An agenda for global hegemony

Published : Apr 11, 2003 00:00 IST

Students protest at a rally against the war in Rio de Janeiro. - ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP

Students protest at a rally against the war in Rio de Janeiro. - ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP

Bush's war for Empire has earned the United States universal loathing and contempt. The need for a mass peace movement which brings America to heel has never been more urgent, globally or in India.

BY raining death and destruction upon Iraq, the world's most unilateralist, arrogant and belligerent - and yet its mightiest - state has disgraced itself in the eyes of the global public. People everywhere view George W. Bush (and his only significant ally Tony Blair) with undiluted loathing and horror bordering on disbelief. How could the United States go to war after moving the second resolution, with Britain and Spain, in the United Nations Security Council to seek its authority for the use of force, and just when it became clear as crystal that it would be lost? What could justify the rush to war just when the U.N. inspectors were recording Iraq's increasing compliance with demands under Security Council Resolution 1441? How can the U.S. possibly reconcile its blatantly contradictory statements and actions?

That America has all along been motivated by agendas other than the proclaimed objective of disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) becomes increasingly apparent as more and more evidence comes in of the U.S.' growing rift with its allies, the conduct of the war, and America's unilateral plans for post-war Iraq.

The real motives for this war are rooted not just in America's search for global economic dominance through control over Iraq's - and the entire West Asia's - oil, but in a much larger plan to establish its total and unfettered supremacy over the world, politically and militarily. The U.S., as some of its own policy-makers have said and hinted, is now engaged in a naked bid to redraw the map of West Asia and radically redesign the international order - above all, by establishing its military hegemony over the globe.

The inspiration for this grand venture comes from sources deeply rooted in America's ultra-conservative Establishment. Nothing sums it up more eloquently than the ideas and programmatic perspectives set out by the right-wing Washington-based think tank, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), set up in 1997. PNAC explicitly wants and designs the pathway to an American Empire that will dominate all nations of the world. Such hegemony is qualitatively different from conventional balance-of-power calculations, and even from the most ambitious goals set for the U.S. during the Cold War: it is about total, unfettered control over the world, where the U.S. alone holds veto power and calls all the shots.

To put very simply, PNAC wants America to achieve "full-spectrum" global dominance - to the point of discouraging even "advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role". It has outlined its objectives and four "Core Missions" for the American military in its September 2000 document, "Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century."

PNAC is not just one of those crazy, wacky Washington think tanks manned by mavericks with weird ideas. Its members include powerful figures like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad. Today, these men are at the apex of the pyramid of power in the U.S. More important, George W. Bush has actually implemented some of the key recommendations of PNAC, including raising military spending from 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 3.8 per cent, greatly modernising U.S. defence forces, developing a ballistic missile defence system, and bidding for the complete military control of space.

The war on Iraq is only the first component of this agenda, and an integral and inseparable one. As early as 1998, PNAC members actually urged Bill Clinton to execute "a new strategy" by removing Saddam from power - as part of a super-adventurist plan to reorganise the whole West Asia, which it identified as the main trouble spot for the U.S., and also the key to advancing global U.S. hegemony. September 11, 2001 came as a godsend to these fanatical advocates of Empire. Their agenda has since prevailed.

That terrible imperialist project, perhaps the most ambitious in world history, is now unfolding before our eyes through the "shock and awe" strategy so clearly visible in the media coverage of the Iraq war. This has itself become inseparable from crude propaganda on behalf of the belligerent powers, reported almost invariably from the point of view of the attacker (via "embedded" correspondents) - never of the flesh-and-blood people who are among the war's victims.

The flow of information is tightly controlled by the U.S. military; and much of it is disseminated by U.S.-based television channels whose reporters all but wave the U.S. flag and who have fully internalised all the partisan jargon that is part of war reporting, including "Allies" (invoking the Second World War fight against fascism), "collateral damage" (which means butchering innocent non-combatants, even babies), and "high-precision munitions" - as if these only kill villains, not ordinary people.

IT is especially unfortunate that Indian television channels (which in real time score over print in "spot news" and "breaking stories") have chosen to rely completely on U.S. channels as regards deciding what is news (the battle stories always score over protest stories or reports of what Iraqis, or for that matter, the French or the Russians feel and say); how news is to be treated; and what sort of interpretation, "background" information or "expert comment" is to be provided. This last often degenerates into wide-eyed, celebratory descriptions of new weapons systems and "special forces" with their macho, male-supremacist, awe-inspiring names, or into wild but confidence-exuding predictions based upon little knowledge of the ground reality (which, in any case, is not accessible to the "experts"), but with touching faith in the miracles of military technology.

Thus, going by television coverage, many viewers must be left wondering why accurate, massive, air strikes alone did not bring the Saddam Hussein regime tumbling down in the first three days, and why in this age of Revolution in Military Affairs, a "contact war" involving ground troops is at all necessary. Even more important is the minimising or even complete deletion of any reference in most media reporting to the human costs of war in a country that has been battered by sanctions for 12 years to the point of being reduced from a middle-level human development society to utter destitution.

More than a million Iraqis (of a population of 23 million) have died as a result of the post-1991 sanctions alone. Nearly one-half are children. According to Unicef, a quarter of Iraqi children remain chronically malnourished. Diseases which were eradicated are returning with a vengeance.

A U.N. agency report estimates that this war will generate 600,000 refugees. Estimates of likely civilian deaths vary from the low tens of thousands to as much as 500,000. The higher figure comes from Russian military expert Vladimir Slipchenko. This must not be dismissed lightly. Slipchenko has proved remarkably, uncannily, accurate on civilian tolls in recent wars (Iraq - 1991, 1996, 1998; former Yugoslavia - 1992, 1999; and Afghanistan - 2001). The magnitude of civilian casualties would depend not only on how long the war (leading to the conquest of Iraq) lasts, but also on what happens once the interim successor government takes over - perhaps, as rumoured, under Jay Garner, a retired general. There is a distinct chance, although no certainty, that the U.S. could get bogged down in a situation of urban warfare as a despised occupying power.

Despite Saddam Hussein's despotic rule, the privations he has imposed upon his people, and Iraq's ethnic divisions, it is hard to believe that the vast majority of Iraqis would welcome the Americans as their "liberators". It is far likelier that at least a significant minority of the six million men and women estimated to hold firearms will use them against U.S. troops, and that these latter in turn would often retaliate recklessly and disproportionately, much in the manner evident in Palestine under Israeli occupation today. In such a situation, the civilian death toll could rapidly mount with each month of occupation.

Not to be underestimated is the likely damage to civilians from two other sources: the destruction of power and water supply, and the collapse of health care facilities owing to massive bombing and shelling; and second, the use of so-called "non-lethal" armaments like "microwave pulse-bombs" and "e-weapons".

These are hardly as benign as they sound. For instance, such pulse-bombs release powerful electromagnetic radiation of the order of two megawatts, which instantly "fries" all electronic circuits within a radius of 2-2.5 km from the epicentre of the explosion. The pulse melts down radars, computers, radios, hospital machinery, ambulances, water pumps, even hearing-aids and pacemakers. The effect of the last is akin to a person's heart exploding.

This war will probably be far more brutal and destructive than anything we have seen in recent times. This knocks the bottom out of the scenario of a short and relatively "painless" war painted by the U.S. and its apologists in the media, who hope that a quick victory will confer ex post legitimacy on a manifestly illegal and immoral war.

The apologists advance two other arguments, related to the war's spin-off effects. First, a post-Saddam "broad-based", "multi-ethnic", "democratic" government will spearhead the process of regenerating Iraq as a modern, prosperous, vibrant society. This will become a model for the whole Arab world. The most ardent votary of this view is Paul Wolfowitz, the main ideologue of PNAC, along with Perle.

Secondly, they believe that "settling Iraq" will decisively crush what they see as the emerging or growing nexus between WMD and terrorism - at least in West Asia, if not the Islamic world as a whole. The destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime by military means, they hope, will serve as an object lesson for the whole world. The globe will then become a safe place to live in. The long war against terrorism, begun in 1991, will near its end.

Both these arguments are specious, being based on rosy assumptions or bad analogies. For one, it is hard to believe that the U.S. is seriously committed to rebuilding Iraq as a plural and democratic society - any more than it is to reconstructing Afghanistan. The U.S. spent $4.5 billion on the latest war in Afghanistan. But it has annually committed only $300 million for the past two years to rebuilding it. This is only a fraction of the amount spent on financing the mujahideen during the Soviet occupation! The U.S. is spending something like $100-200 billion on the Iraq war. But America wants to finance Iraq's post-war reconstruction with Iraq's own oil revenues!

For another, the task of putting together a viable multi-ethnic coalition in Iraq is truly Herculean. The U.S. could not even cobble together a coherent group of Iraqi exiles - many of them without a base in Iraq, and some like U.S. favourite Ahmad Chalabi, totally discredited domestically for their past financial dealings.

Again, although the Kurds probably hate Saddam, they cannot possibly love the West for its repeated betrayal of them, including most recently, through the devious now-on-now-off deals that the U.S. has been negotiating with Turkey to use it as a staging post. The Shias, who form 60 per cent of Iraq's population, have close cultural and political links with Iran, which the U.S. includes in its "Axis of Evil". Forming a government under these circumstances will be a messy job. The Americans could well leave Iraq in a state similar to Afghanistan - under the rule of Hamid Karzai plus assorted warlords.

As for the second argument, it is dangerously wrong to believe that terrorism can be put down by terror or fear, however awesome. The search for a military solution to a problem rooted in a cesspool of social grievances, economic and political inequalities, and past injustices and present prejudices, is fundamentally futile, indeed ill-conceived. Large numbers of Muslims the world over increasingly view discrimination against them as something structural and rooted in Western policies. Islam has been vilified as a "civilisational" danger replacing Communism after the Cold War. People have seen country after country, and province after province populated by Muslims - from Bosnia to Somalia, and Kosovo to Sudan and Afghanistan - pounded by U.S. bombs and missiles. This is a major factor behind the boost received in recent years by Islamic fundamentalism in many countries.

In fact, the war on Iraq has already become another cause for recruiting yet more members into Al Qaeda, Islamic Jehad and other fundamentalist groups. It is a safe bet that this war - and Iraq's occupation - will severely aggravate the problem, creating new waves of revenge-based terrorism in societies hitherto free from it.

Only one circumstance could partially mitigate the disastrous effects of this war: a just solution to the Palestinian problem - the key to West Asia. There are slim chances, however, that this will happen. Indeed, Likud-led Israel has now become critically important to the U.S. as the only reliable ally in Iraq's neighbourhood. It is ludicrous to believe that America's ability or will to pressure Ariel Sharon into a solution will increase as a result of the Iraq war.

Thus, the U.S. will in all probability create an even bigger mess in one of the world's most troubled regions. The more it seeks to redraw the map of West Asia, the more it will create new grievances and hatreds, as well as fanning old ones. This misadventure could prove as fraught as the U.S. attempt to violently alter global power structures and undermine multilateral institutions - to the point of destroying its own Western alliance system, and worse, making the world, America included, a more unsafe and dangerous place.

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