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From Mecca To Baghdad, Bakr to Bush

By Cameron Riley - posted Friday, 27 January 2006

Prior to Muhammad, Syria and Arabia in the sixth century were dominated by tribes held together by either blood bonds, or a strong tribal leader. Islamic monotheism was the technology which enabled the higher level of social organisation amongst the Arabs necessary to conquer and control the Persian Gulf. After Muhammad's death, Abu Bakr put down any insurrections to his caliphate but faced a problem. He had a military-agrarian complex. For socio-economic stability he chose to keep his army intact: expanding the Islamic Empire into Syria and Iraq by conquest.

Seventh century Arabia was tumultuous, with tribes constantly warring against each other. The desert trade routes were far away from the order of the Byzantine or Persian empires and were in constant danger from brigandry. The region developed multiple monotheistic religions at the time, of which Islam was the most successful. Muhammad immigrated to Medina where he was able to build a supra-Arabian identity through Islam's egalitarian umma that ultimately defeated the Meccans and all the other tribes in the Arabian Peninsula.

Islam had served as a tool for social organisation which had military benefits. By the time of Muhammad's death in 632, the Muslims had the most powerful army in Arabia. With Abu Bakr taking over as caliph, numerous insurrections were put down and the tribes rebound to Islam and himself. He succeeded in restoring order, but at the cost of a society containing a form of agrarian-militarism. His army was many thousands, and if disbanded, many would end up in brigandry, causing disruption and social disorder. As a consequence, the armies remained. They marched on the Byzantine and Persian empires, in Syria and Iraq - defeating those empires despite smaller numbers of troops.


This self-reinforcing imperial feedback loop is not unusual. During  World War II the industrial might of the United States bent its back to the task of defeating Germany and Japan. The US started the war with four aircraft carriers: by the end of the war they were producing one a month. With the surrender of the Axis powers in 1945, nations such as Australia quickly demobilised their forces. In 1945 Australia had the world's fourth largest air force, and nearly half a million troops deployed in the Pacific. By 1946 Australia was a military non-entity.

The United States, however, found itself facing an increasingly hostile Soviet Union that  rivalled the US for military power, and opposed the West in ideology. Where Australia demobilised, the US continued to mobilise, developing its military with greater and greater spending, technology, systems, capability and projection. This is inter-dependency is known today as the military-industrial complex. Dwight Eisenhower warned of its influence in 1961:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

This was the same political, economic and social influence that Abu Bakr faced from his regionally dominant Arab military in the seventh century.

In the 1980s the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War was over. Russia was bankrupt: fiscally, economically, socially, politically and militarily. It could not feed its people and its client-states, such as Poland, were in open rebellion. The United States was left as the world's dominant economic and military power. Without the military strength of the Soviet Union to push against, and justify the large budgets the Pentagon was used to, many in the US looked for new reasons to continue the funding of American military power.


Al Gore argued in 1997 that the global reach of the US military was the insurer of order between nation-states. He told American troops in Tokyo, “the peace and security of the Pacific region rest on your backs”.

The American people were not convinced. They saw US troops all round the world in bases and nations which were intended for the Cold War that had ended close to a generation before. Not only was it an extravagant taxpayer expense - it was time to bring the troops home.

But how does a government stop the military-industrial complex?

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About the Author

Cameron Riley is founder of South Sea Republic. He authored the book, The K-fivical Cam, and has co-authored South Sea Republic Volume One as well as the recently released book, Patterns of Liberty.

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