We have just passed the first anniversary of the President’s declaration of victory in Iraq. I won’t speak about what is happening on the ground. There is more than enough information about that, and we can draw our own conclusions. I will just mention one aspect of it: What has happened to Iraqis? About that, we know little, because it is not investigated. Some surprise has recently been voiced in the British press about this gap in our knowledge. That’s a misunderstanding. It is quite general practice. Thus we do not know within millions how many people died in the course of the US wars in Indochina. Information and concern are so slight that in the only careful study I have found, the mean estimate of Vietnamese who died is 100,000, about 5% of the official figure and probably 2-3% of the actual figure. Virtually no one knows that victims of the US chemical warfare that began in 1962 are estimated at about 600,000, still dying, or that it was recently discovered that the use of devastating carcinogens was at twice the announced rate, and at levels incomparably beyond anything tolerated within the industrial societies — all in South Vietnam; the North was spared this particular atrocity.
As a thought experiment, we might ask how we would react if Germans estimated deaths in the Holocaust at 2-300,000 and had little knowledge or interest about the modalities of the slaughter.
There is one exception to lack of information about casualties in Indochina. There have been very intensive efforts from the start to reveal, or very often simply to invent, atrocities that could be attributed to the Khmer Rouge. Post-KR literature on the topic is substantial, ranging from astonishingly low estimates of KR crimes in the curious 1980 CIA demographic study, when evidence had become available about the peaking of atrocities at the end, to far higher and more credible estimates by serious and extensive scholarship. One can hardly fail to observe that the single exception to the rule involves crimes that are doctrinally useful.
Turning to Iraq, information is as usual slight, but not entirely lacking. A study by the London-based health organization MEDACT last November, scarcely mentioned in the US, gave a rough estimate of between 22,000-55,000 Iraqi dead, and also reported rising maternal mortality rates, near doubling of acute malnutrition, and an increase in water-borne diseases and vaccine-preventable diseases. “The most important thing that comes out of [the study] is that the data are not available,” Dr. Victor Sidel commented. He is a noted US health authority, past president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and an adviser to the study. Two months ago, a fact-finding mission by the Belgian NGO Medical Aid for the Third World found that even the devastating effects of the US-UK sanctions have not been overcome, including their veto of medicines, and that infant mortality is apparently increasing and general health declining because of deteriorating living conditions: lack of access to food, potable water, or medical aid and hospitals, and a sharp decline in purchasing power – largely the result of the remarkable failures of what should have been one of the easiest military occupations ever. “It has been one of the most extraordinary failures in history,” the veteran British correspondent Patrick Cockburn observed, quite plausibly.
The best explanation I have heard was from a high-ranking official of one of the world’s leading humanitarian and relief organizations, who has had extensive experience in some of the most awful places in the world. After several frustrating months in Baghdad, he said he had never seen such a combination of “arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence” — referring not to the military, but to the civilians who run the Pentagon. In Iraq they have succeeded in achieving pretty much what they did in the international arena: quickly turning the US into the most feared and often hated country in the world. The latest in-depth polls in Iraq – before the recent revelations about torture — found that among Iraqi Arabs, the US is regarded as an “occupying force” rather than a “liberating force” by 12 to 1, and increasing. If we count also Kurds, who have their own distinct aspirations and hopes, the figures are still overwhelming: 88% of all Iraqis according to one recent poll, also pre-Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz and associates have even succeeded in turning the young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, previously a marginal figure, into the second most popular leader in Iraq, right below Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, with 1/3 of the population “strongly supporting” him and another third “somewhat supporting” him. Other Western polls find support for the occupying forces in single digits, and the same for the Governing Council they appointed.
But I will put Iraq aside, and turn to the “new imperial grand strategy” that was to be set in motion with the conquest of Iraq, and the doctrines and visions that underlie it.
The phrase “new imperial grand strategy” is not mine. It has a much more interesting source: the leading establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations. The invasion of Iraq was virtually announced in Sept 2002, along with the Bush Administration’s National Security Strategy, which declared the intention to dominate the world for the indefinite future and to destroy any potential challenge to US domination. The UN was informed that it could be “relevant” if it authorized what Washington would do anyway, or else it could become a debating society, as Administration moderate Colin Powell instructed them. The invasion of Iraq was to be the first test of the new doctrine announced in the NSS, “the petri dish in which this experiment in pre-emptive policy grew,” the New York Times reported as the experiment was declared a grand success a year ago.
The doctrine and its implementation in Iraq elicited unprecedented protest around the world, including the foreign policy elite at home. In Foreign Affairs, the “new imperial grand strategy” was immediately criticized as a threat to the world and to the US. Elite criticism was remarkably broad, but on narrow grounds: the principle is not wrong, but the style and implementation are dangerous, a threat to US interests. The basic thrust of the criticism was captured by Madeleine Albright, also in Foreign Affairs. She pointed out that every President has a similar doctrine, but keeps it in his back pocket, to be used when necessary. It is a serious error to smash people in face with it, and to implement it in brazen defiance even of allies, let alone rest of world. That is simply foolish, another illustration of the dangerous combination of “arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence.”
Albright of course knew that Clinton had a similar doctrine. As UN Ambassador, she had reiterated to the Security Council President Clinton’s message to them that the US will act “multilaterally when possible but unilaterally when necessary.” And later as Clinton’s Secretary of State, she surely knew that the White House had spelled out the meaning in messages to Congress declaring the right to “unilateral use of military power” to defend vital interests, which include “ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources,” without even the pretexts that Bush and Blair devised. Taken literally, the Clinton doctrine is more expansive than Bush’s NSS, but it was issued quietly, not in a manner designed to arouse hostility, and the same was true of its implementation. And as Albright correctly pointed out, the doctrine has a long tradition in the US – elsewhere as well, including precedents that one might prefer not to think about.
Despite the precedents, the new imperial grand strategy was understood to be highly significant. Henry Kissinger described it as a “revolutionary” doctrine, which tears to shreds the international order established in the 17th century Westphalian system, and of course the UN Charter and modern international law, not worth mentioning. The revolutionary new approach is correct, Kissinger felt, but he also cautioned about style and implementation. And he added a crucial qualification: it must not be “universalized.” The right of aggression at will (dropping euphemisms) is to be reserved to the US, perhaps delegated to selected clients. We must forcefully reject the most elementary of moral truisms: That we apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others.
Others criticized the doctrine and its first test on sharply different grounds. One was Arthur Schlesinger, perhaps the most respected living American historian. As the first bombs fell on Baghdad, he recalled the words of FDR when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on “a date which will live in infamy.” Now it is Americans who live in infamy, Schlesinger wrote, as their government follows the course of imperial Japan. He added that Bush and his planners had succeeded in converting a “global wave of sympathy” for the US to “a global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism.” A year later, it was much worse, international polls revealed. In the region with the longest experience with US policies, opposition to Bush reached 87% among the most pro-US elements, Latin American elites: 98% in Brazil and almost as high in Mexico. Again, an impressive achievement.
As also anticipated, the war increased the threat of terror. Middle East specialists who moniter attitudes in the Muslim world were astonished by the revival of the appeal of “global jihadi Islam,” which had been in decline. Recruitment for al-Qaeda networks increased. Iraq, which had no ties to terror before, became a “terrorist haven” (Harvard terrorism specialist Jessica Stern), also suffering its first suicide attacks since the 13th century. Suicide attacks for 2003 reached their highest level in modern times. The year ended with a terror alert in the US of unprecedented severity.
On the first anniversary of the war, New York’s Grand Central Station was patrolled by heavily-armed police, a reaction to the Madrid bombing, the worst terrorist crime in Europe. A few days later, Spain voted out the government that had gone to war against the will of the overwhelming majority, and by so doing, had won great praise for its stellar role in the New Europe was the hope of the future; Western commentators succeeded brilliantly in “not noticing” that the criterion for membership in New Europe was willingness to dismiss the popular will and follow orders from Crawford, Texas. A year later, Spain was bitterly condemned for appeasing terror by calling for withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq unless they were under UN authority. Commentators failed to point out that this is essentially the position of 70% of Americans, who call for the UN to take the lead in security, economic reconstruction, and working with Iraqis to establish a democratic government. But such facts are scarcely known, and the issues are not on the electoral agenda, another illustration of the reality of “democratic credentials.”
There is a curious performance underway right now among Western commentators, who are solemnly debating whether the Bush administration downgraded the “war on terror” in favor of its ambitions in Iraq. The only surprising aspect of the revelations of former Bush administration officials that provoked the debate is that anyone finds them surprising – particularly right now, when it is so clear that by invading Iraq the administration did just that: knowingly increased the threat of terror to achieve their goals in Iraq.
But even without this dramatic demonstration of priorities, the conclusions should be obvious. From the point of view of government planners, the ranking of priorities is entirely rational. Terror might kill 1000s of Americans; that much has been clear since the attempt by US-trained jihadis to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. But that is not very important in comparison with establishing the first secure military bases in a dependent client state at the heart of the world’s major energy reserves – “a stupendous source of strategic power” and an incomparable “material prize,” as high officials recognized in the 1940s, if not before. Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that “America’s security role in the region” – in plain English, its military dominance – “gives it indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region.” As Brzezinski knows well, concern that Europe and Asia might move on an independent course is the core problem of global dominance today, and has been a prime concern for many years. Fifty years ago, the leading planner George Kennan observed that control of the stupendous source of strategic power gives the US “veto power” over what rivals might do. Thirty years ago, Europe celebrated the Year of Europe, in recognition of its recovery from wartime destruction. Henry Kissinger gave a “Year of Europe” address, in which he reminded his European underlings that their responsibility is to tend to their “regional responsibilities” within the “overall framework of order” managed by the US. The problems are more severe today, extending to the dynamic Northeast Asian region. Control of the Gulf and Central Asia therefore becomes even more significant. The importance is enhanced by the expectation that the Gulf will have an even more prominent role in world energy production in decades to come. US-UK support for vicious dictatorships in Central Asia, and the jockeying over where pipelines will go and under whose supervision, are part of the same renewed “great game.”
Why, then, should there be any surprise that terror should be downgraded in favor of the invasion of Iraq? Or that Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Cheney and associates were pressuring the intelligence community to come up with some shreds of evidence to justify invasion, Blair and Straw as well: Iraqi links to terror, WMD, anything would do. It is rather striking that as one after another pretext collapses, and the leadership announces a new one, commentary follows dutifully along, always conspicuously avoiding the obvious reason, which is virtually unmentionable. Among Western intellectuals, that is; not in Iraq. US polls in Baghdad found that a large majority assumed that the motive for the invasion was to take control of Iraq’s resources and reorganize the Middle East in accord with US interests. It is not unusual for those at the wrong end of the club to have a clearer understanding of the world in which they live.
There are plenty of other current illustrations of the fact, obvious enough to Baghdadis, that terror is regarded as a minor issue in comparison with ensuring that the Mideast is properly disciplined. There was a revealing example just last week, when Bush imposed new sanctions on Syria, implementing the Syria Accountability Act passed by Congress in December, virtually a declaration of war unless Syria follows US commands. Syria is on the official list of states sponsoring terrorism, despite acknowledgment by the CIA that Syria has not been involved in sponsoring terror for many years and has been highly cooperative in providing important intelligence to Washington on al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups, and in other anti-terrorist actions. The gravity of Washington’s concern over Syria’s links to terror was revealed by Clinton ten years ago, when he offered to remove Syria from the list of states sponsoring terror if it agreed to US-Israeli peace terms. When Syria insisted on recovering its conquered territory, it remained on the list. Had it been removed, that would have been the first time a country was dropped from the list since 1982, when the present incumbents in Washington, in their Reaganite phase, removed Saddam from the list so that they could provide him with a flow of badly needed aid while he carried out his worst atrocities, joined by Britain and many others – which again tells us something about the attitude towards terror and state crimes, as does the fact that Iraq was replaced on the list by Cuba, perhaps in recognition of the fact that the US terrorist war against Cuba that has been underway since the Kennedy years had reached a peak of ferocity just then.
None of this, and much more like it, is supposed to tell us anything about the “war on terror” that was declared by the Reagan administration in 1981, quickly becoming a murderous terrorist war, and re-declared with much the same rhetoric 20 years later.
The implementation of the Syria Accountability Act, passed near unanimously, deprives the US of a major source of information about radical Islamist terrorism in order to achieve the higher goal of establishing in Syria a regime that will accept US-Israeli demands – not an unusual pattern, though commentators continually find it surprising no matter how strong the evidence and regular the pattern, and no matter how rational the choices in terms of clear and understandable planning priorities.
The Syria Accountability Act of last December tells us more about state priorities and prevailing doctrines of the intellectual and moral culture, as international affairs scholar Steven Zunes points out. Its core demand refers to UN Security Council Resolution 520, calling for respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon, violated by Syria because it still retains in Lebanon forces that were welcomed there by the US and Israel in 1976 when their task was to carry out massacres of Palestinians. Overlooked by the congressional legislation, and news reporting and commentary, is the fact that Resolution 520, passed in 1982, was explicitly directed against Israel, not Syria, and also the fact that while Israel violated this and other Security Council resolutions regarding Lebanon for 22 years, there was no call for any sanctions against Israel or for reduction in the huge unconditional military and economic aid to Israel. The silence for 22 years includes those who now signed the Act condemning Syria for its violation of the Security Council resolution ordering Israel to leave Lebanon. The principle is very clear, Zunes writes: “Lebanese sovereignty must be defended only if the occupying army is from a country the United States opposes, but is dispensable if the country is a US ally.” The principle applies quite broadly in various manifestations, not only in the US of course.
A side observation: by 2-1, the US population favors an Israel Accountability Act, holding Israel accountable for development of WMD and human rights abuses in the occupied territories. That, however, is not on the agenda, or apparently even reported.
There are many other illustrations of the clear but imperceptible priorities. To mention one, the Treasury Department has a bureau (OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control) that is assigned the task of investigating suspicious financial transfers, a crucial component of the “war on terror.” OFAC has 120 employees. A few weeks ago, OFAC informed Congress that four are dedicated to tracking the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, while almost two dozen are dedicated to enforcing the embargo against Cuba – incidentally, declared illegal by every relevant international organization, even the usually compliant Organization of American States. From 1990 to 2003, OFAC informed Congress, there were 93 terrorism-related investigations with $9000 in fines; and 11,000 Cuba-related investigations with $8 million in fines. No interest was aroused among those now pondering the puzzling question of whether the Bush administration — and its predecessors — downgraded the war on terror in favor of other priorities.
Why should the Treasury Department devote vastly more energy to strangling Cuba than to the war on terror? The US is a uniquely open society; we therefore have quite a lot of information about state planning. The basic reasons were explained in secret documents 40 years ago, when the Kennedy administration sought to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba, as Arthur Schlesinger recounted in his biography of Robert Kennedy, who ran the terror operations as his highest priority. State Department planners warned that the “very existence” of the Castro regime is “successful defiance” of US policies going back 150 years, to the Monroe Doctrine; no Russians, but intolerable defiance of the master of the hemisphere. Furthermore, this successful defiance encourages others, who might be infected by the “Castro idea of taking matters into their own hands,” Schlesinger had warned incoming President Kennedy, summarizing the report of the President’s Latin American mission. These dangers are particularly grave, Schlesinger elaborated, when “the distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favors the propertied classes … and the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.” The whole system of domination might unravel if the idea of taking matters into one’s own hands spreads its evil tentacles.
Successful defiance remains intolerable, ranked far higher as a priority than combating terror, just another illustration of principles that are well-established, internally rational, clear enough to the victims, but not perceptible to the agents. The clamor about revelations of Bush administration priorities, and the current 9-11 hearings in Washington, are just further illustrations of this curious inability to perceive the obvious, even to entertain it as a possibility.
Turning to terror, there is a broad consensus among specialists on how to reduce the threat – keeping now to the subcategory that is doctrinally admissible: their terror against us – and also on how to incite further terrorist atrocities, which sooner or later may become truly horrendous. It is just a matter of time before terror and WMD are linked, as has been anticipated in technical literature well before 9/11.
The Iraq invasion is typical: violence quite commonly incites a violent response. Serious investigations of al-Qaeda and bin Laden reveal that they were virtually unknown until Clinton bombed Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998. The bombings led to a sharp increase in support, recruitment, and financing for networks of the al-Qaeda type (al-Qaeda is not really an organization), turned bin Laden into a major figure, and forged closer relations between bin Laden and the Taliban, previously cool or hostile.
We can, if we like, learn something more about Western civilization by the reaction to the bombing in Sudan, which led to tens of thousands of deaths according to the few credible estimates, a humanitarian catastrophe that was predicted at once by the director of Human Rights Watch. As usual, investigation is sparse, and interest non-existent. The reaction might be different if a terrorist attack destroyed the major source of pharmaceutical supplies in the US, England, Israel, or some other place that matters – which would have been far less serious, since supplies could easily be replenished in a rich country. That is not at all unusual. Again, those at wrong end of the clubs tend to see world rather differently, arousing fury among the guardians of civilized values.
After Clinton’s bombings in 1998, the next major contribution to the growth of al-Qaeda and the prominence of bin Laden was the bombing of Afghanistan, with no credible pretext, as later quietly conceded. That led to a sharp increase in recruitment and enthusiasm for “the cosmic struggle between good and evil,” the rhetoric shared by bin Laden and President Bush’s speech-writers (I presume bin Laden writes his own orations).
I have been virtually paraphrasing the most careful and detailed study of al-Qaeda, the very important book by British journalist Jason Burke. Reviewing many examples, he concludes that that “Every use of force is another small victory for bin Laden.” The general conclusion is widely shared: among others, by former heads of Israeli military intelligence and the General Security Services (Shabak), in their own context.
There are new illustrations almost daily. The raising of Moqtada al-Sadr to prominence is an illustration. A still more instructive one is the recent horrors in Fallujah. The Marine invasion, killing 100s, was a reaction to the murder of four American security contractors. Responsibility for those brutal murders was claimed by a new organization calling itself “Brigades of Martyr Ahmed Yassin.” They were avenging the murder of the quadriplegic cleric Sheikh Yassin, along with half a dozen bystanders, as he left a Mosque in Gaza a week earlier. That was reported as an Israeli assassination, but inaccurately. Sheikh Yassin was killed by a US helicopter, flown by an Israeli pilot. Israel does not produce helicopters. The US sends them with the understanding that they will be used for such purposes, not defense, as they have been, regularly. Some of the circumstances, well documented but systematically evaded, are quite remarkable. In the preceding 6 months, “targeted assassinations” had killed about 50 suspects and 80-90 passersby. None of this enter the annals of state terrorism, by virtue of agency: the US is exempt from any such charge, by definition, and its clients inherit the immunity, particularly in joint actions. A crucial condition of the intellectual and moral culture is that the powerful are granted the right to make the rules. These are important principles of world order, rather as in the Mafia, to which the international order has more than a passing resemblance.
Tracing the chain of violence in this case, we find that it leads directly from the US-Israeli assassination of Sheikh Yassin to the conflagration in Iraq. That was known right away, but was virtually silenced in media; in the US at least, where media coverage is carefully studied.
Apologists for state terror will object that the chain of violence does not begin with the Yassin assassination. True, but irrelevant. And tracing the chain beyond yields even uglier conclusions.
There is also a broad specialist consensus on how to reduce threat of terror. It is two-pronged. Terrorists see themselves as a vanguard, seeking to mobilize others, welcoming a violent reaction that will serve their cause. The proper reaction to criminal acts is police work, which has been quite successful: in Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. Much more important is the broad constituency whom the terrorists seek to mobilize, people who may hate and fear them, but nevertheless see them as fighting for cause that is right and just. Here the proper response is to pay attention to their grievances, which are often legitimate and should be addressed irrespective of any connection to terror.
There are many illustrations. England and Northern Ireland, to take a recent case. As long as London’s response to IRA terror was violence, terror and support for it increased. When, finally, some attention began to be paid to legitimate grievances, it declined. Belfast is not utopia, but it is a far better place than it was a decade ago. Incidentally, IRA terror was funded in the US, right where I live in fact. FBI counterterror experts were aware of this, but did not interfere, and believe that it would not have been possible to do so, though now such measures are demanded of Saudi Arabia, and are apparently being carried out with some success. As usual, “possibility” depends on whose ox is being gored.
Violence can succeed. There are many examples of that too. The fate of the indigenous population of the US is a dramatic example – also ignored or denied, often in startling ways, a typical reaction to one’s own crimes.
Violence can succeed, but at tremendous cost. It can also provoke greater violence in response, and often does. Inciting terror is not the most ominous current example.
Two months ago, Russia carried out its largest military exercises in two decades, displaying new and more sophisticated WMD, targeting the US. Russian political and military leaders made it clear that this was a direct response to Bush administration actions and programs, exactly as had been predicted. One prime example that they stressed was US development of low-yield nuclear weapons – “bunker busters,” so-called. Russian strategic analysts know as well as their American counterparts that these weapons can target command bunkers hidden in mountains that control Russian nuclear arsenals. Washington’s insistence on using space for offensive military purposes is another major concern.
US analysts suspect that Russia is duplicating US development of a hypersonic Cruise Vehicle, which can orbit the earth and re-enter the atmosphere suddenly, launching devastating attacks anywhere without warning. US analysts also estimate that Russian military expenditures may have tripled in the Bush-Putin years.
Russia has adopted the Bush doctrine of “preemptive attack” – meaning aggression at will – the “revolutionary” new doctrine that impressed Kissinger. They are also relying on automated response systems, which, in the past, have come within minutes of launching a nuclear strike, barely aborted by human intervention. By now the systems have deteriorated, with the collapse of the Russian economy under the market fanaticism of the last years.
US systems allow 3 minutes for human judgment after computers warn of a missile attack – reported to be a daily occurrence. Then comes a 30 second presidential briefing. Pentagon analysts have found serious design flaws in computer security systems, which could allow terrorist hackers to break in and simulate a launch. It is “an accident waiting to happen,” one leading US strategic analyst warns – Bruce Blair, head of Center for Defense Information. Russian systems are far less reliable.
The dangers are being consciously escalated by the threat and use of violence – and now we are considering real threats to survival.
The Bush administration announced that it will deploy the first elements of a missile defense system in Alaska in the summer of 2004, in time for the presidential elections. These plans have been criticized because they are obviously timed for partisan political purposes, use untested technology at huge expense, and probably won’t work. All of that may be correct, but there is a more serious criticism: the systems might work, or at least look as though they might work. In the logic of nuclear war, what counts is perception, not reality, and planners have to make worse case analyses. It is understood on all sides that “missile defense” is an offensive weapon, which provides freedom for aggression, including a first nuclear strike. That is pretty much agreed by US analysts and potential targets, who even use the same words: a missile defense system is not just “a shield,” but also “a sword.”
Recently released documents reveal how the US reacted to a small ABM system deployed around Moscow in 1968. The US at once targeted the system and radar installations with nuclear weapons. Current US plans are expected to provoke a similar Russian response, though now it is all on a much larger scale. China is expected to react the same way, maybe even more so, since a missile defense system would undermine the credibility of its currently very limited deterrent. That may have a ripple effect: India will react to expansion of China’s offensive strategic weapons, Pakistan to India’s expansion, and perhaps on beyond. Those prospects are discussed and are of real concern.
Not discussed, in the US at least, is the threat from West Asia. Israel’s nuclear capacities, supplemented with other WMD, are regarded as “dangerous in the extreme” by the former head of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Gen. Lee Butler, not only because of the threat they pose but also because they stimulate proliferation in response. The Bush administration is now enhancing that threat. Israeli military analysts allege that its air and armored forces are larger and technologically more advanced than those of any NATO power (apart from the US), not because this small country is powerful in itself, but because it serves virtually as an offshore US military base and high tech center. The US is now sending Israel over 100 of its most advanced jet bombers, F16I’s, advertised very clearly as capable of flying to Iran and back, and as an updated version of the F16s that Israel used to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. It was known at once that the bombed reactor had no real capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Later evidence from Iraqi scientists who fled to the West revealed that the Israeli bombing had not retarded Saddam’s nuclear weapons program, but had initiated it, in the familiar cycle of violence. The Israeli press now also reports (only in Hebrew) that the US is sending the Israeli air force “`special’ weapons.” Iranian intelligence, to whose ears these reports are presumably directed, are likely to make a worst case analysis, assuming that these may be nuclear warheads for Israeli bombers. Perhaps these very visible moves are intended to incite some Iranian action that will be pretext for an attack, perhaps just to rattle the leadership, contributing to internal conflict and chaos. Whatever the goal, the likely consequences are not attractive.
The collapse of the pretexts for invading Iraq is familiar. But insufficient attention has been paid to the most important consequence of the collapse of the Bush-Blair pretexts: lowering the bars for aggression. The need to establish ties to terror was quietly dropped. More significantly, the Bush administration – Powell, Rice, and others — now declare the right to attack a country even if it has no WMD or programs to develop them, but has the “intent and ability” to do so. Just about every country has the “ability” to develop WMD, and intent is in the eye of the beholder. It follows that virtually anyone is declared to be subject to devastating attack without pretext.
There is one particle of (apparent) evidence remaining in support of the invasion: it did depose Saddam Hussein, an outcome that can be welcomed without hypocrisy by those who strenuously opposed US-UK support for him through his worst crimes, including the crushing of the Shi’ite rebellion that might have overthrown him in 1991, for reasons that were frankly explained in the national press at the time, but are now kept from the public eye.
The end of Saddam’s rule was one of two welcome “regime changes.” The other was the formal end of the sanctions regime, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, devastated Iraq’s civilian society, strengthened the tyrant, and compelled the population to rely on him for survival. It is for these reasons that the respected international diplomats who administered the UN “oil for food” programs, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, resigned in protest over what Halliday called the “genocidal” sanctions regime. They are the Westerners who knew Iraq best, having had access to regular information from investigators throughout the country. Though sanctions were administered by the UN, their cruel and savage character was dictated by the US and its British subordinate. Ending this regime is a very positive aspect of the invasion. But that could have been done without an invasion.
Halliday and von Sponeck had argued that if sanctions had been re-directed to preventing weapons programs, then the population of Iraq might well have been able to send Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other murderous gangsters supported by the current incumbents in Washington and their British allies: Ceausescu, Suharto, Marcos, Duvalier, Chun, Mobutu…. – an impressive list, some of them comparable to Saddam, to which new names are being added daily by the same Western leaders. If so, both murderous regimes could have been ended without invasion. Postwar inquiries, such as those of Washington’s Iraq Survey Group headed by David Kay, add weight to these beliefs by revealing how shaky Saddam’s control of the country was in the last few years.
We may have our own subjective judgments about the matter, but they are irrelevant. Unless the population is given the opportunity to overthrow a brutal tyrant, as they did in the case of other members of the Rogue’s Gallery supported by the US and UK, there is no justification for resort to outside force to do so. These considerations alone suffice to eliminate the particle of truth that might support the new doctrines contrived after the collapse of the official pretexts. There are other reasons as well, some discussed in the introduction to the 2004 annual report of Human Rights Watch by executive-director Kenneth Roth.
Returning to the improved doctrine of invasion without pretext, capabilities to carry out the plans are being enhanced by new military programs. One major program, announced shortly after the release of the NSS, is intended to advance from “control of space” for military purposes – the Clinton program – to “ownership of space,” meaning “instant engagement anywhere in world.” This implementation of the NSS puts any part of the world at risk of instant destruction, thanks to sophisticated global surveillance and lethal weaponry in space.
The world’s intelligence agencies can read the AIR FORCE SPACE COMMAND STRATEGIC MASTER PLAN, from which I’ve been quoting, as easily as I can. And they will draw appropriate conclusions, increasing the risk to all of us. We should recall that history — including recent history — offers many examples of leaders consciously enhancing very serious threats in pursuit of narrow power interests. By now, however, the stakes are much higher.
The collapse of the pretexts for invasion led to another new doctrine: the war in Iraq was inspired by the President’s “messianic vision” – as it is called in the elite liberal media — to bring democracy to Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. The President affirmed the vision in an address last November.
The reaction ranged from reverential awe to criticism, which praised the “nobility” and “generosity” of the messianic vision but warned that it may be beyond our means: too costly, the beneficiaries are too backward, others may not share our nobility and altruism. That this is the motive for the invasion is simply presupposed in news reporting and commentary. The worshipful attitude extends to England, where, for example, the Economist reports that “America’s mission” of turning Iraq into “an inspiring example [of democracy] to its neighbors” is facing problems.
It is a useful exercise to search for evidence that the invasion was inspired by the messianic vision. One will discover that evidence reduces to the fact that our leader proclaimed the doctrine, so there can plainly be no question about veracity – even though we know perfectly well that such professions of noble intent carry no information because they are entirely predictable, including the worst monsters. And in this case, unquestioning acceptance of the “vision” faces an added difficulty: it is necessary to suppress the fact that the visionary is thereby declaring himself to be a most impressive liar, since when mobilizing the country for war the “single question” was whether Iraq would disarm. If there is an exception to this reaction of blind acceptance in mainstream reporting and commentary, I haven’t found it.
To be more accurate, I did find one exception. A few days after the President revealed his messianic vision to much awed acclaim, the Washington Post published the results of a US-run poll in Baghdad, in which people were asked why they thought the US invaded Iraq. Some agreed with near-unanimous articulate opinion among the invaders (including mainstream critics) that the goal was to bring democracy: 1 percent. Five percent felt that the goal was to help Iraqis. The opinions of most of the rest I have already mentioned: the motive dismissed in polite circles as “conspiracy theory” or some other intellectual equivalent of the four-letter words used by the less elevated classes.
The results of the Baghdad poll were in fact more nuanced. About half felt that the US wanted democracy, but only if it could maintain its influence over the outcome. In brief, democracy is just fine, in fact preferable if only to make us feel and look good, but only if you do what we say. Iraqis, again, know us better than we choose to know ourselves: choose, because evidence is ample, indeed overwhelming. Just in the past few months there has been ample evidence on the front pages, concerning noble “democracy enhancement” efforts in Haiti and El Salvador. Once again, it takes consider discipline “not to see” that the judgment of Baghdadis is very accurate in these cases, once again, but there is no time to run through the details here.
Iraqis, however, do not have to know American history to draw conclusions about the “messianic vision” that is driving US-UK policies, so we are instructed. Their own history suffices. They are well aware that Iraq was created by Britain with boundaries established to ensure that Britain, not Turkey, would gain control of the oil of northern Iraq, and that Iraq would be effectively blocked from the sea by the British-run principality of Kuwait, hence would be dependent. Iraq was granted “independence,” a “constitution,” etc., but Iraqis did not have to await the release of secret records to learn that the British intended to impose in Iraq and elsewhere an “Arab facade” that would allow Britain effectively to rule behind various “constitutional fictions.” Nor did they have to wait for the declassification of the US-UK records of 1958 to learn that after Iraq broke out of the Anglo-American condominium, in high-level joint discussions Britain agreed to give nominal independence to Kuwait to stem the tide of independent nationalism while reserving the right “ruthlessly to intervene” if anything went wrong in this pillar of Britain’s economy, while the US reserved the same right for the really big prizes elsewhere in the Gulf – all publicly available well before the first Gulf war, and clearly quite relevant to the unfolding events, but systematically avoided, apart from the margins.
Furthermore, Iraqis can see what is happening before their eyes.
On the diplomatic front, the US is constructing the biggest embassy in the world. To underscore its goals, it appointed as Ambassador John Negroponte, an interesting choice. The Wall Street Journal described him (accurately) as a “Modern Proconsul,” who learned his craft in Honduras in the 1980s, during the Reaganite phase of the current incumbents. There he was known as “the proconsul” as he presided over the second largest embassy in Latin America and the largest CIA station in the world – doubtless because Honduras was such a centerpiece of world power. As proconsul, Negroponte’s task was to lie to Congress about state terror in Honduras so that the flow of military aid would continue in violation of law, but more importantly, to supervise the bases for the US mercenary army that was attacking Nicaragua, devastating it, and leading to the US becoming the only country in the world to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism (technically, “unlawful use of force”), backed by two Security Council resolutions, which the US vetoed with Britain politely abstaining, then escalating the international terrorist attack. So Negroponte is well-qualified to run the world’s largest embassy, and probably, again, its largest CIA station – all to transfer full sovereignty to Iraqis. Proconsul Negroponte is replacing the Pentagon’s Paul Bremer, whom UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi refers to affectionately as “the dictator” of Iraq.
Iraqis do not have to read the Wall St. Journal to discover that “Behind the Scenes, U.S. Tightens Grip on Iraq’s Future,” staffing Iraqi ministries with US “advisers” and “hand-picked proxies” while proconsul Bremer is “quietly building institutions that will give the U.S. powerful levers for influencing nearly every important decision the interim government will make,” along with edicts “that effectively take away virtually all the powers once held by several ministries.” Hence after Bush-Blair’s “full sovereignty” is turned over, “the new Iraqi government will have little control over its armed forces, lack the ability to make or change laws and be unable to make major decisions within specific ministries without tacit U.S. approval”; and crucially, will cede “operational control” of all Iraqi military forces to US commanders. Just to be on the safe side, for the largely US-appointed interim administration that replaces the US-appointed Governing Council, Washington made sure that top military posts are in the hands of Kurdish commanders, who have good reasons to support the US military presence. To make doubly sure that Iraqis don’t miss the point and get funny ideas about “taking matters into their own hands,” Negroponte’s embassy will remain in a Saddam palace that is “seen by many Iraqis as a symbol of Iraqi sovereignty.” Investors can feel confident that everything is on track.
To be fair, we should recognize that the interim government that presents “the opinions of Iraqis” to the world is not devoid of domestic support. Recent polls reveal that the prime minister Ayad Allawi has almost 5 percent support, just below the president, with a 7 percent approval rating.
A current article by the Diplomatic Editor of the Daily Telegraph has the headline “Handover still on course.” Its last paragraph reports that “A senior British official put it delicately: `the Iraqi government will be fully sovereign, but in practice it will not exercise all its sovereign functions’.” Lord Curzon would nod sagely.
Speaking for the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz announced that there would be a prolonged US troop presence and weak Iraqi army — in order to “nurture democracy.” Wolfowitz is greatly admired by the national liberal press as the visionary leading the messianic mission to bring democracy. He is the “idealist in chief” of the administration, according to senior commentator David Ignatius, former editor of the International Herald Tribune. He also happens to have a unusually shocking record of visceral hatred of democracy, which there is no time to review here; easy to discover, but concealed. Since the idealist in chief declares that the Pentagon must remain in control to “nurture democracy,” it doesn’t matter that according to Western-run polls, Iraqis overwhelmingly want Iraqis to be in charge of security, as the US command was forced to accept in Fallujah. Not all, it is true: 7 percent want US forces to be in control, and 5 percent the US-appointed Governing Council, since disbanded; not, however, Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi, who had no detectable support.
None of this is relevant to the messianic vision.
While watching US efforts to maintain control through diplomatic and military measures, Iraqis can also see the modalities imposed by dictator Bremer, in particular, his decrees opening up industry and banking to effective US takeover (with Britain presumably thrown a few crumbs), along with a 15% flat tax that will leave Iraq among the least taxed countries in the world, eliminating hope for desperately needed social benefits and reconstruction of infrastructure. The plans were immediately denounced by Iraqi business representatives, who charged that they would be destroyed, apart from those who choose to be the local agents of the foreigners who run the economy. It is a well-established conclusion of economic history that without economic sovereignty, development is likely to be limited, and political independence can hardly be more than a shadow.
There may be fewer problems with Iraqi workers, despite their long tradition of labor militancy. The occupying army immediately took action to destroy unions, breaking into offices and arresting leaders, blocking strikes, enforcing Saddam’s brutal anti-labor laws, and handing over concessions to bitterly anti-union US businesses. Sooner or later the US union bureaucracy and the National Endowment for Democracy will probably move in to “build democratic unions,” replaying a dismal record that is all too familiar elsewhere.
The economic measures being imposed are also familiar. They played a large part in creating today’s “Third World” by imperial force, while England and its offshoots, and the rest of Western Europe, followed a radically different course, relying on a powerful state and crucial state intervention in the economy, as they still do – most dramatically the US. The same is true of Japan, the one part of the South that resisted colonization, and developed.
It is an open question whether Iraqis can be coerced into submitting to the “messianic vision,” with nominal sovereignty offered under various “constitutional fictions.” For privileged Europeans and Americans, there is, however, a much more pertinent question: Will they permit their governments to “nurture democracy” in the style of “idealist in chief” Wolfowitz, as throughout the traditional domains of their power and influence? In part they have given an answer. The steadfast refusal of Iraqis to accept the traditional “constitutional fictions” has compelled Washington to yield step by step, with some assistance from “the second superpower,” as the New York Times described world public opinion after the huge demonstrations of mid-February 2003, the first time in the history of Europe and its offshoots that mass protests against a war took place before it had even been officially launched. That makes a difference. Had the problems of Fallujah, for example, arisen in the 1960s, they would have been resolved by B-52s and mass murder operations on the ground. Today, a more civilized society will not tolerate such measures, providing at least some space for the traditional victims to act to gain authentic independence. It is even possible that the Bush administration may have to abandon its original war plans, well understood by Iraqis, though kept in the shadows in the societies of the occupiers.
Right at this point crucial questions arise about the nature of industrial democracy and its future – extremely important questions. The survival of the species is at stake, literally. But that is for another time.