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Making the world safe for capitalism

By Ken Macnab - posted Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs argued in The Price of Civilisation (2011), that America was caught in a 'feedback loop', in which the relationship between corporate wealth and political power was such that 'Wealth begets power, and power begets wealth.' The American 'corporatocracy' was dominated, in the view of Sachs, by four key sectors of the economy: the military-industrial complex, the Wall Street–Washington complex, the Big Oil–transport–military complex and the health care industry. Corporations now control politics, not governments. Corporatocracy had replaced democracy.

Doran weaves all these themes into a systematic and coherent presentation in support of his thesis. He argues that 'the ultimate beneficiaries of free market neoliberalism have been corporations and their shareholders', a position strengthened by their recognition as 'individuals' under the Bill of Rights, giving them unassailable power to pursue their own interests free from government control. Chomsky has labeled them a form of 'private tyranny'.

The ramifications of the potential threat to American economic hegemony from a post-sanctions Iraq are well developed in the first third of this study, as the foundation of Doran's examination of the processes which shaped the American response. While the 'push for war' chapters mostly traverse well known material, the framework within which it is presented persuasively supports his argument that 'regime change' would remove 'significant threats to US hegemony and the neoliberal agenda'.


Moreover, Doran argues, 'installing a new, pro-market, neoliberal US client state in Iraq would also provide immense opportunities.' The analysis of the occupation, the 'reconstruction and corruption' of Iraq, is sharply focused on the economic implications of Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority regime. Clearly, there was far more method and purpose to the economic than the political policies pursued. Doran wrote that the 'CPA itself resembled the executive infrastructure of a US corporation, both in structure and content.'

To a considerable extent, the neoliberal economic agenda was successfully implemented, with spectacular benefits to corporations such as Haliburton and Bechtel. This process is also very well demonstrated in a whole section devoted to a case study of the reconstruction of Iraqi agriculture, where the purpose is to 'establish a western-style agriculture based on large-scale mono-crops that can be owned and manipulated by western agricultural giants such as Monsanto and Cargill', and companies supplying fertilizer and machinery.

The attempt by George Bush to establish a US Middle East Free Trade Area is also sharply analysed by Doran, with case studies of Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Bahrain and Egypt. When he spoke of 'freedom' and 'progress' and 'an expanding circle of opportunity', Bush 'certainly wasn't talking about human freedom and concern for democratic and human rights'. The utilization of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and a string of Free Trade Agreements make it plain that neoliberal economic advantage was the only serious goal.

In his Conclusion, Doran argues that 'the invasion and subsequent occupation has been a success', though not 'unqualified', and understood as being 'within the very narrow definitions of US hegemony and the expansion of neoliberalism.' Moreover, ill consequences such as the worsening humanitarian disaster in Iraq, the ongoing damage to global peace and security, and the undermining of the role of the United nations, are fully acknowledged. Nonetheless, the whole scholarly study, which is buttressed with 26 pages of references, entitles Doran to make some final general points about the 'corporate capture of the democratic state.'

In his view, the corporate dominance of the mass media, pulsing out 'the relentless corporate message that government is bad', that free markets and private enterprise can provide all social needs, including health care, education and prisons, shields 'predatory capitalism' from a rational reckoning. The true human costs of both the use of war for corporate economic purposes and the near-collapse of finance capital itself are brushed aside by shrill ideologues. Instead, it's 'business as usual'. Doran's book provides much ammunition (to use an unfortunate military turn of phrase) to those who wish to change the system.

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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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