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Laleh Khalili: Quartermasters of Capital

Laleh Khalili: Quartermasters of Capital


SPEAKER 1: Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming to Middle
East Studies Peter Green lecturer for the fall
semester of 2017. And our distinguished
speaker is Laleh Khalili. We’ll be speaking on the topic
quartermasters of capital, US Army Corps of Engineers, and
the making of infrastructures in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a great pleasure to
have Laleh here with us today coming all the way on a
very quick trip from London and rushing right back. So we thank her for that effort. Laleh, we don’t do introductions
here in Middle East Studies, as you all know. You all should have
this sheet in front of you, which has a synopsis
of the talk plus a bio. But for the benefit
of our listeners online, because everything
we do is online, let me just say my name
is Beshara Doumani. I’m Director of Middle East
Studies, Professor of History here at Brown University. And Professor Khalili works
as a Professor of Middle East Politics at SOAS. She’s the author of two really
very seminal books, which have a very wide range
especially for somebody who’s a professor of politics in terms
of theory ethnographic work. One is called Heroes and Martyrs
of Palestine, the Politics of National Commemoration. And the other is
Time in the Shadows, Confinement in
Counterinsurgencies– the first one out of Cambridge in 2007,
the second out of Stanford in 2013. She’s the editor of
some other volumes as well, Modern Arab Politics,
out of Routledge and co-editor with Jillian Schwedler
of Policing and Prisons in the Middle East,
Formation of Coercion. And as you all know, Alex Winder
is our Palestinian research fellow this year. And he works also on
professional policing. And we have some activities
around that this year as well. She’s currently
working on a project on the politics of maritime
transport infrastructure in the Arabian Peninsula. Thank you so for coming, Laleh. I look forward to your talk. [APPLAUSE] LALEH KHALIILI: Thank you very
much, Beshara, For inviting me. I am incredibly
honored to be here and very excited to
be meeting you guys, hopefully, afterwards. It’s quite funny you say that
for a political scientist I have a range. When I did my first book,
I was introduced everywhere as an anthropologist. I never corrected anybody. When I did the second
book, everybody introduced me as a historian. Again, I never
corrected anybody. Now, everybody introduces
me as a geographer. So I’m totally fine with not
being a political scientist. OK. First, a question. Do you guys know what
quartermaster is? OK. Do you know James Bond? In James Bond,
there is Q, right? Q gives him all the gadgets,
the pens, the supplies. Q stands for Quartermaster. Quartermasters are
the guys in charge of supplying the army, logistics
and supply for the army. And so Quartermasters of
Capital is essentially the name of the
larger project which is coming out of that maritime
transport project research project. And there are going to be
two books coming out of that. The first of which I’m in
the process of writing, which is a series of
interconnected essays about the contemporary
maritime transport, and then a much more historical
account of the emergence of ports and maritime transport
in the Arabian Peninsula. But I came to all of my
projects through a fascination with violence. And so I think if
there is a thread that connects everything,
it is about the ways in which violence structures
all sorts of things– in the first book, commemorative
practice, the second book, military practices,
and then this one, the political economy
of infrastructures. And this is violence not
only of militaries, but also of capital accumulation. OK. Now, I’m going to begin. So what is the relationship
between the United States military and the capitalization
of economies in the Global South? In the aftermath of
the US War on Terror, an oft-heard argument, saw the
US military’s invasion of Iraq as either a war for
oil or as a means of facilitating the entry
of US businesses into Iraq. While it is easy
to find arguments about how the US pacification
of intransigent peoples overseas has paved the way for
the entry of US businesses, this scholarship
does not necessarily attend to the deliberate
and systematic way that the US military has acted
in peacetime and not just war to construct new economic
infrastructures that incorporated the
pacified countries into the global
capitalist economy. Here today, I will argue
that the transnational role of the US military as a wielder
of capitalist infrastructural power has to be taken
into account when we think of the spread
and consolidation of capitalist relations
throughout the 20th century and, in particular, after
the Second World War. This role includes not only
the US military’s provision of large contracts to
private businesses, but also especially
through the construction of the physical and virtual
infrastructures that underlie the emergence of
liberal capitalism overseas, nor is this activity
limited to wartime. In fact, it is in moments of
global economic and political transition during peacetime
and in an ostensible moment of absence of combat
that the US military’s infrastructural power
has been a dispositif central to the task
of disseminating liberal capitalism. Now what do I mean by
infrastructural power? And his sources of social
power, Michael Mann describes
infrastructural power as and I quote, “the capacity
to actually penetrate society and to implement logistically
political decisions,” and quote and considers its components
to include elements of common culture, such as
literacy, as well as what he calls and I quote, “legionary
economy or Rome’s version of compulsory cooperation.” This was as much a kind
of centralized power that ensured some minimal
cooperation from the ruled as it was about creating
the physical infrastructures of rule– for example,
fundamental necessities of economic operations, like
irrigation systems or roads. I use the phrase
somewhat differently. In this article,
infrastructural power means the authority and
power to forge and maintain the assemblage of practices,
discourses, physical fixtures, like dams, laws, and procedures
necessary for the government of subjects and citizens,
including their economies. This power emanates
not only from bodies associated with states– like public work ministries
or, in this article, the Corps of Engineers– but overlapping institutions
and organizations whether parastatal or
ostensibly private that serve to bolster this power. The ultimate aim of
infrastructural power is the reproduction
and enforcement of capitalist relations. Historians have
illuminated the process by which militaries
in the Global North have developed both physical
and virtual infrastructures that have in turn enabled
the emergence of capitalist economies–
new business sectors and modern modalities
of government. Transport infrastructures
in particular have acted interchangeably
as conduits of both commerce and arteries of
warmaking, particularly in the 19th century when the
necessity of moving troops and supplies across
the European continent further encouraged large
scale investment in railways and roads. If you guys have ever
been Eurorailing, the vast majority of the
Eurorail between Germany and France was actually laid
down in the Franco-Prussian as a supply line
for the militaries. A crucial corollary and benefit
of this fungible infrastructure was that the
military could and I quote, “organize the
resources of this or that town and set up a market,”
which in turn incorporated the
conquered terrain into a commercial and
economic networks. War and commerce
went hand in hand. The same process also
occurred in the colonies. Paul Rabinow’s magisterial
account of French colonial modernity is particularly
acute in its portrayal of how the French Marshals
Gallieni and Lyautey brought with their wars of pacification
new political economies and forms of government. Rabinow writes, of
Gallieni’s post-conquest work in Indochina. And I quote,
“Gallieni’s interest was infrastructural
and instrumental. In village after village,
he covetously and proudly noted every bridge
and road built. The French were spinning
a growing spider’s web of installations. And Gallieni was the spider–”
really not such a wonderful writer. “Roads were the key. Without them there
could be no movement of troops, no commerce,
and ultimately no society. Gallieni was adamant
that posts be constructed in durable materials
to demonstrate that the French intended to
remain permanently,” end quote. The centrality of conquering
militaries and establishing fungible military and
commercial infrastructures in colonial settings was
widespread and not limited to the French. There are loads and loads
of books, for example, about British railroads
in both Africa and Asia, in particular in
Indian subcontinent. But Rosa Luxemburg
in her account of railway building in
Argentina saw them not only as quote unquote, “spreading
commodity economy, but also paving the way
for military occupation,” end quote. Luxemburg periodizes this
infrastructure construction in a moment of transformation
of global economies. She discusses how
and I open quote, “capitalization demands the
progressive supercession of simple community production
by capitalist economy. The employment of
international capital in the construction of
international railway networks, for example, is the
enabler of this process.” So Rosa already foresaw
this a century ago, more than a century ago. Everywhere capitalization
of global economy has required both force for
protection and investment in far flung places
and infrastructures. In the European context,
this decisive moment of the emergence of territory
as the space of government, populations as
objects of government, and security as the
mechanism of government is the subject of Michel
Foucault’s security territory population. There, Foucault reflects on
the mutual interdependence of police, what he calls the
domestic apparatus of security, and commerce. Foucault says, “finally,
the last object of police is circulation– the circulation of goods, of the
products of men’s activities. This circulation should
be understood first of all in the sense of
material instruments with which it must be provided. Thus, police will be
concerned with the condition and development of roads and
with the navigability of rivers and canals, et cetera. So the space of circulation
is a privileged object for police,” end quote. Foucault is, of course,
focused on the moment at which capitalist relations
and new forms of government are becoming the
prevalent dispositif within the national
space of European states. Given Foucault’s
oft-commented upon reluctance to extend his analysis
to the colonial setting, the discussion of
policing of circulation across national
boundaries requires some theoretical adjustment. Here the government
of circulation requires the control
of trade routes, not only lubricating the
movement of goods and people, but also sometimes
circumscribing them. So it’s not just
facilitating circulation, but also monitoring
it and limiting it. The production and
attenuation of scarcity is as much a part
of establishing the parameters of capitalization
in Asia and Africa as is the facilitation
of European commerce at the expense of
the Global South. This includes oil
scarcity ideology, which Bob Vitalis, if you guys
know, is very interested in. As Tim Mitchell
has written, quote unquote, “limiting
the development of independent conduits for
the circulation of commodities and maintaining a grid of
alternative supply routes and sources has very
frequently been the work of European commercial firms. In an imperial setting,
a coercive force projected transnationally
or a military acting as a global police
could also serve to both expand and
constrict these routes and conduits of circulation
along the lines of codelineated in security territory population
for a European setting.” But beyond this regulation
of scarcity and circulation, the militaries of
the Global North and the US military
in particular also served another
characteristic of circulation discussed by Foucault. Foucault
considers circulation as and I quote, “not only
this material network that allows circulation of
goods and possibly of man, like roads or canals, but
the circulation itself, that is to say a set of
regulations, constraints, and limits, or the
facilities and encouragements that will allow the
circulation of men and things.” It is to understand this
regulatory dispositif, or infrastructure, apparatus,
in an overseas context that I want to introduce
the word geoeconomics. Geoeconomics as a
concept was first used by that right-wing
strategist Edward Luttwak in a now famous
national interest article in which he
argued in 1990, so at the end of the Cold War. He argued that the
methods of commerce are displacing military
methods with disposable capital in lieu of firepower,
civilian innovation in lieu of military technical
advancement, and market penetration in
lieu of garrisons and bases entailing a reconfiguration
of regulations, benefits, services, and
infrastructures with the aim of global domination. That’s look like
the right-winger. But critical geographers
Deborah Cowen and Neil Smith have argued for the utility of
the concept in understanding, and I quote, “conflicts
between the logics of territorial states and
global economic flows, the proliferation of
non-state and private actors entangled in security, and
the recasting of citizenship and social forms.” Where Cowen and Smith differ
with Luttwak in a major way, other than the fact
that he’s a right-winger and they’re Marxist,
is that they also argue that unlike Luttwak saying
geoeconomics has displaced geopolitics, Cowen
and Smith argue that a simple
historical succession from geopolitical to geoeconomic
logic hasn’t happened. And there can be
overlapping forms of power. Now the geopolitical role
of the Corps of Engineers is pretty well-established,
especially in wartime when the Corps would, for
example, help build up the military infrastructures of
its allies with the guarantee that these facilities
would be made available to the US military. This continues on even to today. However, the Corps’
peacetime activities overseas tend to be somewhat
more unique to the US military in the
post-Second World War era and would more easily fit
within a geoeconomic rubric. Just as the US Army
Corps of Engineers has been engaged in civilian
construction projects that aided the colonization
of the West at home in what became
the United States, it has also been involved
in peacetime operations overseas to facilitate the
establishment, modernization, and infrastructural
consolidation of allies and colonies overseas. Its most major peacetime
hydrological project overseas was the construction
of the Panama Canal in early 20th century,
whose attendance regimes of racialized labor
and imperial justifications were to haunt all of
its projects afterwards. Beginning with the Second World
War, the Corps of Engineers began large scale military and
civilian construction projects throughout the Mediterranean
and the Global South. In Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
and Turkey [INAUDIBLE],, the Corps was involved
in building roads and other transport
infrastructures that were meant to strengthen the
alliance of these states, all of which were members of the
Cold War era CENTO, the Central Treaty Organization, formerly
known as the Bag Pact. In fact, where I grew up in
the city of Mashhad in Iran was sitting right on what was
called [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH],, the CENTO road, which went from
Pakistan through Afghanistan through Iran to Turkey. And it’s still there, actually. It’s not called
CENTO road anymore. The strengthened alliance,
would, of course, support the US in the Cold War. But it would also facilitate
trade and capitalization of the economies
of those countries. The Corps Civilian
Infrastructure projects often occurred in times of great
political and socioeconomic transformation– for example, the US
colonial expansion in the early 20th century
or during the Cold War– and were inextricably saturated
with discourses of free market, development, and modernity. The infrastructural role
of the US Army Corps of Engineers in the
Middle East, however, went far beyond the construction
of military infrastructures and explicitly advanced
goals of economic development via expansion of
civilian infrastructures. These contracts were
also financially lucrative for the US. In 1975 report assessing
Army security assistance determine that engineering
services were, in fact, far more profitable than
other assistance services provided by these branches
of the US military. There’s a document from the
US Army Corps of Engineers archives which says
engineer construction foreign military sales
projects in Saudi Arabia represent a unique use of
army engineer capabilities and the furtherance
of US foreign policy. In view of the situation in
other oil rich countries, increased demand for
Army Engineer services can be expected. And national interests
may be better served by promoting the use of
Army Engineers instead of commercial sales. They were very, very because
they were services projects. Now the vast majority
of this paper is based on two
or three archives, just to quickly lay out where
the material comes from. The first one is the
recently declassified US Army Corps of Engineers
records which are in two very large series, about
87 boxes altogether, which have not yet been cataloged. So when I was actually at
the US National Archives for each box that was
coming downstairs, somebody had to go
through it and make sure that there weren’t
stuff in the box even though it was declassified. Because it hadn’t
been catalogued, they had to check it. The second is a series
of material related to Aramco, which are private
papers of several former Aramco officials, which is housed
at Georgetown library. OK. The strategic significance
of the Arabian Peninsula as a note of transport,
transit, and commerce was already clear to
the colonial powers of 19th and 20th century. The ports in the
Arabian Peninsula had long had a rich history of
facilitating Indian Ocean trade and Hajj pilgrimage, Aden– Ah-den– colonized by
Britain in 1839, in particular was a significant polling
and later bunkering station, at one stage being the fourth
most important ship refueling port in the world after New
York, London, and Liverpool. On Barak has written a
fascinating article about this in [INAUDIBLE]. But the discovery of oil
in commercial quantities in Bahrain and Saudi
Arabia in the 1930s accelerated with a brief hiatus
during the Second World War the process of capitalization of
the economies of the peninsula. It is no surprise that
the petroleum companies would be so centrally
involved in the work of making infrastructure that would
allow them to extract oil. The Arabian American oil
company, Aramco, in particular engaged in massive
construction of transportation and communication
infrastructures, utilities, as well as racially segregated
labor camps and company towns. Both Bob Vitalis
and Tim Mitchell have written extensively
about Aramco. The Corps’ work was
intertwined with Aramco from the very early stages. There geoeconomic role
in Saudi occurred along a number of vectors. First, Corps of Engineers,
construction projects occurred in concert and cooperation not
only with private corporations involved in engineering,
design, and construction– so for example, I’ll talk
about them, Bechtel– but also with US
firms abroad which were not construction firms. So the Corps of Engineer’s
symbiotic relationships with Aramco and the former’s
early stages of operation in Saudi Arabia is
instructive in understanding the inextricability of military
and commercial activities. Even more interestingly,
the US Army Corps of Engineers not
only subcontracted to local firms as often
required by local law, but also brought in firms
from outside countries from outside the Middle East,
in South Korea in particular. Second and less remarked upon,
the particular modalities of operation of the Corps
of Engineers as a business are worthy of note. The Corps acted as a commercial
agent of the Saudi Arabian government through overseeing
the processes of contracting with other actors. But even more importantly,
the very methods, techniques, procedures, and
practices deployed by the Corps in its activities
as both construction and contracting agent wielded
an infrastructural power to consolidate a
capitalizing dispositif. From the very beginning
of US military involvement in the Arabian Peninsula, the
various branches of US military had depended on private
firms for advancing their program of logistical
support and construction. During the Second
World War, the US was primarily interested in
Northern Gulf and the supply routes across Iran
to the Soviet Union. But in Saudi Arabia
itself, the US Air Force put to use an air strip
which had previously been used by Aramco. Aramco had discovered petroleum
in commercial quantities in Saudi Arabia in 1935. Given the absence of
transport infrastructures in Saudi Arabia or
the larger region, Aramco had used a
rudimentary airstrip for flying engineers
around the region. The airstrip was then
used by the US Air Force during the Second World
War and was incorporated into the air supply route to US
forces fighting in the Pacific. In the postwar
period, the US decided to maintain control
of the field. At this stage, the US
Minister to Saudi Arabia– equivalent of an ambassador– Colonel William Eddy
negotiated the terms of the establishment
of the airfield with the Saudi
government in 1945. Once the construction
of the airfield began, this is the Dhahran
airfield, which became very important Dhahran airbase. Actually, some of the
documents in these archives indicate that it was part of
the Strategic Air Command. And there may have actually
been nuclear weapons there. But I couldn’t find something
that explicitly stated that. But if it did, this
was a hugely big deal. Nevertheless, once the
construction of the Dhahran airfield began at
the end of the 1940s, the US Army Corps of
Engineers would not have been able to
manage the process without the logistical
support of Aramco and the use of their skilled
craftsmen, equipment, and maritime transport
infrastructures for the importation of materials
needed for construction, including bulldozers
and other heavy goods. The construction
company contracted by the Corps of Engineers
to build the airfield was Fluor, which was also
the preferred construction contractor for
Aramco at that stage. The roles of Aramco
and Corps of Engineer seemed to have been
completed and totally overlapping and inseparable with
the distribution of commercial, diplomatic, security,
and developmental tasks not being easily designated
as public or private or as military or civil. Even the establishment
of a military base thought to be part of the
US Strategic Air Command could be easily folded
into Aramco’s role with some tasks being
allocated to Aramco– for example, the building
of the roads around that were providing
the power for it– rather than to the
institutions of the military. Beyond the formal
establishment of the bases, there were all the ways in which
military officers in Aramco shared resources
of various sorts, especially scarce
transportation resources. These exchanges began
during the Second World War and even during the shortages
managed by the Middle East supply center. For example, at the end of
1944, that Aramco annual report tells us the company received
military trucks and cars to aid in its
massive construction. So this is Corps
helping out Aramco. And conversely, the company
provided vast amounts of maintenance and support
for air fields, naval vessels, and a wide range of
other military functions for the Corps. It was a very quid
pro quo relationship. In the early 1960s, as the
US Army Corps of Engineers began its program of developing
military installations and naval bases for the
Saudi military, a great deal of their work was facilitated by
Aramco intelligence and Tapline resources in far flung
corners of Saudi Arabia, including Aramco built roads,
transportation equipment, and the use of Tapline pumping
stations as kind of places where they could actually
store the material they needed, the Corp needed. The earlier years of
Corps of Engineering work in Saudi Arabia saw
them drawing directly on Aramco or its contractors
Fluor and Bechtel for many construction projects. Brown & Root, which had been
involved in many construction projects for the US
military in the Second World War in the US
including shipyards similarly won contracts from
the Corps either as Brown & Root or later as Kellogg
Brown & Root, still later as KBR, which was
then bought out by Halliburton. Morrison-Knudsen,
another engineering firm, had been part of the same
consortium along with Bechtel that was involved in the
construction of the Hoover Dam under US Corps of Engineers
tutelage and many construction projects for the
US and Vietnam War. Parsons corporation, which
had built oil installations in Alaska’s North Slope,
again under US Army Corps of Engineers tutelage eventually
built the Yanbu Port also did a great deal of
business with the US Army Corps of Engineers in
Saudi and elsewhere. So all of these
engineering firms were really major beneficiaries
of the Corps’ construction projects. While the Corps’ primary
contractors often subcontracted to
local firms in order to acquire the necessary
labor force they require, the Corps also was
compelled sometimes by law and sometimes
through informal means to contract directly
with firms owned by Saudi businessmen and
coteries of the ruling family. The beneficiaries of such
contracts are now some of the largest firms
in Saudi Arabia– well, until Mohamed bin Salman
is done with them– including the
Binladin company which was involved in the
construction of a highway under Corp contract
in the Asir province as well as in contracts to build
Air Force bases, garrisons, and other secret military
infrastructures there. Michael Field’s colorful account
of some of the wealthiest business families in the
peninsula beyond Saudi points to the [INAUDIBLE]
and Olayan family firms also enjoying the benefits of
such construction contracts with the Corps. Interestingly, the Corps’
process of granting contracts to non-US and
non-Saudi firms also shows the extent to which it
acted as a significant actor in the process of
capitalization of Saudi Arabia and consolidation of
global capitalism. In 1975, the Corps,
for the first time, granted the construction
contract worth $22.2 million to a South Korean
firm, Samwon to build a worker’s camp in Jeddah. Shortly thereafter,
[INAUDIBLE] and Hyundai were also in receipt of other
Corps contracts in Saudi. Although the Corps contracts
meant an explosion in demand for South Korean
services in Saudi Arabia, the Corps actually had a
much longer relationship with Korean construction
and contracting firms. The US had engaged
South Korean firms in the Vietnam War effort. And its oversees
procurement contracts had provided a safe
guaranteed market for Korean goods and services
aiding that country’s further incorporation into
global capitalist circuits. Hyundai, whose business took
off during the Korean War by providing services
to the US military on the Korean
peninsula, actually upgraded its engineering
skills under the tutelage of the US Army
Corps of Engineers in subsequent decades. The company’s intimate
relationship with the Corps meant that even as both Korean
and then later Vietnam War ended, the US Army
Corps of Engineers guaranteed them contracts
first in Guam and later in Saudi Arabia. By 1976, so just a year
later, Saudi Arabia was South Korea’s fourth most
important overseas market. Further, between 1974
and 1980, about 20% of total contract
amounts for Korean firms originated from either Aramco or
the US Army Corps of Engineers all from Saudi Arabia, 20%. The Corps projects alongside
the contracts granted by Aramco have aided the creation of
a global circuit of labor, capital, products,
services, and expertise that decidedly
functioned according to a grammar of liberal
capitalist order. Now what is this grammar? Even in its work in the
continental United States, the work of the US
Army Corps of Engineers had been fundamental to
establishing new business practices. As Theodore Porter has argued
in his history of accounting practices in the US,
“although military engineers,” quote unquote, “lacked
administrative authority over the vast
networks of railroads that spread across
the North American continent in the
19th century, they were nevertheless
mainly responsible for the forms of accounting
and administration through which railroad
companies became prototypes of the modern
managed corporation in America.” What the military
engineers in particular contributed to modern accounting
and management methods was the institutionalization
and routinization of modern cost benefit analysis. That was an invention of
the Corps of Engineers with all of its shortcomings
and blind spots including, for example, not
accounting for social ills, such as long-term ecological
damage or human rights violations, And
also, these methods had major connection to
tailorist forms of management which were brought into
the War Department, later to become DoD,
in early 20th century. The Corps’ work in Saudi
Arabia confounded any formally defined sectoral or
military civilian or even foreign national boundaries. For example, even after the
completion of its construction program– and I’m quoting now from
the archival material– “the Corp continued
as the advising agency to the Saudi Arabian
ordnance Corps. In addition, the core continued
its role in dispersing funds–” not just the ordnance
Corps, but beyond that. The Saudis placed all orders
to vendors and suppliers. But the Corps paid the invoices. The arrangements, intended to be
temporary when the construction projects began, became a
permanent part of the Corps’ relationship with Saudi Arabia. The US Army Corps of
Engineers not only acted as an arm of the Saudi state
in contracting and disbursement of payments, it also
became a purchasing agent– trainer for new
engineers, the initiator of engineering and accounting
standards in Saudi Arabia, and the stipulator of
legal contracts there. The Corps’ definition of
what sort of contracts could be drawn up not
only between itself and various Saudi
government agencies, but also between itself
and the engineering contracting firms
it engaged also delimited the character
of contracting in general for such large projects. The memoranda exchanged between
Corps engineers in Saudi and abroad bristle with acronyms
for legally complex forms of contractual obligation
that the Corps’ legal officers would design and enforce. Beyond delineating the
contours of contracting, the Corps’
administrative processes introduced new
modalities of management both to its contractors
and to the government. These included, and
I’m again quoting, “provision of modern
supply control procedures, institution of modern
maintenance management procedures, institution of a
modern and effective system of logistics management,
procurement systems, management information systems, inventory
systems, requisition issue turn in stock records,
allied transaction and record forms, et cetera, et
cetera, et cetera.” The new managerial
process also introduced information technology tools
such as the automated network analysis system and
its cost schedule control system,
which was actually to become a nub of contention
between it and its contractors. The Corps provided
both its contractors and Saudi government agencies
with support and advice concerning maintenance, supply,
automated data processing, contract administration,
financial management, training and construction. In order for the Corps to
construct vast military cities it eventually did as well as the
other infrastructure projects that required access to
public and private lands– and these projects weren’t
only military projects. For example, some
of the projects that the Corps was
involved in doing was building the
television networks radio networks, telegraph
networks, telephone networks, civilian networks for
the Saudi government. So it’s really
important to recognize that the Corps was actually
essentially constructing the telecommunication and
transport networks for Saudi Arabia, as well as
subsequent military cities. In order for the
Corps to construct a vast military cities
it eventually did as well as the other
infrastructural projects that required access to
public and private lands, the Corps had to
secure the agreement of the owners of these lands. In most instances,
the royal family would grant access
to the Corps, both consolidating the Saud
family’s hold over the land and providing the Corps
with a carte blanche for the use of the space
and expanding its reach beyond the bases. As one draft unpublished
official Corps history claimed, “the Corps’
negotiation of–” and I’m quoting, “off base
land leases and rights of entry to required lands were time
consuming, often frustrating, and always irritating to
native populations,” end quote. The materials are sanitized. But they show that
these access rights could cause irritation,
because of encroaching on the seasonal
movement of the Bedouin as well as possible
expropriation of agricultural lands. The official history of the
Corps in the Middle East, the published one, briefly
notes that the treaty provisions covering the acquisition
of desert lands ease the difficulties without
actually reconciling this to the irritation
in the earlier draft or indeed indicating
which treaty covered the process
of land acquisition. It’s also worth noting
that desert lands were more likely held in common. And so the process of
establishing a base there likely led to the parceling and
commodification or enclosure of that land. Although, it’s very difficult to
find any documentation on that. Perhaps more
significantly, the Corps inserted itself into
the Saudi labor regimes and, in many instances, either
transformed these systems or reinforced forms of labor
control and exploitation introduced by Aramco before it. The archival material contains
a great deal on the labor regimes the Corps
established or reinforced. Often, the Corps
would claim that it had no hand in how
the labor was treated, since it hired contractors
who in turn hired local subcontractors
for labor provision. But this process included
importation of labor– and that word was used– for large construction
projects in order to control the cost
of the projects. One account of the
building of military cities stated, and I’m quoting,
“our third challenge is to isolate the project
from the inflation prevalent in Saudi Arabia.” This is from 1977. “This is important to use
in order to control costs. It is also important
to our customer that our project is not the
cause of increased inflation in other parts of the kingdom. We achieve this isolation by
obtaining all the materials and labor required for the
job from sources which are not competitive with sources used by
other projects in Saudi Arabia. We plan to import all
the laborers that will be employed on this project. We estimate that
approximately 20,000 personnel will be required at the peak of
the construction of the city. Additionally, we must provide
a complete life support system for these workers. The life support system includes
all the required housing, messing, medical, recreational,
and other facilities that will be required
to keep our laborers happy during the time they
are present at the site. The workers will have
no access to other towns in Saudi Arabia.” So they’re essentially
confined to these camps. “And thus, their
wages will not be a source for fueling
inflation within Saudi Arabia. At the same time,
they should find it relatively pleasant
with facilities that will be provided for them.” Yeah, right. Most of these camps were
like barracks, essentially, with a hospital attached. And usually cultural
arguments were used in order to not provide, for example,
swimming pools or cinemas. Because, you know, these people
are sort of conservatives. They don’t deserve
cinemas or swimming pools. When it came to wages,
the dramatic difference between the wages of US versus
foreign workers employed by contractors to
work on Corps projects indicated the
hierarchies of labor. This included actually,
in the early years of Corps’ work there,
radical differences between, for example, Southern European
workers brought in to work, including Greeks, who earned
one fifth to a tenth of US salaries for administrative
or clerical work. So that’s also
quite interesting. The process of isolating
workers noted in the passage above echoed the
segregation of labor forces pioneered by Aramco. As Vitalis has
shown, a great many of the labor practices
that have become associated with the
exploitation of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia were
devised in the early years of Aramco’s work there and
were also adopted by the Corps. Although, the court didn’t
need to learn from Aramco. Because they had used
those exact same Jim Crow practices in building
the Panama Canal. So it’s not like they were
trying to learn from Aramco. These included segregation
of living quarters and the institution
of a Jim Crow system with racial
hierarchies reinforced in health, education,
leisure, and the housing of Aramco and Corps workers. It’s also notable that the
US military more broadly and the Corps of Engineers
more specifically were instrumental in
globally spreading a racialized hierarchy of
labor perfected in Jim Crow US. Now in my abstract, which
is sitting in front of you, I also talk about the ways in
which Palestinian work actually was significant to this. And I think it’s important
for me to note this. Although, it is to some
extent related to the Corps. But it’s somewhat tangential
to the larger project. which this article addresses. Although it will
appear in the books. Now, one of the things
that is really interesting is that when you actually look
at the processes of enclosure that happens in war is that
you see after every war that happens in the region, you
have an influx of workers that are crucial
to the construction of various infrastructure
projects in Saudi Arabia, but also in Kuwait and the UAE. For example, in 1948,
the Aramco statistics about the nationality
of its menial workers shows 2% of the workers
being Palestinian. In 1949, that percentage has
gone from 2% to about 20%. So suddenly, you have
this influx of workers. And of course, the Palestinians
were quite interesting and quite useful for them. Because they spoke
English in many instances. And many of them actually
had the kinds of skills from welding on up
that were required for a lot of these projects. So that was one of the
interesting things about that. You see also the subsequent,
for example, 1971 conflict between what was then East
and West Pakistan, which became Bangladesh and
Pakistan, also producing a vast number of workers. And they come into the Arabian
Peninsula at the very moment where just prior to
giving independence, for example, to the littoral
states of the Arabian Peninsula, the British
are writing panicked memos to one another saying, there
are strikes happening in Qatar. There are strikes
happening in Kuwait. There are strikes happening
in Abu Dhabi at the ports and in the oil facilities. And the people who are
leading these strikes, they say they’re
Palestinian and Jordanian. Jordanians were, of course,
Palestinian primarily. And so there are these
fascinating memos about the British writing
about how these people are very emotional. Palestinians and Jordanians
were very emotional, so they had to be replaced. And part of the reason that
they had to be replaced was also because
Arab workers were considered to be to
some extent protected in these littoral states. Because these
Emirates, at that stage in early late
1960s, early 1970s, were a little bit
terrified of Nasser before he died, but
other nationalist states in the region. And so the displacement of
those workers by South Asians who spoke a range
of other languages and whose countries
at that stage were not protecting
them– and, in fact, still are not, because they
needed them for remittances. The displacement is something
that the British, for example, specifically write about. You see some of
this also happening in the context of Saudi Arabia. But interestingly, the bringing
in of South Korean workers is a really interesting
moment there. Because South Korean
firms not only brought in South Korean
expertise, they actually brought in large numbers
of workers with them. It’s something
that we hear today about the Chinese
doing the same in, say, East Africa or the Middle
East when they have large infrastructure projects. But the South
Koreans actually were doing this from very
early on, which angered a lot of the local population. Because they felt
that they were not getting the necessary
skills that they needed. And also, that the Korean
workers, for example, were isolated in a huge way. They didn’t spend money,
et cetera, et cetera. So these kinds of
labor practices were hugely crucial
to the making of these infrastructures. Although, as I said, because
I’m focusing on Saudi Arabia, I don’t talk a lot about
those beyond the Palestinians and Aramco. I don’t talk a lot about
that in this article. In the end, both the wages
and housing provisions reinforced the hierarchized,
racialized workforce whose lower wages
could be justified through the layers
of contracting that kept Corps project costs low
or through using inflation as a justification. Like so much else
that the Corps did, the wage rates and
working conditions were simply seen as
how business was done. But in fact, the entire
process from design through implementation
reinforced the racialized capitalist
modality of business and the unequal and exploitative
labor system in operation in the country. And it incorporated the economic
relations of the country into the broader
circuits and relations of global liberal capitalism. To conclude, this
infrastructural power of militaries within
the geoeconomic sphere brings into question
our understanding of how power operates globally. Neat separations and
conceptual boundaries between public and private,
state and corporations, domestic and foreign,
or civilian and military are all challenged by the
geoeconomic work of the US Army Corps of Engineers in
Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The activities of the Corps
not just in times of war, but especially in
peacetime, have been adjuncts to the
work of corporations in crafting the grammar
of global capitalism. This grammar has incorporated
racialized regimes of labor, capitalist modalities
of property ownership, an assemblage of laws,
regulations, engineering standards, contracts, and
practices, and finally and most significantly, a set of
physical infrastructures that have facilitated
the capitalization of global economies. This geoeconomic
role is distinct, precisely because of
the inextricability of notions of
commerce and security, the coimbricated
relationship of the Corps not only with private firms,
contractors, but also Aramco, but also with the
Saudi state itself and the blurring of foreign
or domestic boundaries when the Corps functioned as
an agent of the Saudi state. Infrastructures and
infrastructural power uniquely shed light on these blurred
boundaries between heuristic binaries, whether
it’s public-private, state-corporation,
domestic-foreign, civilian-military. Questioning these basic
binary separations when studying organizations
such as the US Army Corps of Engineers and the
role it has played overseas will help us better understand
how the fundamental scaffolding of our world has been
erected and the way these often invisible
infrastructures reproduce and reinforce and
liberal capitalist world order. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] And I’ll be happy to answer any
questions if you’ve got time. BESHARA DOUMANI: Yes, please do. Field your own questions. LALEH KHALILI: Great. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Thank you so much
Professor Khalili– very rich, global presentation. Two little quick questions– BESHARA DOUMANI: [INAUDIBLE],,
do you mind using this? Only because we’re recording. AUDIENCE: OK. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: Oh, really? OK. All right, let me
change my question. No. The first question
is along the lines of blurring lines, which you do
a great job of public, private, corporate, state. But one line that to
me is still standing, I’d like to hear you
talk a little bit, is inside foreign, as in
domestic US and foreign. LALEH KHALILI: Yes. Yeah. AUDIENCE: You know, when I
first heard the term, I think, when it sort of seeped
in my consciousness, US Army Corps of
Engineers was Katrina. LALEH KHALILI: Yes. AUDIENCE: And so could
you talk a little bit about what connections you see? Is there a big difference
between internal domestic? I could see reasons
for there being– just domestic US law, et cetera. And I can see
reasons against it. LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. AUDIENCE: The other question
which you don’t have to take, but I’ll just
throw it out there. LALEH KHALILI: Please do. AUDIENCE: I also thought
of, so other than Katrina, is Afghanistan’s Ring Road– LALEH KHALILI: Oh, yes. AUDIENCE: –which connects the
four major hubs like a circle, Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, to
[? Mazar, ?] interestingly built half by the US– LALEH KHALILI: And half
by the Soviet Union. AUDIENCE: –and
half by the Soviets. So going to the
Soviets, did they have their own version of a
US Army Corps of Engineers? I presume so. LALEH KHALILI: Yes. AUDIENCE: This is in
a non-war context. It seems like they’re doing
a lot of the same thing. How does that
complicate the picture given it’s a communist state
engaging in similar practices? LALEH KHALILI:
Fabulous questions. OK. Yes, the domestic-foreign. Actually, it’s a 12,000-word
paper that I’ve stripped down in order to make it, you
know, 45 minutes, 50 Minutes. But the domestic foreign,
actually, similarities are huge. And differences,
there are also some. But there are more continuities
than there are differences. So to give you some example,
you talk about Katrina and the breaking of the levees. What is interesting about that
is the ways in which questions of racialization actually
enters the setting of standards for construction, engineering,
and other kinds of things. So for example, documentation
for how the levees were bolstered or not, the way that
they were maintained or not, to some extent were
decided by the Congress and what they would fund
or they wouldn’t fund. But I think that
it’s really important also to recognize that the
Corps often uses whether or not there’s congressional funding
coming as an excuse in order to sort of give itself an
alibi for where it has failed. And in fact, the Porter
book that I mentioned, but a number of other books
including those that actually focus on how the Corps’ military
engineering projects were crucial in colonizing the West–
and their hydrological projects in particular were intended to
expropriate the lands and water resources of Native Americans– are really, really
important in understanding how the Corps actually acted
as an active agent, not as just kind of neutral
instrument pushed hither and thither by the Congress. So I think that that’s quite
an interesting instance. Because where the Corps has had
to function for more affluence or whiter parts of the US,
the engineering standards, the funding, et
cetera, et cetera, have all differed as well as a
cost benefit analysis processes that have gone into it. Whereas, where they
have functioned in cities, or urban
areas, or rural areas, or in hydrological projects
where the people that have suffered its
effects the most have been either African
Americans or Native Americans, First Peoples, the process
has been very different. I mean, one just needs to show
the difference between, say, Hoover Dam and the
levees in Katrina. So other than
engineering standards, the other thing– and in fact,
actually in those archival documents there
are lots of things where the Corps very
specifically admits to the fact that the engineering standards
they’re using in Saudi Arabia are not at all at the
level of use in the US. So I think that’s actually
quite significant. There are other things
in those processes that are very similar. And that is, as
I said, the kinds of relationships built
between the Corps and its private
contractors in the US continue on in all of its
projects, both in war times and in peacetime, in
Vietnam, in Korea, and later on Saudi Arabia. So a lot of those
engineering firms that end up working for the
Corps in Saudi Arabia actually ended up becoming
affluent, powerful, capable of bidding for big
government projects, because they had originally
worked on really mega-projects for the Corps. And I’ve named a bunch of them,
Morrison-Knudsen, Parsons, Bechtel, et cetera. And most of those were in a
consortium actually that built, for example, the Hoover Dam. So it’s quite significant to
see that these relationships traverse national boundaries. Your second question is
a brilliant question. A little piece of
trivia about it is that when the US decided
to go back into Afghanistan in 2002, the first thing
that they did was actually they went into their
archives and brought out the blueprints of the roads that
the US Army Corps of Engineers had, seriously, and
used those blueprints as a kind of a topographical
necessary sort of material in order to send in military
forces in Afghanistan. Now, it’s a very important
question that you ask. As I tried to say– and again
it comes out in the article and certainly in the
larger project where specifically, because of
the Arabian Peninsula, I’m also looking at the British. Where the militaries went
in, they did marry these– I should say where the British
and American militaries went in, there was very unclear lines
of delineation or difference. The seam between
private and public was invisible in some ways. This was actually true
of the UK military, which functioned in
very close coembrocation with private firms
there, whether it was British Petroleum
or actually others, up to a very, very recent times. So it’s really important to
recognize that that existed for these Western states. And the archives bear them out. Hopefully, I’ll write
about all of that. Soviet Union was
slightly different. Because the Soviet Union came in
with a developmental discourse of modernization In a way. And because they
didn’t claim that they were doing this
for altruistic– or they claimed it was
altruistic reasons. They didn’t claim any
commercial benefit out of it other than development. Their discourse was
slightly different than the US’s discourse. Of course, they didn’t have
commercial private firms engaging in these
kinds of things. Although, having said
that, some of the countries of the Soviet bloc did. So Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were
both very involved in Yemen after 1960s and construction
of ports and things. And Soviet Union paid for
roads as did China, actually, in both South and North Yemen. But their discourse
was very different. And in some ways, it actually
was much more honest. The Soviet Union paid for the
upgrade of the Port of Hudaydah in North Yemen, for example. Because it said that it wanted
to have a port on the Red Sea. So its strategic aims
were much clearer. I think Afghanistan makes
for an interesting case. Because from what I
remember– and I can’t speak to this authoritatively. I can only speak
to this from what I remember from having lived
in the city of Mashhad, which is about only 100
miles from Afghanistan and having had parents who
were very interested in Soviet Union, listened to
the Moscow radio alongside Voice of
America when I was little. The discourse was a
discourse of bringing these quote unquote, “backwards”
people into modernity. And so the road building was
intended to do the same thing. That discourse is
not actually all that different from the imperialist
discourse of bringing, quote unquote, these
“backwards” people modernity. It’s just that the aim at the
end is a slightly different– well, not slightly, but
radically different systems. One is a state capitalist. The other one is
liberal capitalist. I’m not entirely
sure that I can say in what ways does this
palimpsest of different states building the roads actually
affects Afghanistan. I would imagine
there are probably different labor
regimes that function around the construction
of those roads. I would imagine that
there are different ways in which local populations
were dealt with. I’m not even sure
which one would have been more cognizant
of or respectful towards the local populations. I really can’t say. But it does certainly
complicate it, because of both the
similarities, the convergences, and the differences. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Thanks, Laleh. So speaking of bringing
backwards people into modernity, I have a bit
of a contrarian’s question. LALEH KHALILI: Please. AUDIENCE: So some
of my relatives for those backward people. And in the course– LALEH KHALILI: Well, that
was not my description. AUDIENCE: No, no. I know. I know. I know. I’m just– so I presume
that in the course of doing this project, you’ve
probably spoken to a lot of those people,
a lot of the locals, who worked for these organizations. LALEH KHALILI: Yes. And so I know some of
my direct relatives, family friends, worked for these
huge infrastructural projects as Lebanese, and
Palestinians, Syrians who went to the
Arabian Peninsula and really saw themselves
as precisely coming from backwards backgrounds. And in the course of working,
spending their careers at places like Tapline and
Aramco, becoming middle class. And I’m talking about– I don’t have any billionaires
or millionaires in my family. LALEH KHALILI: No, no. I know what you’re
talking about. AUDIENCE: So they became middle
class, sent their children to university. Their grandchildren now teach
at Brown, things like that. LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. AUDIENCE: So would you say
that these– and don’t regard that whole infrastructure
enterprise, don’t see it as a kind
of hegemonic imperialist intervention. Now, my question is,
are they experiencing a kind of false consciousness? What have you discovered? This isn’t an argument
against your thesis. This is really– LALEH KHALILI: No, I
know what you mean. AUDIENCE: an ethnographic
kind of what you discovered in the course of this. LALEH KHALILI: I think
it really depends a lot on the ideological
positioning of the person who’s speaking. I think by and large, regardless
of actually whether or not they recognize it, there
is an acknowledgment that the capitalist
development of the Middle East has resulted in the emergence of
what was at least up until 19– say, ’70s or ’80s, so before
the sort of enclosures of the Lebanese
Civil War, and then all the other wars
after that happened. But there was actually a
prosperous middle class emerging, which was modernizing
in more ways than one. They were not only earning
good salaries in the countries of the Peninsula. But also, they were
getting amazing education. The health care systems
and the educational systems of those countries
were developing. So in a sense, isn’t
that the golden era of capitalism everywhere? Because, of course,
that is also is the rise or the consolidation
of the social democratic system in Europe, a welfare state here. And in all of those places
which weren’t subjected to imperialist wars,
because that often meant in expropriation rather
than a development, yes, a middle class did emerge. I mean, that is the
development of capitalism. And in fact, I
would say that even Marx recognized that as a
kind of a progressive thing. And actually, I
have to say this. One of the things that always
comes as a surprise whenever I’m interviewing particularly
Palestinians and particularly Palestinians who ended
up leaving Kuwait, were expelled from
Kuwait in 1991, because of the
perceived support of– well, the support of Yasser
Arafat for Saddam Hussein– Palestinians were expelled in
very large numbers from Kuwait. What I was really struck
by is the nostalgic hue of their memories of Kuwait. Now, Kuwait is also
an interesting case. Because of all of these littoral
Emirates along with Bahrain, it developed earliest. It was, in some
ways, independent. It was, for a long time,
the richest of the Emirates. It funded
infrastructure projects in Abu Dhabi and
Qatar and elsewhere. And in fact, it was one
in which the parameters of a kind of a [INAUDIBLE]
welfarism was established. Although, of course,
the ruling family took a lot of the
income, a lot of it was pushed down into these
health sector, education sector. Universities flourished. Technical education flourished. And so no, I don’t
think they necessarily suffer from a false
consciousness at all. I do think that a
lot of that nostalgia also emerges because of the
sort of the catastrophes that have befallen the
Middle East since then, everything from the Lebanese
Civil War to the devastation of, well, the hope and then the
devastation of the Intifadas, the Iran-Iraq war, then
the Iraq War in Kuwait and the subsequent
devastation of that country. I mean, everything that
has happened since then seems like Benjaminian,
one catastrophe piled up on another. And so, no, I don’t
think that nostalgia’s a version of false
consciousness. It was a time of prosperity. But of course, capitalism
does provide for a while. But for what David
Harvey has called the fixing of the capital,
it also requires destruction. And so on the one hand, it
does create a prosperous Middle East. And then with the other
hand, it takes it away. I think those things are
really important to recognize. BESHARA DOUMANI: Laleh,
so I have, I think, it’s a theoretical
question about what coheres the presentation? LALEH KHALILI: Yes. BESHARA DOUMANI: So what is the
operative organizing principle theoretically for it? You mentioned geoeconomics
as opposed to geopolitics. LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. BESHARA DOUMANI: But
you also talk about– LALEH KHALILI: Infrastructure. BESHARA DOUMANI:
Yeah, the power, a certain redefinition of
what a [? concept ?] [? is ?] the power of infrastructure,
which brings in questions of discourse and law and others
that are usually not presented in that respect. So for me, what I’d like
you to maybe say more about are the kind of inconsistencies
historically speaking. So the US inherited
a lot from Britain. Britain had all sorts of
plans, infrastructural plans, developed in the interwar
period that the United States inherited. And so I don’t know where the
Corps Engineer fits into this. Is it it just happens to
be the institution that is used to organize
these things, but they were really planned
by others, the British and then the US? And where does the
Corps of Engineers fit into the military? Where does the military fit into
the power structure of the US? Where does the power
structure of the US fit into a global catalyst
circulation of idea? LALEH KHALILI: Dispositif, yeah. BESHARA DOUMANI: So that
part is not clear to me– LALEH KHALILI: Yes. BESHARA DOUMANI:
–historically speaking, but also where the
Corps Engineer– LALEH KHALILI: Fits
into all of that. BESHARA DOUMANI: –fits
into all of that. The other part that maybe
you could say more about is the argument that
infrastructure, violence, military, and business are
organically intertwined. It has been argued
throughout history since at least the Roman
period, if not before. LALEH KHALILI: Yes, Absolutely. BESHARA DOUMANI: And
if we were citing Charles Issawi or a whole
bunch of other modernization theorists, they would have given
the same exact presentation in many ways, except
that they would have a positive value on it. They would say it was
a great thing that happened, et cetera, et cetera. But they would not
really necessarily change any of the details
or the issues. Or would they? So I’m wondering where you might
depart from the modernization theorist who really
focused, especially in the ’50s and the ’60s, on a
big story of how infrastructure and capitalist development
were the greatest things that the West
brought to the Middle East. And would you change
your story simply by changing the
moral value of it? Or would you be
saying they’re missing really some crucial
elements of the relationship between infrastructural power
and capitalist development that you’re seeing? LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. OK. So the first question is the
historical inconsistencies and the relationship
between Corps and, say, the British or other projects. It’s really important to
recognize that the British ways of developing these kinds
of infrastructural projects influenced the US’s. But the US came at it with
a slightly different tinge. So whereas the British
colonial process had always, at least in the Middle East,
an element of paternalism about it, and that
translated, for example, into encouraging Bahraini
and Adeni trade unions, for example. Because the trade
unions were seen as a kind of
corporatist body that would allow for liaison between
corporations and workers. The US would never
have countenanced that. The form of capitalism
that the US, obviously, advanced was
radically in many ways different at least in
that stage, at that stage, than the British one. And the kind of colonial
project that was put into place was also very different,
because of those different kinds of historical elements. As I said, of course, a lot
of these colonial powers– and as you’ve said,
since the Roman times– they saw a kind of a
convergence between commercial and military. Legionnaires often went and
set up market towns way back when during Roman empire. And the British did the same. And the French did the same. I think what was really
interesting about the Corps of Engineers was that
they weren’t settling. They weren’t going in,
and the legionnaires weren’t marrying into
the local population. And in fact, also,
the British did that. The British followed the
Roman model far more closely. And the Americans
recognized this. They would often talk about
the British going native. The British often
did speak Arabic. Whereas, the Americans didn’t. The Americans often were
conduits of a kind of an– at least in the Middle East. That’s certainly not true,
for example, in the Caribbean as Jennifer and I
talked about earlier. They weren’t interested in
territorial acquisition. And that made a huge
difference in the ways in which they interacted with,
established relationships with, and formed networks and
projects in the Middle East than the British did. What is very recognizable
about British forms of rule is that their advisers are still
advising the Emirs in Dubai. And their advisors
are still advising and, in fact, running
some of the ministries and other kinds of
infrastructures in Oman. The Americans don’t
do it quite the same. What is interesting about
their form of imperialism is, I’d say, they’d set
up their infrastructure. But they’re quite happy to see,
for example, the management of the ports to the Dutch. They bring in the Koreans. For them, at least
the kind of thinking that adhered to the period
which I’ve researched, it seems to me that they
see themselves as conduits for establishing capitalism. And the kind of
capitalism that they see is supposed to
benefit other allies. And that’s a very interesting
form of imperialism which is somewhat different than
the ways in which the British, for example, jealously
guarded their empire and weren’t willing to share
even with the Americans, and particularly after
the Second World War. So I think that there
are differences there. My god, how am I different than
the modernization theorists? I think that there is the
modernization theory– BESHARA DOUMANI: It was
meant as a [INAUDIBLE].. LALEH KHALILI: No, no, no. I mean, I’m trying
to think back, for example, to Rostow’s
stages of stages of development in Non-Communist
Communist Manifesto. And what is
interesting about those is that what is seen as
infrastructure development as being beneficial
to the public is seen as a kind of an
inevitable line of progress, which is going to
take people out of their misery, “backwards,”
and let’s make them happy, et cetera, et cetera. And I think the kind
of analysis that I’m much more interested in
engaging in is to recognize the force of violence
in this process in a way that I don’t think a lot
of modernization theories are willing to acknowledge. And the force of
violence doesn’t just come from the military. As I said earlier, there
is a process of destruction that goes hand-in-hand with
the process of capitalization, which Rosa Luxemburg recognizes
in her accumulation of capital and which I think is actually
a much more accurate analysis of the way that this kind of
an imperialist capitalization of economies works than a
lot of the other analysis. And so I think that it’s
not just that I’m taking the kind of modernization– here comes infrastructure. Capitalism is
built on top of it. I’m just turning the plus
sign to a negative sign. It is that I think that
in the larger project, I’m talking about how the
accumulation of capital, but also the establishment
of these forms, has within them a
kind of a attendant generation of resistance. It is generative of
forms of mobilization that are shaped by the forms
of power that are deployed. And the infrastructure,
it very often functions as a kind of
a bringer of capitalism. But it doesn’t function
exactly as they want it to. So you bring a modern port. Then you have to
bring in port workers. With the port workers comes
the possibility of strike. If the strike happens, that
brings with it a possibility of political unrest. So there are ways in which this
process and then the violence of the breakdown which is
cyclical and happens all the time is, I think,
slightly different than a kind of a linear process
of development. I mean, I know that the
modernization theorists also talk about the way that people
don’t want to be modernized, and therefore revolutions
come to a head. BESHARA DOUMANI:
I mean, they were full of talk of people who
stand against the process. LALEH KHALILI: Yes. BESHARA DOUMANI: And they names
them exactly who they were. LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. BESHARA DOUMANI:
And they were also worried about the resistance
of the [INAUDIBLE],, especially from what they
called [INAUDIBLE] peasantry. LALEH KHALILI: Yes. BESHARA DOUMANI: So from
the Indian [? 1857– ?] LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. BESHARA DOUMANI: –this —
sort of phobia of [INAUDIBLE] peasants going into the
cities and creating havoc– LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. BESHARA DOUMANI: –or of the
these upper class [INAUDIBLE] LALEH KHALILI: Uppity others. BESHARA DOUMANI:
–uppities more mobilizing the rest of the population. LALEH KHALILI: No. BESHARA DOUMANI: –through
false [INAUDIBLE] in order to get them against the
British and how they’re not [INAUDIBLE]. A lot of destruction is needed
to keep these forces at bay or to make the project work. LALEH KHALILI:
Interestingly, the Americans didn’t necessarily follow. BESHARA DOUMANI: The
Americans did not follow. LALEH KHALILI: No,
the Americans loved the idea of [INAUDIBLE]
peasants going into the cities. In fact, when they
write about Vietnam and other places, what
they saw was the danger coming from the peasants. And then so it was better
if they were urbanized. Because urbanization
was civilization. BESHARA DOUMANI: Right. LALEH KHALILI: And so it
was a slightly different– again, the American project
was slightly different than the British project. And it came out of this brash
ideologically grounded belief that the ideological projects
of capitalism that the US was advancing was a kind of a
linear project towards some sort of a capitalist utopia
that was, of course, going to benefit the US most of all. But the realists within
the US also recognized– and they weren’t the
modernization theorists, the realists, they were
actually the pessimists– recognize the destruction
that was attendant. And I think that in that the
Americans and the British were very different. In that, Americans were actually
closer somewhat to the French. And the pessimistic–
well, their optimism was closer to the French, rather
than the pessimistic British. That that’s a really
good question. Now, I have to go
and make sure that I read all my
modernization theorists, so I don’t write like Issawi. Yes. AUDIENCE: I was
[INAUDIBLE] years ago. And he has a very different
take on the British and American globalism or hegemony. It’s a little bit
different than [INAUDIBLE] if you can relate to that. Because according
to [? Jovani, ?] the British imperialism was
much more laissez-faire in terms of their tariff policy. British Navy
supplying protection for all the world
kind of hegemony based on kind of benevolence. London being center
of the world, we don’t take
tariffs, et cetera. LALEH KHALILI: The imperialism
of free trade in a way. AUDIENCE: Exactly. And the Americans, actually,
were much more bilateral, much more into politics
through all the times. So all the agreements
are about security and about political benefits. So I wonder if that changes. Is that different than
the way you see that? And then just one more
question about that. You said in the time of peace. But this is the time
of the Cold War. And I wonder if the
Cold War discourse isn’t part of what’s happening
around in this story. LALEH KHALILI: I think I would
disagree with [INAUDIBLE].. And I do know that a lot of
really extraordinary historians do talk about the kind of
politics of laissez-faire. But in fact, at the
very moment where we are hearing the
language of laissez-faire, the mercantilist
policies tend to persist in a lot of the parts of the
world, particularly the Middle East. So bilateralism,
for example, emerges in those kinds of protectorate
treaties, protection treaties that the British signed with the
various emirs on the peninsula and around the Gulf and
actually on the Red Sea. And they were very
jealous I mean there’s a recent book on Indian
Ocean trade called Margins of the Market by Johan Mathew in
which he talks about smuggling, smuggling of slaves,
money, guns, you name it, under the British
in the Indian Ocean. And it becomes very clear
that along the language of laissez-faire where
it benefited the British, they actually did very jealously
guard access to everything. And the kinds of discourses
and practices they set up, including abolition of slavery
and chasing down slave carrying ships or setting
up, for example, quarantines– actually, this
one is not in Mathew’s book. But I’ve been reading
a lot about quarantines around the Hajj. It’s often discourses that
are used in order to jealously guard access to these places. They may have a discourse
of laissez-faire. But in practice, the old
mercantilist protectionism survives. The US is very interesting. Because on the one hand, they do
have kind of a bilateral sense. But also, their policies differ
from place to place, as I said, where they consider
a sphere to be their primary
sphere of influence, with the Monroe Doctrine and
the Caribbean colonization, and their control of actually
the Pacific lake in a sense. In places like the
Middle East, and Asia where they are competing
with the British, they advance the laissez-faire
discourse and language precisely in order to
displace the British. And you see some of this. There is a really interesting
and very unappreciated book by a guy who did
monetary history in the Middle East, the role of
monetary history, a guy by the name Steven Galpern. Do you know his book? BESHARA DOUMANI: I do. LALEH KHALILI: It’s a really
interesting book about the way that competition
over denomination of various commodities
in either sterling or the dollar in the immediate
post Second World War ends up being a source
of massive contention between the US and the British. And what you find there is that
where the US pushes free trade, it is often to displace the
British much the same way that where they push
anti-colonial sentiment, it is in order to
weaken the hands of the former colonial powers
of the French and the British. So I think that the
[INAUDIBLE] sketch is very compelling for
some parts of the world. But I’m not entirely
sure that it is as applicable to at least
the part of the Middle East where I’ve been looking at. AUDIENCE: Cold War? LALEH KHALILI: Ah,
and the Cold War. Yeah. I mean, it is
contentious to talk about this being peacetime. Because, of course, it’s
peacetime only between the US and Soviet Union. Whereas, it is actually hot wars
being fought many, mini-wars, small wars,
counter-insurgency wars being fought in lots
of parts of the world, including actually
the Middle East. And in fact, some other
stuff that I’m writing about has to do with the way that
the closure of the Suez Canal as a result of, first, the
Tripartite War of 1956, and then the 1967 war– the first one for eight
MONTHS the second one for about eight years– was crucial in the ways in which
it affected the geographies of ports in Saudi Arabia. So, no, I’m definitely
not discounting the fact that the era
of supposed Cold War was actually a
lots of hot wars is being fought in Asia,
Africa, and Latin America. That said, because I’m looking
at the Arabian Peninsula, actually the period that
this covers is actually a period in which wars
weren’t being fought. Immediately thereafter, it was. So from the 1980s onwards
with the Iran-Iraq War and the way that that resulted
in tanker wars and bombings of the bringing in
of the Gulf countries into the sphere of the war and
the US deployment of its Navy to protect oil tankers going
through the Hormuz Strait, then it became a really hot war. But in the very moment in
which this kind of development is happening, most
of these countries and especially Saudi
Arabia, they’re really not– I mean, well, they are
fighting a proxy war in Yemen. But that’s about it. And in fact, it’s interesting
because the response for the US to the Saudis
fighting the Egyptians in Yemen is, to some extent,
stay out of it. But then immediately
thereafter, ensure that they build a
military city in Asir very near the border,
construct roads so as to make sure that the
border is clearly drawn and the Saudi control over
those disputed borderlands is consolidated. But that happens after
the conflict is finished. Yeah. AUDIENCE: I have an
analytical question. LALEH KHALILI: Please. AUDIENCE: Just what kind of,
might we might we call it an, infrastructural institution is
the Army Corps of Engineers? I think you provide
such an amazing account of what this institution is
able to affect distributionally and through a series
of translations. You it acts in the role,
as you said, you know, a wing of the US military,
but also as a business firm in itself, and also as
an agent of the Saudi state. So speaking a little
bit more to the kind of critical infrastructural
turn in the social sciences, I wonder how you
could kind of gloss this clustering of
military-economic relations and how this might be pushing
us in a kind of new direction to think about kind of a new
way of thinking about actants and infrastructural
agents, you know, in a very, very grounded
and historically rich way. LALEH KHALILI: I
hesitate to draw too general of an
analytic point out of what is a very specific case. And the reason that it
is a very specific case is because the US,
as an imperial power, has no precedent that
I can think of in terms of its military power
in terms of its reach, and in terms of the
incredibly invasive project, ideologically based
project, that it has had. Even the British
colonial project was as many scholars, for
example, of law have shown has tended to stick
to littoral areas, doesn’t penetrate
interiors, isn’t interested in establishing the
kind of capitalist dispositif in the way that the US and,
to a much smaller extent, the French before them were. I think the French
had the kind of a– I think that’s what’s so
interesting about reading the Rabinow is that the
kind of, one can say, evangelical belief in
the project of modernity, which often meant
really actually the creation of a kind of a
French style of capitalism, is very similar and
very reminiscent of the American style of
evangelical belief in a kind of a modern capitalist project. So because of the very
specificity of the Corps, I hesitate to draw a larger
analytic kind of a typology from that. It is a kind of an animal
of its own kind in a sense. It’s a very unique
species in many ways. Although, I’m sure that there
is going to be interesting– I mean, one of the things that
I would love for somebody to do is for someone to look
at the similar kind of military commercial interest
that China is developing in some of the East
African countries, in particular in
Djibouti where they have not only a port, but also
a military base or a naval base. And I think that,
in some ways, is that they’re taking their
lessons from the US. And then you’re having these
intermediate powers, Abu Dhabi, which functions in very
similar sorts of ways. And its interests
in East Africa. Very neatly echo a
kind of a smaller version of what the US has done
elsewhere, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. So Abu Dhabi– the
“Little Sparta,” as Americans have called it– sends its military forces. And then Dubai goes and
takes over their ports. And I think that in a way
that serves as a model. But it’s very hard
to talk about it as being something that is
analytic Part of the reason that I’m resisting
in responding to that is because there is an element
of constant transformation in it. And what I have not
done in this article and I hope to do in the
book is to talk also about the pushbacks
against this, which makes this a much more dynamic,
much more changing, and much less constant or monolithic
project as perhaps this article has made it seem. So And that’s a really
shitty response, but you’ll have to forgive me. Great. Oh, Alex. AUDIENCE: Thank you
for this amazing talk. And thinking about
the difference that you kind of laid out
between the American style and the British
style, I was thinking about kind of
different imperial ways of conceiving of sovereignty. And I think also, I mean,
this is taking place in a time of sort of state
building in the Gulf, which has its own sort
of logics of sovereignty. And so I was wondering if you
could speak kind of in relation to what you just said about
pushback how the sort of state building projects in the Gulf
produced tensions with some of these projects in a way
that they didn’t always necessarily overlay
quite so neatly, or perhaps didn’t always
overlay quite so [INAUDIBLE]?? LALEH KHALILI: Yeah. The state building
project in the peninsula is also quite variable. Because Saudi has a very
specific experience, both because of its
larger population, because of the
quantity of oil that sits underneath
it, and its lands, because of its
relationship to the US, because of the
particular history. The areas that became
Yemen eventually in 1994 have their own internally
variable, but also very distinct histories. Oman, again, is very distinct. And then you have a
somewhat more similar– although, again,
even there variable– state formation processes in
the Gulf with the Gulf states. And there has been a
huge amount of pushback. So some of that pushback
has been in the early stages where merchant
communities, for example, did not like the ways in
which power was consolidated in the hands of
particular ruling families and that accommodations
had to be made between those merchant
families and the ruling families. This was before oil became
a kind of a cash machine for some of these rulers. And so what you see
is the development of certain institutions in
places like Kuwait and Bahrain where, precisely because of
those early development of oil, you end up having some semblance
of consultative, at least, consulting the
merchant families, the sort of middle
class, the bourgeoisie. And I think that that
early form of contention result in the emergence of a
certain set of institutions where some pretense to
consultation is made. Yemen is a fascinating case. Because you have the North
Yemeni anti-Zaidi coup. Then you have Aden’s
anti-colonial struggle. Then you have to
protectorates, ways of being contained, and
also being contentious against both the
British and against Aden and against one another. And so what you end up
having is a conglomeration of various forms of
contention that are emerging and that result in far more
actually vibrant politics as a whole up to today
than, I would say, any of the other countries
on the peninsula. And that includes such
things, for example– as I said the British, for
example, wanted the TUC to come and teach their Adeni
port workers and oil workers to unionize. Because they thought that
by doing so they would, A, limit the hand of the
communists in organizing them and, B, provide a conduit. Because one of the
things that was happening that was completely devastating
to the British up until 1967, ’68 when they had to
leave was that there were so many strikes in Aden
at least, but also elsewhere. But Aden in particular,
the history, it’s like joyful to read
it if you do labor history. Because there’s
constantly strikes. And the frustrations
of the British and the BP officials
and the port merchants and the shipping companies that
these constantly contentious and quite clever workers–
their strategies and tactics are absolutely fascinating. You know, that I
think has something to do with the fact
the TUC is brought in. But the excess of
mobilization even overflows the TUC, Trade
Union Congress of Britain, It overflows their
attempt to contain it. And again, that means that
today East of, I’d say, the River Jordan,
Aden, or Yemen, has the largest trade union
movement, very active and very contentious. But also very in solidarity,
internally coherent, as a trade union movement. Today, I mean, it’s amazing
actually to watch that. And So that’s another category. And then, of course,
there is the 1960s and I think that the 1960s’
contention of Arab workers– some of them local, some of
them Arabs from other places– in the ports and
the oil facilities and offshore facilities– in particular in the Emirates. But you also had a
lot of it in Saudi, which is probably the one
that is most devastating. Because their strategies
devised by the British and the Americans and their
local clients, local proxies, to challenge this have
been profoundly successful in some ways in
quelling resistance. Their strategies
devised by the British was to bring in South Asian
workers that could not be united by common language
and a common sense of Arabness. There’s very specific
memoranda that do talk about that as a
very conscious strategy. And the processes by
which this is brought in and the laws that are
put into place, including passports and visas for
work and things like that, continue to persist. And the effect of
that, of course, has been kind of a meager form of
redistribution of oil wealth to the Arab states has stopped. But also what has resulted is
extremely restrictive forms of labor control and monitoring
in most of the Gulf states– in Saudi Arabia, incredibly
contentious Aramco workers, but also stories about
port workers in Jeddah and elsewhere, are challenged
by laws and regulations and edicts that
forbid unionization, but also radically stop
any kind of mobilization. And I think Rosie Bsheer’s book,
which hopefully is coming out in the next couple of
years, specifically talks about how these forms
of contention by workers, but other kinds of lefties, was
crucial in the consolidation of a kind of an incredibly
repressive Saudi state which became even more
repressive after 1979 and the Juhayman
invasion of the Haram. So those particular
forms of contention have gone hand in hand with
the state building project and have embedded in the
state building project incredibly repressive
modes of control, incredibly narrow
forms of citizenship, which are used as
reward and punishment to be taken and given
away which encourages particularly brutal forms
of extractive policies. BESHARA DOUMANI:
Thank you very much. LALEH KHALILI: My pleasure. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

1 comment on “Laleh Khalili: Quartermasters of Capital

  1. An oral report has to be delivered differently than a written report or you will bore the hell out of your listeners.

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