This post begins as a response to a commenter, but it is meant to be something more than that. It is meant to be a permanent response to a line of bad thinking, so that we can simply direct future comments along these lines back here.
The commenter referenced this Stephen Gowans piece, which essentially reiterates an old charge: America's government is the main problem with the world, because corporate interests drive her to wage wars so that they can profit from those wars.
[W]ar is good for business.
The destruction of Iraq by the US military has been a boon to weapons manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing, who depend on the Pentagon -- and a robust military budget -- to provide an unceasing flow of revenue.
These firms have an interest in a continually expanding war budget, and will see to it that there's no shortage of potential enemies whose demise must be presided over by the combined forces of the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- profitably equipped by the combined forces of Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon and so on.
Downstream, firms like Becthel (one of whose directors, George Shultz, led a committee that lobbied for the invasion of Iraq), Fluor, (Dick Cheney's old firm) Halliburton, and dozens of others, pocket billions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction contracts.
This is the charmed circle of US capitalism. Corporate America builds the bombs and missiles to destroy the infrastructure of other countries, and then moves in to rebuild what it has destroyed.
At a profit.... And it doesn't matter who's in power -- Republicans or Democrats. It's always the same.
Commenter Odanny adds, "How many of you deny this? Or even care?"
Fine. Let's deal with this once and for all.
I: Hobbes' Account of the World
Thomas Hobbes was an Englishman who lived from 1588-1679, and whose account of the state of the world "set the agenda for nearly all subsequent Western political philosophy." I'm going to assume everyone is essentially familiar with Hobbes and his principle work, Leviathan. Hobbes explained that, if a man were born outside of any society and in a 'state of nature,' he would be free to do whatever he liked; but he wouldn't live very long, given the dangers of the world into which he was born. Hobbes said that life in the state of nature would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
But it could get worse. You could meet another man.
When that happened, the two of you had a choice. You could fight, or you could come to an agreement. If you came to an agreement, and upheld it, you had created a "social contract" and could abide by it. It might be shaky, especially at first, but it was the basis for something more. And if you could get someone to enforce it, it became a lot more stable.
Inside that society law and pleasure and all sorts of things became possible. Including this thing, which Hobbes never envisoned: amnesia.
In the West, we have come to a place where the 'state of nature' is not even recalled. The society seems so stable, so secure, that we rebel against the rules and the laws with no fear that we might really break them. We only wish to escape them for a while.
We know that if we really need to, we can call the cops; we can appeal to the courts, even if we ourselves are criminals, assert our rights and have them respected; we know we can travel in dangerous lands and that, if everything goes south, the Marine Corps will come and help us get home safely.
But the state of nature continues to exist. It exists in the gap between the nations, who are not bound by common laws. Each nation is like a man meeting another in the jungle for the first time: and they work out agreements, as shaky as the first forgotten ones of old.
But if the order is enforced, agreements become more stable.
II: Especially in War, Profit is a Good Thing
War is destruction. In war, people die; homes and lands are laid to waste; whole families may cease to exist. In pure war, as Clausewitz taught us, escalation is the rule. A truce or a retreat is temporary. The war is waged until one side submits.
This is also true in international diplomacy, where war may be fought hot or cold. Trade wars are real wars: the wealth and survival of a people, especially in poorer regions, depends on things like tarriffs and trade. A punitive tax on imports means real deaths.
Anyone who wishes to be an "authority" between nations, in the sense described above, will find at least the cold sort of war waged against them all the time. The hot wars will happen from time to time. Someone, whose interests suggest it, will be waging war against you all the time.
That is what war means as a concept: that things are getting worse.
Profit, as a concept, means that -- at least somewhere -- things are getting better. Profit in war means that you have the strength to resist the destruction of war. It means that you have found a way to survive its fire, and put that fire to use.
Any hope to create a 'social contract' between nations depends on being able to sustain those constant wars, hot and cold, at a profit. The ability to do that is not a sign of evil: it is a sign of hope.
It means that someone is strong enough to survive the wars, and enforce the agreements. Without that, the nations fall into that state of nature from which there is no relief. With it, there is the chance for something better than humanity has heretofore known.
III: The Order of the World is not our Fault
Men are responsible for the laws they create, and whether they are just or unjust to each other. We are not responsible for the things we did not create. The main thing we did not create is the order of the world.
The facts that Hobbes described are not our fault. We did not make the world so that war was a permanent condition.
If you don't like the way the world works, I suggest you consult the Book of Job. You will have about as much luck as he did complaining about it. Saying that it ought to be different is a waste of breath: it is not different, and we cannot make it so.
IV: Object Lessons
For nearly a hundred years, America has been the power that has begun to assert order in the world. Others tried and failed before us, and we may yet fail ourselves. Let us review the project for a moment.
It began with Woodrow Wilson's attempt to make the world safe for Democracy; it currently stands on George W. Bush's attempt to do the very same thing. In the meantime it has attempted two great, failed attempts to encourage fair resolution of disputes through social contracts: The League of Nations and the United Nations. Some complain that the American "World Order" is not consensual -- well, the world is not, and see section III. But no one has done more than we have to try and make it so.
The United States committed itself to reject the domination of Europe by the Germans; to the end of fascism whether Italian or Japanese; to the defeat of Nazism; to the defeat of Communist oppressions. That is well known.
It has also supported the European Common Market, and the formation of the European Union. We did not just do so through diplomacy: we ensured the peace in Europe for decades while those negotions developed. It is well known that we have surrounded the emerging state of China on all sides with military forces and allies, to contain any expansionist tendencies. It is less well appreciated the degree to which we have engaged them economically. The main source of wealth in the world today is the trade between ourselves and China, enriching them and giving them a stake in that common order between the nations.
We are not their enemies: we are the shepherd. If China emerges into the war without invading Taiwan or attempting to choke off Japan's sea trade lanes, it will be because of the patient policies of the United States of America.
The United States Navy used to guarantee the safety of the trade lanes of the world. But America has done more and better than that: it has quietly trained and encouraged others to take up a part in the common defense of those lanes. One of the most dangerous choke-points for global trade, the Malacca Straits, is now patrolled by Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singapore ships acting in concert. Except for the Sings, who acted as our friends and allies in the negotiations, the other nations have the sense that they chose to do this without American suggestion.
Everywhere America is present in the world, war would be more common and more severe than it is today. We can sustain this astonishing presence, from Iraq to Afghanistan to the Balkans to the Horn of Africa, because we can wage war for profit.
That, I said, is a reason for hope: and now you can see the hope bearing fruit before your eyes.
The world is what it was when we came into it. If the world is better now than in 1776, it is not fundamentally better: were America to withdraw its hand, the state of nature would reassert itself across the globe. It would do so with the silent assurance of weeds cracking concrete, and reclaiming for nature what once was a city.
That is the order of the world. Chesterton wrote of it, in the last book of the Ballad of the White Horse.
Will ye part with the weeds for ever?
Or show daisies to the door?
Or will you bid the bold grass
Go, and return no more?
As a boy, I used to wonder at men like Wyatt Earp, who had spent their strength bringing order and law to the world. Did they not know that a lawful world would have no use for men like them? And indeed it did not -- Earp found himself, at last, chased from his old provinces by hateful newspapers and chattering politicians.
America is likewise, and those of us who have sworn ourselves to her cause.
Well, and let them be content to sneer. We did not make the world; we cannot change its rules. Yet we have strength and we have skill, and we have our measure of wisdom. The world we leave behind us will be better than the one we inherited: practically better, not fundamentally better, for our strength has human limits. Yet it will be better, as much as we could make it so.
For we have loved it, whether it has loved or hated us.