US Politics

Is the US addicted to conflict? (May 2012)

When examining the United States’ recent military history, it is striking how frequently America seems to become embroiled in conflict. Whilst some have suggested that this is the result of an ‘addiction to conflict,’ I fear there is a much more harrowing explanation – a desire for war, not born of some unreasonable compulsion, but a desire for war as a rational business decision, taken to advance the interests of those who drip poison in Congress’ ear.

Doubtless, part of the reason stems from the legitimate and indeed laudable desire to export democracy and peace throughout the world. This sentiment springs from Woodrow Wilson’s liberal idealism in the post World War 1 period and seeks to ensure global peace by removing the autocracies which had been responsible for so much war, particularly within 19th and 20th century Europe. This method of securing peace is not without support, after all, there is some broad truth in the maxim that democracies do not go to war with other democracies.

If Wilson’s ghost can be said to haunt American foreign policy, it is fair to say that other, less noble spirits also exercise some influence upon it. The specter of profit is one such influence and stakes a considerable claim to be considered the current overriding factor. One aspect of this new breed of war-profiteering was first brought into the public sphere by President Eisenhower in 1961, a structure which he christened the ‘military industrial complex’. In short, this complex is the loose structure of relationships between those members of government who control defence expenditure, those who seek to profit from this expenditure and the military. As a military man, one would be forgiven for assuming that Eisenhower would be in favour of the idea of a military industrial complex, a system which saw increased spending and investment in new weapons, military research and tactical improvements. Not only was Eisenhower extremely wary of the establishment of this relationship, he devoted the bulk of his farewell address to cautioning the public against accepting such a cosy relationship between the various strands of military, Congress and arms manufacturers.

This relationship has come to be personified by former Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose connections with Halliburton have seen the logical conclusion of the military industrial complex, a world wherein the government is so closely linked to elements of big businesses so as to shape, not only public, but also foreign policy to their advantage. It was this, privatization of war which Eisenhower had so feared, a system wherein war meant profit was a system which inevitably encouraged people to make war. Since 2001, Halliburton alone have been awarded in excess of fifteen billion dollars worth of uncontested military contracts in order to provide a variety of services to the US military. It appears that former CEO Dick Cheney has not forgotten his corporate friends.

So-called private security firms have now joined the ranks of those engaged of war profiteering. Companies such as Blackwater have been commissioned by the US government to act as mercenaries, operating with impunity from prosecution, in spite of countless reports of their brutality. In 1991 for every 100 soldiers in the US military there was one private contractor, a figure which has been on the rise ever since, until finally in July 2007, there were more private contractors in Iraq than there were US soldiers. This has meant increased spending on the part of the military and a surge in profits for outfits such as Blackwater. 

This however is far from the most significant impact which war has on profit margins. It is well documented that the United States’ interest in invading Iraq stretched beyond the confiscation of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. The oil fields of Iraq are being commercially exploited once more, ensuring a level of US control in the global oil markets, one of the most important commodities in the world, particularly from a US perspective. The Iraqi oil reserves were estimated to be the third largest in the world, potentially holding up to 115 billion barrels of oil.  Near exclusive rights to the exploitation of these reserves were given to US and British oil companies, the same companies so entangled with the great American military industrial complex, partly because of their huge contributions to campaign war chests, for both Congress and the Presidential Race. The influence of ‘Big Oil’ on government ties them into the emerging military industrial complex. From roughly 1980 to 2003 oil was usually priced by the barrel somewhere below the $25 dollar mark. In 2005 the price had risen to more than $60 dollars a barrel. Earlier this month the price of oil had fallen to a 6 week low of $98, that figure is expected to soar in the coming months as the knock-on effects of the disrupted oil flow from Libya become fully felt. Of course this is not solely down to the invasion of Iraq, however, the fact remains that US companies have done extremely well out of this war, as have the corporate friends of the politicians responsible for leading the US there.

In conclusion, whilst there are of course many factors which have influenced America’s recent, aggressive foreign policy position, the fearful prophecy made by President Eisenhower more than 50 years ago seems to have come to pass. The United States is not, in any traditional sense, addicted to war, rather, it finds itself in a dystopian setting, wherein choosing to go to war is the most rational decision to increase the all important profit margin.

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