Thursday, February 03, 2011

"The National Interest" and Other Myths

At today, Kevin Carson addresses something that I've often thought about:
Yesterday, while channel-surfing, I saw a pundit on one of the news channels’ talking head shows pontificating on the internal contradictions inherent in U.S. government policy toward the new "Twitter Revolutions" in Tunisia and Egypt.

He said that, no matter how unpopular and authoritarian autocratic regimes like Mubarak’s are at home, the United States unfortunately has an interest in preserving their stability because such regimes "support our interests" in the Middle East.

Note the unintended irony there. When I hear a reference to "our interests," or what "we" are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, my automatic response is "Are you carrying a friend in your pocket?"

The clear assumption is that there is some commonality of interest between the American people and the state that claims to represent them. But in reality, we’ve got about as many interests in common with "our" government as the Egyptian people have in common with Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. government may pursue "interests" in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, but they’re the interests of the coalition of class forces that controls the American state. The interests promoted by the U.S. government are those at the commanding heights of the corporate economy.

U.S. copyright policy is written by the RIAA, MPAA, and Microsoft – Joe Biden’s "IP task force" actually operated out of Disney headquarters. Agricultural policy is made by ADM, Cargill, and Monsanto, as indicated by the revolving door through which vice presidents and CEOs of those companies walk to become deputy and assistant secretaries at USDA or vice versa.

If the U.S. government is an executive committee of the corporate ruling class when it comes to domestic affairs, and policy reflects the interests of the corporations that control the state, why would we expect it to be any different when it comes to foreign policy? What — because "politics stops at the water’s edge?" Come on, pull the other one! Show me the special race of angels — so different from the regular mortal ward-heeling hacks who make domestic policy — from which the foreign policy establishment is recruited.
My late mother, a woman given to the use of colorful phrases, would have said of the "our interests" formulation: What, are you pregnant? Got a tapeworm? Got a turd in your pocket? The United States, a welded-together golem encompassing the width of the continent, as well as a decent fraction of its north-to-south size, is supposed to have a common set of interests vis-a-vis the rest of the world? Seems pretty unlikely, even setting aside the obvious class interests that Mr. Carson cites. Like the former USSR, the US is certainly no organic whole; it's a collection of parts held together by fear and force, and those parts don't necessarily like each other all that well.

We're told that America is a great melting pot unified by ideas, represented by the Constitution. Well, the Constitution's long dead; and as for "ideas," well ... how can we even talk about ideas, in a country of "Dancing With the Stars" and "Hoarders" watchers?

The US is many times too large to be a "community," in any meaningful sense. Whoever talks about US interests is selling something -- something that most of us wouldn't buy, if not for deception and raw force.

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