The Fairmont Conference
In late September 1995, five hundred of the world’s economic and political leaders met in San Francisco’s prestigious Fairmont Hotel upon the invitation of an institution headed by Mikhail Gorbachev. The conference was financed by some American super-rich, possibly in gratitude to Gorbachev’s “services rendered” in the ex-Soviet Union. The task required from this gathering was to “illustrate the outlines of the road to the 21st century, the road that will lead to a new civilization.”
There was no tolerance with wasted time at this conference: 5 minutes for each speaker, and 2 minutes for each comment. The condensed results of the future that the invitees came out with were terse, a cryptic duo: “20-80,” and “Tittytainment.”
“20-80” represents the ratio of workers to unemployed in the future society. The gathering figured that “20% of the working population will be sufficient to maintain the global economic activity in the next century.” The remaining 80% will face “great problems.” As one of Sun Microsystems’s executives put it, the situation will be “to have lunch or to be lunch.”
“Tittytainment” is a term crafted by the Zbigniew Brzezinski and a portmanteau of two words: tits (as a reference to breast-feeding) and entertainment. This Tittytainment is a mixture of “intoxicating entertainment and sufficient nourishment” that can “tranquilize the frustrated minds of the globe’s population.”1
But what is the nexus between all this and the topic at hand? There is a very deep relation between both.
The first trap that many writers and political analysts fall into is to consider September 11 a dividing line between two historical eras, a historic milestone, a watershed which provided the springboard for an international political coup. A comparison between September 1995 (the Fairmont conference) and the September 2001 attacks will not reveal a substantial difference in the quality of US politics in particular and capitalist politics in general; the question is merely one of quantity. That is the central point argued below.
Imperialism’s Onward Trajectory
The current expansionist system of the United States — the Empire of all-out aggression and neo-liberal ideology — was on the path to its realization with or without a September 11. If September 11 had never happened, we would have still witnessed its subsequent “consequences,” albeit possibly a bit later in time.
What can be considered a genuine a “historic breaking point” is that conjuncture when the capitalist camp conquered the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc. The conquest itself was not the breaking point, but the concomitant accelerated process of terminating the social-welfare state and its high costs in the capitalist camp was.
Capital, continuously looking to maximize its profit, had made an investment to preempt socialism and to bring high returns: the social-welfare state with its Keynesian economics — public spending as a “necessary evil” to preserve internal equilibrium and prevent any contagion from the “East” that could infect the “West” with societal aims such as social justice and equality, eliminating class privileges, and securing basic needs for all (food, housing, education, health). With the disappearance of “another pole” and the recession in the social/political activity of the radical left across the planet, compounded by the lack of a new revolutionary alternative, however, the social-welfare state became an unwarranted high-level expense, and the world became an open competition-free playground. Then, imperialism cast off its “democratic” and “civilized” mask, threw away the myths of the “free world,” and expanded internally and externally to fill the voids left by the disappeared pole.
At that stage, imperialists had to think about moving down the “road that will lead to a new civilization.” That was the core function of the Fairmont conference, devising “answers” to the questions of the new transition.
This “new” civilization is not new at all. It is a revival of pre-capitalist mechanisms. Bent on profit, it perfects sheer force with an engineered deterrence of the masses. This return to pre-capitalist mechanisms does not contradict the evolution of capitalism in its neo-liberal phase: imperialists find no embarrassment in using mechanisms that are below the historic evolutionary level of capitalism as long as it is beneficial for them to do so. The Arab Marxist thinker Hadi el-Alawi notes that “the most advanced of production patterns were always able to employ disintegrated production patterns to develop themselves, but this does not represent a re-establishment of the old pattern, rather this employment comes under the influence of the overall exploitation mechanism.”2
The “20-80” society mentioned above is a society that will be controlled by a mixture of sheer force and Tittytainment. The new war fest with its hyper-technology, modern soldiers with space-age gadgets, satellite imagery, smart bombs, video images of precision pinpoint hits of enemy targets — all these are not only tools for material and psychological deterrence of the oppressed 80%, but also tools for transforming war from an extreme human tragedy into an “entertaining spectacle,” a Hollywood movie, and an amusing video-game.
It is the double-edged sword: murder and intoxicating entertainment. Two blades that in effect maim the same victim!
This spectacle of power and intoxication definitely did not start on September 11, and the men in spacemen-like outfits in search of an anthrax attack came after the footage of “pinpoint hits” of Iraqi targets during the 1991 Second Gulf War.
Imperial Propaganda Machines and the Second Gulf War
A little-known fact: a public relations firm Hill and Knowlton was the corporate mastermind behind the marketing campaign of the 1991Gulf War in the US. This firm is part of the giant WPP conglomerate for public relations, media, and advertising, headed by Martin Sorrell. WPP employs 55,000 people in 92 countries, and has some 1,300 offices around the world, with a revenue of $5.2 billion in 1999.3
This corporation is “a potential power house, a huge propaganda machine, with the reach and coordinated skills in people manipulation that might allow it to rule the hearts and minds of the entire global population.”4 Along with its main competitor Omnicom, WPP controls the vast major segment of the advertising and public relations market in the world for the benefit of the giant corporations and, sometimes, governments.
In the early 1980s, one of the executive officers of J. Walter Thompson (an advertising firm later acquired in 1987 by WPP) stated: “We have within our hands the greatest aggregate means of mass education and persuasion the world has ever seen — namely, the channels of advertising communication. . . . We have power. Why do we not use it?” This urge to use power found its expression in the mechanism suggested by Brzezinski at the 1995 Fairmont conference and in the savage implementation of an unrestricted imperialist attack on living standards of the masses after the end of the welfare state during the 1980s.
That is one side of the story. The other side is that the radical right-wing warmongers in the US administration did not spring ex nihilo, nor did they land in spaceships coming from a colony of neoliberal radicals on Mars on standby for emergency situations. They were present in the core of US institutions for a long time, especially those institutions dedicated to effecting external changes, such as Freedom House. Freedom House is an NGO that was established in the 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell L. Willkie and is dedicated to “democratic changes” in the world by creating attached networks in targeted regions. Freedom House works for an “engaged US foreign policy” to introduce “free market reforms.”5 Of course, the engagement is all for the benefit of imperialism. Thus, it is no surprise that the primary target of Freedom House was Central and Eastern Europe, where it played a huge role in the “earthquake” there by financing dozens of subordinate organizations.
This important institution with an ostensibly pro-democracy orientation was headed by former CIA Director James Woolsey and had on its Board of Trustees individuals like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and the main theoretician for the neoliberal age Samuel Huntington. Those warmongers, in addition to those who are seemingly moderate in comparison, like Brzezinski (who also served as a member of the Board of Trustees in Freedom House), were an active part of the US strategic structure long before they ascended to the top echelon of decision-making when the objective situation created an expanded opportunity for them: post-9-11. This is how Empire paved its own way on the strategic level.
Corporatism at the Helm
A unipolar world is a problem in itself, but it becomes a horrifying nightmare if this unipole is an imperialist power with neoliberal ideology that is geared to nothing but expansion and profit, markets and oil, whose decision-makers are indeed corporate CEOs turned politicians.
The degree of major corporate representation in the current US administration is a patent fact: President George W. Bush is an ex-CEO of Harken Energy; Vice President Dick Cheney is an ex-CEO of Halliburton; former Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld is the ex-CEO of General Instruments and Searle Pharmaceutical Company; current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was a member of the board of trustees of Fidelity Investments, and on the board of directors of NACCO Industries, Inc., Brinker International, Inc., Parker Drilling Company, Science Applications International Corporation, and VoteHere, a technology company which seeks to provide cryptography and computer software security for the electronic election industry. Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil is ex-CEO of Alcoa; former Secretary of the Treasury John Snow is an ex- President and CEO of CSX Corporation; former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans is the ex-CEO of Tom Brown Inc.; current Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson is ex-Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is an ex-CEO of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. Former Army Secretary Thomas White is an ex-Vice Chairman in Enron; former Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey is an ex-CEO of the IT Group, a defense contractor; former Secretary of the Air Force James Roche is an ex-executive in Northrop Grumman; former Secretary of the Navy and current Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England is an ex-President of General Dynamics and ex-President of Lockheed; current Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter is a former top executive of Northrop Grumman.6 On and on.
All those politicians are corporation executives of the first rank, a substantial number involved in oil and energy firms, and most with strong connections with the military/industrial complex. Such involvement is organic, so much so that Chevron Corporation named one of its oil tankers after Condoleeza Rice!
Beyond the Human Tragedy
Relevant here are insights from an article by James Petras, published on November 4, 2001 and entitled “September 11, beyond the Human Tragedy: The Other World Trade Center/Pentagon.” The article quotes the Guardian (November 2, 2001), pointing out that the World Trade center “was a center for the CIA and the Secret Services. . . . The basement, seventy feet below the ground contained hundreds of weapons, including assault rifles, bricks of cocaine and fake taxi cabs used for covert operations in the US. In other words, the CIA used the civilian cover of the WTC as an operational and logistical center in the basement, thus irresponsibly putting in jeopardy civilians who were working in the above-ground offices.”
The number of the New York victims declared by the US Red Cross stood at 2,563. “Almost forty percent are foreign nationals working in the US. In other words, the total number of victims in New York may not exceed 1500 US citizens.” The exaggerated figure for the number of victims given by New York City officials (4,964) was “probably [made] for political purposes, to extract more funding from the Federal Government to rebuild the financial district,” not for relief purposes, as Petras reminds us of the New York City firemen who “rioted at the WTC ruins in protest against budgetary cut backs. . . .”
Moreover, Petras finds that “the mass media and Washington manipulate[d] the human tragedy to deflect attention from the economic and military dimensions of the conflict” and “once the tragic victims were no longer useful as political propaganda in favor of the war, they were discarded and reduced to lining the streets outside the unemployment offices. . . . In October , over 450,000 workers lost their jobs, the highest monthly figure in recent history.”
Petras also states that “numerous other cases of fraud and commercial exploitation have surfaced; including exaggerated insurance claims, the sale of memorabilia by street vendors, disappearance of millions of dollars in financial aid directed at the victims families.”
Profit motives are clearly evident here, and that is not surprising given the size and nature of US capitalism and the American state. The strange thing is their blunt and obvious presence at the core of a human tragedy suffered by the citizens of the imperialist center itself. That is the qualitative “progress” in the savage mechanisms which will be in stark evidence even more savagely abroad.
In noting the huge number who lost their jobs in the wake of 9-11, as mentioned by Petras, it is instructive to recall the statement of John Gage, one of the founders and top executives of Sun Microsystems, at the Fairmont conference back in 1995: “I have 16,000 workers, if we excluded a very few number, the vast majority are a reserve that can be laid-off when re-organizing.” That is the cynicism central to this dispensation of domination and manipulation.
Internal and External Restructuring
In the wake of September 11, the time came for a major re-organization, both internally and externally:
- Internally: many lost their jobs, new restrictive and oppressive laws came into force, and the economy went into a new cycle for the huge benefit of the oil industry and defense manufacturers.
- Externally: the US saw that the time was right for finalizing its hegemony over the world, especially in the face of potential competition from Europe and China, a perfecting of hegemony defined by complete control over oil reserves, starting with the 1991 Second Gulf War, and continuing with accelerating momentum from 9-11 by expanding control over the reserves in Central Asia and occupying Iraq that sits on huge oil reserves, in addition to its proximity to other reserves in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia (both virtually occupied with US military bases), and Iran. Moreover, the US has also completed its belt of super-fire-power around the globe: besides its roaming sea fleets, it has now military bases covering Europe, the Arab Peninsula, Central Asia, Korea, Japan, and South East Asia, thus having the ability and flexibility to restrain any “rogue state” or “terrorist organization.”
“Clash of Civilizations” or “Desperate Backlash”?
Despite their differences, the main theoreticians of our neoliberal dispensation, Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, both agree that September 11 was not a moment of epoch-making transformation in history. For Huntington (with his “clash of civilizations”), the historic landmark was the beginning of “the age of Muslim wars” which “began as the cold war was winding down in the 1980s,” while Fukuyama argues: “More than 10 years ago, I argued that we had reached the ‘end of history’. . . . This hypothesis remains correct. . . . The September 11 attacks represent a desperate backlash against the modern world.”
In other words, the two theoreticians of the neo-liberal era agree that the historical turning point was the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and that September 11 was a “desperate backlash,” as Fukuyama put it. Huntington further notes that “The ‘new war,’ as U.S. administration officials termed the violence that began September 11, is thus not so new. It is a continuation and escalation of previous patterns of violence involving Muslims.” Muslims here, however, actually means the violence of Washington, encrypted as the violence of the demonized Other.
Continuity of Global Imperialist Hegemony
To make a conclusive analysis, and to put 9-11 in its objective context, we need to re-write Huntington’s and Fukuyama’s statements: the attacks of 9-11 were a “desperate backlash” against the savage imperialist hegemony represented by the US. The “new war” or the “war on terrorism” is not new at all — it is an escalation and completion of previous patterns of violence in which the US was involved, in the context of global imperialist hegemony. September 11 served as an excuse for this escalation.
The “war on terrorism” is an unbridled war for control of oil, profit and hegemony; not a war of religions or a clash of civilizations. It started in effect from the beginnings of the Soviet collapse and the rise of neo-liberal capitalism from the early 1980s, when Keynesian economics devolved into a space where the unrestricted free market as theorized by Friedrich von Hayek and implemented by Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK reigned supreme. September 11, 2001 serves as the striking proof of the efficiency of imperialism to use and abuse events, deceive people, and disseminate manipulative theories about the root cause of the struggle that suits the taste of the manipulated population. It acts to transform any effective resistance against imperialism from a cumulative positive action to mere reaction that serves the objective of survival only and little more, incapable of moving us forward on the road of defeating hegemony and exploitation.
1 For details of this conference, see Hans-Peter Martin and Harald Schumann, The Global Trap: Globalization and the Assault on Democracy and Prosperity (New York: St. Martin Press, 1997). Quotations above are based on the Arabic edition of the book and translated by the author into English. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Global_Trap.
2 Hadi el-Alawi, Unanxious Characters in Islam, Beirut: Dar el-Konooz el-Adabeyyah, 1997, p. 222. (In Arabic, translation by the author.)
4 Beder and Gosden, ibid.
5 NGO News, Summer 1998; and other Freedom House brochures and leaflets.
Dr. Hisham Bustani is a leftist writer and activist from Jordan. He is a founding member of the Resistant Arab People’s Alliance, member of the Jordanian Higher Executive Committee for Resisting Normalization with Israel, and a member of the executive board of the Socialist Thought Forum (Jordan). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.