significant role in the country’s economic affairs at the expense of private US investors. By contrast with the imperialist character of US foreign policy, the thinking of the Syrian president is democratic and geographically valid: “Syria,” he has said, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.”  US foreign policy seeks to turn this on its head. In the view of US foreign policy planners, Syria ought to be a US client state which colludes in making the Syrian people work for the economic interests of a parasitic elite of billionaires, wealthy investors, and major shareholders who sit atop US society and aspire to sit atop the entire world.
1. Amy Harder and Colleen McCain Nelson, “Obama administration rejects Keystone XL pipeline, citing climate concerns,” The Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2015.
2. Juan Forero, “Center of gravity in oil world shifts to America,” The Washington Post, May 25, 2012.
3. Juliet Eilperin, “Canadian government overhauling environmental rules to aid oil extraction,” The Washington Post, June 3, 2012.
4. Benoit Faucon and Keith Johnson, “U.S. redraws world oil map,” The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2012.
5. Clifford Kraus and Eric Lipton, “U.S. inches toward goal of energy independence,” The New York Times, March 22, 2012.
6. Daniel Yergin, “Who will rule the oil market?” The New York Times, January 23, 2015.
7. Albert Szymanski, The Logic of Imperialism, Praeger, 1983, p. 167.
8. Szymanksi (1983), p. 166.
9. Bernard Lewis, “Rethinking the Middle East, Foreign Affairs,” September 1, 1992.
10. Laurence H. Shoup, Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014, Monthly Review Press, 2015, p. 215.
11. Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, Holt, 2005, p. 99.
12. Szymanksi (1983), p. 165.
14. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Internet Groups, and Average Citizens”, Perspectives in Politics, Fall, 2014.
15. Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish, “The families funding the 2016 presidential election,” The New York Times, October 10, 2015.
17. Transcript of audio file containing lecture by Albert Szymanski. The audio file is no longer available on the internet.
18. 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996.
19. Domenico Losurdo, “Flight from history? The communist movement between self-criticism and self-contempt,” Nature, Society and Thought, 2000, 1393): 457-514.
20. Sam Dagher and Raja Abdulrahim, “Russian fighter jet downed in region with diverse mix of rebel groups,” The Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2015.
21. Shoup, p. 220.
22. President Obama … signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (H.R. 2262) into law…recogniz[ing] the right of U.S. citizens to own asteroid resources… http://www.planetaryresources.com/2015/11/president-obama-signs-bill-recognizing-asteroid-resource-property-rights-into-law/
The bill, which can be found on the US Congress website, reads: Sec. 202) This bill directs the President, acting through appropriate federal agencies, to: ….promote the right of U.S. commercial entities to explore outer space and utilize space resources, in accordance with such obligations, free from harmful interference, and to transfer or sell such resources.
23. President al-Assad: Basis for any political solution for crisis in Syria is what the Syrian people want,” http://www.syriaonline.sy/?f=Details&catid=12&pageid=5835).
Violent Islamist Insurgents or Rebels? It Depends on Whether They’re Helping or Hindering the US Plutocracy
November 3, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
“Syria is home to a violent Islamist insurgency. Syria’s jihadists have carried out hundreds of attacks on security forces.” That’s one way of describing what’s going on in Syria, though it clashes with the accustomed view of the Western news media. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal favor the view that the conflict is one in which rebel militias have taken up arms against a “brutal and vicious” dictatorship which has squandered its legitimacy. In the understanding promoted by the West’s press, Syria is home to a violent civil war where regime forces have carried out hundreds of barrel bomb attacks on civilians, not home to violent Islamist insurgents who carry out attacks on a legitimate government’s security forces.
Yet the view presented at the outset of this article is not so different from the Western news media’s depiction of a little-known conflict in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In fact, I’ve imported the description of that conflict from The Washington Post and altered it with the lone replacement of the word Sinai by the word Syria. The original reads: “Sinai…is home to a violent Islamist insurgency…. Egypt’s Sinai jihadists…have carried out hundreds of attacks on security forces.” The point of replacing Sinai with Syria is to show that interconnected violent Islamist insurgencies in the same neighbourhood can be—and are—depicted in very different ways. From the perspective of the Western media, there’s a “violent Islamist insurgency” in Egypt, but in Syria there’s a civil war. Unmentioned, though significant, is the reality that Egypt is home to a de facto dictatorship allied to the United States, while Syria is home to a government that zealously guards its independence from US domination.
Egypt’s conflict, according to Western news media, involves violent Islamist jihadists, but Syria’s features rebels. Yet the militias battling the Syrian government are dominated by violent Islamist jihadists, most belonging to al-Qaeda offshoots, or who are “enmeshed” with them, as The New York Times  delicately describes the fighters the United States backs under a $1B covert CIA train-and-equip program. 
And while the Western news media say Egypt has security forces which are under attack by jihadists, Syria is said to have “regime” forces which attack civilians. Implied in all this is that the government in Cairo is legitimate (it’s fending off attacks on its security forces), while the one in Damascus, which is regularly called a “regime”, is not (it’s killing its own people, we’re told.)
Clearly, when it comes to Syria, Western news media are chauvinistically biased. They present countries within Washington’s orbit in a different light from those outside it; those that are allied with the United States different from those that are not. So while we might expect two parallel conflicts to be described in a commensurate way, using the same language, this doesn’t happen. Instead, we get a civil war, rebels and regime forces in one case, and an insurgency, violent Islamist jihadists and security forces in another.
A related example of Western news media chauvinism is found in the reporting of The New York Times’ David E. Sanger, a member of The Council on Foreign Relations, an elite consensus-forming organization presided over by principals of US finance, banking and industry. In its own words, the Council acts to help shape US foreign policy, provide continuing leadership for the conduct of US foreign relations, and inform a wider audience. 
I mention the CFR, and Sanger’s connection to it, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.
Laurence H. Shoup, who has written a recent study of the CFR, titled “Wall Street’s Think Tank,” says the Council works on “how to expand profit-making opportunities for US corporations abroad, sometimes by working to weaken or overthrow governments that are standing in the way of expansion of corporate capital.” 
There’s no doubt that the Council has enormous influence in Washington. Since the Carter administration, if not before, the following key US cabinet positions have, in the majority, been filled by members of the billionaire-directed policy organization: State, National Security, Defense, Treasury, Ambassador to the UN, and CIA. Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush were members, and Carter became one after his presidency. As vice-presidents, Mondale, Bush, and Cheney were members. Joe Biden was once a member. 
The CFR is no less strongly represented in the Obama administration. All three of Obama’s national security advisers have CFR pedigrees, as do all of his defense secretaries, as well as secretary of state John Kerry (married to near-billionaire Terisa Heinz, who inherited the Heinz food fortune). Former CIA director David Petraeus is also a member. 
Back to New York Times reporter and CFR member Sanger. In a 1 November 2015 article  Sanger notes that Washington engages “with some of the world’s most repressive governments” despite its professed commitment to promoting human rights.
Indeed, Washington does engage with many of the world’s most repressive governments, including its allies Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Israel, even to the extent of establishing military bases on their soil or selling them arms or providing them military aid or colluding in their aggressions or running interference for them in international political forums, or in all of these ways.
But Sanger didn’t have these US allies in mind when he referred to the world’s most repressive governments. Instead, he mentioned just two, neither US allies: Iran and Cuba. Committing a sin of omission, he subtly advanced the misleading view that the world’s most repressive governments belong to the phalanx of countries to which Washington is hostile, drawing a veil over the reality that many of the world’s most repressive governments are key US client states. Worst, their repressions are often amply assisted by Washington militarily, economically and diplomatically, in return for favors to US finance, banking and industry.
For example, Saudi Arabia, a family dictatorship that beheads its citizens for some non-violent crimes, including apostasy, imprisons and flogs bloggers for criticizing the king, and which sequesters women and bans them from driving automobiles, is a source of immense profits to the US banking, finance, resource-extraction and weapons manufacturing industries. Washington dotes on the Saudi tyranny, and the Saudi tyranny dotes on US capital.
By contrast, the government in Damascus, which Washington reviles, offers none of the profit-making attractions so richly bestowed on Wall Street by the Gulf tyrannies. On the contrary, Damascus is the last redoubt of an Arab nationalism that views the vast resources of the Middle East and North Africa as the patrimony of the Arab nation, and which seeks to bring those resources under Arab control for the nation’s own internal development, and not to serve the profit-making imperatives of Western businesses and the personal extravagances of US-allied emirs. In the Wall Street-unfriendly view of Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad, Arab states ought to work for the interests of their people, rather than making their people work for the interests of the West. 
This was a view shared by another of the United States’ Arab nationalist bêtes noire, Muamar Gaddafi, and he paid the price for acting on it with his life. “We came, we saw, he died,” crowed then US secretary of state Hilary Clinton, after violent Islamist jihadists, aided by NATO warplanes, did corporate America’s dirty work by removing an Arab leader The New York Times said “proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands.”  Gaddafi aroused corporate America’s enmity when he announced, “Oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.”  Clinton’s husband and daughter are both CFR members. 
The reality that Washington’s demons are almost invariably defiant champions of interests which conflict with Wall Street’s is a reality which will not be included among all the truth that’s fit to print in The New York Times. Nor this: There is, in Syria, a violent Islamist insurgency. It is fuelled by the United States and by some of the world’s most repressive governments through the provision of money, training and arms to jihadist cat’s paws. The insurgents’ aim is to topple a secular government and replace it with a theocratic one. Their backers’ aim is to eliminate an Arab nationalist orientation which lays too much stress on public ownership of the economy and rule in favor of local interests to suit the preferences of US finance, banking and industry.
Not surprisingly, The Washington Post and The New York Times, newspapers organically connected to the US capitalist class, put a spin on foreign affairs that demonizes countries whose policies fail to accommodate the interests of corporate USA. As noted, Shoup writes that the CFR (and so too the interlocked news media, State Department, CIA and Pentagon) work on “how to expand profit-making opportunities for US corporations abroad, sometimes by working to weaken or overthrow governments that are standing in the way of expansion of corporate capital.” When Wall Street-unfriendly governments are confronted by violent Islamist jihadists, backed by Washington and some of the world’s most repressive governments, they’re depicted as “brutal dictatorships” which kill their own citizens. But when the same “rebels” threaten repressive governments that facilitate the profit-making of US corporations, they suddenly become violent Islamist insurgents who attack “security” forces, or in the case of ISIS when it threatens control of oil fields in Iraq, “the world’s gravest threat.”
The description, then, of violent political Islam as comprising either rebels opposing an illegitimate dictatorship or violent Islamist insurgents attacking the security forces of a legitimate government depends entirely on whether the interests of the US plutocracy are facilitated or hindered. The US capitalist class, through its ownership and control of the mass news media and domination of the State Department, Pentagon, CIA and post of National Security Adviser, both shapes US foreign policy it is own interests, and shapes how we understand and think about it.
Of course, an understanding that comports with the profit-making interests of billionaires happens only to the extent we allow it to, and to the degree we docilely follow wherever the mass news media lead us—and only inasmuch as we uncritically parrot its conclusions, adopt its language, and acquiesce to its manipulations.
1. Eric Cunningham, “No survivors after Russian airliner crashes in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula”, The Washington Post, October 31, 2015.
2. Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “Goals diverge and perils remain as U.S. and Turkey take on ISIS,” The New York Times, July 27, 2015.
3. Greg Miller and Karen De Young, “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut,” The Washington Post, June 12, 2015.
4. Laurence H.Shoup. Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014, Monthly Review Press, 2015, p. 69.
5. Shoup, p. 68.
6. Shoup, Chapter 3.
7. Shoup, pp. 98-99.
8. David E. Sanger, “John Kerry is cautious on Human Rights during Uzbekistan visit”, The New York Times, November 1, 2015.
10. Clifford Kraus, “The Scramble for Access to Libya’s Oil Wealth Begins,” The New York Times, August 22, 2011.
11. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011.
12. Shoup, p. 98.