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July-August 1999 (Volume 51, Number 3)

Notes from the Editors

In his article on the U.S. economy in this issue, Doug Henwood quotes from a piece by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times Magazine on March 28, and points to the connection between Friedman’s view of globalization and his support for the bombing of Yugoslavia. Well, we read that article and were very much struck by it too. Anyone who thinks we’re over the top when we say things like Ellen did in June’s Review of the Month about the “new imperialism” should just read Friedman’s “Manifesto for the Fast World.”

Here’s a relatively sane U.S. journalist, not some right-wing nut-case but more like a spokesman for the more progressive elements in the current administration (in the piece, he even seems to call himself a social democrat). Yet his “Manifesto,” in which he clearly thinks he’s saying something humane and progressive, spells out in blood-chilling explicitness exactly the program of the new imperialism.

Drawing precisely the kind of distinction Ellen was making between hegemony over specific territories and hegemony over the global economy, Friedman also shows how the new type of imperial hegemony requires displays of military force designed not to achieve specific and immediate objectives but to make a general point about U.S. domination. So much for those who say that U.S. objectives in the war over Kosovo must be humanitarian because there’s no obvious national or strategic interest there for the United States.

Since the United States is the country that benefits most from globalization, Friedman tells us, it’s also the one that has to take the main responsibility for sustaining it. “Sustaining globalization is our overarching national interest …. Globalization-is-U.S..” This, he says, is different from “old-fashioned imperialism, when one country physically occupies another.” Now, it’s a matter of maintaining “an abstract globalization system.” And this “requires a stable geopolitical power structure, which simply cannot be maintained without the active involvement of the United States.”

The quote cited by Doug says it all: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

Naturally, the hidden fist has to come out of hiding with some regularity, if it’s going to make its point. Friedman goes on to quote approvingly from foreign policy historian Robert Kagan: “Good ideas and technologies need a strong power that promotes those ideas by example and protects those ideas by winning on the battlefield. If a lesser power were promoting our ideas and technologies, they would not have the global currency that they have.”

And then, guess what? Friedman moves on to the subject of Kosovo, as an example of how the United States can display its military power. According to the Times, the article went to the printer before the bombing started, but since then he has become one of the most avid supporters of the air war. In an article in the Times on April 23, for instance, he called for a “merciless air war,” to “pulverize” the Serbian nation—bombing it back to the fourteenth century if necessary. “Give war a chance,” he said. In preference to a ground invasion that might bog the United States down as an occupying force for years, “Let’s see what months of bombing does.” Well, after more than two months of bombing, we have some idea of what it does—and if its sheer destructiveness, its damage to human beings (never mind its failure to save a single human life), is a funny way to achieve “humanitarian” objectives, it has certainly worked much better as one of those exemplary displays of the fist.

In his manifesto, Friedman also explains that Americans, who “were ready to pay any price and bear any burden in the cold war,” are unwilling to die for that “abstract globalization system.” That’s why “house-to-house fighting is out; cruise missiles are in.” He could just as easily have said “that’s why ground troops are out and high-tech bombing is in. We don’t want to die ourselves for globalization, but we don’t mind killing others.”

Maybe we should have let Friedman write our Review of the Month on the new imperialism.

After we finished the above notes, a settlement on Kosovo was announced and is apparently being implemented as we go to press. The papers are, of course, full of NATO’s “victory.” But let’s get a few things straight.

The United States and its allies went to war allegedly to prevent a humanitarian disaster. They failed spectacularly. In fact, their action enabled that disaster to happen—and more quickly and completely than even its perpetrators could have imagined. In the process, NATO also created another humanitarian disaster all its own: a whole country and its infrastructure wrecked, civilian lives ended or ruined (including the lives of people NATO’s action was supposed to save), ecological damage that will affect the region and its people indefinitely, and who knows what local and regional conflicts to come.

On top of all that, the Financial Times revealed on June 14 that “the talks with Mr. Milosevic, both open and covert, were more of a negotiation than the leaders of NATO countries have admitted.” The deal was clinched by secret negotiations assuring Milosevic that NATO would settle on terms “significantly better” than the conditions offered at Rambouillet. This reinforces the suspicion that what NATO achieved at such great human cost was not vastly different from what they very likely could have had without this awful war.

The spin doctors are working overtime to convince us that this is a glorious triumph. But if conventional wisdom comes to accept this disaster as a great success for NATO, it will have very dangerous repercussions for the whole world.

The winners of the 1999 Harry Braverman Award were recently announced by the Society for the Study of Social Problems, Labor Studies Division. They are: Jason Moore (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Diana Gildea (University of Oregon) for their paper, “Making Space for Braverman: Rethinking the Division of Labor in Historical-Geographic Perspective,” and Ana Rodriguez-Gusta (University of Notre Dame) for her paper, “Cognitive Communities and Technical Cornucopia: A Case Study of the Rodriguez-UAW Responses to New Technologies.”

The Society’s newsletter makes the follwing comments about the first pair of winners: “Moore and Gildea engage the reader in an extremely thorough and meticulous historical analysis of a previously under-theorized relationship between the geography of production and the nature of the labor process.”

About Rodriguez-Gusta, it says, “The author uses rich qualitative data to reveal differences between three cognitive communities within labor organizing …. Her use of original research, primary data collections, and strong method are commendable.”

We regret that the name of Andor Skotnes, who contributed to the interview with Paul Sweezy, was misspelled in our May issue.

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1999, Volume 51, Issue 03 (July-August)
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