The Grand Spectacle: Capitalist Elections and the Permanent War

As Election Day approaches in the United States, it is important to evaluate the foreign policy of the current president, and place this administration within the contemporary imperialist framework. It will then become clear that the debate between representative political parties only centers around the interests of the ruling class specific to the current stage of capitalist decay. After pledging to change the course of American foreign policy, and to get away from George W. Bush’s doctrine, Barack Obama has hardly done either. In fact, the president has not moved away from, but expanded on Bush’s unilateral programs in the so-called “War on Terror”. More importantly, Obama’s administration has not changed the course of American foreign policy as they promised; they have merely given it a new outward appearance. This does not come as a surprise to those who understand the role of the state in supporting the imperialist project that is structurally embedded within the logic of capitalism. Nevertheless, there will be those during the course of the electoral spectacle who convince themselves that voting for the “lesser evil” is the most important thing to do. Rest assured no vote in the present electoral system will ever be able to catalyze a “democratic” revolution from below to end all wars. There is no “changing the course” of foreign policy.

The Historical Precedent for the Current Framework

Control of the Gulf has been the cornerstone of the global imperialist project for decades. The key ingredient of this project is the quest to control the world’s oil supply, the major contemporary source of global financial wealth. Iraq has been in constant turmoil since the first oil reserves were discovered during its time as a British protectorate. It is a highly coveted strategic location in the Middle East, and also has large reserves of water and natural gas. In 2000, before 9/11 and before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Project for a New American Century (the neo-conservative think-tank which pulled the strings of Bush’s top advisors) issued a report, titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” which outlined their strategy for the future. The infamous report resolved that the United States must increase its military presence around the globe for,

the preservation of a favorable balance of power in Europe, the Middle East and surrounding energy producing region, and East Asia (5).

Brushing aside the cloaked rhetoric, this entailed pursuing complete control of the Gulf in order to weaken America’s chief rivals by securing the vast oil reserves in the Middle East and Africa.

While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein (5).

This unquestionable need for a strong American (or otherwise) presence in the Gulf is not rooted in a moral duty to liberate humanity from conservative religious zealots. Rather, it is an economic and strategic imperative in the imperialist epoch of capitalism which forces national bourgeoisies to compete over the division of the world’s resources, to constantly search for new investment opportunities, and to maintain the rate of profit by any other means necessary.

Put quite simply, US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War can be seen as an attempt to assert its imperial presence in the face of the prolonged capitalist crisis of profits, an increasingly unified Europe, and an increasingly powerful China. The most recent major developments in the crisis, the bursting of the latest debt bubble during the second half of the last decade, have only exacerbated this need for operations abroad, and President Obama has taken the helm in one of the most militarized presidencies in American history. It is important to understand that war is not merely a matter of policy and tactics, but is a crucial and necessary weapon for the survival of the capitalist class.

Obama’s Ramped-Up Initiatives

Barack Obama has more than quadrupled the number of armed drone strikes authorized since the Bush administration. Using new technologies, Bush’s pretense of executive privilege, proxy forces, elite special ops teams (essentially global death squads), and clever language designed to exploit legal loopholes, Obama is now directly involved in a number of highly secretive shadow wars being waged in at least 4 different countries, in which the president himself presides over a weekly “kill list”, and personally hand-picks who will be the next victim of extrajudicial murder, by remote control or otherwise (3) (4) (6).

While the “official” narrative is that only known terrorists are targeted and no non-combatants have been killed by drones, the reality is not so black and white. The Pentagon and the CIA define a combatant as “any military-aged male in the vicinity of an attack” (2).

White House officials consistently flip-flop over what is and is not known about civilian casualties, while conveniently clouding the differentiation between operations which target “specific individuals” and “signature strikes” (strikes aimed at groups, or entire facilities) (2).

With such vague and subtle diversions, it is hard to trust any official figures on civilian casualties by drone attacks. Between the various media outlets and research organizations, estimates of civilian deaths by drones, many of them women and children seen as collateral damage, hover around 20% of the approximately 4,000 killed since the program began in 2002 (1) (2) (3) (4) (7).

According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, in Pakistan alone, between 2004 and 2011 at least 44% of the low estimate 385 noncombatant casualties in drone attacks were children (8).

However, our argument is not a moralistic one, and we must not dwell on the figures regarding civilian casualties of war. The purpose of this exercise is to expose the blatant hypocrisy of the ruling class which uses moralistic provocations to justify their aggressive military campaigns abroad. We internationalists, on the other hand, are not on the side of some abstract moral imperative such as peace or universal love; we are on the side of the survival of the human race and its collective liberation from the constraints of an irrational state of affairs, which sacrifices our species on the altar of the accumulation of our own dead labor.

Strategic Maneuvering

During his 2008 campaign, Obama relied heavily on support from the anti-war liberals who made up his voting base. However, Obama’s critique of the wars in the Middle East was never based on an analysis of imperialism and class. This allowed him to rally behind the idealistic pacifist rhetoric of the mainstream left, and simultaneously remain a committed puppet of American imperialism. Obama’s presidency has virtually neutralized anti-war dissent and channeled its energy toward supporting his version of a more “diplomatic” war on terror, or a “kinder, gentler machine gun hand” (Neil Young). The Obama campaign phenomenon has created an army of rabidly jingoistic and apologetic followers who are blind to global realities. The psyche of empire in this country has rarely been so deeply entrenched, and the active collaboration of left reformist bourgeois elements has been instrumental in its establishment. In the coming election, the dialogue will not be of an anti-war president versus a pro-war president, but will be two pro-war capitalists trying to convince voters that their strategy is the best to further American interests abroad. The candidates argue before the declassed voting public where and against whom to go to war against next.

The Bottom Line

It is time for American workers to realize that no bourgeois election is ever going to end the permanent capitalist war. By voting, we are merely legitimatizing the system that needs war and exploitation in order to survive. While the world’s major imperialist powers are sharpening their knives over the resources of the developing world, while the crisis and the costs of said imperial wars continue to compel the capitalist class to push austerity on the masses, and while the current profit-driven system shows no intention of changing its ways even in the face of imminent ecological catastrophe (9), the American media continues to propel the false dichotomy of the political left and right. This year, as always, the voting booth will alienate workers from each other and rob them of their voice. Rather than participate in the elections of the ruling class, we must organize to put the struggle back on our own terrain, in the workplace and in our communities, to build a militant struggle and implement true working class power.











Friday, September 28, 2012


What a terrific article this is. I might though question "The Grand Spectacle" on the grounds that it doesn't seem anywhere as "grand" as it did four years ago, and even appears a bit thread bare. But excellent aricle. I like! as they say.

Thanks, Charlie! You are right in comparing this to 4 years ago, however I reckon it will become more "grand" as the weeks progress. Your comments are much appreciated.