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Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Reflections on the Iraq War

By Andreas Bieler.

How can we understand the dynamics underlying the Iraq war in 2003? My latest article with Adam David Morton, entitled ‘Axis of Evil or Access to Diesel? Spaces of New Imperialism and the Iraq War’ is now published in the journal Historical Materialism and attempts to address this question.

In our analysis, we argue that the Iraq war did not simply reflect the unitary decision by the U.S. state to assert its interests in the global political economy, nor was it the result of co-operation by a group of allied capitalist countries to secure access to oil in the Middle East. Equally, we reject the notion that the use of military force reflected the interests of an emerging transnational state. Following on from our International Studies Quarterly article and in contrast to the above positions, our main focus is to assert the philosophy of internal relations as the hallmark of historical materialism. Thus, transnational capital is not understood as externally related to states, engaged in competition over authority in the global economy. Instead our focus shifts to class struggles over the extent to which the interests of transnational capital have become internalised or not within concrete forms of state and here in particular the U.S. form of state.

Our argument is that protecting and promoting U.S. geopolitics through the use of force has long been a strategy of neo-conservatives who were at the heart of the George W. Bush administration reflecting the interests of a national fraction of capital. With multilateralism at an impasse within the United Nations, the rhetoric of neo-conservative unilateralism gained salience, while the interests of transnational capital were side-lined within the U.S. form of state. A dominant discourse of U.S. unilateralism at that time emerged, linked to the nationalist wing of the U.S. elite rooted within national fractions of capital tied to the arms industry and key construction companies such as Bechtel. This wing retained firm roots within the Military-Industrial-Academic-Complex, key to understanding some of the dynamics of U.S. geopolitics.

Unsurprisingly, companies part of this national capitalist class fraction were also the ones receiving the most contracts from the aftermath of the Iraq War. Halliburton was given a huge contract to run the Green Zone in Baghdad and was hired to help run the ‘living support services’ of the Coalitional Provisional Authority. As reported in The New York Times, it was also given ‘the exclusive United States contract to import fuel into Iraq’ and in March 2003 ‘was awarded a no-competition contract to repair Iraq’s oil industry’, having already received more than $1.4 billion in work. The major U.S. engineering company Bechtel, in turn, was given the first contract awarded by USAID in April 2003, and was awarded a second contract in January 2004, tasked with providing ‘a major program of engineering, procurement, and construction services for a series of new Iraqi infrastructure projects at a total value of up to $1.8 billion’.

Ultimately, we conclude in the article, that the war on Iraq therefore reflects a capitalist accumulation strategy of bomb & build. Through new imperialist interventions in Iraq and, perhaps, elsewhere (Afghanistan, or Libya), we can witness the spatial reordering of the built environment through militarism and other mechanisms of finance linked to specific class fractions within the U.S. state form and thus the policy of bomb & build on a world scale.

Andreas Bieler is Professor of Political Economy and Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice.This article first appeared on the blog Progress in Political Economy available here.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

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