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May 2007 (Volume 59, Number 1)

» Notes from the Editors
May 2007 (Volume 59, Number 1)
Recent attempts, however tentative, by Congressional Democrats to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq should be looked upon as a victory for the antiwar movement. Not only is the Democratic Party clearly aware that its current congressional majority was the result of popular dissatisfaction with the war, but nationwide antiwar rallies have recently driven the point home. Under these circumstances, the Democrats had no choice but to challenge administration policy on the war.  However, it would be a grave mistake to conclude from this that the political establishment in the United States is severely split on the question of imperialism, or that the Democratic Party is shifting towards a general anti-imperialist stance.  On this issue a very insightful commentary entitled “But Who’s against the Next War?” was provided by David Rieff, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine in its March 25, 2007, issue.  Rieff points out that the Democratic leaders need to be judged not simply on the basis of their belated, limited opposition to the present war, but also on the basis of their position in relation to the “next war.”  Here the Democratic leadership is presently in lockstep with the administration, insisting that military intervention against Iran should remain “on the table.”

Indeed, as Rieff points out, the leading Democrats “seem to base their logic for a drawdown in Iraq not on the desirability of bringing troops home but of being able to deploy them elsewhere,” arguing that “Iraq is a distraction in the global fight against the jihadists and that leaving Iraq will free up forces to pursue that struggle more effectively elsewhere”: Afghanistan, Iran, Darfur, or other hot spots around the globe. “National-greatness liberalism,” associated with Democratic presidents from Truman to Johnson, is being lauded by today’s liberals as the original “muscular foreign policy,” in no way less commanding in its global presence than neoconservatism.  One way to sum this up is to say that the U.S. ruling class, which controls both arms of the political establishment, is firmly in support of the present phase of naked imperialism, which is the very definition of today’s bipartisan foreign policy.  Although there are definite foreign policy differences between the political-party establishments they do not extend to the imperial grand strategy as a whole.

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Robert Engler, who died on February 23, aged eighty-four, wrote for Monthly Review, was a friend and colleague of MR editors Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy, and an occasional and lively participant in the old Wednesday “brown bag” lunches.  He is perhaps best known for his pioneering The Politics of Oil: A Study of Private Power and Democratic Directions (1961) which documented the ways in which the power of giant oil corporations was used in aid of the global interests of U.S. capitalism.  The work was deeply influential and even prompted numerous investigations by Congress and the press.

Following the oil crisis of the early 1970s Engler published a sequel, The Brotherhood of Oil: Energy Policy and the Public Interest (1977), an equally penetrating study of the political economy of international oil and its crucial role in the elaboration of U.S. imperial interests.  In it he offered groundbreaking analyses of the network of controls over the flow of energy Washington employs through both government and corporations wherever petroleum is produced and used.  Taking a broad view, Engler looked at the ways in which U.S. control of oil resources was used in the blockade against Cuba, its policy in Asia, the arms race in the Middle East, and the thwarting of international efforts at safeguarding the environment.  In the later part of his career he published numerous, often passionate, articles about the destructive ecological impact of U.S. carbon fuel dominance.  His views were informed not only by a clear understanding of both imperial and environmental realities, but by a deep moral commitment to the imperatives of social justice.

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