Going to War with the Political Elite You Have (May 14, 2007)
To paraphrase the recently departed Secretary of Defense: "You go to war with the political elite you have. They're not the elite you might want or wish to have at a later time, but as you know, it's always the same elite."
Wait--what did you just say? Let's consider this thesis:
The "two-party system" is a travesty of a mockery of a sham, a con perpetrated for the consumption of the peasantry.
I am a peasant, so I say this without irony. It is not demeaning, it is reality. What makes me a peasant? Do I own sufficient means of production or capital to live well without labor? No. Do I owe a vast sum of money? Yes. Do I pay more tax than a hedge fund manager who "earned" $360 million? Yes. (When the 15% FICA self-employment tax has no ceiling, and 15% of that $360 million goes to FICA, let me know--but don't hold your breath.) Am I politically powerless? Yes. I could go on, but you get the idea.
The actual political structure of the U.S.A. has roughly three moving parts: the Elite Maintaining and Extending Global Dominance (EMEGD), The Cowboys, and the peasantry/debt-serfs/occasionally-voters.
Most people don't understand the structure of the Elite because it's complicated. One of my old and dear friends earned a doctorate in cell biology at UCSF, and she had a poster depicting the immune systems' dozens of interacting cells. The Elite is very much like the immune system: very complex, with hundreds of moving parts which interact on various levels to maintain the organism--in this case, the United States' global dominance.
At a very superficial level, some pundits have sought a Master Control in the Trilateral Commission or similar elite gatherings. Such groups are certainly one cell within the EMEGD, but each is no more important than other parts, just as killer T-cells are just one of dozens of cell types in the immune system.
To be a part of the Elite, you need only be willing to carry water for one of the essential power structures. Many technocrats are members of the Elite, and they are rewarded with positions like Under Secretary of the Treasury or Assistant Deputy Attorney General or Deputy Director of the C.I.A. and the like.
Elites are also woven into the world of corporate interlocking-directories, where someone "liberal" like Hillary Clinton sat on the board of rabidly anti-union Wal-Mart for years. Conflict of interest? Are you kidding? You want to be a Player, you carry water whenever and wherever you have to.
To be a power player, though, you need connections, which are most easily gained via a "good birth" and all that follows from that: elite prep schools, elite universities, powerful mentors, plum positions as first jobs, and so on.
Power and money are often confused as being one and the same. They are not. Andrew Carnegie was immensely wealthy, but he was not a player. He was a safely apolitical "do-gooder," just as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are safe little "do-gooders," giving PCs to libraries and funds to eradicate nasty diseases. Now if Bill Gates were to give $100 milion to Ron Paul's campaign for Presidency, he would immediately become a threat, and moves would be made to bring him round or undermine his ability to influence matters of actual importance to EMEGD.
Put simply: $100 million spent relieving pain and suffering makes you a harmless do-gooder. Spending $100 million to buy some seats in Congress makes you potentially dangerous. But most people with that kind of wealth are securely in the Elite, because their wealth ultimately flows from MEGD--the global dominance of the U.S. which ensures a market for their products and services, and guarantees access to emerging markets.
Another hopelessly naive view of the EMEGD is to see global corporations as the ultimate Power Behind the Throne. This is as misguided as thinking macrophages are the entire immune system. It isn't that simple. Sure, corporations provide donations and soft power, but they're just one node. To say that corporations led the U.S. into war in Korea or Vietnam is just plain wrong, and reveals how simplistic reductions of EMEGD are inevitably misleading.
In the Big Picture, Microsoft, IBM, Coke, et. al. are bit players in the Game of Global Dominance. At the top level, the game is going very well for the U.S., despite the "bad press" and all that nonsense about the Decline of Rome.
China has been brought into the game, and is a key supporter of U.S. global dominance. Sure, we let them have the Olympics--a real money-pit--but basically the deal all goes "our" way: in exchange for a 100 million jobs, which keeps their peasantry in line and enables the Communist Party Elite to maintain and extend their power, then China buys all the worthless money we print, enabling the U.S. to print off $1 trillion to pay for the Iraqi adventure with virtually no sacrifice required by U.S. peasants (except those in the military) or the elite's interests.
Can you believe what a sweet deal this is for our Elite? The Chinese take on all the risk of a dollar collapse for a lousy 4% interest, and they also accept all the industrial pollution. Since they were pressured into allowing foreign ownership, Western corporations have been minting profits in the hundreds of billions by making stuff in China. In exchange, China gets the jobs--at least until the recession kicks in, or the factories move on to Vietnam and Africa.
Some naive souls expect China's own middle-class to support its industry. Nice fantasy, but the reality is the U.S. consumer is 20% of global GDP, and the 25 million truly middle-class Chinese are less than 1%.
When it all blows over, what is China left with? An oil-rich neighbor to the north (Russia) which is hardly a close ally, U.S. allies or trading partners to the south (Communist Vietnam would love to poach some industry from their Communist "friends" to the north), an Islamic hotbed to the West currently being subdued by the U.S., and to the East, a resurgent Japan and the wealthy island state of Taiwan, which the U.S. may or may not defend but which already owns a big piece of the mainland.
The U.S. plays coy about defending Taiwan because, well, that's in "our" interest. If we decide it's not worth it, then we abandon Taiwan, just as we did the Kurds and many other suckers who believed our promises. But if it's in the interests of Global Domination to defend Taiwan, well, China better be careful. The smart play is often ambiguity, because the other side has to guess--and they know they might guess wrong.
If you think a "Democratic" president isn't going to approve the development of a new family of smaller, more "practical" nuclear weapons--prepare to be disillusioned.
The Chinese maintain about 100 long-range nuclear-armed missiles for "deterrent." Not a bad idea. The U.S. maintains several thousand strategic nuclear weapons and thousands more tactical (battlefield) weapons. To quote from my January 30 entry Vulnerability, or, Thinking About the Unthinkable:
Just for comparison's sake: The U.S. maintains 18 "boomers" (Ohio-Class Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines--SSBNs), each armed with 24 D-5 Trident missiles, which are each armed with 5 independently targetable warheads (MIRVs). Each U.S. SSBN thus carries 120 nuclear warheads, launched within one minute and deliverable anywhere in the world. That's 2,160 nuclear warheads distributed among 18 very-hard-to-locate boats. Not all are at sea at any one time, but catching a few in dock would still leave 1,500 or so nuclear weapons available for a counter-stike. What nation would chance absorbing even one SSBN's load of 120 nuclear bombs?Most of China's wealth is concentrated in a narrow band along the coast. Just one "warning" nuke on the Three Gorges Dam would do more harm than the Chinese nation could possibly afford. If you don't believe the U.S. would deploy nukes if "our interests" were at stake, I can only quote The Mogambo Guru: hahahahaha.
Sure, it's "only" military power. And yes, the U.S. is vulnerable to nuclear attack, too. But if push comes to shove, which military would you rather own?
Ditto for energy.
Those without a thorough understanding of global reach are beating the drums about China's forays into Africa, but this is a sign of weakness, not strength. The U.S. has Mexico and the Mid-East wrapped up, so Africa is the only game left to the Chinese (and most of the big oil fields in Africa like Nigeria are wrapped up as well).
They've played there before, with zero success. Back in the Cultural Revolution days of solidarity masking global ambitions, the Chinese built entire railways in Africa. And what did they get out of it, long-term? Zip, nada, zero. So while the U.S. controls the big oil fields of Nigeria, the Chinese are forced to gamble for influence with the most treacherous, most hated regime on the planet, Sudan, for a few million barrels of oil.
Are they buying access, buying allies, or really supplanting the West? Time will tell, but the history of the past 50 years suggests political turmoil at home will reel in global ambitions and adventures fast.
EMEGD takes a long view. Sure, Chavez in Venezuela nationalized oil and is trying to build an alternative power structure, but he is, after all, limited to one lifetime. Like his mentor Castro who is dying, any dictator/despot/wonderful hero can only last a few decades. Once he's gone (or overthrown), then the EMEGD can "support responsible alternatives."
Consider India. After jettisoning its ill-advised and ultimately worthless alliance with the defunct USSR, India is now a new U.S. ally--and in exchange for that alliance, the U.S. just slapped their wrist for getting nukes. And what does the U.S. get out of it? Nukes aimed at Pakistan, should that country ever threaten U.S. dominance, and a huge source of talent for U.S. global corporations, and new markets for U.S, goods. Oreos and hip-hop, baby. The dominance is on all fronts.
You might have thought it was a joke when U.S. troops played Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" over the loudspeakers to freak out General Noreiga, who was on his way out as frontman of Panama--that was no joke. Rock-n-roll and hip-hop are the "cultural shock troops" of U.S. domination--which is domination not just of financial and military assets, but of mindshare and cultural values.
Think about it: what has Germany, Japan or China "occupied" in mindshare in the global space? Hello Kitty, manga and. . . zip. Sure, dilettantes love War Kung-Wai, but on a global stage . . , have you seen a Bollywood film recently? The moves are hip-hop, the look pure Hollywood knock-off. The guy gets off the helicopter in shades and a three-day beard . . .
On to Iraq, where the Grand Strategy is playing out to the long-range benefit of the U.S., even if the actual war was botched by an incompetent administration and the U.S. military is suffering from the strain. But hey, EMEGD plays a long-term game--did you notice those U.S. Military bases in Japan and Germany, 60 years after the war ended?--and a couple thousand KIA a year is no big deal--it's not their kids dying, after all, and besides, a little war trains a new officer corps and allows the "fighting spirit" of the U.S. an outlet.
For if there's one thing the Elite understands, it's that the U.S. population is feisty and doesn't mind mixing it up when challenged. The Germans and the Japanese really didn't read the U.S. character well (i.e. "a nation of mongrels") and ironically, their challenging the U.S. enabled the U.S. to dominate both Europe and the Pacific for the duration.
My own father told me he bought two used cars as a senior in high school because he figured he would die in World War II (he enlisted in the Navy right out of high school in 1944) and he reckoned there was no point in saving his wages. His brother served as a gunner in the 8th Air Force, which suffered combat losses of about 50%--yes, half the guys died. This was only exceeded by submariners in the Pacific.
If you imagine sacrifice and bravery ended in WWII, you probably don't know any 'Nam vets or people who have served in the Gulf Wars. Despite the horrific personal losses suffered in Korea and Vietnam, those "holding actions" didn't dim the nation's willingness to fight.
So allow me to predict the end-state of the Iraqi war: the U.S. will maintain bases deep in the desert near the Iranian and Syrian borders, and maintain close ties with the Kurds (despite our abject betrayal in 1991, we're still the only game in town). Much of the personnel will be Special Forces or equivalent (Rangers, elite Marine or Navy units, etc.) The bases will soon be forgotten because they're so isolated, no hopeful suicide-bomber can even get to close them. They'll be there for "goodwill" like all those missions in Africa you don't know about, and to remind the Iranians and Syrians that there are limits to what will be tolerated.
We have to take a broad view when we read about "Imperial over-stretch." The U.S. maintains 11 carrier strike groups (CSG), while the entire rest of the planet maintains four--three British and one French. (Neither military should be taken lightly. Did I mention they're U.S. allies?) India bought a defective Soviet carrier which may never put to sea, and the Chinese have aspirations, but as of now, all carries task groups are U.S. or U.S. allies.
Does a carrier task force solve Iraq? No. Does it resolve political dilemmas? No. But it does project power, which separates nations into two groups: those who can and those who can't.
Regardless of the party, Republican or Democrat, any reduction in U.S. military force will be resisted by the Elite. Chairman Mao rather famously said, "Political power comes from the barrel of a gun," and the U.S. Elite very firmly agrees.
Here is what will mark Imperial decline: a volunteer U.S. Military of 25,000 hardy souls, and an army of 450,000 mercenaries. We aren't there yet, so all predictions of U.S. decline are premature. When we're all dancing to Chinese New Wave music and eating Chinese cookies and practising New Taoism (having left the Baptists), then the U.S. "hegemony" will be over.
But it isn't over yet, nor is that decline in the cards. For the EMEGD have resources beyond what the Islamic Revolutionaries or the New Russians or the Chinese Communist Party can even dream of. $1 trillion spent on a foreign war? No big deal. 11 carrier battle groups? No big deal. 10,000 nukes? No big deal. The list goes on. Hip-hop. $1 billion-grossing films. Technology--iPods, blogs, Web2.0, Google, you name it. The top 500 Global Corporations: all U.S. or U.S. allies or U.S. trading partners--a group in which I place China.
But in the Long View of the MEGD, there's rarely need for force. Hip-hop, KFC and Oreos are the real "shock troops" which are busily conquering Iran and Syria despite the frantic efforts of their ruling elites to muster the old tired ideologies of the past.
I know this sounds like an echo of U.S. Triumphalism, but it is simply a statement of fact. This is what drives frustrated French politicians to describe the U.S. as a "hyper-power," a force so pervasive that "super-power" does not do justice to its reach. If you research the U.S. military's presence in Africa--often a "goodwill" presence of medics--you will understand a tiny bit of the reach.
To play a little game to put things in perspective: which reins of leadership which would you want: Russia (declining in population, ruled by gangster capitalism, relying on declining oil reserves for its wealth), China (massive systemic corruption, widespread social unrest, horrendous pollution, huge unfunded social costs, heavy reliance on sales of manufactured goods to the West and Western investment, massive understated bad debts in the public banking sector, etc.) or the U.S.? Yes, the U.S. has a laundry list of huge problems, too--but be honest. Which set of conditions, strengths and problems would you prefer to own?
Yes, I anticipate a global recession, a decline in the dollar, and much suffering as a result of both. But to say the "hyper-power" is suddenly toothless and reduced to "only" military force--a skeptic has a hard time accepting such "politically-correct" views.
Yes, there will be terrible costs to the U.S.--but these will be borne by the peasantry/debt-serfs, not the Elite--and therein lies the "universal truth" of the coming recession--in every nation.
One window into the Elite is the U.S. Presidency. Once you understand how it works, you realise just how illusory the two-party system really is.
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copyright © 2007 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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