by John Bellamy Foster
""The Failure of Empire" is the title I gave to the closing chapter of my book Naked Imperialism (Monthly Review Press, 2006). That chapter first appeared almost two years ago as a January 2005 article in Monthly Review. It began: "The United States is facing the prospect of a major defeat in Iraq that is likely to constitute a serious setback in the ongoing campaign to expand the U.S. empire." It ended: "The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq may be creating the conditions for a civil war, lighting a powder keg under the entire Middle East."
These observations have been borne out by subsequent events. Yet, at a time when even the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has stated that the United States is "not winning" the war in Iraq, it is important to recognize that there is also a sense in which the empire may not have entirely failed -- at least not yet. The war is almost universally viewed as a political and military disaster for the U.S. empire. Nevertheless, Washington is still hoping amidst the devastation to hold on to some of its long-term economic and strategic goals in Iraq. Realization of these will have made the war "worth it" from the standpoint of the U.S. ruling class, irrespective of the cost in lives and treasure.
There is no doubt what these spoils are: (1) control of Iraqi oil reserves (the second largest in the world), (2) "geopolitical gains" (or greater domination of the vital Middle East oil region), and (3) strengthening of U.S. global hegemony as a result of this new oil imperium. Crucial to the realization of these spoils, the United States has not only been forcibly occupying Iraq, but has also been looking to the future by building long-term (usually referred to as "permanent") military bases in Iraq where it plans to continue to locate substantial military forces and capabilities even after it has ostensibly "withdrawn" its troops. Such bases have but one undisguised purpose: the projection of U.S. imperial power over Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and the surrounding regions as part of the larger global projection of U.S power.
Little noticed or commented on in media discussions of the recently released Iraq Study Group Report is that one of its proposed "Milestones" for "the end of 2006-early 2007" is the Iraqi government's passage of a "new petroleum law." Washington not only helped to draft this law (in conjunction with representatives of the large oil corporations), but is playing a role in ensuring its passage. The full details of the new legislation are not available, but it is clear that it is intended to establish "production-sharing agreements." Production-sharing agreements are the contemporary version of the old imperial concessions system, giving foreign corporations control over the production and marketing of Iraqi oil reserves and the lion's share of the profits.......
......All of this points to the fact that the U.S. empire has not entirely failed in Iraq, at least not yet. From the standpoint of powerful vested interests in the United States, the Iraq War may still be seen as worth the costs. Oil after all is more valuable than blood, especially the blood of others (including the innocent). Iraq may be a political disaster but it remains an economic and geopolitical prize of incalculable dimensions. As a result the empire is not yet letting go. We remain in an age of Naked Imperialism."