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Making the world safe for capitalism

By Ken Macnab - posted Wednesday, 18 September 2013

In the decade since the invasion of Iraq by the US-led 'coalition of the willing', a massive and often acrimonious debate has ensued over the issues of motives, methods and consequences. Much of it, while adding more detail to the total picture, has generated more smoke than light. The 'Weapons of Mass Deception' chronicled by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber in their study of The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq (2003) are upgraded and still deployed. But some broad interpretative overviews are also emerging, offering new insights and perspectives.

One such study has been published by Christopher Doran, a teacher at Indiana University who specialises in the relationship between corporations and democracy. Refreshingly, its title makes his thesis plain: Making the World Safe for Capitalism: How Iraq Threatened the US Economic Empire and had to be Destroyed (Pluto Press, London, 2012). Doran spells out his point in the Introduction, that 'the motivation for the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq in March 2003 was to eliminate the threats a post-UN sanctions Iraq posed to American economic hegemony.'

The likely lifting of UN sanctions after 13 years and the pursuit by Iraq of independent economic policies, particularly in relation to oil revenues, which challenged the fundamentals of neoliberalism, the current 'supercharged form of capitalism', generated alarm in American political and corporate circles. Under threat were US-dominated agencies controlling Third World loans and debt, US dollar financing of world oil, and global corporate market penetration and control. Facilitated by the pre-emptive strike strategies of the post-September 11 'war on terror', the military invasion of Iraq became an acceptable solution. Violence and war became more openly than ever before the tools with which to defend and extend American capitalism.


In many ways, by integrating neoliberalism, economic hegemony and regime change into an explanatory model, Doran is expanding well developed themes. In the Preface to a 1920 edition of his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism(1917), Lenin claimed to have proved that:

the war of 1914-18 was imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies and spheres of influence of finance capital, etc.

In short, 'finance capital' (the merged capital of banks and monopolist associations of industrialists) was driving a new phase of imperialist aggression, using war to divide the whole world between the biggest capitalist powers.

In fact, Doran opens his book with the point that, when Woodrow Wilson told Americans they had to enter the First War 'to make the world safe for democracy', he was lying; it was to make it safe for capitalism. He might have added that the use of 'freedom' and 'democracy' as cloaks for 'capitalism' has become since then a well worn political device.

Quite apart from its vanguard role for capitalism, war itself is highly profitable for capitalists. The very experienced and much decorated US Marine Corps Major General, Smedley D. Butler, author of War is a Racket (1935), hammered the point: 'War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope.' He went on:

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.


In 1961 Eisenhower identified the key 'inside' group when he warned against the 'potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power' by the 'military-industrial complex'. Their all-pervasive influence had, he said, 'grave implications' for 'the very structure of our society'. The danger to American 'liberties' and 'democratic processes', must be guarded against in 'the councils of government'. C. Wright Mills had already identified the of The Power Elite (1956) of military, corporate and political leaders.

Since then, most of what Eisenhower feared has come to pass. In 1995 Robert Higgs expanded the concept to 'military–industrial–congressional complex', and many commentators add the media. Since 2001 the counter-terrorism industry generated by the 'war on terror' has further expanded this complex, making it the most lucrative and powerful member of the 'corporatocracy' now dominating America.

With size and wealth has come naked political power. Naomi Klein's thesis, in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), was that 'this fundamentalist form of capitalism', rather than being (as claimed) the triumph of freedom and unfettered free markets, 'has consistently been midwifed by the most brutal forms of coercion, inflicted on the collective body politic as well as on countless individual bodies.' The 'rise of corporatism' was written in shocks and crises, many of them engineered and violent.

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This is a review of Making the World Safe for Capitalism: How Iraq Threatened the US Economic Empire and had to be Destroyed (Pluto Press, London, 2012)

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About the Author

Dr Ken Macnab is an historian and President of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at the University of Sydney.

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