by Stan Goff
I was first invited by Dr. Stephen Smith to speak at Winthrop University
in South Carolina, I was preparing a trip to Haiti and I didn't
give much thought to how I would handle the engagement. I'd just
finished being pole-axed by a bout of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
and it was everything I could do to just pull the Haiti trip together.
So I didn't pay much attention to the person who would appear with
me - one Patrick Clawson - to represent "the other side"
in a forum/debate billed as "What Next in Iraq? A Post-Election
I was in Haiti, a full blown intifada had broken out against the
de facto US puppet government of Gerard Latortue, so I had extended
my trip for a week. The problem was, I was scheduled to speak to
a group at Binghamton, NY on November 4th, and had only just arrived
from Haiti the night of the 3rd (missing my opportunity to go to
the polls and refuse to vote for either Bush or Kerry), and I had
a weekend planned with my family and my 23-month-old grandson from
Friday night (the 5th) through Sunday night (the 7th) and the debate
with Dr. Clawson was on the 8th. So I didn't really check out who
this guy was until Sunday afternoon when I was exhausted (a condition
exacerbated by the acquisition of an amoeba while I was in Haiti).
was with less than a day to prepare, as well as drive from Raleigh
to Rock Hill, South Carolina, that I web-searched "patrick
clawson" and discovered that he is a serious neocon heavyweight.
Here is his bio from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,
where he is deputy director:
Clawson is deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy. He is the author of more than thirty scholarly articles
on the Middle East, which have appeared in, among other scholarly
media, Foreign Affairs, International Economy,
Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics and Middle
East Journal. Dr. Clawson has also published op-ed articles
in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington
Post, among other newspapers. Dr. Clawson is currently senior
editor of Middle East Quarterly. He has testified before
congressional committees more than a dozen times and was co-convenor
of the Presidential Study Group organized by The Washington Institute,
which published its recommendations to the new Bush administration
in the form a monograph, Navigating Through Turbulence: America
and the Middle East in a New Century (The Washington Institute,
1993 to 1997, Dr. Clawson was a senior research professor at the
Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense
University in Washington, D.C., where he was the editor of the Institute's
flagship annual publication, Strategic Assessment. From
1981 to 1992, he was a research economist for four years each at
the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Foreign Policy
Research Institute, where he was also editor of Orbis,
a quarterly review of foreign affairs. "His most recent authored
and edited works include:
to Build a New Iraq after Saddam, editor (The Washington Institute,
2003) The Last Arab-Israeli Battlefield? Implications of an
Israeli Withdrawal from Lebanon, co-editor (The Washington
Institute, 2000) Dollars and Diplomacy: The Impact of U.S. Economic
Initiatives on Arab-Israeli Negotiations, co-author (The Washington
Institute, 1999) Iran Under Khatami: A Political, Economic,
and Military Assessment, co-author (The Washington Institute,
1998) Iraq Strategy Review: Options for U.S. Policy, editor
(The Washington Institute, 1998) U.S. Sanctions on Iran
(Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 1997) Energy
Security in the Twenty-First Century (NDU Press, 1995, edited)
Iran's Strategic Intentions and Capabilities (NDU Press,
1994, edited) How Has Saddam Hussein Survived? Economic Sanctions
1990-93 (NDU Press, 1993) Iran's Challenge to the West:
How, When, and Why (The Washington Institute, 1993) "Dr.
Clawson graduated with a doctoral degree from the New School for
Social Research and a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College. He
speaks Persian (Farsi), French, Spanish, German, and Hebrew."
Well… My silent reaction to viewing this information was,
"Holy Shit! I've got maybe four hours to prepare to debate
in front of God-knows-how-many people with this six-language-speaking,
ultra-curriculum-vitaed, foreign-policy-PhD'ed Near East scholar
who had, according to the ads for the debate, just driven 2,000
miles around Iraq. The guy's got Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz
on his advisory board, and turns out to personally know the vice-prez.
How in the hell do I prepare for the subtly-crafted, super-erudite,
arcanely-justified arguments that I am about to face… me,
with a degree I got by correspondence in the Army, who's never been
to Iraq, and who frequently reads his remarks in public presentations
to counteract a tendency to wander completely off into things like
what is the best way to season collards? Holy shit!"
I dredged up every bit of research I had used to write about the
region, printed the stuff out, and started reading. During a break
in the reading at around midnight the day of the debate, I battered
my keyboard to produce 15 minutes of opening remarks. At midnight,
I am about as sharp as a bowling ball, so I went with combative
simplicity and the stuff I've repeated until it has become a mantra.
mightred bait me, so I'd just claim my politics up front and take
that away from him. Don't get tangled up in arcane minutiae; stick
to arguing what the real reason are likely to be for the war - I
couldn't argue about specific developments anyway, because I'd been
out of touch for a month. Denounce Kerry early and often so he can't
turn it into a post-election debate about Bush's "mandate."
Don't claim the war is about "stealing" oil (a favored
bit of nonsense among liberals that can be easily demolished). Talk
about it as a crisis of capitalism, because they never want to discuss
this. Hit him in his Zionism… because it's basically indefensible
any time a couple of actual facts are deployed… and if he
gives me any shit, bring up the USS Liberty (A low blow I know,
but I didn't have to go there, as it turned out). Imply that the
re-election of Bush might actually be a better situation than the
election of Kerry on account of the Bush administration's propensity
to be the bull in the China-shop (Fallujah is proving this yet again),
and bait him into defending the list of failures so far in Iraq.
Finally, mention Haiti and see if he bites.
opening remarks were:
I'm sure some of you have heard the story
of the frog and the scorpion, but for those who haven't, I'll tell
was a frog about to swim across a river, when suddenly he was confronted
with a scorpion in his path. The frog fell back in fright, but the
scorpion was quick to reassure him, "I'm not going to sting
you. I just have a favor to ask."
frog, still startled but hoping the scorpion meant him no harm,
said, "But you are a scorpion. What favor could you ask of
scorpion replied, "I just need a ride across the river. I can't
swim, but you can. If I sting you and you die, how would I get across?
Can't you please give me a ride?"
frog thought for a moment, and in his relief that the scorpion had
not stung him, he consented. The scorpion climbed on the frog's
back, and off they went across the river. As the frog reached the
riverbank and pulled himself out of the water, the scorpion stung
him and stepped onto land.
dying frog cried out to the scorpion, "You told me you wouldn't
scorpion replied, "I can't help it. It's my nature," and
most of the debates we have heard about the war in Iraq during the
election campaign, debates that are now thankfully past, we heard
the usual point/counterpoint about weapons of mass destruction,
about who could more competently carry out the military occupation
of Iraq, about who could convince what allies to help carry this
burden, about what has or hasn't been done about Osama bin Laden,
or about who was more competent to carry out the War on Terrorism.
will depart from these formulae. I think these arguments are red
herrings, that is, the fallacious method of introducing irrelevant
topics to divert attention away from the real one.
don't believe the war is the exclusive product of the delusional
thinking of the Islamophobic clique that surrounds our current presidential
mediocrity, as many liberals suggest. I don't believe the war ever
had anything at all to do with weapons of mass destruction. I don't
believe the very people who call this a War on Terrorism believe
it for one minute, and moreover I believe they know perfectly well
that the term "war on terrorism" is oxymoronic inasmuch
as one cannot prosecute a war against a tactic. I don't believe
it is a war to steal anyone's oil, though it has everything to do
with oil and more. The fact that half the people in the United States
believed at some point that a shattered nation like Iraq constituted
a threat to the United States does not compel me for a moment to
refrain from pointing out that this is a proposition that was and
is idiotic on its face… and it is not at all unusual for half
of a national population to believe something that is patently idiotic.
I am not a conservative, and I am not a liberal, and I am not a
politician, and I am not a pacifist, and I am not religious, so
I am not in the least compelled or constrained to prop up the polemical
foundations of any of the agendas that might be associated with
these kinds of affiliations.
believe that the war in Iraq is symptomatic of a much deeper global
crisis, and that it foreshadows a period in which that crisis -
a crisis of global capitalism - will manifest itself not only in
war but in rapidly widening social destabilization, the further
militarization of the world system, and simultaneous economic and
in case there is a temptation to resort to red-baiting to avoid
responding to the content of my arguments, let me save you the trouble.
I am on record as a severe critic of capitalism as an inherently
destructive system built on genocide and slavery, sustained by misogyny,
racism, poverty, and war, and bound to undermine its own material
basis through ecocide. I do not, however, believe as some leftists
seem to, that a more sensible system will inevitably replace it.
If progressives continue to whine and wring their hands instead
of fighting back, we could very well end up with a century or so
of anarchy and warlords in the context of a mass human die-off on
a ruined and toxified planet.
imperialism is a real system, and it is currently directed by the
American state. The war in Iraq was probably the inevitable action
of this state in response to an impending and inexorable erosion
of the very basis of American global power. The war in Iraq, while
deeply morally repugnant, is not a failure of morality, but the
action of a system that can't help it, because like the scorpion,
it is that system's nature.
and Democrats can't tell you this. Pacifists and most true religious
believers won't tell you this. Politicians, who will tell you only
what you want to hear, won't tell you this. But I believe that it
is irresponsible to delay telling the patient who will die of gangrene
the unpleasant fact that the leg must be amputated.
capitalism runs on fossil energy, but the United States does not
have to take oil from anyone. Every oil producing nation, including
Iraq, has been perfectly willing to sell oil to the United States.
It is cheaper to buy oil that it is to steal it with military action.
The issue of oil is an issue not of production but of increasing
demand between competitors in a period when we have nearly reached
the peak of production output.
demand now is at 79.5 million barrels of oil a day. The International
Energy Agency and the Department of Energy predict global demand
of 115 mbd by 2020, but that is based on demand rising at 1-1.25%
per year. In fact, demand is rising at twice that rate. Yet industry
experts who are not spinning figures to reassure stockholders tell
us that with massive improvements in infrastructure and perfect
political stability, the highest output achievable is around 85
mbd. This year, China passed Japan as the world's second largest
importer of crude oil.
anyone believes that Dick Cheney's energy task force, on which Dr.
Clawson served, did not review these figures as part of their long-term
strategic energy assessment and how it related to the continued
possibilities for the accumulation of capital, I have a mountaintop
retreat to sell you in Miami.
the question of oil is not a question of taking it. It's the question
of the mathematics of it when global capitalist competition continues
to trend toward 100 mbd by the end of the decade, when there's not
adequate flow pressure to meet that demand. Someone gets cut. And
someone decides who gets cut. Establishing permanent military bases
in the very region where over half the remaining easily accessible
reserves exist goes a long way toward putting the power that controls
those bases in the driver's seat. As a friend of mine once said,
"Oil is not a normal commodity. No other commodity has five
US Navy battle groups patrolling the sea lanes to secure it."
pre-invasion production was around 2.5 mbd, but even with heroic
effort to restore it, production has not risen above 1.8 mbd today
- a net loss of 700,000 barrels a day - and the US military effort
alone is calculated to have an energetic cost of 350,000 barrels
is not business math. This is geopolitical and military math. What
is being sought is a new foundation, a military one, upon which
to base US global supremacy as the current one is beginning to crumble.
And reliance on direct military violence to achieve one's national
aims is not a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness - a sign
that there is a fundamental failure of hegemony. Hegemony is not
direct control, but internalization of control by those who are
1968, Richard Nixon inherited the hair-raising collapse of the US
Treasury's gold pool and the un-winnable occupation of Vietnam that
had caused it. Within the next four years, Nixon would abandon fixed
currency exchange rates and the gold standard, then allow a 20%
devaluation of the dollar that wiped out billions of dollars in
US debts to Western Europe and Japan. Since oil payments were denominated
in dollars, the consequent jump in the price of oil was a harsh
blow for Europe, Japan, Africa, and Latin America.
US, on the other hand, owned the dollar printing press, and it was
able to recycle the crisis, via petrodollars, through these regions.
US puppet governments in Iran and Saudi Arabia helped underwrite
this system with their ability to swing oil production.
game of economic chicken by Nixon set the stage for a new method
to assure US supremacy, since the post World War II industrial boom
had run aground on the rocks of the Marshall Plan nations' export
capacity and on Vietnam.
currency speculation that this abandonment of the gold standard
and fixed exchange rates stimulated led inevitably to currency crises
in weaker nations, whereupon the Reagan administration in response
to the Mexican currency crisis of 1982 gave the US its first crack
at loan-sharking through the International Monetary Fund, in which
it held controlling plurality and exclusive veto power. This loan-sharking
is called "structural adjustment," and it not only bleeds
70 different nations white with an un-payable external debt, paid
in dollars by the way, these loans are contingent on allowing US
investors to penetrate national economies to take over key economic
sectors. This system is now referred to as neoliberalism…
but I just call it debt-leverage imperialism. [I later found
out that Dr. Clawson once worked for the IMF.]
is augmented by a Treasury Bill standard by which the US is able
to force its key capitalist competitors - who have the lion's share
of their central bank reserve currencies in dollar-denominated T-Bills,
loans to the United States that they know and the US knows it can
never pay back - to continue to accept the dollar at its over-printed,
overvalued current levels out of fear that they will wipe out the
value of their own central banks.
continually growing glut of fiat dollars created the conditions
for the precarious Asian meltdown of 1998, for the dotcom bust of
2000, and for the real estate bubble that will burst next. US private
and public debts are at record levels, and if - or should I say
when - there is a deflationary crisis around a falling dollar, the
US middle class will sink to the bottom like the Titanic.
the same time, the external debts of underdeveloped countries imposed
upon them by IMF loan-sharking are creating increasing anger and
unrest around the world that is already translating into political
as the post World War II US-dominated global architecture began
to crumble toward the end of the Vietnam invasion, the neoliberalism
that underwrote the bacchanalia of the 90's is reaching its endgame.
This is the deeper reason that something has to be done, and what
we are witnessing right now is the particular neocon version of
how that global architecture will be rebuilt - by dint of arms actually
- and it's faltering badly in Southwest Asia, where its ignorant
and racist Orientalism, its overwhelming hubris, and its devotion
to and trust of the Apartheid state of Israel, have led it into
a deep and increasingly hostile labyrinth.
region is now a hot cauldron of competing and contradictory interests:
the aspirations of Kurdistan opposed to the interests of Iran, Syria,
Turkey, and the thug Allawi; the continuing expansionary aims of
the settler state of Israel tied irrevocably to the aims of the
US who desperately needs some street cred in a region where US prestige
is the lowest in living history; the connections being forged between
Iran, Russia, and China; the internal destabilization of Pakistan
by its alliance with the United States; the refusal of the Iraqi
resistance to conform to the US script; and the potential destabilization
of the Saudi regime - the ultimate goal of bin Laden all along -
where living standards have gone into steep decline, aquifers are
being depleted to squeeze out more oil, and where the masses become
more restive each day.
of us can predict exactly how and when this pot will boil over,
only that it will.
in closing, I have good news and I have bad news.
good news is that the results of this election may not have been
as terrible as thought by those who allowed their revulsion to George
W. Bush and his coterie to cloud their view of the larger global
conjuncture. But the reality is that this crew is proving much more
likely to run the locomotive of imperialism off the tracks than
their Hamiltonian realist counterparts.
specific crisis in Iraq is not the crisis of military defeat - which
is not, at any rate, ultimately determined by tactical outcomes,
but by political outcomes.
US crisis in Iraq is that one goal of that occupation was to demonstrate
a fictional US military invincibility - to shock and awe the world.
The crisis is not simply the very real tactical crisis that we can
smell emanating from the podium of every Pollyanna briefing from
Rumsfeld's War Department. The deeper crisis is that the shock-and-awe
bluff is being successfully called, and the rest of the world is
now alive to the fact that the great power bleeds.
we see now, for example, the continental drift of Latin America,
from the Chavista popular democracy in Venezuela, to the current
Haitian intifada, to the popular rebellions in Bolivia and Ecuador,
to the recent election of a leftist government in Uruguay…
a development that is accelerated by the fact that the US state
has gotten itself bogged down in a swamp of military and political
contradictions in Southwest Asia. The collapse of imperialism was
going to be difficult in any case, but I have to say that it is
a good thing in the larger scheme of things, and we should welcome
it. That's the good news.
bad news is that we have not reconstituted a vital, militant left
that is clear on its responsibility to seek political power in this
country yet. And I'm not talking about Howard Dean, folks. Anyone
who considers the Democratic Party as a left party needs to pull
their face away from that bottle of spot remover. We need to refound
the left in this country that has a fighting spirit and that does
not limit its activities to the fetish of elections - and one that
can forge a program that does not shy away from the difficult but
necessary work of incorporating not just class, but gender, oppressed
nationality, and environmental justice into that program.
the bad news, but that can be corrected, starting now, and starting
with the sisters and brothers right here in this room. We cannot
afford the luxury of crying about an election. We are in a struggle
for the soul of our own society, a struggle against black-shirted
reaction on every front, and there can be no rest, no retreat, no
compromise, and no surrender. We cannot back down in the face of
either their patriot-baiting or their Patriot Act. As Irish revolutionary
James Connolly said, "The great only appear great because we
are on our knees. Stand up."
is our time to stand up.
fact, I was second to present my opening remarks. While I was pretty
nervous before he started to talk, by the time he'd taken his 15
minutes to open, I grew more and more relaxed. We were not being
treated to either subtlety or erudition. His pitch was barely above
the level of a carnival barker - a rehash of what you might hear
at any Centcom briefing. The gist of it was… and this was
telling… well, we made some mistakes, at least the 'intelligence
community' did, but now we are there, and it would be a disservice
to the Iraqi people for us to leave the place and allow the 'terrorists'
to take over.
guy had boarded a plane from DC to the Land of Strom to debate a
burned-out commie vet emaciated with an amoeba, and the best he
could come up with in front of around 300 people was "stay
when it occurred to me, there's no there there. These people have
no arguments they can state. His opening remarks were a rehash of
why John F. Kerry was less fit to run Iraq than George W. Bush.
Once anyone refuses to engage in this speciousness, the neoconservatives
flounder like beached mullets.
don't need the heavy artillery of superbly crafted argument to face
them down. The simplest facts that were excluded from the presidential
debates out of political expediency (dare I call it opportunism)
can shoot these guys down like sparrows lined up on a fence.
a mini-engagement in a class on Women and Global Politics, 21-year-old
students were handing Dr. Clawson his head.) As the debate went
forward, Dr. Clawson:
that 'the market' can create natural resources.
that Democrats wanted to attack Iraq, too.
Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" to the audience.
that Democrats wanted to attack Iraq, too.
refused to reply to any of the facts about Israeli Apartheid and
Palestinian Bantustans, or about Israeli violations of UN resolutions
(though we heard repeatedly that Saddam was in violation of UN
resolutions), or about Israeli weapons of mass destruction.
that Democrats wanted to attack Iraq, too.
four times to the 'Pottery Barn rule,' that 'you break it, you
buy it,' as an argument for staying in Iraq.
that Democrats wanted to attack Iraq, too.
that the hydrogen-economy was on the horizon and that coal might
replace gasoline (in coal-burning airplanes, I assume).
that Democrats wanted to attack Iraq, too.
that the US has the responsibility to help 'weak and fragile nations,'
and that our disengagement with weak and fragile Haiti was an
example of what happens when we don't. Whoa! He didn't say that
last one! Ah, but he did, and it was like a double-shot espresso.
With this target of opportunity squarely in a cleared field of
fire, the audience was treated to a detailed account of how the
US State Department orchestrated the February 29 coup d'etat in
Haiti, and about how badly THAT occupation is going, too.
actually blushed after that one.
every case, I agreed with him that Democrats wanted to attack Iraq,
too, and that they had attacked it as often as possible throughout
the eight-year administration of Bill Clinton - who by the way had
killed more Iraqis than George W. Bush. I also pointed out that
Democrats, not Republicans, were the most vocal in calling for a
return of military conscription, and that Kerry not only said he
wouldn't withdraw from Iraq, but that he would expand the troop
numbers - making him the Lyndon Baines Johnson of Southwest Asia.
Not only that… but any smart Democrat right now would be whooping
for joy that they won't get the next four years hung around their
necks, because the forces in motion - including maybe stagflation
and the deepening defeat in Iraq - are bigger than either party
of the rich.
is truly remarkable how easily KO'ed these neocons are once you
step outside the tight little ring of the Republicrats. They've
got maybe three combinations, and they are slow as a cow. Everything
inside has been ritual combat, so they do very badly when someone
actually intends to hit them. One might think the audience was put
off by all this; that the conservatives were offended when I called
George W. Bush "Dick Cheney's meat puppet," or worse,
that those who had desperately voted Kerry would be offended by
my speaking the unspeakable about him being another bourgeois war-candidate.
so. People on both sides were anxious to talk after the debate,
asking for references and links to some of the information, seeming
suddenly stimulated to ask new questions in the face of information
to which many had obviously never been exposed. They weren't angry.
They seemed almost relieved, like they'd been locked in and suddenly
found a key.
whatever moral from this story you like. For this burned-out commie
vet, it's keep battering away because these people are weaker than
they seem, even if they DO have state power. (I'm ready for my IRS
audit, sir.) And quit accepting their premises, or you'll never
end up with anything except their conclusions.
Stan Goff is the author of "Hideous
Dream: A Soldier's Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti"
(Soft Skull Press, 2000) and "Full
Spectrum Disorder" (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is
a member of the BRING
THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee. His periodic essays
on the military can be found at http://www.freedomroad.org/home.html.
Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goff can be reached at: email@example.com