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Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Long, cramped, uneventful flight.  Took me two days to make up the lost sleep.  Ah, to be seventy again.  Walked past the newly renovated La Monnaie.  No sign of Guy Savoy's three star restaurant on the top floor.  Susie and I were awakened this morning by a persistent rhythmic hammering that sounded as though it was right outside our window.  Sure enough, a workman was hard at it stippling a newly plastered façade of the building next door to make it rough and aged looking.  There is something inherently irrational abut trying to make a seventeenth century building look old.

Paris is lovely -- mixed sun and clouds, the weather trending warmer.  Yesterday was Pentecost, a national holiday, and the streets were deserted when I walked at six a.m.  This morning  shopped at the market.  I shall make skate tonight -- a very Parisian meal, I feel.

From time to time, readers report having difficulty posting comments.  This is terra incognita to me, I am afraid.  Wallace Stevens sent me an extremely interesting comment by e-mail after finding himself unable to post it.  With his permission I reproduce it here:

Wallace Stevens:

Your question "What should the foreign and military policy of the United States be?" is an important one.  I think it is pretty clear what it should NOT be.  But I think that in order to address what it should be, we first need to address the notion of "imperialism,"--the term that forms the context in which you raise the question.
Ancient imperialism was a pretty transparent and unapologetic question of theft--the hauling away of booty and the collection of tribute.  Yes, there may have been the odd road, or bridge, or public bath coming back the other way, but there was never any real accounting of the "balance" of such exchanges.  And any improvements to local infrastructure reflected the priorities of the metropolis, not the needs of the colony or vassal state, although some of the improvements were no doubt welcome.  (Older readers of this blog will recall a very funny segment in the Monty Python film "The Life of Brian" on this issue.)  The ancient model of empire was replaced by the commercial/capitalist empire in which the colonies became both captive sources of raw materials, and captive markets for finished goods?the two sides of the profit equation--through various monopolies awarded by the imperial government.  It was no longer a simple matter of "loot."  We are now talking about businesses that made useful things and sold them.  But the colonies did not control the exploitation of their natural resources or collect royalties for use, and they were forced to buy only goods made in the metropolis.  Military power was a means of maintaining and extending these arrangements.
None of the above is true today.  Whatever is taken by the US from other countries is bought and paid for with an equivalent basket of US goods and services.  And if a given country does not want enough of what the US has to offer in exchange for what it produces, the difference is paid for with US debt--i.e., future claims on US goods and services.  Further, such exchanges are based on prices determined by market forces, some competitive, some, like the price of oil, which is largely dependent on Saudi production, not so competitive, that, in the context of a global, capitalist market place, US military might cannot control.
Today, the US certainly has the military capabilities and swagger of an imperial power of old. But it is not at all clear to me what actual good it does the US. For example, the price of oil--a critical commodity for the US and other industrialised societies--seems completely out its grasp.  (You can imagine the rhetoric and reaction in the 19th century if a small,  relatively lightly defended state like Saudi Arabia controlled the supply and therefore the price of coal: A bunch of "wogs" holding the civilised world to ransom, time for gunboats in the harbour, etc., etc.  Not only are all the President's horses and all the President's men incapable of doing anything about the price of oil, but also, supposing they WERE to act, what would the US government do with this power? Force the Saudis to cut back production further (thus benefiting the oil companies by raising prices), or force them to increase production (thus aiding the Western economies as a whole and the (vastly larger) non-petroleum capitalist interests)?  To this one might add that higher prices, which discourage consumption, might not even be in the interests of the oil companies over the longer term. So, what to do, even supposing you were able to act?
The Japanese, the Swiss, the Canadians and others, who have little to no capability of "projecting power," have discovered that you don't need a huge military presence in order to prosper.  All you have to do is stand on the shore waving hard currency and the tankers will come to you!
Yes, there are pirates (sea-born and cyber) and other potential disrupters of the free and peaceful flow of goods, services and capital.  But even Japan has enough of a navy to take on the threat of pirates at sea.  As for the cyber pirates, well, aircraft carriers aren't much help.  What about organized states that might disrupt trade?  Here it is ironic that "enemies" like Iran today, and Iraq pre-2003, are EMBARGOED.  The US, and the West more broadly, actually forces them to withdraw their critical raw material?oil--from the market.
I want to get to your question. In particular I like Gene's alternative #5.  But I have gardening duties and will have to sign off for now.

1 comment:

classtruggle said...

"Ancient imperialism was a pretty transparent and unapologetic question of theft--the hauling away of booty and the collection of tribute."

I've commented before on the similarities and differences between the concepts imperialism and colonialism which are often confused and conflated in some of the literature. Ancient imperialism is another good concept to think about. The term imperialism, as far as I know, was originally introduced into English in the late 19th century to describe the aggressive policies of then Prime Minister Disraeli. And the so called 'Age of Imperialism' is generally dated around 1700 thorugh to the middle of the 20th century (e.g. Great Game, Scramble for Africa, Open Door, etc). But I guess if one defines imperialism in very general times, for example, as the forcible imposition of an entity's control (I wouldn't use modern terms like 'government' or 'nation') over another entity, then it certainly can transcend dimensions of time.

Lenin as is well known depicted imperialism as an extension of capitalism that arose from the need for capitalist economies to constantly expand investment, material resources and workforce in such a way that necessitated colonial expansion. He also made a distinction between the 'imperialist' stage of capitalism in his famous work and the colonial empires of 16th and 17th centuries or the empires of the ancient world (Persian, Roman, Chinese, etc.) So for him, I don't think imperialism is a concept that we can use to describe processes of political and economic exploitation in ancient times. But I may be wrong. I would need to check his notebooks to see what he had to say about Cromer's 'ancient & modern imperialism' book. Definitions are key and some interesting conversations can be had over them.