The War Party’s Credo: Power Before Profits

The increased likelihood of war with Iran has raised a chorus of speculation and genuine shock: how can it be that our leaders don’t recognize the potentially crippling consequences of such a course? The economic blowback alone would be enough to send the world economy – already knocked off-kilter – into a tailspin. There has been a lot of discussion over this, especially in the precincts of the antiwar movement. Writing in the online edition of Counterpunch, historian and scholar Gary Leupp expresses the bewilderment and confusion of much of the left in the face of a new war’s rising prospects:

"Commentators whom I respect are saying, with conviction, that there’s no way the U.S. is going to attack Iran. Alexander Cockburn, Jim Lobe and Tom Engelhardt, for example, say no. Others whom I equally respect predict the opposite. Gordon Prather, Ray McGovern, Scott Ritter and Justin Raimondo say yes, it’s going to happen."

A clarification: I have never written that war is a certainty for the simple reason that we cannot predict the future. No one can. What we can do, however, is analyze the facts in light of past experience, and, on that basis, project what we think may occur.

Given that caveat, then, I can safely brush aside the reasoning Leupp attributes to Messrs. Cockburn, Lobe, and Engelhardt, which points to the objective constraints placed on the War Party at this point: the over-extension of US forces currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the much-touted recent successes (or, rather, alleged successes) of the "realist" faction within the administration and the national security bureaucracy, and the apparent "rage" of the neocons directed at the Bush White House coming from such quarters as the Weekly Standard. I can dismiss them so readily because, in one form or another, we have seen their like before, specifically during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and we all know how that turned out.

You’ll recall that, prior to the outbreak of the war, several of our military leaders raised logistical and other technical objections: the proposed invasion force wasn’t big enough, an extended deployment would put a major strain on our military machine, and eventually the whole thing would begin to break down. Rumsfeld – he of the magical "transformation" of the US military – shut them up, and forced the worst offenders – notably Gen. Eric Shinseki – into retirement. The "over-extension" argument didn’t deter the Bushies then, and there is no reason to believe it will now.

As for the supposed ascendancy of the "realists" in Washington: I wouldn’t bet the ranch on this alleged victory of Reason over Blood & Iron. The neocons have come from behind, more than once, to win another day, and, this time, they have an overseas ally – Israel. That ally couldn’t act unilaterally against Saddam Hussein: they had to depend on the US to make the first move. They could only lobby – quietly – on the sidelines. This time, however, things are quite different: the Israelis have declared Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program to be an "existential threat" to the survival of the Jewish state, and have practically announced their intention to strike if we fail to do so. Such a strike would certainly provoke a furious response on many fronts, including in Iraq, and this would doubtless drag in the US as Israel’s co-combatant.

Aside from the Israeli factor, however, you have to remember that the "realists" were thought to be on the offensive on many occasions during the long prelude to the Iraq war, and yet, in the end, the War Party had their way. As George W. Bush and the cabal that lied us into war contemplate their options and their bloody "legacy," one can’t help but think we’re in for the same sort of outcome this time around.

As for the fulminations of the Weekly Standard, "rage" is what the editors of that publication are selling, after all, and one has to realize – once again – that this is nothing new where the neocons and the administration are concerned. Every time Bush or one of his underlings showed the least sign of wavering in their support for making war on Iraq, the Standard and its fellow-travelers went into paroxysms of panic, warning that the President would go down in history as the 21st century equivalent of Neville Chamberlain. Aside from which, this criticism coming from the small-yet-influential sect known as the neocons is bound to be having some effect, at least within the White House – the one place where a unilateral decision to go to war can actually be made.

In any case, Leupp is torn between what he recognizes as the objective economic and political "interests of the ruling class," and the increasing evidence that the US and/or Israel are preparing a military strike against Iranian targets. He expresses his confusion thusly:

"In short Bush may, as an unwitting agent of what Hegel called ‘the cunning of Reason,’ help along a process that, were he thinking rationally from his own ruling-class point of view, he would emphatically reject: the actual decline of U.S. imperialism."

Leupp comes from the old-left school that analyzes American imperialism in terms of purely economic interests: imperialism, say the lefties, means super-profits for the rich and powerful, and therefore the US is engaged in rampaging from one end of the earth to the other, looting the ruins and growing fat on tribute from its conquered subjects. Yet it hasn’t worked out quite that way, has it?

Empire-building, we’re finding, is an expensive proposition, and imperialism is going to have to be a nonprofit venture if carried out on a large scale. As Professor Joseph Stiglitz pointed out in his book on the subject, The Three-Trillion Dollar War, this war is unsustainable economically as well as militarily, and we simply can’t maintain these sorts of expenses indefinitely. The captains of industry are beginning to grumble, and little wonder: imperialism is bankrupting the country. While the military-industrial complex is doing quite well, the rest of the economy is going unquietly to hell.

Leupp is baffled by all this, because it doesn’t fit into the standard leftie-Marxoid analysis of war as the necessary outgrowth and consequence of the capitalist system. This confusion comes to the fore when he tried to explain why he thinks "it’s a toss-up" as to whether war with Iran is imminent:

"I believe that the president’s cabinet is, as Lenin would put it, ‘the executive committee of the bourgeoisie’ of this country. It mainly represents and is answerable to a ruling class. Bush made it clear in the 2000 presidential race that the billionaires are ‘my social base.’ Obviously oilmen Bush and Cheney would love to secure U.S. control over the petroleum resources of Southwest Asia and establish military bases throughout the region in preparation for future rich man’s wars. But on the other hand, U.S. capitalists and oil execs in general do not seem enthusiastically united in favor of the expansion of the conflict and the destabilization of regimes (like the Saudi) that they’ve profitably worked with for decades. The Wall Street Journal editors might be agitating for an attack on Iran, but the U.S. ruling class is in fact deeply divided on how to proceed."

If this administration is "the executive committee of the bourgeoisie" of this country, then they ought to be immediately fired, or impeached, as the case may be – and, who knows, perhaps they will be.

Furthermore my understanding of the term "bourgeois" or "bourgeoisie" is evidently quite different from Leupp’s. In my view, I am a representative of the bourgeoisie, that embattled and fast-vanishing breed of middle to lower-middle class Americans who are just barely holding on to their status in the prevailing economic conditions, i.e. the overwhelming majority of Americans. The American bourgeoisie, at least these days, isn’t interested in fighting wars: the only battle they’re intent on winning is the constant struggle to keep their heads above water financially while still maintaining their rather self-indulgent lifestyle. Bush, far from acting as their representative, is overseeing their destruction.

On the other hand, George W. Bush’s cabinet represents various battling factions of the ruling class, one of which has been in the ascendant for the past eight years, and shows great reluctance in making any sort of concessions to its rivals. Far from being conservative – conservatism being the default ideology of the bourgeoisie – it is revolutionary, and seeks to overthrow not only the old rulers, but also the moral and ideological constraints that kept them within certain bounds.

This idea that the captains of industry – Big Oil, in particular – represent "the ruling class" is a myth, and a curiously old-fashioned one at that. Private industry has long played a subordinate role in the American power structure: far more powerful is the administrative-managerial class, which has had a firm grip on the levers of power since the New Deal and has only strengthened its hand since.

The old WASP ruling class evoked by Leupp, which consisted of the captains of industry and a substantial upper-middle class employed in the private sector, is on the way out, and has been for quite some time. What’s rising, especially in the past eight years, is a new and uniquely rapacious elite, one whose loyalties to the country are by no means certain. Their allegiance is to the Empire, and its expansion, no matter what the price – a price, in any case, that will not be personally paid by them.

The left treats imperialism as the logical outgrowth of capitalism, but what we are seeing instead is the destruction of functioning markets as a direct consequence of imperialist policies – a reality that bothers our aspiring elite not in the least. Given the experience of the past eight years – and the prospect of worse yet to come – the leftist analysis of imperialism as merely capitalism gone wild is giving way to a more nuanced psychological critique, one that sees power-worship rather than money-worship as the energizing factor that keeps the motor of Empire humming.

In short, this neo-Marxist analysis of attributing our aggressive foreign policy to a plot by top-hatted capitalists is a caricature out of some crude cartoon in the old Daily Worker of the 1930s – on a date sometime before the end of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union. Today, it flies directly in the face of the facts, and explains nothing. It leaves out, for example, the key role played by the Israel lobby in getting to where we are today – occupying Iraq, and on the brink of war with Iran.

In the interests of a continuing libertarian-leftist dialogue over the origins of the War Party, and its ideological and social base, I would remind Leupp and my readers of a leftist bent that neoconservatism came out of their side of the political spectrum: the first neocons were renegade Trotskyists, such as Max Shachtman, and the "far left" has contributed more than its fair share of warmongers to the current congerie. (For an extensive historical treatment of the leftist orgins of neoconservatism, see my recently re-released book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.)

In short, the leftist origins of the War Party are no secret – and, to my mind at least, no surprise. They don’t object, in principle, to state control of industry, and even a massive social welfare program: a command economy meshes with their militarist program more readily than the "chaos" of the market, and lends itself to the production of weaponry over consumer goods. Extensive social welfare programs keep the masses mollified, a task all the more necessary in wartime.

What motivates this trans-ideological War Party, then, isn’t the love of money – although they don’t mind making a profit off the proceeds of their ideas – but rather the same world-saving mindset and ideological zeal that led to the murder of millions in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution – an event which Leupp goes on to extol as "a move forward for humanity."

Armed ideologues have been responsible for all – not most, but all – of the catastrophic bloodbaths of the 20th century, and are no doubt slated to redouble their efforts in the course of the 21st. Just how much Leupp misunderstands this tragic history is made all too clear in his final paragraph:

"My pessimism about the prospect of war is alleviated somewhat by that prospect – -the arrival of a period of ‘creative chaos.’ You may recall that Donald Rumsfeld used this phrase to refer to the havoc in Baghdad (including the plundering of the National Museum) during the U.S. invasion. I refer instead to the possibility that horrific events might produce something entirely unexpected and potentially positive. The First World War led to the Bolshevik Revolution (on the whole, a move forward for humanity in my view) and a wave of (unfortunately abortive) workers’ and soldiers’ revolutions in Europe. The ‘War on Terror’ against ‘insurgents’ throughout Southwest Asia could … provoke punitive moves against the dollar while Americans struggle to cope with rapidly rising fuel and food costs. If it hurts us deeply enough, it could produce a groundswell of protest in this country – -against things that are obviously intolerable and wrong – -greater than anything we saw in the sixties. It could generate a revolutionary crisis."

Regardless of how one evaluates the Russian Revolution of 1917, one has to remember that World War I also led to the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazism in Germany, and World War II. In the present context, Leupp’s historical analogy raises a number of rather horrific possibilities. These include a new world war and the rise of an openly authoritarian movement in this country. So what, exactly, is "positive" about this scenario? The answer is: nothing!

To get back to the original point – the division in the ranks over the prospects of war with Iran – I have to say no one can know what will happen. What we do know, however, is this: there is a determined effort to drag us into war with Iran, a coordinated and well-financed campaign carried out by the same crowd that was so successful last time around. Whether they succeed or fail depends, at least to some extent, on the ability of the antiwar opposition to raise a hue and cry and mobilize the generally antiwar American public against such a prospect. There has already been remarkable progress made in this regard, including the stalling of a congressional resolution that would have endorsed a blockade of Iran and paved the way for war. We are certainly redoubling our efforts here at, in spite of our rather limited resources.

The more aware the American public – and the people of all nations – are of the looming war crisis, the more likely we are to win this battle. And that, of course, is the reason and rationale behind the more the people know about the plans of the War Party – and the nature of the War Party – the more likely they are to reject them out of hand. That is why it’s so important to get it right, our analysis as well as our reporting.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].