[Marxism] Philip Bobbitt's prescriptive book on American empire, Shield of Achilles

Ralph Johansen mdriscoll at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 22 19:15:28 MDT 2007

For those who may have missed it, there is an excellent review of Philip 
Bobbitt's revealing book Shield of Achilles (2003) (the review is titled 
Algorithms of War by Gopal Balakrishnan 
(http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2467), written just before George W. 
Bush's invasion of Iraq. Bobbitt's book is described by the reviewer as 
embodying "the theoretical structure of the most ambitious projection of 
the American empire to date".

A couple of years ago there was brief mention of this book in Marxmail 
discussion, but what I repeat here has received no comment.

This book also demonstrates, along with another Democratic Party 
resident theoretician Zbigniew Brzezinski's writings on realpolitik, the 
obvious extent to which the policy elite in the two parties share 
identical views on the maintenance and expansion of American empire - 
and importantly, the bi-partisan consensus on all the far-reaching 
implications for domestic policy as well.

The reviewer does not place much value on Bobbitt's scholarship in 
describing historical antecedents (he says Bobbitt uses virtually no 
non-English language sources), but he indicates much respect for the 
influence on policy of Bobbitt's writings.

Philip Bobbitt is a Democrat, the nephew of LBJ, described as "a scion 
of a Texan political elite that has produced such bi-partisan insiders 
as John Connolly, Lloyd Bentsen or Robert Strauss .... Holder of a chair 
in constitutional law and international relations at the University of 
Texas, not to speak of concurrent appointments in history at Oxford and 
war studies at King’s College, Bobbitt is also a member of the American 
Law Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Pacific Council on 
International Policy and the International Institute for Strategic 
Studies. In Washington, he served successively as Associate Counsel to 
the President under Carter, Counsel to the Senate Iran-Contra Committee 
under Reagan, Counsellor on International Law at the State Department 
under Bush Senior, and Director of Intelligence on the National Security 
Council under Clinton."

 From the brief excerpts below from Balakrishnan's review, it is plain 
how chillingly prescient as well as prescriptive, and therefore 
clarifying, Bobbitt's descriptions are - how closely contemporary events 
are following the course he lays out:

An entirely new political form, the market-state, has since [1990] 
arisen to supplant [the liberal-democratic nation-state]. Bobbitt 
underscores the drastic nature of this mutation, expressing the 
difference between the two in the simple, icy formula: the market-state 
ceases to base its legitimacy on improving the welfare of its people. [19]

Instead this new form of polity simply offers to maximize 
opportunities—to ‘make the world available’ to those with the skills or 
luck to take advantage of it. ‘Largely indifferent to the norms of 
justice, or for that matter to any particular set of moral values so 
long as law does not act as an impediment to economic competition’, [20] 
the market-state is defined by three paradoxes. Government becomes more 
centralized, yet weaker; citizens increasingly become spectators; 
welfare is retrenched, but security and surveillance systems expand. 
Bobbitt etches the consequences imperturbably. The grip of finance on 
electoral politics may become so complete as to erase the stigma of 
corruption. Waves of privatization will continue to roll over the state, 
eventually dissolving large parts of it into a looser, shifting ensemble 
of subcontracted and clandestine operations. (Recalling his stint as an 
advisor to the Senate investigation of the Iran-Contra Enterprise, 
Bobbitt calls for a jurisprudence more discerning of the fine lines 
separating capitalism from crime.)

Public education will implode as parents seek to augment the human 
capital of their children with early investments in private school. 
Inequality and crime could grow to Brazilian proportions. Civil 
liberties will have to be reconceived to accommodate far-reaching 
anti-terrorist dragnets. Some of the fictions of citizenship will 
gradually give way to more realistic weighted voting systems. 
Representative government itself will become increasingly nominal as 
media plebiscites openly assume the function of securing the consent of 
atomized multitudes. National security spin doctoring will become so 
pervasive as to engender a new epistemology of managed opinion.

.... Since the declarations of Paris, the us, as the undisputed champion 
of the neoliberal market-order, has had to take the lead in rewriting 
the rules of property, war and peace. This has entailed exposure to the 
risk of being held accountable to the rules of one’s own making. But 
Bobbitt believes that the problem can easily be circumvented by a 
prudent insistence on flexibility and exemptions. Treaties on land 
mines, a human-rights court, chemical and biological weapons, 
anti-ballistic missiles and emissions that do not sufficiently safeguard 
America’s interests, should be discarded without qualms. ‘The United 
States is simply not in the same position as other states, and therefore 
should not be shamed by charges of hypocrisy when it fails to adopt the 
regimes that it urges on others.’ [26] In contrast to those who see in 
the contemporary imperialism a freak storm brought on by 
neo-conservative hubris, Bobbitt vividly sketches the long-term logic of 
American expansion.

.... The United Nations is only one pillar of a now tottering 
international dispensation: in this age of creative destruction, the 
World Health Organization, the World Bank, the imf, the osce, the 
European Union and even nato itself will either be reformed, or decline 
into irrelevance. The emerging world of market-states mirrors its 
domestic social shape: it is openly run by highly selective clubs in 
which rank is apportioned in strict accordance to financial and military 
clout. The legitimating maxim of these planetary oligarchies is ‘to each 
according to his abilities’. Although Bobbitt occasionally rehearses 
some of the mantras of globalization, the age we are entering is 
portrayed as a scene of gated affluence surrounded by immiseration, 
violence and epidemic disease, with little alleviating Homeric joy. The 
characteristic promise of the age of nation-states was economic 
development for backward, ‘late-coming’ regions, but Bobbitt suggests 
that this too is now being rescinded. The terms of trade between 
advanced and backward regions are at present as bad as they were during 
the Great Depression; the possibility of leapfrogging development under 
conditions of protection is now closed off.

.... the theories Bobbitt develops [lurid futurological scenarios] .... 
Supposedly, the inspiration for these came (a suitably market-state 
touch) from managerial deliberations within Royal Dutch Shell .... 
Terrorist explosions in the Chunnel and Chartres Cathedral, devastating 
Water Wars in the Subcontinent, raging pandemics in Africa, chemical 
attacks on South Korea, world economic collapse, pre-emptive strikes in 
Central Asia, race riots in Washington—the pages are littered with 
assorted disasters and death tolls ..... They ratchet up what Mike Davis 
has called ‘the globalization of fear’, with images that create the 
right psychological atmosphere for a draconian doctrine of armed 
pre-emption at home and abroad. [34] In such panic-mongering, The Shield 
of Achilles gives a narrative shape to the nightmares that plague the 
market-state, rendering them as the cinematic scenery of a heroic 
twilight of the West.

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