Q: Imperialism is something that you have written on very recently with your book, The New Imperialism. This leads me to a pretty important and timely question: why Iraq and why now?
A: Geopolitially, this is a critical region of the global economy and the US has been involved there since 1945, if not before. And the US involvement in that region has escalated very strongly since 1945. I think we should recognize that what Bush has done in the region is not off trajectory of the general pattern of American involvement. Before Bush, we had several thousand, maybe ten thousand troops in the Gulf region. We were already bombing parts of Iraq. There was already a huge sort of engagement in the region, and the only question is why did Bush decide to escalate it into active occupation of the territory? I think it had a lot to do with the particular vision of the neo-conservatives, that somehow the U.S. could get control of this region through a political and military process in Iraq.
Now, why they felt the need for that control has a long history and I think it has a lot to do with the control of oil supplies, but not simply for the U.S. That is the spigot for the global economy. The US has always wanted to have a strong presence so that it can not only control its own oil reserves and oil flows but also the oil flows of the whole global economy.
Q: One of the categories you’ve developed explicitly in your last two books is the idea of “accumulation by dispossession.” What is it, and how does it fit into this whole discussion of Iraq, and even beyond?
A: Accumulation by dispossession is about plundering, robbing other people of their rights. When we start to look at what has happened to the global economy for the past thirty years, a lot of that has been going on all over the place. In some instances, it is taking away peoples rights to dispose of their own resources, so you will find that there is resistance to that in the Middle East. Then for instance, one of the big issues behind the Zapatista movement was the control of resources.
One of the big issues in Bolivia right now is the control of natural resources. Capitalism is very much about taking away the rights people have over their natural resources. But it is not only natural resources when we are talking about dispossession. If you look at what is happening to people’s pension funds, it is the taking away of rights. And you take a look at the world andsome people are getting extremely rich right now. How are they getting rich? Are they getting rich because they are contributing to a global economy in productive ways or are they getting rich because they are taking away other people’s rights? If you look at the history of things such as Enron and you see that a lot of wealth is being accumulated in the world right now by dispossessing others of their rights and their wealth and it could be natural resources as in Iraq, or in Bolivia or Chiapas, or it could be rights which have been accumulated through pension funds and so on. You could look at something like eminent domain in this country right now, something that is now being used to take away people’s property so the developers of Wal-Mart can build a new store or a shopping mall. A whole pattern is emerging, and it seems to me that it is important to look so we can understand the dynamics of the accumulation of capital that are occuring right now.
Q: In what way can accumulation by dispossession be explanatory in American foreign policy? Is this the logic that is driving foreign policy decisions?
A: I don’t think it’s the explanatory variable, it is a key one which you have to look at again and again and again. For instance, the U.S. does have security concerns of some kind. The U.S. is concerned for a good reason, and in some instances it is about political movements which are occurring in various parts of the world, and therefore it will try to engage in pre-emptive politics, which it did in the invasion of Afghanistan. It seems to me that the invasion of Afghanistan was a very different story from the Iraq invasion. It was not simply that there were no good targets in Afghanistan; there was nothing really there in Afghanistan that we really wanted, except that the U.S. now has a very considerable geo-political presence in the whole region, not only in Afghanistan, but also Uzbekistan. It is trying to sort of spread its military power throughout this entire region because this is the key to ythe political region. Therefore, the US a has a legitimate interest in the stability of the region, but at the same time it is illegitimate because it is also about the taking away of oil assets from the people of the region.