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February 20, 2007

The Colonial Stag
in Rutting Season


by Ann Berg

It begins with the visible swelling of the throat. Displays of agitation bellowing, prancing, and stomping follow and culminate in a frenzy of rivalrous assaults.

The beastly nature of U.S. foreign policy becomes more apparent daily. As William Pfaff recently wrote, the current and future preemptive wars in the greater Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa are late tremors of colonialism, driven by America's deep-rooted delusion over its own exceptionalism. Given its ascendant position after World War II (comprising 40 percent of the world's GDP), the rapid dollarization of the global economy, and the embrace of military Keynesianism (deftly described by Chalmers Johnson), it is no wonder that the U.S. finds itself stuck in overreach and blustery denial. Vice President Cheney in particular seems to concur with the neoconservative view that Arabs only understand force. And when President Bush, four years into a war with a populace lacking air and sea command, speaks of accepting nothing less than "total victory," he means achieving pacification by fearful subjugation to American killing power.

The inherent blindness and racism of such a policy explains how Bush and his supine Congress switch targets with relative ease. It matters not that the Taliban has replaced al-Qaeda in U.S. sights in Afghanistan and that the adversaries in Iraq have expanded to include whomever the military pronounces the "ever adaptable enemy." The neighboring Persians are now mixed in with intractable Arabs. The mission has metastasized to the Horn of Africa to further curb the Islamic blight. The one stable democratic ally in the region, Turkey (with 98 percent Muslim population), awaits chastisement from Pelosi's House in the form of a resolution declaring it guilty of genocide against the largely Christian Armenians in 1915. Meanwhile, Washington's Greek chorus, the American Enterprise Institute, emits a constant drone in the background: "If we withdraw, they will follow us here."

The rutting stag clashes with trees, bushes, and other upright objects whatever clouds its field of vision and blocks its goal of herd domination.

The bestial-colonial U.S. approach to developing regions is an utter disconnect with today's world. Setting aside the moral question, colonialism hasn't worked for over half a century, after reaching its highest profitability in the mid to late 19th century. Evolving from mercantilism (essentially syndicated piracy), colonialism adopted a muscular and integrative approach to enrichment, thanks to industrial advances. Whereas the mercantilist VOC (Dutch East India Company) exploited the trading-post system with a fleet of 150 ships colonialist countries created monopsony embeds with host colonies. They could dictate the labor terms (often slave), buy off the "upper management," and use superior technology (including weaponry) to strip-mine the country. When Britain occupied India, it didn't pursue a holistic infrastructure plan for the country but built railroads that linked cotton, indigo, grain, and poppy production in direct lines to seaports. Opium cultivation in India was so profitable (several hundred percent) that Britain waged war against China in 1840 to gain treaty rights for the continued sale of the narcotic. Belgium's King Leopold pursued the lucrative rubber trade in the Congo in the 1880s by brutalizing the population killing up to 8 million people. In the Eastern world, Japan seized control of the Manchurian railroad and the Port Arthur terminus in 1904 to ensure a steady flow of iron ore to its island economy. The rise of modern capital markets and the extensive use of credit poured accelerant on the industrialized colonial process.

But by the early 20th century, the shrinking returns on colonial assets strained the multilateral balance-of-power system, ending in the eruption of the First World War. Following the Second World War, the power vacuum left by colonial withdrawal produced a checkerboard of failed states and political alignments split along Western/Communist fault lines. Kleptocratic strongman governments, swelled by Western aid packages, stunted the political and economic growth throughout Africa and the Middle East. When the pan-African leader Patrice Lumumba was elected Congo's prime minister in 1960 and condemned colonialism, the West arranged his execution. Thirty-seven years of Mobutu followed. For the disenfranchised masses, ethnic and religious fervor, which predated the imperial boundaries by centuries, became uniting causes; these prevail today.

Because of colonialism's horrific legacy, the U.S. wove elaborate tales to pitch its noble enterprise for subjugating the Islamic region and using Iraq as its central command post to oversee regional energy development. Prior to all its "liberation" talk, the administration extolled the invasion as a bona fide investment yielding instant dividends and a continuous stream of good will. The fact that investment was impossible because of U.S. prohibitions against American/Iraqi capital ventures went unmentioned. Once the weapons threat and the Saddam- 9/11 connection fizzled, the U.S. ramped up the struggle as a clash of worldviews, one it couldn't afford to lose. Details supporting this axiom appear closely guarded hushed circles must be envisioning Muslim hordes overrunning American soil turning symbols of culture, capital, and religion into rubble.

The U.S. is entangled in the most costly colonial experiment in history. Ironically, 21st-century democratization, so glorified by the Bush administration, has worked to the U.S. military's disadvantage: shared technological innovation and universal connectivity have lent strength to an insurgency unimaginable in King Leopold's time. Other countries, particularly the developing ones, have managed to produce economic growth without preemptive wars. Indeed in 2006, the developing world surpassed the industrialized one in terms of total GDP for the first time while the U.S. dipped to a 20 percent GDP share. China, the world's largest importer of steel, copper, nickel, and tin, achieves productivity by striking bilateral trade deals and structuring loan packages with the former colonial world without brandishing a gun. The "debate" over troop numbers in Iraq doesn't go nearly far enough. The U.S. should vote for a wholesale rejection of its mad colonial course, a course bound for ruin.

During the rut, the stag forgoes sleep and sustenance, losing up to 30 percent of its weight. Death from starvation and exhaustion often precludes species propagation.

 

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Ann Berg has spent a 30-year career in commodities and capital markets as a trader, consultant, and writer. While a commodity futures trader and Director of the Chicago Board of Trade, she advised foreign governments, NGOs (the United Nations, World Bank), think tanks (Catalyst Institute), and multinational and foreign corporations on a variety market-related issues. She was also a frequent conference speaker at international derivatives markets forums. In recent years, she has contributed articles to several commodities/capital markets publications, including Futures Magazine, Traders Source, Financial Exchange, and the Financial Times editorial page. Berg is also an artist. She is currently working on a body of work entitled The Unknown Unknowns – The Things You Don’t Know You Don’t Know, which explores U.S. national security policy.

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