Election ’08: How Did the Empire Do?

In the wake of the recent election results it’s essential to ask how the Empire fared. It’s not just occupying Iraq. It’s not just brutally occupying Afghanistan under the guise of a war on terror being fought by the heirs of the Wahhabist-influenced, Carter-Reagan-CIA-trained guerrilla armies. It’s not only continuing the encirclement of Russia and China with missiles and military bases. And it’s not merely still trying to subjugate popular movements and governments in Latin America through election-tampering and outright armed subversion. It’s doing all of that and more.

We see the latest Pakistani government weakly protest the continued killing of its citizens by Predator drones and military raids, while simultaneously joining those attacks. Unable and unwilling to genuinely oppose the manipulation of the Pakistani government by Washington, Pakistan’s elites battle each other and the Pakistani people for Washington’s favor and money. Next door, former and rogue elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services support different factions of the Afghan resistance to the U.S. occupation. Meanwhile, other political forces in Islamabad support the U.S.-maintained Karzai government in Kabul, which has less internal support than the Green Zone government in Baghdad.

In Baghdad itself, the debate between the Maliki administration and Washington over the status of forces agreement (SOFA) is part shadow and part real. After months of this counterfeit debate, the Green Zone cabinet has apparently accepted the latest version of the agreement. At this writing it is difficult to ascertain exactly what is in the agreement, although U.S. newspapers report that the departure of U.S. forces by 2011 is included. What the exact details are regarding the withdrawal of those forces is yet to be discovered. Why did the Green Zone cabinet vote in favor of the SOFA? Because they had no other choice. If the members of that ruling council were to refuse Washington, they would lose its support. Not only would their plans for power and profit disappear, their lives would also be at risk from the resistance forces inside Iraq that oppose any agreement that allows the theft of Iraq’s oil and the further transformation of its economy into a dependent client of the global neoliberal economic regime. The SOFA was never about U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. It was always about designing a mechanism to keep Iraq under the economic and (when necessary) military control of Washington, D.C.

The day after Obama’s victory, one of my co-workers was engaged in a conversation with a patron who was very clear about her joy. Another patron butted into the conversation, saying quite loudly: “You wait until Iran bombs Israel. Then see how glad you are!” The primary problem with the latter patron’s fear is that there does not need to be any type of military conflict with Iran. Most of the Iranian people certainly do not want such a confrontation. Obama has suggested that he would not rule out the use of military force in Iran and elsewhere. At the same time he has stated that he will negotiate with Washington’s enemies. If those negotiations hold off or even prevent war, then they should be supported.

What about Georgia and Russia? The recent contretemps between the two was about a lot more than two breakaway republics. That skirmish was about the authoritarian state in Moscow asserting its determination to defend its national integrity in the face of an ever closer U.S. presence. It was also Moscow telling Washington and the world that Washington’s plans to surround Russia had gone far enough and would be challenged with military force if necessary. Complementary to the military enclosure of Russia is the relatively unnoticed construction of military bases that border another growing rival of Washington – China.

Imperialism is the order of the day in Washington, D.C.: velvet glove or iron fist, trade agreement or shock and awe. George Bush or Barack Obama, Washington will do whatever it takes to expand its hegemony. If we want to change this fact we must rebuild a vibrant and massive antiwar movement. Within that movement there needs to be an understanding of the nature of U.S. imperialism. It’s fine to oppose one imperial war, but it’s even better to oppose the system of imperialism itself. That is our continuing task.