I don’t want to talk here about whether a full-scale attack on Iraq is right or wrong — or whether, with all the scandals surrounding Bush&Co., the Administration is using its daily leaks and the whole Iraq debate as giant distractions.
What I want to do here is to examine whether such attacks — with Iraq being the most potent symbol of America’s unilateral adventurism in foreign and military policy — will further or endanger America’s national interests. And then we’ll suggest what those of us with a less imperial view of U.S. national interests can, and should, do to alter the situation.
First, let’s look at it from the point of view of the Bush&Co. hawks currently driving America’s foreign and military policy. From their vantage point, attacking Iraq will accomplish several important national-interest goals:
1) It will remove a dangerous, ambitious thug from the region, with his capacity for major mayhem — which could well include Saddam’s use of biological, chemical, and, eventually, nuclear, weapons. If he isn’t stopped now, this reasoning goes, and he chooses to blackmail his neighbors with such weaponry, he could exercise control over a good share of the world’s oil reserves, and thus threaten the economic health of the developed countries that count on that energy supply.
2) Taking out Saddam Hussein would serve as a clear warning to other rulers in the Persian Gulf/Middle East: Don’t test us, or you’ll get the same. American suzerainty over the area would be insured for decades, and, after Iraq falls back into its correct orbit, all without an additional shot having to be fired. Because of all the bases set up for the Iraq attack, with some contingents of American troops stationed in the region on a semi-permanent basis, the threat of U.S. action against other would-be recalcitrant rulers would take on more believability.
3) Attacking Iraq gives the military a chance to try out its new, sophisticated hardware, and software, and thus hone the technologies and strategies that bolster American power around the world. Afghanistan was the prelude, but because it was carried out on such a poor, mostly non-urbanized society, a lot of the weaponry could not be fully tested. The Afghan campaign was, and remains, a kind of high-tech guerrilla war. Taking on Baghdad and a well-armed and well-trained urban defense force would be a better test of what these weapons can do in more conventional conflicts.
4) Attacking Iraq has a domestic benefit as well. The al-Qaida mass-murder attacks of 9/11 frightened the hell out of the American populace, making clear the vulnerability of the homeland; this state of mind led to easy acceptance of moves toward a more rigorous, militarist America, with less Constitutional constraints on Administration actions. The “permanent war on terrorism” ensures that citizen and Congressional criticism of U.S. policy will be muted, and condemnable as unpatriotic.
In wartime, power goes toward the White House. Even non-war-related legislation will be easier to get passed because it can be seen as part of “national security” and “homeland defense.” A second Bush term is ensured. (If the attack comes before November, GOP candidates could ride the coattails of Bush, as the country rallies around the flag and its commander-in-chief. If the war comes after the elections, the Administration has nearly two years in which to nail down a victory over Iraq and get it fully integrated into the Western camp.)
So, from the standpoint of the Bush&Co. hawks, as you can see from the above listing, it’s a win-win. As the world’s only superpower, the U.S. guarantees continued dominance over key areas of the globe, and the Administration maintains and grows its domestic power.
What impresses one about this Bush&Co. way of thinking is that it looks at foreign policy only in terms of short-range goals. Its domestic policies follow that same limited perspective: What can we get right now? Screw the long-term effects. Global warming? We’ll stay with fossil fuels and limited gas-mileage requirements; let the market prevail. We can worry about the effects of global warming later, and still later, and even later. Increased terrorism in the Middle East and inside our own borders? Yeah, maybe, but we and Israel can deal with it later, no problem.
Now, what are the implications of this limited-vision thinking on short- and long-range U.S. national interests?
1) So we get rid of Saddam Hussein. We have attacked yet another Arab nation, devoid of an overt provocation. Granted, its leader is a constant nuisance and threat to U.S. and Western interests — and thus is a kind of hero on the Arab street — but, even though Saddam attacked nobody, he gets “pre-emptively” taken out.
Virtually every Arab leader has warned us against attacking Saddam Hussein, not because they like him or even want to support him — he’s a maniacal bully who threatens their interests as well, and they’d be happy if he disappeared — but because their own regimes will become even shakier when that Arab street erupts in protest and the terrorist atrocities fluorish. A good share of the Arab leaders are moderates and somewhat secular, and they realize they are bucking a strong Islamicist tide in the region. They might well be sucked into the political maelstrom of chaos and Islamicist rage, and could be overthrown by extreme fundamentalists.
Does Bush&Co. care about this? Apparently not; neither does it seem to have paid much attention to the Law of Unintended Consequences when starting a war. Unless, that is, they’ve already factored-in some of that chaos in the region. Indeed, already there is serious talk within the Administration that maybe the U.S. will then find it necessary and convenient to assert its hegemony — with troops on the ground, if threats don’t result in the desired “regime changes” — over Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, maybe even Egypt. (It already has established its suzerainty over the Caspian Sea energy supplies, with U.S. military bases scattered throughout the former-Soviet ‘stan countries.)
2) By not addressing the underlying causes for social unrest in the Middle East/Persian Gulf (much not of our doing) — the poverty, the hopelessness, the Palestine conundrum, etc. — we ensure that the soil in which terrorism grows will become richer, more fecund, producing more desperate and violent harvests. The U.S. should help solve the Israel/Palestinian conflict first, for example, but it chooses to turn its head away — focused like an on-point hunting dog only on Baghdad — while Sharon and Hamas grow more senselessly brutal, caught up in the vicious cycle of revenge politics.
Given that the U.S. has walked away from the Palestine issue — except to push for “regime change” in the Palestinian Authority — the Arab street associates even more readily with Saddam, another “victim” (as they see it) of American/Israeli aggression. Were the Palestine situation resolved — with a viable state of their own, the Israeli settlements on Palestinian soil abandoned, a peace treaty between the parties, security for Israel and Palestine as two equal countries, agreements over water worked out, etc. — Hamas and similar terrorist outfits would be marginalized, and there might be less support for the Saddams of the Middle East.
3) By attacking Iraq, the U.S. will have established the international legitimacy of pre-emptive strikes, invasions, assassinations, etc. to effect “regime change.” When someone threatens, or in the vague future might threaten, what you claim as your national interests, the precedent will have been established that it’s permissable, indeed even advisable, to attack them first, to invade if necessary, to take out their leaders when you can. No more negotiations, or compromises, or use of international agencies or courts. The United States of America, the colussus astride the globe, says it’s OK to just smash and burn first, take questions later. Humanity, civilized behavior, the rule of law — all these slide backwards.
4) In summary, by behaving in such an arrogant, bullyboy fashion around the globe, Bush&Co. is building up anti-U.S. resentment and anger, creating conditions in which terrorism grows, ignoring and insulting our traditional allies (especially in Europe), risking our long-term economic and social health, and so on. In the long run, the world is a shakier, more violent place, U.S. interests are damaged, the international economic and civil situation is more chaotic (and we all know what kind of leaders rise in chaotic times), the domestic political situation in the U.S. grows more fascist-like, with a concomitant rebellion amongst key elements in the citizenry.
In short, I fail to see any benefits, long-term for sure but even reasonable short-term ones, that would arise from the Bush Administration’s current military and foreign policies, symbolized most immediately by its move toward Baghdad.
When Bush took office, surrounded by a well-seasoned, experienced Cabinet, many were willing to believe that even if Dubya himself was something of a dim bulb, the light and competence emanating from those around him would lift him up and make the government look good. But after 9/11, and more recently, it seems more and more evident that these guys, with their limited short-term blinders on, don’t really know what the hell they’re doing, other than blustering their way through with threats and aggressive behavior.
My friends, unless the situation changes, they are going to take us all down with them. The world will become a charnal house of wars and counterwars and constant, growing terrorist atrocities — with the U.S. acting more like the Roman Empire, sending its armed legions hither and yon to prop up the state and deal with nationalist revolts — and internally our own country will resemble more and more a proto-fascist society, with its ancillary Resistance movement.
For the sake of U.S. national interests, and for us and our (and the world’s) children and grandchildren, these guys simply have to be stopped. Protests, teach-ins, agitation, education, letters-to-the-editor, online analyses, leaning on our legislators, etc. etc. — all these and more have to be employed, for the sake of our democratic republic and for the world.
The most obvious place to start is for Bush&Co.’s nose to be bloodied badly in the upcoming November elections, to remove some of the Administration’s aura of invincibility. (Already, polls indicate a fast-dropping Bush approval rating, along with less support for an Iraq invasion; plus, the sinking economy is beginning to affect people directly.)
I’m not saying that defeating enough Republicans to deny the House and Senate to them will be a panacea. A lot of the Democrats running are not much better. But what a Dem election victory would mean (in association with a growing number of courageous GOP moderates) is that it would be easier to gum up Bush&Co. adventurism abroad, make it more difficult for Ashcroft to continue shredding the Constitution, keep ideologue judges off the bench, make it easier for serious investigations of Bush&Co. crimes, scandals, bad policies to be initiated in the Congress, possibly leading even to resignations or impeachments.
If we can’t stop them now, in 2002, it will be even harder in 2004, with that much more power concentrated in Bush&Co. hands. So, if you have to, hold your nose and donate money and time and energy to electing Democrats in November. (I wish the objective conditions were ripe for serious Green campaigns right now, but they aren’t; the most we can hope for at this moment in time is to move things back toward the middle.) We can get rid of the worst apples later.
The point, the only point, is to break the momentum of Bush&Co. in their actions abroad and here at home, and to help create the conditions that will lead to their removal from office, by the ballot or by resignation/impeachment. It can be done. More citizens seem open to hearing about reasonable alternatives, especially as the economy continues to falter. Let’s get to work.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American government and international politics at Western Washington University and San Diego State University; he was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years, and has published in The Nation, Village Voice, Progressive, and CounterPunch.