August 11, 2004
Liberation or Domination?By James Arlandson
Why has the US invaded other nations in the past 60 years? To liberate people or take over their economy? Al—Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist who is stalking Iraq and beheading innocents, in his list of grievances shrieks out this claim about America's alleged rapacious foreign policy:
First: the resources and treasures of this rich land that have whetted the appetite of the bloodsuckers, the big capitalists, whose lust for wealth has driven them to commit every dirty and mean act, without any regard for big or small, man or woman. To them, the aim justifies the means. They are applying the jungle law by incriminating and killing indiscriminately.
Viggo Mortensen, who played Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings, was a guest on the Charlie Rose Show before the Iraq War to promote the film. He was wearing a T—shirt that said, 'No Blood for Oil.' He even implied that Sauron and Mordor are like Bush and the US.
Of course, it must be said that al—Zarqawi and Mortensen and the American left in general should not be equated in any way. Rather, the Middle Eastern terrorist and the peaceful and patriotic American actor have been paired simply to show the powerful lure of economic materialism as a be—all answer for a wide range of people making sense of the world.
On the other side, most on the right—wing (pace far—right Pat Buchanan's A Republic, Not an Empire) claim we invade nations to liberate the people, without dominating their economy as an empire would.
The essence of their differences can be boiled down to the one modus ponens form:
The left's goes like this:
(1) If A, then B. In the past sixty years, if the US invaded any nation, then the primary goal was the domination of the economy, not the liberation of the people.
And the right's goes like this:
(4) If A, then B. In the past sixty years, if the US invaded any nation, then the primary goal was the liberation of the people, not the domination of the economy.
The form of each argument is identical, but the words have been reordered so that ideological differences are worlds apart. Both cannot be true—only one primary goal at a time. One may object that both goals may be working at the same time. However, the left never credits the US with the noble goal of liberation, and I myself do not believe that the US ever invades with the primary goal to dominate—not even as a second or third goal. So the two arguments should stand as written.
The middle premises (2) and (5) are identical, which means no one disagrees that the US invaded those nations—those are facts. So why do the conclusions oppose each other? The problem is in the first premise—or the ideology one brings to the agreed—upon facts of US actions abroad in the middle premises.
The key to breaking the deadlock or the ideological stranglehold that grips the left and the right is found in facts, as they are applied to the left's and right's first premises, the if—then clauses. What are the facts? And are we teachable enough to let the facts change our mind?
Factually, the left would lose the debate quite easily if we were to discuss only Korea, Viet Nam, Grenada, and Afghanistan, for at the time of our invading those nations, they did not have a substantial economy. What did they produce in great quantities that we could dominate?
Today, of those four, only Korea has a vital economy. Are we specifically and criminally manipulating this or that part of their economy? Is there specific evidence of such domination? The fact is this: Korea is strong on its own, not because we dictate economic terms to it now. Our liberation of the bottom half of the peninsula from communism has given that half prosperity, whereas the upper half is shrouded in death and famine, like Tolkien's Mordor.
To an academic I heard about who says we invaded Korea just so we could trade with it later, the retort is this: he has the cart before the horse, because immediately after the Korean War, it was not automatic that Korea would create a prosperous economy out of the ruins of war. And after liberation what is wrong with free trade? Free trade is not the same as dominance, not even close. It seems some leftists confuse American aid with communist totalitarianism. We do not dominate the Pacific Rim as China does (or tries to); even China is having a hard time controlling Hong Kong, and Taiwan is beyond China's reach (at least for the moment —thanks to America's non—imperial protection). How can the US be confused with China?
Donald Rumsfeld, in an interview in South Korea, said he likes to keep a nighttime satellite photo of the Korean peninsula. The South has bright lights dotting the blackness, which are the cities glowing with wealth. The North is in black, except for a few lights around Pyongyang, the showcase capital. The photo reminds him of America's goodness in liberating the South, which is prosperous precisely because of free trade and capitalism.
So in the case of those four nations, the US had the primary goal of the liberation of the people from the threat of communism, not the domination of the economy. The left is clearly wrong in those cases, and that opens the door to the left being wrong about the three remaining nations, which we take one at a time.
As to the primary goal of invading Germany, we would not have invaded if it were not dominated by Nazis. Let us imagine that in the first half of 1930s the German economy was prosperous (though it was not). It is inconceivable that the US would have invaded just to take it over as some kind of imperial overlords. Also, even as Germany's economy actually did improve, we never invaded. Rather, the triggering mechanism was Hitler's declaration of war on us, following its ally Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The Axis alliance's behavior stands in contrast to America's non—aggression in that same decade.
Furthermore, after the wartime obliteration of big cities like Cologne, Dresden and Berlin, Germany's economy rose up from the ashes precisely because we gave money to them in the Marshall Plan without domination—largely in the belief that prosperity through capitalism would contain Soviet expansion and domination. Some leftists seem to confuse American aid for Western Europe (and Turkey) with Soviet control over Eastern Europe. Have we stayed in Germany to dictate its economy as the Soviet Union did, say, in Poland? Where is the specific evidence of this? In fact, with the talk today of pulling the military bases out of Germany, the cities surrounding the bases do not want us to leave because we help—not dominate—their local economies. And if we trade with Germany, what is wrong with that? Some people outside of Germany like to drive VWs or Mercedes Benzes. Free trade and capitalism do not equal military and imperial domination.
Japan parallels Germany. The triggering mechanism for the US involvement in the war was Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor and its aggressive military junta, which had invaded China, and inflicted a lot of damage, both on the people and their infrastructure. It is not even remotely likely that if Japan had not been aggressive, but peaceful, we would have invaded under those conditions, just to plunder their wealth. But this is what Japan did to China, so the contrast between the two countries is stark.
In addition, after WWII, Japan's economy rose out of the ashes because of our help. Can anyone point to a specific example of the US controlling, either openly or nefariously, the Japanese economy today? With a sustained military presence? Hardly. Our military bases there defend Japan from nuclear—armed North Korea, and are so highly valued by the democratically—elected government of Japan that virtually all local expenses, including the salaries of civilian workers, are paid by the Japanese.
Also, it is a fact that Japan exports more products to the US than the US exports to Japan. We have a trade deficit. But if people are willing to buy Japanese products, then what is wrong with that? Many people like a wide array of Japanese goods. American willingness in the postwar era to allow open access to its markets for Japanese goods, to freely license technology to Japanese companies, and to encourage free trade globally, were critically important in the rise of Japan to the first tier of wealthy countries.
It seems, then, that we can conclude that the US invasions of Germany and Japan were not triggered by, nor resulted in economic domination. Of the two goals, therefore, our primary one was liberation, not imperial domination or exploitation.
What about Iraq, the only country that is left on the list? We can divide the basic facts into the national budget on the one hand, and international and national businesses, on the other.
Congress just approved an appropriations bill that amounted to 87 billion dollars to help Iraq (and Afghanistan) for one year, and even that may not be enough. By comparison, Iraqi oil output, before the war, amounted to only 2.2 to 2.4 million barrels per year (it is now only at 900,000 barrels). Therefore, if the US spent ten billion dollars less as each year passes (77 billion, down to 67 billion, down to 57 billion dollars, and so on, each year) or even 20 billion dollars less per year, it would take Iraq many, many years to repay us, and only if they turned over every dime of their oil revenues to replenish the US budget.
However, the US has ensured that the oil profits should go to Iraq. Also, what about buying Iraqi oil more cheaply than fair market value? Even if that were true, then the money would still go to Iraq. Besides, what would be wrong if we did buy Iraqi oil at a discount? We are already putting a lot more money into its economy through our budget than Iraq could repay in many years.
As to the businesses, both national and international, which are rebuilding Iraq, the left complains that somehow the members of the Administration are personally profiting from Iraqi oil. If they are, that is an impeachable offense. The left must show specific evidence that money is being transferred from Iraq to some other secret bank accounts. That is what their accusation boils down to, and it so egregious that they must put up or shut up. No more innuendos, as we have seen in Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11. Moreover, the US has distributed contracts to businesses from sixty or so nations that have people on the ground rebuilding Iraq, putting their lives in danger, and there is nothing wrong with awarding contracts to them—even Halliburton—under those conditions, only if they play by the rules. Halliburton, from which Dick Cheney resigned before taking office, was accused of overcharging, but it has been ordered to repay the surplus. The amounts of money involved were not material to a firm the size of Halliburton. To date, Halliburton's profits and stock price have shown no evidence of benefit from its contracts in Iraq.
In short, Iraq can never, ever, repay the debt of money and gratitude to the sixty or so nations that are rebuilding it. If this is economic domination and not liberation, then the US is made up of fools for leaders—even Democrats who voted for the War and the 87 billion dollars. But we do not have evidence that we have fools for leaders, who engage in financial crimes like money laundering or who send young men to their deaths just so these stogie—smoking leaders can fill their money bags—the ones with dollar signs on them. Therefore, the US has the primary goal of liberating the Iraqi people and establishing a democracy, not dominating or exploiting their economy.
Clearly, then, the primary goal of the US in invading Germany, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam, Grenada, Afghanistan, and Iraq has been the liberation of the people, not the domination of the economy. Free trade and capitalism are not the same as exploitation and totalitarian dominance, and the US is not the same as the old Soviet Union or China.
Therefore, the first premise in the right's argument is supported by the facts, so it stands, whereas the first premise in the left's argument is not supported by the facts, so it fails.
Given the evidence against the left's first premise, are they teachable so that they can let the facts change their minds? On the far right, will Pat Buchanan and his ideological soul—mates change their minds as well? Brute facts say that we have never been an empire. Bush and the US are not Sauron and Mordor. Rather, the US is a force for good and freedom in the world—the free people of Middle—earth.
Jim Arlandson (Ph.D.) teaches introductory philosophy and world religions at a college in southern California. He has published a book, Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity (Hendrickson, 1997).