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Empire of Chaos: How 9/11 Shaped the Politics of a Failing State

The neoconservative ideas that shaped the war on terror have evaporated as the United States is battered by an economic depression that shows no end.

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At the same time, the United States is unable to order the world so that social benefits are disbursed to the middle classes not just the upper crust. It can spread disorder as evidenced by the six countries tormented by America’s video-game bombing campaigns, but it’s ability to conquer and rule on land is minimal given the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires. Its control of the skies, outer space and electronic mediums allows it to disrupt but not to dominate.

This has given rise to new power configurations. Latin America’s left turn had made the IMF irrelevant in that region, undermining the U.S.-organized financial order. The Arab Spring has eroded the U.S. political order in the Middle East and gives lie to the Orientalist ideology that Arab and Muslim nations are irrational, violent and backward. Turkey and Egypt are pulling away from being Israel’s watchdogs and provide a buffer against a U.S.-orchestrated attack on Iran. And the spread of popular public occupations now to Europe echoes the period when another world did seem possible. Another hopeful sign is that more U.S.-based organizing is opting for occupations rather than legal, polite and ineffective protests.

The disorder is felt profoundly on the home front. Beginning in the 1980s IMF austerity was for the periphery – from Latin America to East Asia. The austerity has now moved to Greece, Ireland, Spain, Great Britain and the United States. The ideology is the same here as it is in the Third World: when choosing between the health of bondholders and the health of human societies, the bondholders always win and profits must keep flowing to the banks.

The repression of left and progressive dissent has left the state in the hands of a fanatical right wing and their corporate allies. The U.S. political system is unable to respond to the needs of rational capitalists. On Aug. 26, at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke pointed to the housing crisis, political dysfunction and the “ extraordinarily high level of long-term unemployment” as the main symptoms crippling the economy.  Warren Buffet has been pleading for the government to raise taxes on the super-rich like him. Influential economist Nouriel Roubini said in August that in the last few years there has been “a massive redistribution of income from labor to capital, from wages to profit … Karl Marx had it right, at some point capitalism can self-destroy itself.”

Bill Gross, a Republican and a chief investment officer of the “giant bond fund Pimco,” recently told the New York Times that to “arrest America’s dangerous economic slide” government currently needs to provide refinancing relief for homeowners, provide loans to small business, which the banks are not providing, and most of all, rebuild the nation’s decaying roads, bridges and airports so the government can create jobs directly because the “private sector is not going to do it.”

So even as some of the chief managers and intellectuals of American capitalism are calling for government jobs, higher taxes on the rich and more stimulus to bail out the economy, the political class is busy force-feeding us austerity coated in trillion-dollar war budgets.

Not that this is entirely irrational. The staggering amounts of money spent on war, spying, the military, mercenaries, policing and all the other security apparatuses creates many millions of jobs. Add to that secondary contracting, support services and economic activity generated by all these workers and you have millions of jobs more. And given all their dependents, this means tens of millions of Americans benefit directly from the war economy. This is a wasteful form of Keynesianism, employing school teachers and healthcare workers is far more beneficial to society and the world than building drones and airport X-ray scanners, but the huge economic base that is the American way of war is part of the reason it’s so hard to dismantle.