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Empire & Its Consequences

Bilal El-Amine
Date Published: 
February 14, 2003

Incredibly, we’re on the brink of war. Millions are opposed, hundreds of thousands have marched in just about every capital city, even the right wing has stated it’s objections, but to no avail. The Democrats crumpled in Congress and rival powers finally complied in the United Nations, naively believing that a UN-sanctioned war would at least be a constraint on US might. The jackals in the Bush administration are hearing none of it. Too much is at stake for them to change their course. Iraq is a major prize by its sheer wealth in oil—second only to Saudi Arabia in known reserves. Control of Iraq would also give the US added leverage to shape events in the region. The future stability of Saudi Arabia, for example, has caused much consternation in the Pentagon. With Iraq secured, the US may be able to cope with Saudi turmoil by using Iraq both as an alternative source of oil and as a military base to threaten any perceived hostile forces that may emerge in the Gulf. Just as important, Iraq is a test case for a much more ambitious global strategy of unchallenged US dominance propagated by resurrected Reaganites like Rumsfeld and Cheney. They can bear no restraint on American power—why, they wonder, at a moment in history when the US is unrivaled militarily should they negotiate with others. These are extreme unilateralists to whom even the IMF—hardly a multilateral institution—is seen as a constraint. For them, the massive reserves of oil, the profits US companies would reap, the defeat of an aspiring regional power are all added bonuses. Their ultimate objective is to set a precedent for the future conduct of world affairs—not only will the US decimate any challenge to its rule, but it will not hesitate to act alone, even preemptively, if it sees fit. The other powers can join in as junior partners—following the example of Tony Blair—or sit back and watch the US reap the benefits of world plunder. Would the hawks have acted without the opportunity afforded them by the September 11 attacks? Probably, but not with the same ferocity. Donald Rumsfeld hit the ground running to revive “Star Wars” and develop a constellation of space-based weapons that would render even nuclear powers like Russia and China defenseless. The difference, however, is that September 11 gave what were once considered extreme and dangerous right-wing ideas some legitimacy within the mainstream. This is what allows Bush to maintain his popularity while stubbornly moving ahead with a war that is seen as illegitimate by a large section of the US population. Dangers ahead The outcome of the coming war on Iraq will determine the pace and scale of this imperial agenda. Unless the US suffers a serious setback or an unlikely defeat in Iraq, it will continue to aggressively pursue its interests around the world for fear that a challenger—perhaps in the form of a China or a left-wing Latin American alliance—emerges to counter its supremacy. Fortunately, there are many dangers that may prevent the hawks from achieving their dream of world domination. Even in Iraq, a country weakened by 11 years of sanctions, a number of unpredictable questions remain. Will the Iraqi population force the US army to fight bloody battles in the cities? What will be the composition of a post-war Iraqi government and will it have any legitimacy with the Iraqi people. Even if the US succeeds in Iraq, the problems of the region—particularly the central question of Palestine—will be much harder to settle on terms favorable to the US and its loyal ally Israel. The Middle East is already aflame with resentment against US policy—a war against Iraq while allowing the Palestinian issue to fester has even frustrated America’s most loyal servants among the Arab regimes. There is also the danger that imperial adventures will lay the conditions for more blowback as happened on September 11, 2001. Groups like al-Qaeda are nearly impossible to eliminate, and the more they are attacked, the more they adapt by decentralizing and seeking out a wider range of targets, as we have seen since their “routing” in Afghanistan. It may take years, as it did in Iran in 1979, before a backlash topples one of the many US-backed regimes in the region, but when it does, it will reverse decades of empire building. The pursuit of empire has been the single greatest cause of instability, war, mass devastation and death in the modern age—for ruler and ruled alike. Ironically, the very excuse being used for another round of carnage, the attacks on September 11, was an abject lesson in the consequences of empire—a lesson that fortunately has not been lost on the many activists who form the core of today’s sizeable anti-war movement in the US. They have come to realize that American foreign policy is the greatest immediate danger to them and the world, and more than any previous anti-war effort since the 1960s, they have thrown themselves into the fray to put an end to this juggernaut. They may not prevent an immediate attack on Iraq, but they, in solidarity with millions like them around the world, will do all they can to frustrate the nightmare the Bush gang have in store for us.