Both liberalism and fascism are forms of capitalist-class domination, and both have emerged as projects with global projections. They differ with respect to strategies of global domination. Whereas fascism involves the seizing of economic control through military aggression, liberalism formally respects the sovereignty of nations, attaining domination of other lands through economic and financial penetration of national economies and through political and diplomatic influence. For the most part, liberalism guided the foreign policy of the United States from the 1890s to 1980. Prior to the collapse of the European colonial empires, the United States, an ascending power with an expanding economy, was able to economically and financially penetrate independent but poor nations, without having direct political control. During the first half of the twentieth century, the United States increasingly projected itself as a global power that represented a progressive alternative to the European colonial empires. Later, as the hegemonic core nation in the post-World War II neocolonial world-system, the United States was able to economically, financially and ideologically penetrate Third World nations, whose formal political independence was recognized.
Whereas liberalism is a viable international policy for a hegemonic nation with decisive productive, commercial and financial advantages over other core nations, fascism is a more viable strategy for a core nation without such advantages. In its classic twentieth century form, fascism involves the military seizing of control of the forces of production, commerce and banking, and placing of them under military government control. Accordingly, fascism requires only military advantage, and not productive, commercial and financial advantage.
The United States held productive, commercial and financial advantages over other core nations from 1946 to 1965. Today, however, the United states is a declining economic power, relative to other core nations. Yet it remains a hegemonic military power, and this combination of a declining economy and continuing military hegemony favors a turn to fascism. They make logical, in the short term, a policy of continuous wars of aggression, in order to attain economic benefits that the nation does not have sufficient productive and commercial capacities to attain through economic means.
In the long run, however, militarism further undermines the economy, by directing resources away from investment in sustainable and marketable forms of production. Wars of aggression are a sign of economic weakness, and inasmuch as military strength ultimately depends upon economic strength, a policy of continuous wars of aggression is not sustainable in the long run.
In 1991, the administration of George H.W. Bush launched a war against Iraq in order to ensure control of oil reserves in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The invasion of Iraq could be interpreted as the first U.S. war of aggression in order to attain economic objectives since the U.S. invasion of Nicaragua in 1926, before the nation ascended to neocolonial hegemony. In a similar way, the Clinton administration bombed Bosnia in 1995 and launched a massive bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999 in order to ensure U.S. primacy in the region and thus protect U.S. economic interests. These three military engagements represented an emerging tendency to engage in direct military action in pursuit of economic interests, even though they were not presented in these terms to the people.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 represented a dramatic unleashing of the new form of terrorism that involves the indiscriminate killing of civilians by clandestine groups (see “Trump and the war on terrorism, Part One” 2/20/2017). They provided the United States with an ideological pretext for the systematic launching of wars of aggression in pursuit of economic objectives. President George W. Bush declared a new doctrine of “preventive war” and launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Military expenses increased significantly, and U.S. global military presence expanded. The militarist foreign policy continued after 2009, as the Obama administration maintained military troops in Iraq, tripled military presence in Afghanistan, extended the conflict to Pakistan, and used drones to attack targets in Yemen. Although these militarist policies of the Bush II and Obama administrations were defended with the ideology of the “war on terrorism,” they functioned to ensure U.S. control of petroleum reserves and exports, and to undermine the influence of Russia in the region. The Obama administration also launched an invasion of Libya and overthrew the government of Muammar Qaddafi, as a result of Qaddafi’s moves toward African unity and alliances with progressive governments in Latin America, which were threats to U.S. economic interests. Under Obama, military expenditures continued to grow, even though the Obama administration demonstrated some tendency to rely more on “soft power” in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
According to the figures of the International Institute of Research for Peace in Stockholm, U.S. military expenditures in 2016 were 596 billion dollars. This is more than the military spending of the next seven countries combined, and it is nearly three times the military expenditures of China, which has the second highest military budget in the world. In contrast to China’s military expenditures, which are more sustainable in relation to its economic capacities, U.S. military expenditures exemplify what Paul Kennedy called “imperial overstretch” (Kennedy 1989:xiv, 515, 533).
I don’t think that it is likely that Donald Trump read Paul Kennedy’s book. On February 27, 2017, Trump announced that he will propose to the Congress a historic increase of fifty-four billion dollars in military expenditures, which constitutes an increase of 9%. According to earliest reports in The New York Times and Cuban news coverage, this significant increase in military expenditures would be made possible by cuts in social programs, foreign aid, and the State Department as well as by an increase in government debt. Taking into account the make-up of Trump’s team and of the Congress, all indications are that the U.S. tendency toward the increasing use of military force to obtain economic objectives, formally initiated by the first Iraq war of 1989, will continue.
As noted above, the application of military force in the pursuit of economic objectives is a dimension of fascism. Other components of the Trump project also can be interpreted as a new form of fascism, as we will discuss in the next post.
Kennedy, Paul. 1989. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Vintage Books.