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.
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