Iraq War and Geopolitics

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Sunday, August 01, 2004

American Imperialism?

In an opinion piece in the Indian daily, The Hindu, a vivid comment of contradiction and charges of American imperialism were made, not unlike those being made for many years around the world by various people:

Using Napolean as a mouthpiece, George Bernard Shaw makes a telling comment on British Imperialism, which is no less - if not more - apposite to the American imperialism of our time. He says: “There is nothing so bad or so good that you will not find an Englishman doing it; but you will never find an Englishman in the wrong. He does everything on principle. He fights you on patriotic principles; he robs you on business principles; he enslaves you on imperial principles; he bullies you on manly principles; he supports his king on loyal principles and cut off his king's head on republican principles”. America is no different. It claims to act in terms of international law; but feels free to subvert international norms whenever it wants. It supports the authority of the United Nations but turns its back on the U.N. to suit its convenience. It globalises trade in the name of fairness; and most unfairly usurps the major trade benefits to its own advantage. It launches a war to secure the largest oil reserves in the world but pretends it fights for peace. It claims to act in the name of democracy, but leaves behind battered states wherever it has gone. It fights a war for peace, but makes huge profits by the sale of arms that follows. Its peacekeeping results in war. Its war brings no peace. No sooner are its interests maintained, it leaves behind a debris of enfeebled states. It is never at a loss for an effective moral attitude.

Rajeev Dhavan, After the deluge, The Hindu, April 18, 2003

An article in the Washington Post also noted some parallels:

Eighty-six years ago, another powerful invading army had just entered Baghdad. At the same time, other divisions driving north-eastwards from Egypt were occupying Palestine. Urged on by their own strategists and intellectuals, these forces would soon advance upon Damascus. They would exercise great influence upon Iran and the Persian Gulf states. Donning the mantle of liberators, they would encourage regime change in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They would send out messages of hope that “the entire Arab world may rise once more to greatness and renown” now that its oppressors were defeated. These were folks determined to make the entire Middle East secure and stable -- a blessing to the world, no doubt, but a particular blessing to their own hegemonic nation, and that nation was Great Britain.

Paul Kennedy, The Perils of Empire, Washington Post, April 20, 2003, Page B01

An article in the Asia Times (April 10, 2003) notes one effect of the media and propaganda: “The Bush administration, the Pentagon and the breathless, embedded cheerleaders of American corporate media are ecstatic. The whole planet is horrified” it says, giving a hint to perhaps the geopolitical ramification of opposing a power.

  • Other nations may fear that if they don't “fall into line” maybe they will be next. Bush's warning shortly after September 11, 2001 of “if you are not with us, you are against us” must ring very sharply in some parts of the world.
  • Nations who do not fall into line may not be of the violent, despotic nature, it might just be a nation's attempt at an alternative path to development, perhaps to break the mold of undue influences from more powerful countries.
  • However, such attempts have, in the past, usually been destroyed or contained by the powers that may lose out, in case these nations provide an example for other nations. This, many believe, especially in the Third World is why so many of the anti-colonial breaks for freedom in the post World War II era resulted in the new and former imperial powers overthrowing popular leaders and supporting dictatorships, or puppet governments.
  • The Third World in general still suffers the poverty and disparities and many refer to today's global configuration as representing a neo-imperial or neo-colonial era. (The U.S.'s apparent move towards what some call Empire, in recent years, may be different to imperialism or colonialism as it is normally understood, but the effects and the issue of power still remain.) In addition, such oppression by dictators and oppressive rulers has fueled terrorism, which at various times has also attempted to target the foreign powers that have supported those rulers in various ways.
  • For more details on these aspects, see for example the page on this site about control of resources. (It also has links to a lot more information on this vast topic.)

An irony of this conflict may be that Iraq might actually see a somewhat genuine democracy (though this is not by any means guaranteed, if events of the few weeks after the first three weeks of the bombardment are to go by) on the local and national scale, but on the international arena, the concern is whether this government will be a puppet regime or in some way bend to the demands of external powerful nations such as the U.S. and U.K.

Some describe America's actions as imperialist. Consider the following for example, which also suggests how reshaping or rebuilding Iraq may look honest, but may be for underlying imperial motives:

On November 11, 2000, Richard Haass - a member of the National Security Council and special assistant to the president under the elder Bush, soon to be appointed director of policy planning in the state department of newly elected President George W. Bush - delivered a paper in Atlanta entitled “Imperial America.” For the United States to succeed at its objective of global preeminence, he declared, it would be necessary for Americans to “re-conceive their role from a traditional nation-state to an imperial power.” Haass eschewed the term “imperialist” in describing America's role, preferring “imperial,” since the former connoted “exploitation, normally for commercial ends,” and “territorial control.” Nevertheless, the intent was perfectly clear:

To advocate an imperial foreign policy is to call for a foreign policy that attempts to organize the world along certain principles affecting relations between states and conditions within them. The U.S. role would resemble 19th century Great Britain ... Coercion and the use of force would normally be a last resort; what was written by John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson about Britain a century and a half ago, that “The British policy followed the principle of extending control informally if possible and formally if necessary,” could be applied to the American role at the start of the new century.

The existence of an American empire is no secret. It is widely, even universally, recognized in most parts of the world, though traditionally denied by the powers that be in the United States. What Haass was calling for, however, was a much more open acknowledgement of this imperial role by Washington, in full view of the American population and the world, in order to further Washington's imperial ambitions. “The fundamental question that continues to confront American foreign policy,” he explained, “is what to do with a surplus of power and the many and considerable advantages this surplus confers on the United States.” This surplus of power could only be put to use by recognizing that the United States had imperial interests on the scale of Britain in the nineteenth century. The world should therefore be given notice that Washington is prepared to “extend its control,” informally if possible and formally if not, to secure what it considers to be its legitimate interests across the face of the globe. The final section of Haass' paper carried the heading “Imperialism Begins at Home.” It concluded: “the greater risk facing the United States at this juncture...is that it will squander the opportunity to bring about a world supportive of its core interests by doing too little. Imperial understretch, not overstretch, appears the greater danger of the two.”

... Many of the features of contemporary imperialism, such as the development of the world market, the division between core and periphery, the competitive hunt for colonies or semi-colonies, the extraction of surplus, the securing of raw materials to bring back to the mother country, etc. are part of capitalism as a global system from the late fifteenth century on. Imperialism, in the widest sense, had its sources in the accumulation dynamic of the system (as basic as the pursuit of profits itself), which encouraged the countries at the center of the capitalist world economy, and particularly the wealthy interests within these countries, to feather their own nests by appropriating surplus and vital resources from the periphery - what Pierre Jalée called The Pillage of the Third World. By a variety of coercive means, the poorer satellite economies were so structured - beginning in the age of conquest in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries - that their systems of production and distribution served not so much their own needs as those of the dominant metropoles. Nevertheless, the recognition of such commonalities in imperialism in the various phases of capitalist development was entirely consistent with the observation that there had been a qualitative change in the nature and significance of imperialism that commenced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

...In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the principal global reality was the decline in British hegemony and the increased rivalry among the advanced capitalist states that followed, leading to the First and Second World Wars. The rise of the Soviet Union in the context of the First World War posed an external challenge to the system eventually leading to a Cold War struggle between the United States, the new hegemonic power of the capitalist world economy following the Second World War, and the Soviet Union. The fall of the latter in 1991 left the United States as the sole superpower. By the end of the 1990s the United States had gained on its main economic rivals as well. The result of all of this by the beginning of the new century, as Henry Kissinger declared in 2001 in Does America Need a Foreign Policy?, was that the United States had achieved “a pre-eminence not enjoyed by even the greatest empires of the past.”

This naturally led to the question: What was the United States to do with its enormous “surplus of power”? Washington's answer, particularly after 9/11, has been to pursue its imperial ambitions through renewed interventions in the global periphery - on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War. In the waging of its imperial War on Terrorism the U.S. state is at one with the expansionary goals of U.S. business.

Richard Haass (whose responsibilities in the present administration were extended to include those of U.S. coordinator of policy for the future of Afghanistan) pointed out in his book “Intervention,” that regime change often can only be accomplished through a full-scale military invasion leaving the conquered nation in ruins and necessitating subsequent “nation-building”

... Such a “nation-building” occupation, Haass stressed, involves “defeating and disarming any local opposition and establishing a political authority that enjoys a monopoly or near-monopoly of control over the legitimate use of force.” (This is Max Weber's well-known definition of a state - though imposed in this case by an invading force.) It therefore requires, as Haass observed quoting one foreign policy analyst, an occupation of “imperial proportions and possibly of endless duration.”

It is precisely this kind of invasion of “imperial proportions” and uncertain duration that now seems to be the main agenda of Washington's War on Terrorism. In the occupation and “nation-building” processes following invasions (as in the case of Afghanistan), explicit colonialism, in the most brazen nineteenth century sense, will be avoided. No formal annexation will take place, and at least a pretense of local rule will be established from the beginning, even during direct military occupation. Nevertheless, a central goal will be to achieve some of what colonialism in its classic form previously accomplished. As [a co-editor of Monthly Review, Harry] Magdoff pointed out,

Colonialism, considered as the direct application of military and political force, was essential to reshape the social and economic institutions of many of the dependent countries to the needs of the metropolitan centers. Once this reshaping had been accomplished economic forces - the international price, marketing and financial systems - were by themselves sufficient to perpetuate and indeed intensify the relationship of dominance and exploitation between mother country and colony. In these circumstances, the colony could be granted formal political independence without changing anything essential, and without interfering too seriously with the interests which had originally led to the conquest of the colony.

Something of this sort is occurring in Afghanistan and is now being envisioned for Iraq. Once a country has been completely disarmed and reshaped to fit the needs of the countries at the center of the capitalist world, “nation-building” will be complete and the occupation will presumably come to an end. But in area that contain vital resources like oil (or that are deemed to be of strategic significance in gaining access to such resources), a shift back from formal to informal imperialism after an invasion may be slow to take place - or will occur only in very limited ways. “Informal control” or the mechanism of global accumulation that systematically favors the core nations, constitutes the normal means through which imperialist exploitation of the periphery operates. But this requires, on occasion, extraordinary means in order to bring recalcitrant state back into conformity with the market and with the international hierarchy of power with the United States at its apex.

At present, U.S. imperialism appears particularly blatant because it is linked directly with war in this way, and points to an endless series of wars in the future to achieve essentially the same ends. However, if we wish to understand the underlying forces at work, we should not let this heightened militarism and aggression distract us from the inner logic of imperialism, most evident in the rising gap in income and wealth between rich and poor countries, and in the net transfers of economic surplus from periphery to center that make this possible. The growing polarization of wealth and poverty between nations (a polarization that exists within nations as well) is the system's crowning achievement on the world stage. It is also what is ultimately at issue in the struggle against modern imperialism.

John Bellamy Foster, Imperial America and War, Monthly Review, May 28, 2003 (Emphasis is original)

Further insights are provided by Jim Lobe, writing for Inter Press Service noting how some U.S. neo-conservative thinking is dangerously echoing 19th century ideologies typical in the British Empire of superiority:

While Washington appears to have found that out in Iraq, it is still remarkable how 19th century imperial ideology has come to dominate U.S. foreign policy these days.

There was, of course, the favourite neo-conservative notion that U.S. troops would “liberate” Iraq and that the locals would welcome with gratitude a U.S. occupation that would hand off power to a western-educated and financed Iraqi banker who had not set foot in Baghdad since the age of 14. If gratitude were not forthcoming, then “shock and awe” would compel their cooperation.

As the “Wall Street Journal” wrote in an updated version of its 19th century British counterpart, “The way to win friends in the Middle East is not by appeasement ... it is by showing we have the will to wield force on behalf of our values and interests”.

Jim Lobe, True Reactionaries, Inter Press Service, March 12, 2004

Stephen Cohen, contributing editor of The Nation magazine asks some key questions about the impacts of the war and whether it will lead to the objectives that George Bush stated:

But critics of the war have no reason to regret their views. No sensible opponent doubted that the world's most powerful military could easily crush such a lesser foe. The real issue was and remains very different: Will the Iraq war increase America's national security, as the Bush Administration has always promised and now insists is already the case, or will it undermine and diminish our national security, as thoughtful critics believed?

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we will learn the answer to that fateful question by judging developments by seven essential criteria:

(1) Will the war discourage or encourage other regional “preemptive” military strikes, particularly by nuclear-armed states such as, but not only, Pakistan and India?

(2) Indeed, will the Iraq war stop the proliferation of states that possess nuclear weapons or instead incite more governments to acquire them as a deterrent against another US “regime change”?

(3) Will the war, and the long US occupation that seems likely to ensue, reduce the recruitment of young Arabs by terrorist movements or will it inspire many new recruits?

(4) With or without more recruits, will the war decrease or increase the number of terrorist plots against the United States, whether at home or abroad?

(5) Will the war help safeguard the vast quantities of nuclear and other materials of mass destruction that exist in the world today, and the expertise needed to operationalize them, or make them more accessible to “evil-doers”?

(6) In that connection, will Russia--which has more ill-secured devices of mass destruction than any other country and which strongly opposed and still resents the US war--now be more, or less, inclined to collaborate with Washington in safeguarding and reducing those weapons and materials?

(7) Finally, considering the rampant anti-Americanism it has provoked, will the war result in more or fewer governments willing to cooperate with--individually or in multinational organizations like the United Nations--George W. Bush's stated top priority, the war against global terrorism?

It is by these crucial (and measurable) criteria that the American people, and any politician who wants to lead them, must judge the Administration's war in Iraq and President Bush's own leadership.

Stephen Cohen, Are We Safer?, The Nation, April 17, 2003

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Breaking with OPEC

Whoever controls the flow of Persian Gulf oil has a stranglehold not only on our economy but also on the other countries of the world as well.

Dick Cheney, 1990, quoted by John Chapman, The Real Reasons Bush Went to War, The Guardian, July 28, 2004

One of many criticisms against war from many angles has been that one of the U.S.'s real interest was to break the OPEC cartel and have a more compliant regime that would help serve U.S.'s interests more. The Washington Post highlighted this:

Iraq's resumption of oil exports under a new government would expose OPEC to considerable uncertainty. Iraq has the world's second-largest proven oil reserves. Flows of Iraqi oil to the world market unconstrained by OPEC quotas could further erode the cartel's already limited ability to set prices and might even trigger a price war, eating into the profits of its member countries. Such an outcome would surely delight the Bush administration as well as buyers of gasoline in the United States, the world's largest oil consumer. With that in mind, commentators -- particularly in Europe -- have contended that the real purpose of Bush's war in Iraq was to put in place a government that would break OPEC. Such an outcome would dismay the world's largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran.

Peter S. Goodman, U.S. Adviser Says Iraq May Break With OPEC, Washington Post, May 17, 2003, Page E01

The advisor which hinted the above was Philip J. Carroll, who formerly headed Royal Dutch Shell in the U.S. and now and is now chairs a commission selected by the Pentagon to advise Iraq's Ministry of Oil. Commenting on the above-cited concerns about breaking OPEC, the Post noted that “Carroll repeatedly rejected suggestions that he is an instrument of any such policy, saying that he is merely an adviser. ‘In the final analysis, Iraq's role in OPEC or in any other international organization is something that has to be left to an Iraqi government,’ he said.” It may well be true that he is not an instrument of such policy, or he may be naive, or he may be lying. Different people will likely interpret this in different ways.

But oil is perhaps not the only factor, as common as that seems to be as the reason critics oppose the war. It may indeed be one of many other factors, which, for example, Indian research organization, Aspects of India's Economy, details. They highlight that geopolitical dominance in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is a key factor, which implies using military, political and economic means to challenge other rivals (e.g. a France/German centered European power, China and possibly others), control the Middle East for oil and such resources, and other such aspects. Undermining, or at least further controling the United Nations where possible seems to be another outcome of this crisis, regardless of whether that was an initial objective or not.

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Financial and Economic Warfare

On April 16, 2003, the Pentagon revealed that the war has cost the U.S. $20 billion to date, and was growing by about $2 billion a month. The U.S. think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, a month earlier said in a report that reconstruction costs could be about $20 billion per year for several years.

As the cost of war web site reports, the cost for American citizens is very high indeed. (Their counter on their home page, as of September 28, 2003, reveals a cost of over $76.5 billion already.)

Yet, less reported are the truly wider costs and repercussions of the war.

  • The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) held a seminar between April 14 and April 17, 2003 on the regions economic progress. Side Note(ESCWA is comprised of Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen)
  • At this seminar the Commission's Executive Secretary, Mervat Tallawi said war in Iraq could cost Arab countries a trillion dollars in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP), on top of the 600 billion already lost from the previous Gulf War.
  • In addition, she added that “between four and five million jobs had been lost following the previous Gulf war and that was expected to rise to between six and seven million as a result of the current conflict.”
  • This could explain yet another reason why so many Arab countries were against the war this time.
  • For the Pentagon and the U.S., it would seem the $20 billion (and rising) figure would be a profitable venture, given that the U.S. is attempting to award reconstruction contracts to a few American companies, some of which are controversial for having ties or relations in some way to the Republican party.
  • But this is geopolitical in nature as well. The trillion dollars is not just from reconstruction, but from many knock-on effects that would affect the rest of the economy, so it shouldn't be assumed that this war is being waged for reconstruction contracts, as they would not approach a trillion dollars, though there is large amounts of money involved, nonetheless.
  • The deeper geopolitical ramification of this is financial and economic warfare to prevent competing centers of power from emerging. J.W. Smith of the Institute for Economic Democracy describes this aspect in far more depth. In his works, Smith details how throughout history various powers have sought to destroy other regions potential in developing, or to bring it under their own spheres of dominance and influence, in order to prevent competing centers of power to emerge. This results in economic warfare, political warfare, and, ultimately, military warfare if needed.
  • The middle east has been part of this battle for centuries.

In addition, George Bush has announced the intention to create a free trade agreement between the U.S. and the Middle East. While this sounds promising, critics fear this means opening up the Middle East not so much to democratic forces, but to corporate interests. “Free Trade” as it has currently been practised, has been far from the free trade often discussed in theory, and in practise has often been criticized as being mercantilist or corporate/subtle monopoly capitalism, where political influence and power plays an enormous part in economic decisions and directions.

Inter Press Service comments (May 19, 2003), for example, that the proposal for a free trade agreement with the Middle East “is likely to be modelled after controversial agreements like the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)” which, “Among other things, that deal gives private firms the right to sue governments if their labour, health or environmental laws are seen to be barring the way to private-sector investment.” In addition, the article also pointed out that “In Iraq, administration officials, many hailing from the private sector, are fast replacing the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, opening the oil-rich country further to corporate executives, U.S. bankers and goods.” The question then remains about how much Iraqi people will be able to determine their own future. (This site's section on trade related issues discusses things like poverty and free trade.)

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Democracy Domino Theory

Towards the end of February, 2003, George Bush gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, where he said, “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.” This “Democracy Domino Theory” though sounding promising and full of hope is full of controversy.

The Los Angeles Times reported (March 14, 2003) that according to a classified U.S. State Department Report, Bush's Democracy Domino Theory is 'not credible'.

In April, Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary during President Reagan administration, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs) went on Fox New Sunday television and likened a free Iraq as a beacon of democracy just as Japan had been for Asia. “The example of Japan” he said “even in countries that had bitter memories of the Japanese, inspired many countries in East Asia to realize that they could master a free-market economy, that they could master democracy.”

Yet, as Tim Shorrock comments, Wolfowitz “is turning history on its head.”

Japan was not the inspiration for the democratic upsurge that swept through East Asia in the 1980s. Instead, it was the junior partner to the United States during the cold war, when Washington created an alliance of anticommunist dictators who supported American foreign policy while repressing their own people. Those policies didn't inspire democracy in Asia; if anything, they helped to stifle it.

The symbiotic relationship between Washington and Tokyo was forged in 1948, when the United States “reversed course” in its occupation of Japan to focus on the containment of communism. Almost overnight, US policy shifted from punishing Japanese bureaucrats and industrialists responsible for World War II to enlisting them in a global war against the Soviet Union and China. The shift was symbolized by Nobusuke Kishi, who was prime minister from 1957 to 1960. Kishi was minister of commerce and industry in the wartime Tojo Cabinet and labeled a “Class A” war criminal for helping run Japan's colonial empire in Manchuria.

...Japanese industry profited handsomely by supplying the Pentagon with steel, munitions and even napalm when the United States fought wars in Korea and Vietnam. Then, as Washington propped up South Korea's Park Chung Hee, the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos and Indonesia's Suharto with vast quantities of military aid, Japan kept their economies alive with financial aid and investments from Mitsui, Sumitomo and other big corporations. Japan's collaboration with Washington was carefully hidden from the Japanese public but greatly appreciated by American leaders, as shown from newly declassified documents stored in the National Archives.

In Wolfowitz's rosy view of history, the millions of Koreans, Filipinos and Indonesians who rebelled against their authoritarian governments were following in Japan's footsteps. That is false. In reality, democratic activists in those countries endured torture, imprisonment and military repression imposed by governments backed by the Pentagon, financed by Japan and tolerated by Wolfowitz and other American officials in the name of US national security.

On April 7, Wolfowitz told the Washington Post that he “met quite a few dictators up close and personal in my life.” Indeed he has. It was under Wolfowitz's watch at the State Department that Reagan invited South Korean military dictator Chun Doo Hwan to the White House in February 1981, nine months after Chun murdered hundreds of demonstrators in Kwangju. And it was Wolfowitz, who was US ambassador to Indonesia during the 1980s, who urged Congress to look beyond the “important and sensitive issue of human rights” to acknowledge “the strong and remarkable leadership of President Suharto.”

Tim Shorrock, A Skewed History of Asia, The Nation, April 17, 2003

President Bush made a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy on November 6, 2003, reiterating that there was a greater need for democracy and freedom in the Middle East in general. But, as Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco notes that

[President Bush] failed even once to say a critical word about any non-democratic U.S. ally in the region. It is noteworthy, for example, that he called for spreading freedom “from Damascus to Tehran” but not from Riyadh to Cairo.

...Few people familiar with the Middle East could disagree with his observation that support for dictatorial regimes has not led to greater stability. However, there are no indications that the Bush administration is planning to stop its support for governments that deny freedom or otherwise promote freedom in the region.

It is hypocritical in the extreme to state that “Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere, but some governments still cling to the old habits of central control” when the United States is the primary backer of such regimes in the region.

Stephen Zunes, Noble Rhetoric Supports Democracy While Ignoble Policies Support Repression, Foreign Policy In Focus, November 2003

After listing a number of examples of how the U.S. has backed non-democratic regimes in the region even now, Zunes adds that

Until the extent of the repression and the American complicity in the repression is recognized, it will be difficult to understand the negative sentiments a growing number of ordinary people in the Islamic world have toward the United States. Therefore, self-righteous claims by American leaders that the anger expressed by Arabs and Muslims toward the United States is because of “our commitment to freedom” only exacerbates feelings of ill-will and feeds the rage manifested in anti-American violence and terrorism.

Stephen Zunes, Noble Rhetoric Supports Democracy While Ignoble Policies Support Repression, Foreign Policy In Focus, November 2003

For more information on this aspect, see for example the following:

  • Giovanni Arrighi in his book The Long Twentieth Century (Verso Press, 1994), and Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System (University of Minesota Press, 1999). He also describes the development of Asia as being financed by the U.S. via Japan through “military keynesianism” economic policies, that the development and industrialization of most developed regions was related to the high military spending that came from the Cold War, etc, and the stimulous that gave to various economies.
  • J.W. Smith also highlights this in his work, Economic Democracy; The Political Struggle for the 21st Century (3rd Edition, 2003), which is also on-line in full. He also details how in the fight against communism, and also for the former imperial powers, to try and contain “breaks for freedom” (as most of the former colonized world managed to break free after World War II reduced the power of imperial nations), those former powers supported dictatorships and puppet regimes.
  • The Noam Chomsky Archive details this as well. Professor at M.I.T., Noam Chomsky is regarded by many as the world's number one political dissident! For decades he has been very critical of U.S. foreign policy.
  • See other sources at the Control of Resources page.

Side Note about democratic values being 'western'

It is also interesting to note that many feel that democratic government is a western value being brought to other parts of the world. Yet, prior to colonialism and imperialism, many parts of the world showed similar levels of development and had similar features that could lead to democracy, market economies, etc, that the West achieved (eventually).

As detailed by Professor J.M. Blaut, the impact of colonialism and imperialism set much of the world back tremendously. In his work, Blaut details how centuries of “eurocentricism” in all sorts of fields from literature to history, archeology and science etc, all have contributed to various stereotypical views such as only Europe advanced or had the qualities needed to develop democratic, peaceful states, etc. Only now, he points out, are third world scholars slowly beginning to refute this established history and showing just how much of an impact things like colonialism etc had on the world.

Blaut's work includes two books that make up a volume called The Colonizer's Model of the World.

  • He details how various forms of history are still influenced from the colonial and imperial era which ultimately showed in various ways how Europe or people of European descent were somehow endowed with better qualities or better environment that led them to develop and others to stagnate.
  • His book Eight Eurocentric Historians, (Guilford Press, 2000), for example, looks at both conservative and marxist historians that hold what he describes as a eurocentric view on world history; that ultimately historical advances progress to Europe, and in particular, northwest Europe.
  • In the first book in his volume, Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (Guilford Press, 1993), he details how prior to the beginnings of colonialism, various parts of the world showed similar levels of development that Europe had, including China, India, parts of Africa, and that they were not showing signs of stagnation, and some even showed signs of early market economies and even early signs of waged labor, just as Europe had. These and other indicators are all presented by various historians and others as things that contributed eventually to democratic governance.
  • He suggests instead, wealth plundered from the Americas by Europe allowed it to develop colonialism and imperialist policies in a way that allowed it to dominate the rest of the world and that was the prime reason that the west rose more rapidly than other regions.

There appears to be little time in the mainstream media to cover these aspects in depth, and so it is easy to accept these claims, for they sound ideal and appealing, even if there are murkier complications underneath.

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A Neo-conservative Agenda

A neo-conservative organization, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), suggested many years ago that attacking Iraq would be in the interest of the United States as part of a geostrategic plan to enhance the U.S. global power. “At present the United States faces no global rival. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible” it said. One of the concerning things about this document and the organization is the level of influence and audience some of its members have, including Dick Cheney (now vice- president), Donald Rumsfeld (defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's deputy), George W Bush's younger brother Jeb, Lewis Libby (Cheney's chief of staff), former U.S. Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and many others.

One of the suggested reasons for attacking Iraq was related to the September 11 terrorist attacks, yet the PNAC had been advocating this well before that terrible event. The “Bush Doctrine” of preemptive strikes seemed to map quite closely to many aspects of the PNAC report. This is discussed in much more detail on this site's section on military expansion.

That previous link also discusses some other aspects of geopolitics, such as how most wars throughout history have often had resources and economics at their core. In that context, what has also been missing from mainstream media analysis has been the deeper post World War II geopolitical history, of wars in the Third World waged by the West, in the name of fighting communism etc, and how Iraq fits into all that. As media watchdog Media Lens puts it (talking about a particular mainstream outlet, but applicable to perhaps most if not all), the mainstream

has failed, for example, to fit the invasion of Iraq into a consistent post-1945 pattern of cynical Western intervention in the Third World. This intervention has been driven, not by humanitarian motives, but by corporate greed, by the need to secure and protect resources and markets abroad - needs that require compliant, iron-fisted, pro-Western governments subordinating their own populations to the interests of Western business. [For the mainstream] media ... this pattern doesn't exist, or doesn't matter. The reality is simply too ugly for the mainstream; it can't be accepted as real.

As Good As It Gets - The Independent On Sunday, Media Lens, May 21, 2003

A high-ranking military officer in the U.S. revealed how Defense Department extremists suppressed information and twisted the truth to drive the country to war against Iraq. In doing so, the officer also gave some more insights into neoconservative ideology and thinking. At the same time, some of the suggestions above, regarding possible geopolitical reasons for war were also mentioned:

From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This seizure of the reins of U.S. Middle East policy was directly visible to many of us working in the Near East South Asia policy office, and yet there seemed to be little any of us could do about it.

I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.

I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president.

While this commandeering of a narrow segment of both intelligence production and American foreign policy matched closely with the well-published desires of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of us in the Pentagon, conservatives and liberals alike, felt that this agenda, whatever its flaws or merits, had never been openly presented to the American people. Instead, the public story line was a fear-peddling and confusing set of messages, designed to take Congress and the country into a war of executive choice, a war based on false pretenses, and a war one year later Americans do not really understand. That is why I have gone public with my account.

...

War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to the Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq -- more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, and better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional ruling sheikdoms. Maintaining OPEC on a dollar track and not a euro and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision also played a role. These more accurate reasons for invading and occupying could have been argued on their merits -- an angry and aggressive U.S. population might indeed have supported the war and occupation for those reasons. But Americans didn't get the chance for an honest debate.

Karen Kwiatkowski, The New Pentagon Papers, Salon.com, March 10, 2004

Further comments by additional neo-conservatives have given further insights into the real reasons for a war on Iraq.

Some such as Ahmed Chalabi (head of the INC) are controversial. The neo-conservative and right-wing hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office are still resting their hopes on Chalabi for a transition that will protect Washington's many interests in Iraq, as noted by Jim Lobe for the Inter Press Service (February 20, 2004).

The above report noted that Chalabi had shrugged off accusations that his group had deliberately misled the Bush administration for providing misleading information to go to war on Iraq. He has long been known to be friendly to neo-conservatives in the U.S. administration, and the way he shrugged off the accusations led to more concerns about the Bush administration going to war on false pretenses:

Separate statements by Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and U.S. retired Gen Jay Garner, who was in charge of planning and administering post-war reconstruction from January through May 2002, suggest that other, less public motives were behind the war, none of which concerned self-defence, pre-emptive or otherwise.

... “As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful”, [Chalabi] told the [Telegraph] newspaper. “That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants”.

It was an amazing admission, and certain to fuel growing suspicions on Capitol Hill that Chalabi, whose INC received millions of dollars in taxpayer money over the past decade, effectively conspired with his supporters in and around the administration to take the United States to war on pretences they knew, or had reason to know, were false.

Indeed, it now appears increasingly that defectors handled by the INC were sources for the most spectacular and detailed -- if completely unfounded -- information about Hussein's alleged WMD programmes, not only to U.S. intelligence agencies, but also to U.S. mainstream media, especially the “New York Times”, according to a recent report in the New York “Review of Books”.

Within the administration, Chalabi worked most closely with those who had championed his cause for a decade, particularly neo-conservatives around Cheney and Rumsfeld -- Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defence Douglas Feith and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.

... Chalabi even participated in a secret DPB [Defence Policy Board] meeting just a few days after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon in which the main topic of discussion, according to the “Wall Street Journal”, was how 9/11 could be used as a pretext for attacking Iraq.

Jim Lobe, Chalabi, Garner Provide New Clues to War, Inter Press Service, February 20, 2004

Lobe also notes in the same article that Chalabi's family has “extensive interests in a company that has already been awarded more than 400 million dollars in reconstruction contracts.”

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Long Term U.S. Military Bases In Iraq; A Coaling Station for Continued Dominance in the Region

The Independent reported (April 21, 2003) that Bush administration officials said the United States is “planning to use Iraq to maintain a long-term strategic foothold in the Middle East that would include the right to use four of the country's military bases.”

For a while there has been concern about the U.S. geostrategic interests in the Middle East, and how the Iraq war would aid in that as mentioned, for example, on this page's military expansion section. This may partially explain the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia as well.

Retired U.S. General, Jay Garner, who Lobe also mentioned above, had also revealed more about this, and Lobe noted that this strategy had been suggested by the neo-conservative PNAC as part of the means to secure global dominance and the Middle East in particular:

Asked [in an interview with the National Journal] how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Garner replied, “I hope they're there a long time”, and then compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines between 1898 and 1992.

“One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with (the Iraqi authorities)”, he said. “And I think we'll have basing rights in the north and basing rights in the south ... we'd want to keep at least a brigade”.

“Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East”, Garner added.

While U.S. military strategists have hinted for some time that a major goal of war was to establish several bases in Iraq, particularly given the ongoing military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Garner is the first to state it so baldly.

Until now, U.S. military chiefs have suggested they need to retain a military presence just to ensure stability for several years, during which they expect to draw down their forces.

If indeed Garner's understanding represents the thinking of his former bosses, then the ongoing struggle between Cheney and the Pentagon on the one hand and the State Department on the other over how much control Washington is willing to give the United Nations over the transition to Iraqi rule becomes more comprehensible.

Ceding too much control, particularly before a base agreement can be reached with whatever Iraqi authority will take over Jun. 30, will make permanent U.S. bases much less likely.

Jim Lobe, Chalabi, Garner Provide New Clues to War, Inter Press Service, February 20, 2004

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Why Iraq? What About Other Nuclear Threats?

Many have noted that North Korea and others might be a more real nuclear/wmd threat than Iraq was (especially given more and more is coming out to confirm that Iraq may not have been a threat that it was made out to be). Yet, the Bush Administration still went for Iraq. Jonathan Schell suggests that one reason was that it was because the U.S. could do so, as it would be less risky than to go against someone with real WMD ambitions. In addition it would help achieve U.S. geopolitical interests:

In this larger plan to establish American hegemony, the Iraq war had an indispensable role. If the world was to be orderly, then proliferation must be stopped; if force was the solution to proliferation, then pre-emption was necessary (to avoid that mushroom cloud); if pre-emption was necessary, then regime change was necessary (so the offending government could never build the banned weapons again); and if all this was necessary, then Iraq was the one country in the world where it all could be demonstrated. Neither North Korea nor Iran offered an opportunity to teach these lessons - the first because it was capable of responding with a major war, even nuclear war, and the second because even the Administration could see that US invasion would be met with fierce popular resistance. It's thus no accident that the peril of weapons of mass destruction was the sole justification in the two legal documents by which the Administration sought to legitimize the war - HJR 114 and Security Council Resolution 1441. Nor is it an accident that the proliferation threat played the same role in the domestic political campaign for the war - by forging the supposed link between the “war on terror” and nuclear danger. In short, absent the new idea that proliferation was best stopped by pre-emptive use of force, the new American empire would have been unsalable, to the American people or to Congress. Iraq was the foundation stone of the bid for global empire.

Jonathan Schell, The Empire Backfires, Alternet, March 12, 2004

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Sunday, March 30, 2003
  • Last Updated: Sunday, August 01, 2004

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Document Revision History

DateReason
August 1, 2004Minor update on oil added
April 24, 2004More updates on neo-conservative agenda regarding long-term U.S. bases in Iraq and why Iraq when there are other larger threats.
March 12, 2004Updates on neo-conservative ideology and agenda

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