Conversations with Abdul Aziz 7
KH: You’re looking glummer than usual. What is it? Oil in the $50s?
AA: No, we can hardly expect anything else with the world economy heading for the next Great Deflation, if it isn’t already there. I just spent a week in Riyadh. You know, the world looks different from there — four or five hours flying time from London, Moscow, Nairobi and Mumbai. America seems almost as far away as Australia. It feels like the centre of the world, now that the North Atlantic is losing its grip over the rest of us.
KH: So that makes you sad?
AA: No, not in itself. It’s just that I can’t see the transfer of power eastwards being peaceful. The Americans have launched their new Africa military command from the Sahara to the Horn and Bush has turned Somalia into an inferno. The pirates hijacked a Saudi tanker and the Indian navy is steaming in, the Europeans want to send gunships to keep the Suez/Aden route open… They just blew up a village in order to claim the scalp of a terrorist born in Birmingham. Pakistan is a mess, the Taliban control Peshawar. And we are not even talking about the sixty nukes yet; but I did read Global Trends 2025, put out by the ‘National Intelligence Council’. It has headlines like “The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the greater Middle East”; and we know where that is, Afghanistan/Pakistan, a place that just happens to have Russia, India and China as neighbours, not to mention the Islamic world. Langley is zeroing in on Obama’s top priority and the rest of us had better take cover.
KH: It’s funny you should say that, because I just posted my latest essay, where I reflect on Polanyi’s relevance as a prophet for these times. I got to thinking about the parallels between the last three decades and the similar period of financial capitalism that ended in 1914. By now everyone is drawing the parallel with the Great Depression of the 30s, but what if the end of the prewar boom in 1913 is a better analogy? That would mean a replay of the ‘Second thirty years war’ of 1914-45, the worst time ever, until the world picked itself up and tried serious improvement after 1945.
AA: That’s not a bad idea. When Roosevelt came in, the US economy was down on its knees to a level that is impossible to imagine now. But it wouldn’t take much to spark another military conflagration these days. The fact is that Obama wants it. He knows that the US has to get actively engaged at the crossroads of Asia and that the Gulf will be a sideshow. Oil is so twentieth century. All those lefties (including his own campaign team) complaining about Hillary becoming Secretary of State don’t get it. He’s a hawk. I wouldn’t be surprised if he reintroduces the draft very soon. He’ll have to call its something else, of course, maybe international community service…
KH: Pity that ‘The Peace Corps’ is already taken. Do you know that story about William James having a recurrent dream of the end of the world that he couldn’t remember when he woke up? So he put a pencil and paper on the bedside table for the next time and wrote something down before falling asleep again. In the morning, it read “The Smell of Gasoline”. But I think you are wrong about Obama. The guys who write to nettime are obsessed with the notion that he’s just raring to go, can’t wait to bomb women and children in Third World villages. But that is because they don’t want to abandon the anti-American politics of a lifetime. I am more inclined to the line I heard from a Swiss friend last weekend: “People everywhere can’t help but be affected by Obama’s election”. The world has changed and Obama would be crazy to spend all that good will by invading Pakistan.
AA: Well, when he does launch his imperialist war, he won’t have to watch his back in the black ghettos this time round. I am sure the Pentagon is grateful to know that Michelle and the girls are insurance against inner city riots the next time the poor get hauled off to war.
KH: You’re just bitter because he’s serious about green economics and wants to make the US independent of Gulf oil.
AA: Not at all. We are just rentier capitalists now. We know that the black stuff will get a good price whenever we suck it up. Our main priority is to invest the money we already have. I care more about Obama making the wrong call on the financial bailout than about whether he can force GM to build green cars. I am talking about the fact that, when the balloon goes up, it will be in my region and good Muslims will die — the old, women and children. God knows what the Israelis will use the opportunity of a general war for… It means that the military will be in the driving seat again and us commercial types will just have to watch. Have you not seen all the articles reminding us that FDR didn’t sort out the Great Depression? It took the second world war to do that.