Swans Commentary » swans.com Special Issue on Iraq - February 2, 2004  







After The Invasion

Anthony Arnove




(Swans - February 2, 2004)   The March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq was a demonstration attack, intended not to counter weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, stave off an imminent attack, or "install democracy" (itself an oxymoron) but,

i) to further establish US preponderance in the oil-rich and geostrategically vital Middle East;

ii) to advance an agenda that long predated the horrific attacks of September 11 that is meant to maintain and extend US hegemony as a global economic, political, and military power;

iii) to establish that the United States (and to a lesser extent its clients, such as Israel) has the right to engage in "pre-emptive strikes" against countries that pose no clear threat and in cases when no attack is actually being pre-empted; and

iv) to send a clear message to both its supposed allies and its competitors that the US government will allow no challenge to the "credibility" of US imperialism.

In the words of former Bush speechwriter David Frum, explaining the rationale for an attack on Iraq before March 20, 2003, "An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein -- and the replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States, would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans." (1)

But Empires, we know from history, do not always get what they want.

The resistance to the US occupation has continued since the capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on December 13, 2003, disproving the specious claim that he was "directing" the insurgency and was the primary reason for Iraqis to rebel against the occupation. This Iraqi resistance to the occupation will determine how successful the US imperial project will be in the near term. The global resistance to the occupation, and especially opposition movements in the United States, will determine how successful the US project will be in the long term. It is hard to overstate the stakes of this conflict. We do indeed face a choice, as Noam Chomsky has argued, between hegemony and survival.

In Iraq, we see the Bush administration's attempt to advance its imperialist aims and neoliberal aims (often mistakenly seen in isolation by antiwar and global justice activists) in the same program. It is important to note that the new "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," (2) declared in September 2002, not only lays out the justification for preemptive wars, it explains that the U.S. will promote "tax policies -- particularly lower marginal tax rates -- that improve incentives for work and investment" and encourage "sound fiscal policies to support business activity." As Tariq Ali points out in Bush in Babylon, (3) we are seeing in Iraq a clear example of "imperialism in the age of neo-liberal economics." Iraq is being bought and sold; its investment laws rewritten by Washington bureaucrats who will ensure that vital decisions about the country's future are determined in advance of any meaningful Iraqi participation. US economist Jeff Madrick wrote recently in the business pages of The New York Times (October 2, 2003) that the privatization plans for Iraq are "stunning" and could lead to "widespread cruelty" if they are fully implemented.

Hand in hand with the opening of Iraq to investment, privatization, and oil profiteering is the establishment of long-term US military bases in the country, designed to be a launch pad for further intervention in the region. An "Arab façade" of Iraqi exiles and opportunists may nominally run the show, but they represent the interests of their masters, those who installed them in power, not the will of the Iraqi people. This contradiction is already leading to problems for the Iraqi Governing Council and the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority.

Already the Bush administration's designs on Syria and Iran, which were immediately and credibly threatened with forceful US intervention after the invasion of Iraq, have been set back by the obstacles thrown in the path of the US war machine by the resistance in Iraq. Before the war, the neoconservative pundits William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan explained, "The mission begins in Baghdad but it does not end there. Were the U.S. to retreat after victory into complacency, new dangers would soon arise. War in Iraq represents but the first installment." Such rhetoric was part of "a declared strategy to consolidate the allied victory in Iraq by beginning to reshape the Middle East" in US interests, The New York Times reported (April 16, 2003). "The swiftness of the victory [in Iraq], one "senior administration official" said, "opens all sorts of new opportunities for us."

"We could not declare war on Egypt and Saudi Arabia, so we made war on Iraq," noted one "intellectual" close to the Bush administration. While Syria was not among the countries Bush named as the "axis of evil" (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea), an administration official explained that Syria is part of the "junior varsity axis of evil" (along with Cuba and Libya). "We've changed the geostrategic situation in the Middle East," yet another unnamed administration official told The New York Times (April 15, 2003). "Syria can either wake up to that fact, or not. It is up to Syria to decide whether to become a part of the new Middle East that we are shaping." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top officials immediately escalated their public threats against Iran, arguing that, in the words of Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar, "American actions in Iraq could serve as a blueprint for Iran" (June 20, 2003).

But the US goal of using Iraq as a blueprint for "regime change" is not going according to plan. The program of establishing a neoliberal, "pro-Western," stable regime oriented to US power and serving as a base for the US military and US-based multinationals faces many serious obstacles, including growing restiveness and opposition from US soldiers, reservists and military families. (4) Tim Predmore, a soldier in the 101st Airborne Division, put the issue succinctly: "This looks like a modern-day crusade not to free an oppressed people, or to rid the world of a demonic dictator relentless in his pursuit of conquest and domination, but a crusade to control another nation's natural resource... At least for us here, oil seems to be the reason for our presence... We have all faced death here without reason or justification... How many more must die? How many more tears must be shed before America awakens and demands the return of the men and women whose job it is to protect them rather than their leader's interest?" (September 17, 2003, The Los Angeles Times.)

Predmore raises a critical point. Iraq has the world's second-largest oil reserves and sits in a region with more than two-thirds of the global oil supply. The US military spends tens of billions every year to ensure that it controls the worldwide flow of oil, and to make sure that no country is able to use oil as a weapon against the United States. The U.S. also wants to be sure that it alone can use oil as a weapon against its economic competitors, especially in Europe and Asia. Currently 90 percent of Japan's imported oil comes from the Middle East. Meanwhile, US rivals such as India and China project vastly increased energy imports in the coming decades, primarily from Middle Eastern suppliers.

Much of the criticism of the US intervention has been framed in terms of the problem of the Bush administration's "unilateralism," but the debate about unilateralism versus multilateralism offers a false choice. The United Nations did not, in the end, provide a second resolution to support the war, but the first resolution was more than enough to allow the US government to use the pretext of enforcing international law and UN decisions for overthrowing the Iraqi government. And soon after Baghdad fell, the UN Security Council (including Syria, Russia, and France) provided unanimous recognition of the illegal occupation, thus giving it the veneer of legitimacy. Today the UN is being lined up to clean up the US mess in Iraq, a role that it is quite likely to take up (if reluctantly) in some fashion, lest it be declared further "irrelevant" by the United States. The UN understands that it must be of use to the US government if it is to survive. Thus the body is not a check on US imperialism, as we have just seen so clearly demonstrated in Iraq, but "the best vehicle for their managing US power," to quote the ever-cynical New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (February 12, 2003).

The answer to this dilemma is not, as some have suggested, for Europe to build up its military power as a counterweight to the United States. More European military spending (at the cost of even greater cuts in social services) is no solution. The United States spends more than all of its military and economic peers combined and is committed to preserving its strategic edge against any potential "peer competitor" or alliance. More importantly, we should not mistake the opportunism of French President Jacques Chirac or German Prime Minister Gerhard Schröder for principle. Whatever limited opposition to the war they have articulated was driven by the mood in the streets, the widespread anger and protests against the war, and quickly faded once it was clear the invasion would take place. European politicians who supposedly opposed the attack were near universal in loudly proclaiming their hope for a "swift victory" once it began. Japan, France, and Russia are now forgiving much of Iraq's debts, hoping to curry favor with the United States as it divides up the spoils of post-invasion Iraq. And all are stressing their desire to restore friendly relations with Mr. Bush and his attack dog, Tony Blair.

The Democrats also offer no meaningful alternative. Besides the fact that US empire has been a longstanding bipartisan project, on the question of Iraq, the policy of "regime change" began under President Bill Clinton, who oversaw the worst years of the deadly sanctions on Iraq, as well as periodic bombing of the country, and has been enthusiastically supported by the Democrats. The party voted for the Congressional authorization of Bush's war plans and then funded his post-invasion request for tens of billions of dollars in additional funding for the occupation, even when it was exposed that the war had been built on a foundation of lies. The front-running Democratic candidate in the 2004 presidential race is former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who proclaimed in a major foreign policy address in Omaha, Nebraska, on December 12, 2003, that, "he would strike all hard-edged references to pre-emptive strikes in the United States national security strategy -- without actually abandoning pre-emption as an option. 'Of course we're going to use our force at our discretion to protect the United States,' he said. 'To say that we've never had a preemption policy would be foolish.'" Speaking to James Traub, an editor at The New York Times Magazine, Dean said, "The line of attack [on Bush] is not Iraq, though there'll be some of that. The line of attack will be more, 'What have you done to make us feel safer?' I'm going to outflank him to the right on homeland security, on weapons of mass destruction and on the Saudis,' whom Dean promises to publicly flay as a major source of terrorism. 'Our model is to get around the president's right, as John Kennedy did to Nixon.'" (January 4, 2004.)

Instead, the challenges to US imperialism must come from below; must be international, but must also embrace and involve those at home whose schools, job training programs, neighborhoods, and social programs are being sacrificed to fund the empire's expansion; and must address the causes of the US imperial project, which ultimately are deeply rooted in the nature of capitalism and US state power, not merely in the whims of a "runaway" administration or the fantasies of the neoconservatives, as dangerous and frightening they are. We must not shy away from using the word imperialism (especially when many journalists, academics, and politicians boast of the value of imperialism today and work to rewrite history to defend the sullied glory of the British Raj and other imperialist ventures). We must not be afraid to speak of capitalism's drive for profit, its exhaustion of natural resources, how the economic competition under capitalism spills over into political and military competition. We should say, to use the words of Mark Twain, a founder of the Anti-Imperialist League, "I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land."

We do not want to "win without war." Win what? The "war on terror"? How can one "win the war on terror without war"? The problem with this line of argument is that it implies (or accepts) that Mr. Bush is now waging an otherwise legitimate "war on terror," from which Iraq is just an aberration or distraction. But, the Bush agenda has absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism or reducing its likelihood. And the Democrats now loudly attacking Bush also accept the same framework, which ensures the extension of conditions that breed terrorism: massive inequality, exploitation, and deprivation so that a tiny minority can thrive, can profit, and can rule.

This tide can be turned. As historian Howard Zinn notes in Terrorism and War, (5) the "war on terrorism has obscured the fact that many people in this country are still in need. We need to dig under the rubble of war and point out that the Bush administration is using the war as a cover for worsening the income gap in this country, while paying no attention to the problems of most of the American people, while enriching corporations. I think concentrating on the class issue, concentrating on the benefits being given to corporations, is critical." Zinn adds, "[T]he left is in a position of continually opposing war after war after war, without getting at the root of the problem -- which is the economic system under which we live, which needs war and makes war inevitable."

There are no shortcuts to building such a movement. There will be ups and downs, and defeats. But it is vital that we build it, if humanity is to have a future.

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© Anthony Arnove 2004. All rights reserved. Please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web. See our reprint policy.

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Other Essays in this Special Issue

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Or jump to any one author (in alphabetical order): Tanweer Akram || Justin Alexander || Anthony Arnove || Naseer Aruri || Jan Baughman || George Capaccio || Milo Clark || Gregory Elich || Sara Flounders & John Catalinotto || Manuel García || Denis J. Halliday || Edward S. Herman || Rania Masri || Thomas J. Nagy, et al. || Michael Parenti || Louis Proyect || John Sloboda || Gerard Donnelly Smith || Michael W. Stowell



Iraq on Swans (all articles regarding Iraq published on Swans)

Outside Resources on Iraq (Web sites of interest)

Additional Resources (compiled by Tanweer Akram)

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1.  See, http://www.aei.org/news/filter.,newsID.15118/news_detail.asp (last visited January 23, 2004).  (back)

2.  See, http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html (last visited January 20, 2004).  (back)

3.  Ali, Tariq. Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq, London, UK and New York, NY; Verso, 2003; ISBN: 1-85984-583-5.  (back)

4.  See, "Military Families Speak Out" http://www.mfso.org for more details (last visited January 20, 2004).  (back)

5.  Zinn, Howard. Terrorism and War; Seven Stories Press, 2002; ISBN: 1-58322-493-9.  (back)

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Published February 2, 2004