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JOHN CAVANAGH Printer Friendly Page

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  • Director of Institute for Policy Studies
  • Opponent of globalization and capitalism
  • Attributes the 2003 War in Iraq to the "Bush Administration's reckless drive for empire and power"
  • Board member of Interhemispheric Resource Center

A director of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) since 1998, John Cavanagh is one of the leading anti-globalization voices at the leftwing think tank. Formerly an economist for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (1978-1981) and the World Health Organization (1981-1982), Cavanagh headed the IPS Global Economy Project from 1983-1997. In this capacity, Cavanagh authored his 1994 anti-globalization philippic, Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order. The IPS bills the book as "a portrait of how global corporations have evolved into gigantic institutions that replace national power, dominate the fate of the world's people, and control the world's money, assets, goods, and information."

This enmity toward corporations and globalization is one of the hallmarks of Cavanagh's philosophy. Thus, in addition to presiding over several anti-globalization projects at the ISP, he is also a member of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), an assemblage of sixty influential leftwing activists, economists, and researchers who collaborate in attacking globalization and pressing for a "restructuring" of global politics and economics to correspond to leftist goals. Along with other IFG members, Cavanagh sees the United Nations as the optimal instrument to transform these goals from research briefs to reality. "Much of the world is now suffering because there are no checks and balances on the global financial market. The United Nations should act as a check on global corporations," Cavanagh declared in 1999. Just one year later, however, Cavanagh found his faith in the United Nations sorely tested. In 2000, the UN, spoiling for supplemental funding, entered into partnerships with several multinational corporations under an agreement called the Global Compact. The alliance between the UN and corporations was anathema to Cavanagh. Thus, in a show of opposition, Cavanagh led his colleagues at IFG in a teach-in denouncing the Global Compact. "For the UN to mimic the free-trade model that motivates the WTO, IMF, and World Bank undermines the potential to serve the needs of the global poor," Cavanagh carped to the Village Voice at the time.

Troubled by its pro-capitalist tendencies, Cavanagh nevertheless continues to champion the UN as an effective bulwark against his true adversary: the United States. Since taking over as ISP director, Cavanagh has taken up the institute's longtime strategy of manufacturing opposition to all foreign policy that runs counter to "progressive" politics, which is to say, all U.S. foreign policy. Cavanagh explained exactly what this strategy means in an April 2003 article for The Nation, which he co-authored with his IPS colleague Sarah Anderson. "That means claiming the UN as our own," wrote Cavanagh and Anderson, "as part of the global mobilization for peace, and working to empower the UN as the legitimate replacement for the United States empire we seek to disempower. Even now, as we continue to demand an immediate end to the war, we must emphasize the need for the UN, not the Pentagon, to take charge of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq."

As the article suggests, Cavanagh has devoted much of his time over the last few years to the task of deriding the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq. Yet Cavanagh's views have not been entirely consistent on this score. In December of 2002, for example, Cavanagh penned an article in which he argued that, although he refused to endorse military action, the Bush administration had a legitimate grievance against Iraq's dictatorship since, in addition to the regime's presumed WMD programs, "Saddam Hussein should rank among anyone's list of the worst dictators of the modern world." By 2003, however, Cavanagh was actively denying the possibility that the Bush administration's decision to topple Iraq's government was the product of anything other than the most insidious of motives. As he wrote in the same article in The Nation, "Virtually everywhere around the world, peace forces are clear that this war is not about weapons of mass destruction or democratization, and that the issue is not simply war in Iraq today but the Bush Administration's reckless drive for empire and power."

In addition to promulgating such views on the pages of the America's premier leftwing periodical, and through his work at IPS, Cavanagh also serves on the board of the Interhemispheric Resource Center, a research institute that attacks U.S. foreign policy and urges policymakers to sign off on its preferred brand of pacifism and isolationism. This vision of a "progressive" foreign policy has been trumpeted by Cavanagh, as when he called, in 2003, for "shifting national priorities from the bloated military to meet domestic needs."


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