Volume 3, Number 70
31 March 2003

The American Empire (2)

Dear Friends,

There's more to the American Empire than appeared in TQE #69. I suspect (but cannot be 100% sure) that a major purpose of the war in Iraq is to demonstrate to rogue states everywhere: "Don't mess with the United States." If others can see what happens when a tiny state goes against the wishes of the great American Empire, they will think twice before attempting anything similar. (At the moment of writing, it isn't quite working out that way.)

Why am I not 100% sure that the administration wants to build an American Empire despite their denials? Because my ideology tells me this, not any facts that I have studied. Let us distinguish between ideology and fact.

An ideology is one's understanding of how the world functions and how it ought to function. If we believe that multinational corporations dominate governments, but we have not studied history to determine whether this is so, then we believe according to our ideology. If we believe that the minimum wage increases the living standards of workers without undermining employment, but have not studied history to determine whether this is what truly happens, then we have judged according to our ideology.

In these two cases (multinational corporations and minimum wage), it is possible to study objective history to determine whether our ideology is mistaken (which indeed it is, in both cases). But my supposition that the purpose of the Iraqi war is to impress other states with the power of the American Empire is based on my ideology. I do not know for sure what is in the minds of the administration.

Likewise, those who say that the Iraqi war is being fought for the benefit of Halliburton and other multinational corporations are judging according to their ideologies. It is all right to judge by an ideology, but let us be sure we know what we are doing. If we have objective historical evidence, we must base our judgments on that. If we do not have such evidence, it is all right to use ideology, so long as we say, "I'm not sure, but I think..."

Let us consider the evidence about multinational corporations gaining from the Iraqi war. Those invited to bid on reconstruction contracts are Halliburton, where Vice-President Dick Cheney was chief executive, 1995-2000; the Bechtel Group, whose officers have included several Republican former cabinet members; and Fluor, which has ties to former Pentagon officials. Others include the Louis-Berger Group and the Washington Group International. Those of the administration's ideology would argue that these companies are not after the money — they could make more in normal, peacetime activities — but are supplying the skilled management necessary to run the reconstruction.

"Alas for the administration's reputation," The Economist (3/22/03) reports, "there may be no better qualified firm for many of the jobs that will need to be done. . . When it comes to military outsourcing, Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root division has a more impressive record than any of its rivals." (The article goes on to explain that record.)

The administration would say that "activists" — most of whom have never been in management positions of serious businesses, do not understand how crucial good management is. Time and again, experienced, new management has turned around failing enterprises. Good managers are constantly looking for failing enterprises, recognizable by their stock declining. They buy up the stock at low prices, and when they have enough they oust the management in a hostile takeover. (In contrast, a friendly takeover occurs when the managers of one company believe their earnings and stock prices will improve if they merge with a company that has superior management.)

With tried and true managements that the administration knows, Halliburton and others will successfully lead in the reconstruction of Iraq — or so this group thinks. Obviously, they hold the opposite ideology from those who believe Halliburton, etc., are in the fray for money.

My own ideology is constructed partly by a study of objective history, so my decisions are not totally ideological. A reconstruction of history tells me the American Empire not only cannot democratize Iraq after one war, they cannot do it at all — even with the best of management. If Iraq is to become a democracy, it will do so from within — by observing other democracies around them and how much more successful they are economically.

One must, of course, read objective history instead of ideological history, as in Marx. If you think there is no totally objective history, then try the history that is more objective than ideological.

My ideology agrees that Bush and his team are not in this game for money. They are not in this war so Halliburton, etc., will make out like robbers. Nor are they in it to remove Saddam Hussein. They are in it to show the world the power of the American Empire, so no one will gainsay it. They are also in it to gain their places in history.

But if they fail — as I predict they will — they will go down in history basing their actions on arrogance and mistaken ideology.

Actually, we all go down in history, just as we come from history. You and I speak the same words as Julius Caesar — just with slightly different endings. (Example: "Pacifist" is one who makes peace: "pacem facit.") So also do we speak the ideas of centuries, of Shakespeare, de Tocqueville, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Chinese speak the ideas of Confucius. Ingrained in our ideologies also are countless persons whose names history has forgotten but whose words and ideas are passed on from generation unto generation. Like those many unknown persons, our own words and ideas will be immortalized in the minds of our descendents. They will mean more to history than the ideas of the "great" men and women whom history does remember. Let us therefore be careful that we say, do, and think the truth as we know it.

Sincerely your friend,

Jack Powelson

Readers' Comments

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Thanks, Jack

I think the theory [on forming a democracy] is that, to build an arch, you need scaffolding. The arch still needs to be built stone by stone, but you also need the scaffolding. The scaffolding is, in this and every other case, the rule of law as opposed to the rule of violence. The rule of law can be imposed by force. Some say that it can only be so.

— Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

I enjoyed and appreciated your even-handed discussion of ideology and factual analysis. Without ideology our lives would be pretty dull. But there can be ideological extremes which also can serve to alienate us from each other. I trust our ideologies enrich our relationship, and continue to make good conversation (but not necessarily conversion).

— Wil Bernthal, Boulder CO.

It is in my view very much fair game to CONCLUDE that at least some of those proposing the empire will gain financially, when the evidence has been adduced. Perhaps the prime example (but far, far from the only one) in the current regime is the vice president, whose path from Congress, to the defense department, to bigtime defense contractor Halliburton, where he "earned" many many millions, back to the West Wing, has been well-charted. And it is, in my view, not irrelevant to note here the reports that Halliburton already has the inside track on big slices of the "rebuild-Iraq" government pork barrel that is now taking shape.

— Chuck Fager, Director, Friends House, Fayetteville (NC).

What a great topic! The economic discussion could go on forever. I encourage Friends to think deeply about what they are FOR, and to spend time promoting those things. It is too easy, and buys into the present day media "groupthink" pressure, to express what we are AGAINST, such as being OPPOSED to an American Empire.

I remain with high hopes, and pray that the general trend of changes over the last hundred years will continue over the next hundred years. If the ill-defined and fuzzy concepts of American Empire and Globalization are percieved to gain momentum with the improvement of the living conditions and spiritual opportunities for billions of humans, as distasteful as that trend could be represented, so be it!

— Chris Viavant, Salt Lake City (UT) Meeting.

I heard a most intriguing piece of information from Peter Ferenbach of Peace Action: In 1978 under CARTER, the Nuclear Policy Review concluded that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) would not prevent all nuclear war. "Given" that nuclear war was at some point inevitable, what would make the best outcome for us? Striking first at any state hostile to us acquiring nukes.

They could have decided just as well that dealing with other nations in a colleagial, fair manner might be a better antidote for nuclear proliferation. Instead, they chose to preserve a world where we could unilaterally threaten a nuclear strike to get our way (as ALL our presidents have done at some point, according to Daniel Elsberg).

This is what George W. probably learned about the "real world" at his daddy's knee.

— Trudy Reagan, Palo Alto (CA) Friends Meeting.

Do you think that the news that Halliburton has been scratched from the list of candidates for rebuilding in Iraq will cool the innuendo? (The question is purely rhetorical; of course it won't.)

— Steve Williams, Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting.

I went through your archive quickly and found no title references to the United Nations. May I suggest that this might be a timely subject? For all its recent administrative reforms, I believe that it remains fundamentally flawed at the political level. My fellow Canadians seem to think, however, that just because some famous Canadians have done well in the place that it is the fount of global democratic legitimacy (even though Iran or Iraq or Libya may occasionally chair human rights or disarmament committees!).

— Paul Connor, Toronto (ON), Canada.

Could it not simply be that the Americans are trying to incite hatred against themselves and so inciting threats of reprisals against the USA, for perhaps generations to come, which in turn will keep the people afraid and so voting for security, aggression, racism, bigotry, etc. ( viz. Hermann Goering's infamous quotation about keeping people in fear in order to control them).

— Roger Benham, Smithers (BC), Canada.


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Publisher and Editorial Board

Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board:

  • Roger Conant, Mount Toby Meeting, Leverett (MA).
  • Carol Conzelman, Boulder (CO).
  • Ann Dixon, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting
  • Asa Janney, Herndon (VA) Meeting, Assistant Principal Editor.
  • Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasvillle (GA).
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

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Copyright © 2003 by John P. Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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