The End of Bonapartism and the War on Terror

NYT columnist Tom Friedman’s column, “9/11 is over,” sounds the death knell for the Neoconservative use of 9/11 and is in particular an attack on Rudy Giuliani.

Friedman’s main arguments are that the Bush administration’s approach to dealing with al-Qaeda has so damaged the US image abroad, has so inconvenienced foreign travelers and visiting business investors, and has so diverted spending from essential US infrastructure such as bridges and airports, that it risks making the US economically backward in a globalizing world.

The column is significant because it argues that Bushism- Cheneyism is bad for business. The United States is the world’s foremost business society, and virtually everything in the society (low taxes on the wealthy, no health care for the middle classes and poor, no protections for labor organizers, favoring of certain kinds of international trade over lower middle class job security, etc.) is arranged for the convenience of the business classes. If Friedman’s conviction becomes widespread in that community, the pressures to abandon the ‘War on Terror’ will be irresistible.

Bushism-Cheneyism has aspects of Bonapartism, whereby the state rules in an authoritarian way and disregards the people, representing itself as the true representative of the business classes. In fact, it serves only a small spectrum of corporate cronies of the ruling elite, disadvantaging almost everyone else. It expands government, but not into provision of useful infrastructure (bridges, airports), but toward the provision of “security” (often just a label for make-work unnecessary jobs, such as extra al-Qaeda-fighting police in Wyoming) or of artificial “investment opportunities” such as an Iraq under US military occupation..

Friedman is the voice of the non-Libertarian business interests, the ones that recognize that certain necessary public goods will not be provided by corporations and so must be provided by government. He also represents those who are unafraid of global competition (thus his slamming of Lou Dobbs), and indeed are convinced that the big money-making opportunities on the horizon lie in globalization and in removal of barriers to international trade, investment and finance. (They are undeterred for some reason by the 1997 melt-down in Asia, which occurred precisely because governments unwisely opened the door to unregulated international speculation).

For the ‘globalized business’ crowd, the Iraq war was not a sacred mission, as it was for the Neoconservatives, but rather just another lowering of barriers to investment and business (which might also have opened the Arab world up, which would have been all to the good). The Iraq War worked in part precisely because both the Bonapartist and the global-capital fractions within the business classes could agree that it might end Arab socialism and end the barriers to doing business among the 300 million people of the Middle East.

Friedman writes:

‘ I’d love to see us salvage something decent in Iraq that might help tilt the Middle East onto a more progressive pathway. That was and is necessary to improve our security. But sometimes the necessary is impossible — and we just can’t keep chasing that rainbow this way. ‘

In other words, the Iraq War was a business investment, which was a bit of a risk but entirely justifiable at the time (you can hear the nervous CEO explaining to the Board of Directors). But the investment has gone south, isn’t working out, and no successful businessman throws good money after bad.

The attack on Giuliani comes because he is still attached to the new acquisition and does want to go on hemorrhaging funds.

It is time, Friedman argues in contrast, to cut our losses and sell off this white elephant of an acquisition (the whole ‘War on Terror’ including Iraq), which is bleeding money, hurting the firm’s image, scaring off investors, and forestalling needed new investments in key growth sectors.

USA, Inc. is moving on.

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