FOR the first time in its history, the United States of America has invaded, conquered and occupied an Arab country. Of course, other western colonial powers – notably Britain, France and Italy – had in an earlier era conquered and occupied Arab lands. The US itself has military bases in, and military relationships with, a number of Arab states today, but it had never conquered or occupied any state as such.
This compels us to ask a few important questions: Why did the US, aided and abetted by its close ally Britain, conquer and occupy Iraq? Is there any basis at all to the reasons given by the Anglo-American invaders for their conquest and occupation? What are the factors which facilitated their conquest and occupation? How will the US or more accurately, Washington, maintain its power in Iraq? Will there be resistance to American power in Iraq and how will it manifest itself? What will be the impact of American power in Iraq, upon the rest of the Arab world and upon the Middle East as a whole? How will the Iraqi situation affect the international system and global politics?
The conquest of Iraq has merely confirmed the real agenda behind the war, as revealed by its opponents months before the actual invasion began on 20 March 2003.1 We had argued all along that one of the primary motives for an attack upon Iraq was the desire to extend Washington’s hegemony over the entire planet. In cleverly camouflaged language the Bush administration had outlined this goal in its National Security Strategy (NSS) released on 20 September 2002. The document justifies a new aggressive US foreign policy which includes pre-emptive military strikes against perceived enemies. It espouses US domination of the world through expansion of its global military power.2
In fact, the thinking embodied in the NSS was already articulated in a report produced by a neo conservative group called the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in September 2000.3 The group made it unequivocally clear that the time was propitious for the US to establish a ‘Pax Americana’, in effect, a global empire. It is significant that a number of individuals associated with the PNAC hold critical positions in the Bush administration today, including Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defence, John Bolton, Undersecretary of State and Lewis Libby, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.4
Since a larger military presence over the entire globe is central to both the report of the PNAC and the NSS, it is not surprising that Washington is now planning to establish bases in Iraq. According to a news report, it hopes ‘to maintain four bases in Iraq – one at the international airport near Baghdad, one at Tallil near Nassiriya in the south, one at an isolated airstrip in the western desert along an old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan, and one at the Bashir air field in the Kurdish north.’5
It is important to note that after each of the three large-scale wars it has fought since the end of the cold war and the demise of bipolar politics and the Soviet Union, Washington has extended its military tentacles to new states and regions. Following the Gulf War in 1991, it established bases in, or entered into military treaties with, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. After the war in Afghanistan, Washington has a military presence not only in that country but also in neighbouring Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan and Kazakhstan. And now Iraq too will enter into Washington’s web.
Washington’s hegemonic military power especially in the Middle East is also closely related to Israeli interests. With its military presence in Iraq, Washington would be able to provide Israel with even more secure ‘protection’. Besides, the conquest of Iraq also means that the only Arab state that had the military potential (at least until 1990) to challenge Israel – the region’s dominant military power – has now been crushed completely. This is why many analysts have argued that the US war on Iraq was to a great extent Israel’s war.
As the British historian Patrick Seale put it, ‘Much of the ideological justification and political pressure for war against Iraq has come from right-wing American Zionists, many of them Jews, closely allied to Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and occupying influential positions both inside and outside the Bush administration. It is neither exaggeration, nor anti-Semitism, as they would have it, to say that this is a Bush-Sharon war against Iraq.’6 Indeed, powerful pro-Israeli lobbies in Washington such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had predicted ‘a great victory in Iraq.’7
For Israel, American conquest and control of Iraq is more than a question of military security. It affords an unprecedented opportunity to create an environment in the Middle East which would allow Israel to set its own terms for its relations with all the other states in the region. To state bluntly, it would want all of them to accept a Bantustan-type Palestinian entity a la apartheid South Africa under the effective suzerainty of Israel as an inevitable reality. It is because this is the agenda of right-wing Zionists in Tel Aviv and Washington that after Iraq they are pushing for the taming of Syria. We shall return to this point later.
As important as security and Palestine for Israel is the issue of Iraq’s natural resources. Tel Aviv is hoping that in a short while an old oil pipeline that linked Iraq to Haifa (in Israel) before Israel was created in 1948 would be re-opened, thus ensuring an uninterrupted supply of oil to the Zionist state. Iraq also has an abundance of water – a bonanza for a country like Israel one of whose perennial woes is water scarcity.
Of course, Washington’s determination to control Iraqi oil – the world’s second largest oil reserve – regardless of Israeli interests in the matter was also a major motive for the war. It explains why after the war, ‘Big oil cannot wait to get its hands on Iraqi’s oil reserves, …’8 Chevron Texaco for instance, on whose board US National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, once served, has already expressed interest in entering the oil industry in Iraq. There is even talk of the oil sector being ‘quickly privatised, at American insistence.’9
In this regard, many governments see President Bush’s call to the United Nations Security Council to lift economic sanctions against Iraq – sanctions which Washington and London have primarily been responsible for – as a cunning ploy to bring the sale of oil which is now under UN supervision within the US’ ambit of control.10 To illustrate the significance of oil to the conquest of Iraq, many media commentators have pointed out that the oil ministry building in Baghdad was one of two ministry buildings not destroyed by the Anglo-American bombing: the other being the ministry of the interior which housed Iraq’s security records.
Closely related to control over oil are the economic gains to be made from the so-called ‘reconstruction of Iraq’. It has been estimated that reconstruction directly connected to the oil industry would require an investment of about 38 billion US dollars, most of the benefits going to American companies.11 Halliburton – a company in which Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive – and its subsidiary Kellog Brown and Root are slated for some major projects.12
Bechtel Corp, another firm with long standing ties to the Republican party in the US has been awarded contracts to the tune of 680 million ‘to help rebuild Iraq’s power, water and sewage systems and repair airports and a seaport’13 – after some of this infrastructure was destroyed by continuous aerial bombardment for almost 20 days during the war.
There is perhaps another economic reason too which, according to some sources, played a part in the war. It is ‘about the currency used to trade oil and consequently, who will dominate the world economically in the foreseeable future – the USA or the European Union.’14 Under an OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) agreement, ‘all oil has been traded in US dollars since 1971 (after the dropping of the gold standard) which makes the US dollar the de facto major international trading currency.’15
However, in October 2000 Iraq switched to trading its oil in euros. Iran and Venezuela, also OPEC members, began considering a switch. In fact, during 2002, Iran converted most of its currency reserves to euros while Venezuela has been trading oil for goods and services without the use of dollars. In one such instance, Cuba has been providing health services in Venezuelan villages in exchange for the latter’s oil.16
These developments created much alarm in Washington. If various countries actually began to trade oil and other commodities in euros or chose not to use the dollar for other reasons, it could threaten Washington’s global economic dominance. Hence the decision – so the argument goes – to act against Iraq.
So far we have shown how as a result of the conquest of Iraq and its aftermath many of the real reasons for the Anglo-American invasion have come to the surface. There are of course certain other reasons suggested by some commentators which are yet to be proven true. One such reason is linked to the Christian Right in the US. It has been argued that an influential segment within the Christian Right lobby became such an ardent advocate of war on Iraq because it fervently believes that Israel’s enemies in the Middle East will have to be defeated and Israel will have to emerge triumphant before the long awaited Messiah returns and before everyone joins the Christian fold. This is why the Christian Right has entered into a solid alliance with the ‘Zionist right’ and both pursue policies aimed at expelling Palestinians from their homeland and establishing a ‘Greater Israel’ that covers so-called biblical lands way beyond present-day Israel.17
While some of the gains that have accrued to Tel Aviv from the invasion of Iraq are obvious, it is still not clear how the Christian Right will benefit from the Anglo-American action. Will Christian Right evangelists soon arrive in Iraq – as they have begun to do in American controlled Afghanistan – to convert Muslims to Christianity? Will these evangelists camouflage their proselytising activities through humanitarian aid agencies as they have done in other places such as Cambodia? Will they receive tacit endorsement from a born-again Christian leader like President George W. Bush? Only time will tell.
Of course, Washington – and London – will deny strenuously that there was any other agenda for the assault on Iraq than the reasons they had given before the beginning of the war. Up to this point all the reasons they had given – save one – have turned out to be erroneous. Let us examine them one by one.
As Washington and London began to turn the heat upon Baghdad in the middle of 2002, their principal rationale for targeting the country was its alleged production and possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). They managed to persuade the UN Security Council to adopt a tough resolution – Resolution 1441 – in November 2002 aimed at forcing Iraq to disarm.18 For the next few months, leaders like US Secretary of State, Colin Powell and British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made all sorts of allegations – some fabricated, others unsubstantiated – about Iraq’s WMD.
After conquering Iraq and deposing the Saddam Hussein regime, Washington which is now in control of the country has yet to discover any WMD. This has prompted the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, to remark that though it was ‘too early to draw conclusions’ he was ‘a little more inclined’ than before to ‘believe the insistence of the now defunct Iraqi government that it no longer had any such weapons.’19
Washington is continuing to look for WMD. It may discover them; it may not. But if it now suddenly produces ‘evidence’ of Iraq’s WMD, there will be a great deal of suspicion in international circles. People will start wondering if the ‘evidence’ had been planted to justify the invasion of Iraq. To avoid such speculation, Blix has suggested that the UN weapons inspectors be allowed to return to Iraq and resume their work.20 Washington has rejected the idea. This has further fuelled suspicion of Washington’s WMD game.
The other allegation that both Washington and London had made before the war was that Iraq had links to terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda, reputed to be the mastermind behind the ‘11 September’ episode. Even at that time, they were not able to produce any credible evidence. 34 days after the war (I am writing this on 23 April 2003), they have yet to prove that the Saddam regime was linked to al-Qaeda or was actively collaborating with any other terrorist group. Washington made a pathetic attempt to present the capture near southern Baghdad of a former Palestinian leader who had committed an act of terrorism 18 years ago off the Italian coast as proof of Saddam’s link to terrorist groups. It was so unconvincing that even Washington’s allies refused to lend any credence to Abu Abbas’s capture.21
If there is one goal which the Washington-London elite or cabal (as they should be rightly described) set out to achieve before the war that they have now accomplished it is ‘regime change’. It would perhaps be more accurate to speak of ‘regime ouster’ rather than regime change since a new regime has yet to be formally established. That regime ouster and not the elimination of weapons of mass destruction nor the severance of terrorist links was the cabal’s primary mission, became apparent a few weeks before the invasion of 20 March.
However, the reason given for the ouster of the Saddam regime – that it was tyrannical and oppressive – is somewhat dubious. Of course, Saddam was a cruel tyrant and an oppressive dictator. But if this was what concerned London and Washington why didn’t they get rid of him in the eighties? For it was in the eighties that Saddam was at his tyrannical worst: he massacred his Kurdish citizens at Halabja in March 1988.
Ironically, at that time, Washington and London were friends with Saddam. Saddam was fighting Iran. Stopping the Iranian revolution with its Islamic thrust was the cabal’s goal. Because they had a common enemy, tyranny and oppression did not matter. It was only after Saddam turned against Washington and London by invading their client state, Kuwait, that he became a monster.22
That tyranny and oppression are not the real reasons for regime change in Baghdad is underscored by yet another argument. If the Washington-London cabal is determined to wipe out tyrannical, oppressive regimes, what is it doing about Ariel Sharon in Tel Aviv? For Palestinians and Arabs there is no government that is as unjust or as cruel as the Tel Aviv regime. There are other governments in the Middle East and beyond, from Algiers to Cairo to Yangon which are also oppressive and yet they do not seem to have earned the ire of the cabal.
So it is not the callous cruelty of the Saddam regime which is the issue. Neither was the invasion ‘inspired’ by a desire to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. Or, to turn around the language of the invaders: liberation was certainly not their goal. If liberation was their aim, we are tempted to raise again an earlier question from a different angle: why didn’t Washington and London persuade their friend Saddam to bestow freedom and democracy upon his people in the eighties? And in similar vein we ask again – what about liberation for the people of Palestine from the yoke of Israeli oppression? What about liberation for the citizens of those Gulf monarchies, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, which are nothing but cronies and clients of the US?
The claim by these 21st century invaders that they are liberating the people of Iraq reminds us of a similar promise made by an earlier set of colonial conquerors of the same land. In 1917, the British military subdued the city of Baghdad in the name of ‘liberating’ its people from the Ottomans. The commander-in-chief of the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, General Stanley Maude, told the people that ‘our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators.’23 Of course, we know from history that liberation – easy initial victories for the British, crushing defeat for the people of the region – in the end turned out to be a decades old struggle against colonial hegemony.24
What this fragment of history reveals is that the people of Iraq know when subjugation and occupation are presented as freedom and liberation. In any case, how can one liberate a people through cluster bombs and cruise missiles? Genuine liberation will have to come from the people themselves. It cannot be imposed from outside.
Nearly all the movements for liberation and freedom in recent decades reinforce this point. Iran was liberated from the oppressive rule of the Shah through a non-violent people’s movement in 1979. The Indonesians ousted a dictatorial President, Suharto, through a similar movement for freedom and democracy in 1998. This is also the story of the Filipino people’s peaceful struggle against their autocratic president, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986. Likewise, communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe were swept away by the people’s determination to win their freedom in the late eighties.
It is quite conceivable that Saddam Hussein – as many Iraqi intellectuals have argued – would also have been overthrown by the people had it not been for the crippling economic sanctions and the military assaults upon Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. For these direct challenges to Iraq’s honour and integrity over a period of 12 years provided Saddam with the perfect excuse to tighten his grip upon his people and enhance his power. After all Iraq has in the past witnessed political change – from a monarchical system to a procommunist regime to the Baathists. Besides, even after he had consolidated his position in 1979 through a series of brutal manoeuvres, Saddam had to encounter a number of palace or popular revolts against his rule.
This is why it is nonsensical to suggest that without the conquest of Iraq it would not have been possible to remove Saddam. To reiterate our main point: many dictators have been toppled by people’s power right through history. Unlike the Anglo-American ouster of Saddam in 2003, this was often accomplished without the massacre of thousands of innocent children, women and men. There is no reason to believe therefore that Saddam could not have been ousted or eliminated in one way or another.
Granted that there was no need for the farcical ‘liberation’ of Iraq to eliminate Saddam. But the question that has to be answered is this: Why was it relatively easy to get rid of the dictator?
Washington’s overwhelming military might was undoubtedly the major factor. The world’s only superpower – or would it be more accurate to call it a hyperpower –25 is so strong today that its military budget equals ‘the combined defence spending of the next 14 or 15 powers.’26 The weapons of mass destruction at Washington’s command, especially some of the new devastating bombs it has developed, are so formidable that it has the capacity to annihilate our entire planet many times over.
At the core of this destructive capability is the hyperpower’s mastery of the skies. In the war on Iraq as in the 1991 Gulf War and the 2001 Afghan War, it was its much vaunted air power that ensured the US’ victory. Now more than ever before any state that gets on to the wrong aide of Washington has to take into account this reality – the stark reality of daunting power from ‘above’. As if to underline its ‘heavenly’ superiority, the US is now hell-bent on the militarisation of outer space by turning it into ‘a new theatre of war, developing orbiting weapons systems that can instantly destroy any target anywhere on earth.’27 This is what Bush calls ‘full spectrum dominance’ over planetary security.
Contrast the military strength of the sole planetary hyperpower with the situation of the Iraqi armed forces and one will understand why it was decimated and destroyed within 20 days. Less than one quarter of its 1991 Gulf War strength, the Iraqi army was ill-equipped, under paid and poorly fed. Like the rest of the citizenry, most of the soldiers – except the elite Republican Guards and the Saddam fedayeen – were suffering from the effects of 12 years of harsh sanctions.
Besides, there was little cohesion and solidarity within the military partly because of Saddam’s vicious and cruel actions – the torture of dissidents being the least obnoxious of them – which alienated segments of the populace, especially the Shi’ites and Kurds from his government. It explains why many ordinary Iraqi soldiers were not inclined to come to the defence of the inhuman dictator.
Given the cruelty of the regime and the alienation of the people, it is remarkable that Iraqis in Umm Qasr, Basra, Nassiriya, Karbala and Najf, among other places, put up such valiant resistance to the Anglo-American invaders.28 There is perhaps a simple and straightforward reason for this. The Iraqis were protecting their hearth and home. They were defending their motherland.
It is only when the invaders were on the verge of entering Baghdad that Iraqi resistance collapsed. This has given rise to a lot of speculation. It is quite possible that after 20 days of constant aerial bombardment, the Republican Guards who were supposed to defend Baghdad had neither the will nor the wherewithal to perform their designated role. There is also talk about some of the divisional commanders of the Republican Guards being heavily bribed by the invaders so that they would not offer any resistance.
Worse, there are people who believe that Saddam himself entered into a deal with the invading forces. Since the Americans and the British had already lost about 150 soldiers even before their arrival in Baghdad, there was some concern in their circles that the death toll could climb dramatically especially if there was strong resistance from the Iraqis. In return for allowing them to take over Baghdad without a fight, the invaders ‘arranged for’ Saddam, his immediate family and a small retinue of loyalists to escape from the country.29
There is, of course, no hard evidence to support this ‘deal’ theory. But if it is true, Saddam’s betrayal at the eleventh hour will be yet another factor that explains the invaders’ triumph. Leaving his people in the lurch merely to save his own skin would be tantamount to treachery of the highest order. It would make Saddam a Machiavellian rogue with very few parallels in history. He would have looked better in the eyes of his people had he been killed by the enemy in one of those aerial raids or if he is in hiding somewhere in Iraq. Since the situation is still very fluid and events continue to unfold in that occupied country, both these possibilities should not be discounted.
There is perhaps another final factor that also facilitated the Anglo-American conquest of Iraq. A number of Iraq’s neighbours – Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – allowed their territory to be used in one way or other for the invasion. Turkey which showed some integrity by refusing permission to American land forces to launch their military operations from its soil nonetheless granted the US air force the right to utilise its air space.
It is irrefutably true that without the active collusion and collaboration of certain Arab and Muslim governments in the Middle East, the Anglo-American invaders would not have been able to achieve their goal. In this connection, it is also important to emphasise that in all the countries mentioned above – with the exception of Kuwait – the vast majority of the people were vehemently opposed to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Now that the Saddam regime is gone, how will Washington administer Iraq? It has already established a post-war administrative set-up – the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance – under a retired US General, Jay Garner. [He has since been replaced by Paul Bremer.] Garner’s appointment provoked widespread criticism from the Iraqi intelligentsia broadcast over the independent Arab television channel, Al-Jazeera, and from other Arab states mainly because he is known to be pro-Zionist and had endorsed Sharon’s suppression of the current Palestinian intifada (uprising).30 Garner’s deputy is a British Major General, Tim Cross. So far, Garner’s office has made very little impact upon the lives of ordinary Iraqis. The Iraqis themselves, through local committees and ad hoc vigilante units, have done more to restore a semblance of normalcy and a degree of law and order in various cities.
The real test for Washington would be its ability to bring together various sectarian and regional groups – Shi’ites who constitute 60% of the population, Sunnis who are about 37% and Christians around 3% – on the one hand, and the Arabs and the Kurds on the other, into some form or system of government that is both credible and legitimate in the eyes of the people. American officials themselves reckon that the entire process will take at least five years. As a leading Republican, Senator Richard Lugar, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee put it, ‘I would think at least we ought to be thinking of a period of five years. Now that may understate it.’31
To form a credible government deriving its legitimacy from the popular will expressed through democratic elections would be no mean task given the considerable opposition among the people to what is rightly seen as ‘American occupation of Iraq’. That the Iraqi masses want the Americans to leave their country immediately is borne out by the huge demonstrations in Baghdad and other cities since 18 April 2003 – demonstrations whose rallying slogan is: ‘no to Saddam, no to America, yes, yes to Islam.’32 We shall return to this point about opposition to American occupation later.
How will Garner’s office overcome this opposition? It will first try to win the hearts and minds of the people – especially since the British are advising Garner (the British are very fond of using persuasive strategies to get the natives to accept imperial dominance) – by providing essential services, creating jobs and improving standards of living. At the same time, the occupiers can be expected to buy and bribe leaders, administrators and technocrats at various levels to endorse their rule.
If the carrot fails they will, from time to time, resort to the stick. And if the stick does not work the new masters of Iraq will use an ancient trick that the Roman imperialists discovered which was later perfected by the British, namely, divide and rule.33 Already Garner’s office is exploiting the theological differences between Shi’ites and Sunnis while playing the Kurds against the Arabs and vice-versa.
But the new imperialists will not succeed. The growing resistance to their rule – which we have alluded to – is bringing Shi’ites and Sunnis together. In the mosques and on the streets, they are adopting a common position against foreign occupation and imperial oppression. And the Iraqis know what they are fighting against. They are profoundly aware of the context.
As we have observed, they had stood up against British colonial rule 86 years ago and realise that history is repeating itself. The perceptive British journalist, Robert Fisk, in one of his many insightful articles on the invasion and occupation of Iraq takes cognisance of this sense of history among the Iraqis and forewarns that just as an earlier generation sought liberation from the British, the present generation of Iraqis will want to free themselves from the Americans.
He predicts that, ‘a war of liberation will begin quite soon, which of course will first be referred to as a war by terrorists, by al-Qaeda, by remnants of Saddam’s regime, remnants (remember that word) but it will be waged particularly by Shi’ite Muslims against the Americans and the British to get us out of Iraq and that will happen.’34
It is not just the historical memory of colonial subjugation which will inspire Shi’ites and other Iraqis to resist Anglo-American imperialism. The 2000 perhaps 3000 Iraqi civilians killed in the course of the recent invasion, compounded by the deaths of thousands more soldiers, have created a great deal of anger, outrage and sorrow among the people. This ‘bloody conquest, witnessed by America’s mass theft of Iraq’s resources and natural wealth,’35 is what strengthens the resolve of ordinary Iraqi men, women and even children to fight the new, illegal, illegitimate rulers in Baghdad.
There is yet another factor that infuriates, and therefore invigorates Iraqi, and indeed Arab and Muslim opposition to the American occupation of Iraq. It is the realisation – we have hinted this – that American occupation of Iraq equals Israeli occupation of Iraq. Since Iraqis, Arabs and Muslims know that the conquest of Iraq is a vital dimension of Israel’s agenda, and Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands is the ultimate injustice, one can understand why they will never ever acquiesce with the occupation of Iraq. Indeed, there is every possibility that resistance which will become more pronounced in the months and years ahead, will be long and protracted.
Given the military inferiority of the subjugated, it is quite conceivable that Iraqi resisters will resort to guerilla tactics in their struggle for liberation. Suicide bombings and sniper attacks may be part of their strategy.36 Since these tactics have never really helped the victims of oppression to advance their cause, shouldn’t the Iraqis and others who are part of the resistance think of other perhaps more effective strategies? Isn’t a mass non-violent civil disobedience movement an option that is worth considering? Can an occupying force continue to exercise power and authority over a nation if all its citizens are united in their refusal to cooperate with the alien regime? In resisting occupation and control, have Arabs, Muslims and people in general given sufficient attention to peaceful but revolutionary methods of achieving political change?
The capacity of the people to resist occupation is not only important for the future of Iraq, it will also impact upon politics in the Middle East as a whole. If the resistance is not able to sustain itself over the long haul and if a pro-American regime in Baghdad succeeds in consolidating its power, it is not inconceivable that the neo-conservatives in Washington will be encouraged to pursue their nefarious agenda with greater vigour. The Palestinians for instance will be forced to accept a peace settlement with Israel dictated almost entirely by Tel Aviv’s interests as defined by right-wing Zionists.
Let us not forget that it was after the last Gulf War that the Oslo Accord was signed between Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat which in effect created a Bantustan out of the West Bank and Gaza to the advantage of Israel. Jordan’s King Hussein also agreed to make peace with Israel on the latter’s terms partly because of Iraq’s defeat in the war.
The neo-conservatives may also be emboldened to move against Syria.37 Though there was quite a bit of sabre-rattling immediately after the collapse of the Saddam regime, they may not be planning to go to war against the country – at least not in the short term. However, applying maximum political and diplomatic pressure upon Damascus to compel the government to concede to Israel’s demand on the question of the Golan Heights which Israel had annexed from Syria in 1967 and, at the same time, to sever its alleged ties with certain radical Palestinian liberation groups and the Lebanese Hizbollah may well be part of their plan.
If a puppet government at Washington’s beck and call entrenches itself in Baghdad, the neo conservative cabal may even start targeting Iran. Apart from coercing Tehran to cease supporting Palestinian freedom fighters and the Hizbollah on the one hand and Iraqi Shi’ites resisting American rule on the other – these are the usual Washington-Tel Aviv allegations against Iran – the cabal may even demand that the Islamic state desist from opposing American hegemony and abandon its quest for an alternative civilisation founded upon religious principles – principles that challenge the premises upon which the US’ global corporate, casino, consumerist capitalist system is built.38 In other words, Iran like everyone else in the Middle East will have to obey the commands of Washington and Tel Aviv.
If resistance to American control and dominance over Iraq gets stronger in the future and threatens its power, a different scenario could prevail in the Middle East. The Palestinian liberation struggle will receive a shot in the arm. Israel may be forced to make some real concessions to the Palestinians resulting in the establishment of a genuine, independent, sovereign Palestinian state. Syria and Iran will feel a little more secure. So would other independent minded states in the region. On the other hand, ruling elites in those Middle Eastern states who have been abjectly subservient to Washington will become nervous about their future. They would be afraid that their own people inspired by the Iraqi resistance will turn against them.
Indeed, successful resistance could even have repercussions in Washington. If it becomes clear to the American voter within a year or so that the regime in Baghdad installed by his government is the object of anger and antipathy and if that antagonism on the part of ordinary Iraqis is expressed through frequent killings of American officials and soldiers, it is not unlikely that he will begin to have serious doubts about Washington’s ‘noble’ Iraqi mission. And if at the same time the American economy is in the doldrums the electorate may even choose to give the boot to Bush in the 2004 Presidential election. If Bush is defeated, the neo-conservative cabal that has been able to manipulate him will lose its grip upon US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Whether resistance intensifies or declines in the foreseeable future there is yet another phenomenon that is almost certain to complicate the politics of the region. A number of political actors and commentators expect terrorism – meaning by which the planned killing of civilians – to increase within and without the Middle East.39 A desperate reaction to the US occupation of Iraq born of anger, hatred and frustration, acts of terror would nevertheless have the moral support of ordinary people. And, if past patterns are any indication, American interests, besides American allies, cronies and clients in the region would be the likely targets.
The occupation of Iraq, needless to say, will also have serious ramifications for the international system. If other states, especially those that had opposed the war now accept American occupation of Iraq as a fait accompli and worse still adjust to the new order of things and even try to benefit from it,40 then Washington will be tempted to push further its agenda of total global hegemony. The victim of this push will undoubtedly be the international system at the core of which is the UN.
Washington will pursue the two prong strategy it has adopted for some time now in its attitude towards the UN. As we have seen, it will set its own foreign policy goals determined by the narrow, often myopic interests of the neo-conservative cabal and certain other influential domestic lobbies and, if and when necessary, seek the endorsement of the world body. If it obtains the UN’s support it would be a bonus as it would help to legitimise its hegemonic designs in the name of the ‘international community’ and ‘world peace’.
On the other hand, if the UN fails to provide Washington with the fig-leaf it is looking for it will still go ahead and do what it wants to do. This is exactly what it did in the Iraq War.41 Though the majority of UN Security Council members and UN members and indeed the entire international community was against the war, Washington with London in tandem decided to embark upon its ill-advised military adventure.
Now that the illegal war is over, Washington is once again contemplating going to the UN to obtain approval for a number of resolutions related to economic sanctions, the sale of oil and the reconstruction of Iraq. It is still unclear whether Security Council members such as Russia, France and Germany will allow these resolutions to go through. [These have since been approved by the UN.] If the Council okays Washington’s moves it would be seen as legitimising the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The message it will send to the world is that if one is a hyperpower one can violate international law with impunity and transgress international norms. In the end the UN will still legalise the crimes of the hyperpower.
If, on the other hand, the Council spurns Washington and Washington pursues its imperial plan of dominance and control of Iraq without any regard for world opinion, as one can expect it to do, the international community may well conclude that a hyperpower – because of its power – need not submit to the UN or to international institutions or to international law. Washington would have proven that it is ‘above the law’, that it is ‘right’ because of its might.
What this shows is that whatever the UN’s response to the Iraqi situation at this point in time, its credibility is at stake. Its credibility is at stake because the world’s only hyperpower has chosen to treat it with contempt: to exploit it if it serves its purpose; to discard it when it is a hindrance to its imperial ambitions.
It is important to remember that this contemptuous attitude to the UN did not begin with Iraq or even after 11 September. In its utter disregard for treaties such as the Kyoto Accord on global warming and the Rome Statute on an international criminal court, the Bush administration had already revealed that it had no respect for multilateral agreements or for multilateral processes. It is an administration that is unilateralist in its orientation – even if it sometimes draws together a handful of allies, cronies and client states to endorse its actions.42
The main reason why unilateralism has become one of the main planks in Washington’s foreign policy platform is because of its military might. As we have shown, it is because it is militarily so powerful that it feels that it can do what it wants and no one would dare to stand in its way. Indeed, most nations today live in fear of the hyperpower. It can rain terror upon anyone any time. In other words, the hyperpower dispenses hegemonic terror. It is hegemonic terror derived from overwhelming military might that allows the hyperpower to dominate the world.
However, other states especially those with some political clout – as we have suggested – are trying to resist the hyperpower’s might. Using multilateralism and the UN system as their weapon, countries such as France, Germany, Russia and even China, among others, had tried to stop Washington and London from going to war against Iraq. We had hinted that after the war some of these countries are still looking for ways and means of holding Washington accountable to the UN. Even if they fail on this occasion, their willingness to assert their position vis-à-vis Washington – most dramatically expressed over Iraq but already evident on certain other issues in the recent past such as the Kyoto Accord and the Rome Statute – offers a glimmer of hope for the future.
It is too early to say whether this will lead eventually to the emergence of alternative centres of power capable of providing some counterweight to the hegemon. France and Germany in particular appear to have the latent strength to emerge as an alternative centre of power in the larger context of an expanding Europe.43 Both their economic resilience and their political viability are assets. Moreover, the euro has since the beginning of 2002 reinforced their economic resilience. As we have seen, it is that one currency which is causing Washington some worry.
But more than alternative centres of global power it is the American people themselves who at this juncture can help to check Washington’s unilateralism. But can we expect them to? Leaving aside the sort of situation where Washington’s failure in Iraq persuades them to re-think US foreign policy in the Middle East – something we have alluded to – the American public in recent years has not been inclined to question the Bush administration’s increasing unilateralism.
Indeed, it is the people, especially the intelligentsia, who have through their deafening silence allowed the hyperpower to pursue its unilateralist policies on the international stage. And hasn’t this happened because the mainstream American media has shaped the public mind in such a way that it endorses wholeheartedly Washington’s global hegemony? This is why one should regard the American media as an important player in global politics ensuring that the hyperpower remains on top of the world.
In this regard, isn’t it an indisputable fact that important sections of the mainstream US media promoted the war against Iraq? In making this point, the Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Greg Dyke, singled out Fox News Channel, the most popular US news cable news network during the war for its ‘gung-ho patriotism’. He also criticised the largest radio group in the US, Clear Channel Communications for ‘using its airwaves to organise pro-war rallies.’44 CNN’s Ted Turner has also attacked Fox News and labelled its owner, Rupert Murdoch, ‘a warmonger.’45 Of course, CNN was also less than impartial in its coverage of the war though it was not as blatant as Fox News in its jingoistic appeals to the American people.
Even after the war the American media has continued to whip up popular sentiments aimed at rationalising and justifying everything that Washington is doing to sustain and perpetuate its power in Iraq. American soldiers are presented as ‘heroes’ and ‘liberators’ while Iraqis who are protesting against American rule are vilified as fanatics out to establish a theocracy. There is so little coverage in the media on the thousands of Iraqis who had been killed by the occupying force or about the unimaginable suffering of people who are without food and water, shelter and electricity for days on end largely because aerial bombing had destroyed their basic means of sustenance.
If the mainstream American media has helped to promote Washington’s global hegemonic role by ensuring that there is popular support at home for its overseas military adventures, sections of the media in many other countries have contributed greatly towards fostering a more critical attitude towards US dominance and power. This is true even of countries like Britain, Italy and Spain whose governments are unabashed allies of Washington.
This was one of the reasons why the majority of the population in all these countries was totally opposed to the war. Apart from the print media and radio and television, internet also played a huge role in making millions of people all over the world aware of the real issues behind Washington’s and indeed London’s and Tel Aviv’s drive for power and control.
What this implies is that internet and sections of the media are partly responsible for creating, sustaining and perpetuating the global anti-war, pro-peace movement. The emergence of this movement is undoubtedly one of the most exciting features in the global political architecture today. It is significant that in spite of the end of the war the movement continues to articulate the cause of peace. Of course, peace rallies in the post-war scenario are not as large nor as intense as they were before the war erupted. But that is to be expected. What is important is that there are enough committed women and men in every nook and cranny of the planet to keep the flame burning.
Though the movement is diverse and disparate without a unifying vision of what a peaceful world will look like, it has nonetheless succeeded in exposing the fundamental flaws in the existing global system. By highlighting oil and hegemony as the real motives behind the war, the movement has in fact revealed the hideous face of contemporary civilisation with its obsession for wealth and power. In some parts of the world anti-war protests have also brought to the fore the nexus between Israeli hegemony and American hegemony.
Equally significant, the peace movement has shown how vital questions in global politics and the global economy, how primary issues of war and peace are, in the ultimate analysis, decided by an elite against the interests and aspirations of the masses. Through their mobilisation of popular sentiment against the war, the peace activists have in fact challenged the elite to return power to the people.
There is something else that the peace movement has done. It has, symbolically, perhaps even emotionally, brought together people from all over the world, from different religious and cultural backgrounds, in a common cause directed against a common foe, namely, imperial power, hegemonic terror represented by Bush and his allies. There has never been such a multi-religious, multi-cultural peace movement in history. Because it is truly representative of the human family, it has the potential of making a tremendous impact upon global politics in the future.
For Muslims in particular, the multi-religious character of the movement carries a special message. That so many millions of non-Muslims – Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and individuals who have no specific religious affiliation and some who may even be agnostics and atheists – have stood up for a 97% Muslim society means that there are people all over the world who are capable of committing themselves to justice and peace regardless of the identity of the victim.
Muslims should ponder upon this. For within a significant segment of the Muslim ummah (community) there is a tendency to approach issues of justice and injustice from a religiously exclusive perspective. It is only if an act of injustice is committed against a Muslim nation or community does one care to respond. Hence, indignities meted out against non-Muslims sometimes because of the unjust policies of the same imperial power somehow do not elicit expressions of solidarity from Muslim groups.
As a case in point, no Muslim group that we know – especially those that claim to speak on behalf of Islam – has ever campaigned for the people of Guatemala or Nicaragua or Chile or Venezuela or Cuba – all of whom have been (and in some instances continue to be) the tragic victims of American imperialism. One hopes that the Iraqi episode will open the eyes – and hearts – of those Muslims who subscribe to a sectarian notion of justice.
Asectarian notion of justice violates the quintessence of Islam. For justice in Islam transcends ethnic, cultural, national, even religious boundaries. Because it is truly universal any attempt by those who are resisting American occupation in Iraq to interpret justice or freedom or equality in a manner that favours a particular sect or community or religion would be antithetical to the teachings of Islam. They should try to create a society and establish a state that is universal and inclusive in which all Iraqis will be able to relate to one another in a spirit of egalitarian fraternity.
After all, it was an inclusive, universal, eclectic outlook that informed the Abbasids, that great Islamic civilisation that held sway over Baghdad and other parts of what is today Iraq for five centuries. In science, medicine, astronomy, literature and culture, the Abbasids were a beacon of light for the whole of humanity. It is this, rather than the crass materialism of contemporary civilisation, that should be the inspiration for the Iraqis as they fight the hyperpower – the hyperpower that in some ways embodies the unbridled lust for wealth and power that signifies our age.
Or, to put it in another way: will the land that gave birth to human civilisation thousands of years before the Abbasids now nurture and nourish through struggle and suffering – as it repulses yet another conqueror – a just, compassionate, humane civilisation which celebrates the dignity of all that lives and breathes on this planet?
1. See for instance my ‘Iraq – An Attack is Imminent’, JUST Commentary, Vol. 2, no. 8, August 2002.
2. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Washington: White House, September 2002.
3. Rebuilding America’s Defences – Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century. A Report of the Project for the New American Century. Washington, September 2000.
4. Jay Bookman, ‘The President’s Real Goal in Iraq’, http://www.informationclearing house.info/article 2319.htm
5. US seeking long-term military relationship with ‘new Iraq’. New Straits Times, 21 April 2003. It should be emphasised, however, that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has denied that news story about US bases in Iraq which first appeared in The New York Times. He maintains that the US military will not stay long in Iraq. See Star, 23 April 2003.
6. Patrick Seale, ‘US War the Climax of the American-Israeli Partnership’, reproduced in Mid-East Realities, http://www.MiddleEast. org
7. Dana Milbank, ‘For Israel Lobby Group, War is Topic A, Quietly’, Washingtonpost. com, 1 April 2003.
8. See ‘Iraq’, Economist.com
10. For the views of Iraq’s Middle East neighbours, see New Sunday Times, 20 April 2003. The title of the article is ‘Middle Eastern nations tell US to leave Iraq, keep hands off oil.’
11. See ‘Masters of Oil’, World Editorial and International Law, Monthly Newsletter on Global Policy and the Press, (USA) vol. 11, no. 2, February 2003.
12. ‘Chasing Riches in the Ruins of Iraq’, Star, 19 April 2003.
13. ‘Bechtel wins Rm 2.9 b Iraqi Reconstruction Contract’, New Straits Times, 19 April 2003.
14. Geoffrey Heard, ‘It is not about oil or Iraq, it’s about the US and Europe going head to head on world economic dominance’, firstname.lastname@example.org
16. Gavin R. Putland, ‘Iraq War to Save the Dollar’, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, 26 March 2003, Internet Mail.
17. For some discussion on this, see Abraham McLaughlin, ‘Christian Right Steps in on Mideast’, http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0416/p01s01-uspo.html, 16 April 2002. See also Father Labib Kobti, ‘The Upcoming Holocaust’, Internet Posting, 25 April 2003.
18. For some reflections on the Resolution see my ‘Vigilant in the Face of Washington’s War’, JUST Commentary, vol. 2, no. 12, December 2002.
19. See ‘1000 Hunt for Weapons’, New Straits Times, 19 April 2003.
21. For news on Abu Abbas’s capture, see Star, 17 April 2003.
22. See my ‘A Case Study in Duplicity’, New Straits Times, 24 March 2003.
23. Quoted in Farish Noor, ‘The Script Remains the Same’, Internet Posting, 4 April 2003.
24. Paul Kennedy, ‘The Perils of Empire: This Looks Like America’s Moment, History Should Give us Pause’, Washingtonpost.com, 20 April 2003.
25. The term ‘hyperpower’ is used in Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, Why Do People Hate America? Icon Books, United Kingdom, 2002.
26. Kennedy, op. cit.
27. George Monbiot, ‘Wilfully Blind to the Empire’, Guardian Weekly, 20 March 2003.
28. For reports on this, see Utusan and Mingguan Malaysia, 22 March to 6 April 2003.
29. The ‘deal theory’ has appeared in a number of media articles and internet postings. See for example, Edward Said, ‘Give us Back Our Democracy’, The Observer, 20 April 2003.
30. Gleaned from Al-Jazeera programmes broadcast in Arabic and translated into Malay, 15 to 22 April 2003.
31. Quoted in New Straits Times, 22 April 2003.
32. See reports in Utusan Malaysia, 19 April 2003.
33. There is some reference to the occupiers’ divide and rule tactics in Shahanaaz Habib, ‘Pilgrimage to Holy Site’, Star, 23 April 2003.
34. See Fisk’s interview with Amy Goodman entitled ‘An Anti-Colonial War Against the Americans May Have Already Begun’, Znet, 22 April 2003.
35. John Pilger, ‘The Unthinkable is Becoming Normal’, Znet, 21 April 2003.
36. The Americans are aware of this danger. See ‘Threats from Guerrillas in Iraq’, New Straits Times, 17 April 2003.
37. This is discussed in Uri Avnery, ‘Operation "Syrian Freedom",’ Internet Posting, 16 April 2003.
38. This form of capitalism is described in my JUST Commentary, vol. 2, no. 9, September 2002. A fuller analysis of the response of various religions to a hegemonic global economy can be found in Subverting Greed, Paul Knitter and Chandra Muzaffar (editors), Orbis Books, Maryknoll, in association with the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century, 2002.
39. For an example of such a view, see the statement by a former Afghan leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in New Straits Times, 27 April 2003.
40. This may be one way of interpreting the change in the position of France. See ‘France Backs End To Sanctions’, New Straits Times, 24 April 2003.
41. This is analysed in Roger Normand, ‘The Legality of War against Iraq’, World Editorial and International Law, vol II, no. 3, March 2003.
42. The direction of current US foreign policy, including its unilateralism, is analysed in Richard Falk, ‘Will the Empire be Fascist?’ Essay sent to me, 12 March 2003.
43. This is demonstrated to some extent in the decision taken by the European Union to back the UN in addressing post-Saddam issues in Iraq. See ‘EU to Back UN on Iraq’, New Straits Times, 17 April 2003.
44. See New Straits Times, 26 April 2003.
45. Quoted in New Straits Times, 26 April 2003.