Forty years ago, Nelson Mandela’s biographer Anthony Sampson posed the question “Who Runs this Place?” to the United Kingdom. Amidst the vague “anti-Establishment” mood of the 1960s, Sampson set out to chronicle and describe Britain’s “Establishment.” He found an Establishment of nobility, Church, and old money. Three years ago, Sampson updated his book and saw a new elite no longer bound by social convention, noblesse oblige, or the communities they lived in. The vast change in the mentality of the elite was ascribed to the end of communism, the destruction of the trade unions, and the new worship of money over “class.” I think perhaps that those changes can be ascribed to America’s elite as well.
So in the spirit of the now-departed Anthony Sampson, I want to have a recurring conversation (oh God, I’m channeling Hillary) about who runs this place. My view of governments from simple observation is that a government’s actions will reflect the aims of the most dominant and politically-connected sectors of society; the wheels that squeak will be the wheels that turn. These sectors could be anything, from Rasputin and the Orthodox Church deciding key matters in czarist Russia to temple priests in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The people, unless organized, vocal, and fighting, will not have a seat at the table.
Although ramblings of apocalyptic shamen into the ears of a tribal chief may seem to be “primitive” and something no longer done for those in charge, I may shock you by showing how few people decide matters of state in this country. For example, the neoconservatives, Christian Zionists, and the Israel lobby are a fairly small group of people (often overlapping). Their word in American foreign policy right now is law. Who are they, who do they represent, where do they come from? I’ll try to point these things out in things I have read over the years to you.
These days, however, the prime mover is business. The business lobby follows foreign affairs constantly. They underwrite foreign studies departments, they have their own business newspapers with foreign bureaus, and they have the massive lobbying coupled with more donations than any other interest group in America combined. For who is buying whom, I recommend the Center for Responsive Politics which follows donations made to all candidates. Take a look at the disgusting energy bill Cheney was trying to ram through Congress that was full of tax breaks and subsidies for OIL AND NUCLEAR ENERGY. The numbers don’t even compare. More than $50 million in donations came from the energy industry while the environmental movement (which represents a whoooole lot more people) contributed less than $2 million. The sacred cow in this country is corporations, and we’ll be talking about that too.
So who runs what place and what part of it? Too many places and too many things, but we’ll start small for right now.
Who Runs Iraq?
Probably the most powerful man in Iraq. He made the cover of Newsweek, so that probably means something. This explainer is by a guy who has been reporting from Iraq for a long, long time now (I may send stuff by his brother in the future).
Who Runs Middle East Foreign Policy?
Ahmed Chalabi is a very interesting neoconservative rascal. I call him “the man who would be king” of Iraq. His life would make a good movie one day.
A Shi’ite Iraqi exile, he had his Iraqi National Congress in London funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars by American taxpayers. This math PhD SOMEHOW convinced the neoconservative cabal/cult/junta that is in complete control of American foreign policy that he could set up a liberal Iraq that would be pro-Israel and anti-Iran. Complete crap if you know anything about the area, but apparently he could convince these idiots.
A convicted embezeller, he screwed a Jordanian bank out of money and escaped the country in the trunk of a car. He was still wanted at the time this article was published, but I read since that he has been pardoned by the King Jordan
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. If you have ever heard about the excessive and untoward influence of the NRA, the comparison with AIPAC will make the NRA look like Congressional pages. I don’t want to write too much about them because this article will show you, and then maybe tell you. Oh yeah, and even bringing this issue up is perceived as insanely controversial by the political classes (not the general public)
My HOLY SHIT quote is from the second piece. It goes like this:
“The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg quoted Steven Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign-policy director who is now awaiting trial on charges of passing top-secret Pentagon information to Israel, as saying, ‘You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.'”
It may not be shooting-an-old-man-in-the-face and then-getting-him-to-apologize-powerful, but it is powerful.
Who Runs the Military?
Increasingly, not the military. Military privatization is a very, very scary thing that I’ve been following since I first read a WIRED story about DynCorp in 2002-3. For all you Austin people, the City rented or sold the land to CSC/DynCorp in the 1990s right next to Town Lake. The company was in charge of security for the President of Afghanistan and does aerial spraying for drugs in Colombia. Using military contractors is a way that the military can get around troop limits imposed by Congress (in Colombia’s case 500 troops). Are these contracts being used to undermine the authority of Congress’s ability to regulate and pay for war? Who really calls the shots here? I don’t know, and apparently no one knows. This is a scary interview with a journalist who followed Blackwater USA, a military contractor in North Carolina for the Nation. It most famously had some of its contractors brutally murdered and hung and paraded around in Falluja, Iraq early in the war. After the murders, the United States blew the fuck out of Falluja in a very controversial attack (I don’t know much besides that it was brutal and the British government said it wouldn’t take part). I also have references for a paper I wrote about it in globalization class in college at the end.
NPR Fresh Air Interview about Blackwater USA
The Nation’s cover story book extract about Blackwater (it’s a Nation book and reporter)
WIRED story about DynCorp (which bought Computer Sciences Corporation)
Burnnett, Victoria et al. “From building camps to gathering intelligence, dozens of tasks once in the hands of soldiers are now carried out by contractors.” Financial Times. August 11, 2003.
Catan, Thomas et al. “Private companies on the front line.” Financial Times. August 12, 2003.
So people…. just be aware, and be afraid. And if you’re not outraged, you aren’t paying attention.