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The Midnight Notes Collective © 2002


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4. An Antiwar Strategy

Given the over-determined character of the moment, an antiwar movement must look for arguments and allies that would not deal with Iraq alone but direct its attention to the Bush Administration's policy as a whole. What are its weaknesses? They lie in two areas: money and people, and both involve the military.

It is not clear how many regions of the world in the coming years will be put into crisis, condemned to such a chronically low and unsustainable position that the people of those regions will be tempted to break the rules of the neoliberal game. Thus, the Bush Administration has been careful to reject any suggestion that the U.S. is the military force of last resort for neoliberalism. Instead of locating the rule-breakers n the vocabulary of neoliberal economics, they are presented as threats to the security of US citizens. The U.S. has labeled its enemies using moral and political categories like "evil," "rogue," "terrorist," and "failed."

There are different types and levels of these enemies, according to the political criminology provided in the speeches of Bush and his advisors. First there are the "axis of evil" countries (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) and the "rogue states" (Cuba, Libya and, previously, Sudan). The "failed states" category (which includes Sierra Leone and Somalia) is very open, since much depends upon the definition of "failure." For example, is either Haiti or Argentina now a "failed state"? Finally, there are the unspecified "forty or fifty countries" that might harbor (more or less actively) international terrorists. This articulation of the enemy in the endless war against both "terrorism" and states with potential for creating weapons of mass destruction is open ended and can include more than a third of the nation states on the planet.

With Communism, it was relatively clear what constituted the enemy, i.e., states ruled by Communist parties, and one could plan for the financial requirements of the conflict. While the project of the Bush administration outlined above necessitates a substantial increase in military investment, the uncertainties of the neoliberal order make it impossible to predict the required size of the increase.

At the moment, the projected military budget allocation for 2003 is $372 billion. This means that in real terms the US has returned to the ten-year average (1982-1991) of the Reagan-Bush years of $370 billion (O'Hanlon, 2002: 2). What will the 2007 budget allocation for defense be? It is now slated to be $406 billion (in constant 2002 dollars) (O'Hanlon, 2002: 2). But how can we take seriously a five-year projection that depends upon the vagaries of "failed states," "rogue states," "countries harboring terrorists," etc. -- or, in our reading, those states and peoples who have broken with the rules of the neoliberal order due to necessity or desire.

This uncertainty is a basic weakness of the Bush Administration's policy. Undoubtedly there will be the possibility of pillage in the case of Iraq, through the seizure of its oil fields to defray the costs of the adventure. Perhaps this possibility of pillage has convinced many in the U.S. that an invasion is acceptable. But pillage will not be possible in most future applications of the doctrine. Consequently, the future of education, social security, Medicare, agriculture, and ecology will be held hostage to the open ended demands of the hegemonic role. There will be many who will not.

The second weakness of the Bush Administration's policy lies with its assumption that U.S. soldiers will not be casualties in the coming wars of neoliberalism. This assumption is part of the social contract of contemporary U.S. life--you are not going to die fighting on foreign soil in a war--and is often called the "Vietnam Syndrome." It is one of the most peculiar victories of the U.S. working class in the 20th century. The fact that the government fulfilled its side of the bargain has made it possible to keep more than a quarter million soldiers outside U.S. territory after the end of the Cold War (O'Hanlon, 2002: 8). Between 1989 and the present, only a small number of U.S. troops have been killed by enemy fire in Panama, the Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan, largely because very few were exposed to direct enemy fire.

We are clearly in a time similar to the Era of Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century when European armies equipped with machine guns, long-distance artillery, and gun boats that could penetrate rivers, attacked poorly armed peoples in Africa, Oceania and Asia, slaughtering and conquering them with almost no losses. It was only after World War II that the colonized rebels could hold some technological and strategic "parity" with the colonial power, as can be seen in the two Vietnam Wars of independence (first from the French, then from the U.S.). The U.S. military now is so superior technologically to its opponents that it can carry on its activities without a loss from enemy fire, just so long as it does not have to occupy a particular territory. But this is exactly what U.S. troops will have to do in order to bring about the "regime changes" U.S. foreign policy requires. The Palestinian revolt against Israeli occupation should make quite clear that the most sophisticated of armies will suffer a regular flow of casualties when occupying a hostile population.

The fate of thousands of Gulf War veterans who were made chronically ill by their own army speaks to another aspect of the issue of war casualties: A military machine that takes no casualties from the enemy inevitably inflicts casualties on its own personnel. The reason for this is very simple. The process of protecting against an enemy's aggression is (1) to anticipate it or (2) to respond to it in an extremely short period of time. Both options, when taken to extreme, lead to self-inflicted casualties.

The actions required to prepare for anticipated future threats eventually lead to a logic that accepts small risks of self-inflicted casualties in order to counter an enemy threat. But the act of anticipating possible threats causes the anticipations themselves to multiply. Consequently, the small, separate preventative risks will multiply until self-inflicted casualties become a certainty. Thus, vaccinations designed to prevent the consequences of biological attacks will themselves kill some soldiers; etc. Similarly, if reaction speed to an enemy threat must be reduced to a minimum, the ability to detect the true identity or source of the perceived threat is reduced as well. This invariably leads to friendly fire incidents. As the drive for adding new threats and reducing reaction time intensifies, the military machine will become perhaps the greatest enemy to its own constituents.

Therefore, the assumption that U.S. troops will be casualty-free is exactly what will be challenged by the new U.S. hegemonic role in the war for neoliberalism and globalization. The U.S. military will have to occupy Iraq for a long period of time in order to guarantee that the oil fields will be privatized and that a "regime change" would lead to a dissolution or transformation of OPEC. Further, the action of a military machine operating under the Powell Doctrine of "overwhelming force" can become its own troops' worse enemy. These factors, not the immediate invasion itself, will lead to a substantial loss of U.S. soldiers' lives and a violation of the "no casualties" social contract. The antiwar movement needs to warn the U.S. working class of this danger, clearly and distinctly.

More troubling than this danger is the increasing violation of worker's contractual rights that will be the inevitable immediate casualty of this militarization. It is a trend that started in the Reagan years and was intensified during the Clinton Administration (Caffentzis, 2001). This trend is often euphemistically called a crisis of "civil liberties." But if we examine the increase in the prison population, the attack on habeas corpus, the end of welfare rights and the draconian changes in immigration policy, we see that a new era of non-contractual semi-slave work has been introduced in the U.S. during the 1980s and '90s. The Bush Administration has intensified this trend by attacking workersí contractual rights under the rubric of the "war on terrorism." The post-9/11 mass arrests based on no charges, the refusal to provide "terrorist" prisoners legal counsel or habeas corpus relief, the imposition of Taft-Hartley provisions on the West Coast dockworkers, and many other actions shows the Bush Administration's direction: the extreme restriction of contractual freedom.

A continued contraction of these rights will parallel the inevitable rise in ill-health and death among residents of the U.S. In response to war costs and tax cuts, everything from access to medical care to public health, occupational and environmental safety regulations and interventions will be reduced or eliminated. Tamed as the U.S. media is, these facts are already being printed with growing regularity. The deaths that will inevitably follow should be counted as casualties of war.

We believe that if the antiwar movement emphasizes the fact the Iraq invasion is part of an overall strategy of endless war that will jeopardize the U.S. population's life, liberty and property in order to try to secure an economic system that will continue to be in deep crisis, then we can lay the foundation for a major change in the political debate and sentiment in this country. (And lest we be misunderstood, we do agree that one continuing, necessary task of the anti-war movement will be to bring to the attention of the U.S. population the massive casualties around the planet that will ensue from the endless war to preserve capitalism.)

5. Conclusion: No Fear

The Bush Administration's policy is not a product of crackpots, it is a desperate initiative to try to militarily save a failing world economic system. Many people in South and Central America, Africa and Asia have lost hope in finding themselves in this system and are trying to recreate their lives outside the precincts of neoliberalism. The same threatens to happen here in the U.S. That possibility, and not the machinations of Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein, is the Bush Administration's deepest fear.

Now it is time to learn from the wisdom of an enemy philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, the defender of the absolute state. In the epigraph we quoted, Hobbes locates the source of peace in three passions: Fear, Desire, and Hope. The Bush Administration has effectively used Fear to stifle opposition. It correctly claims that the right not to be killed is the greatest human right. It has asked for a carte blanche to defend that right and impose Peace on the world through the sword. Bush often pointed to the cinders of the World Trade Center towers to win the "war powers against Iraq" resolution, for the Fear is real. Not accidentally, however, the Bush Administration spokespeople have forgotten the other passionate sources of Peace--Desire and Hope. They know that they cannot stimulate these passions even rhetorically without rousing derision throughout the planet. Their economic and social system is that bankrupt. This is the Bush Administration's deepest weakness: it cannot win on the basis of Fear of Death alone.

That is why our movement cannot simply trade Fear for Fear with the Bush Administration, or be amplifiers of the Fear on which the administration thrives. We cannot best them in this game. Of course, it is our civic duty to point out bureaucratic failures and hyperboles that endanger people in the U.S. or abroad and, if we have good evidence, to point out past, present, or future U.S. government complicity with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. But unless we can call to the other passionate sources of Peace, we will be bankrupt as the Bush regime and its supporters.

The antiwar movement should, therefore, speak to the Desires and Hopes of the people of the U.S., from universal healthcare to a healthy environment. We also need to bring the demands of the anti-globalization movement of the 1990s into our demonstrations, forums and programs, especially the wisdom behind the slogan, "This Earth is Not For Sale," i.e., an end to the privatization of the gifts of the planet and its history. We can work out the details, it is the direction that is crucial now.

We leave you with a historical example in support of our thesis. The most effective way the threat of nuclear terror was answered in the 1950s was not the antinuclear war movement, but the black revolution in the U.S. and the anti-colonial movement around the planet. Black people in the U.S. and colonized people in the rest of the world made it clear that B-52 bombers and their hydrogen bombs were not liberating them, and they refused to be delayed by them. They declared that their civil liberation was a precondition for the "Desire of such things as are necessary for commodious living; and a Hope by their Industry to obtain them" that could lead to Peace. Indeed, it has been the thwarting of this Desire and this Hope by the imposition of a neoliberal economic order that has been the source of most of the War of the last two decades.


Armstrong, David. 2002. "Dick Cheney's Song of America". Harper's Magazine (October): 76-83.

Caffentzis, George. 2001. "From Capitalist Crisis to Proletarian Slavery: An introduction to the U.S. Class Struggle, 1973-1998". Midnight Notes 2001.

Ferguson, Niall. 2001. The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World 1700-2000. New York: Basic Books.

Midnight Notes. 1992. Midnight Oil: Work Energy War, 1973-1992. New York: Autonomedia.

Midnight Notes. 2001. Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local and Global Struggles in the Fourth World War. New York: Autonomedia.

O'Hanlon, Michael E. 2002. Defense Policy Choices for the Bush Administration. Second Edition. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Yuen, Eddie, et al. 2001. The Battle of Seattle: The New Challenge to Capitalist Globalization. New York: Soft Skull Press.

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