Iraq - How great powers bring themselves down
George W Bush is a geopolitical incompetent. He has allowed a clique of hawks to induce him to take a position, an invasion of Iraq, from which he cannot extract himself and which will have nothing but negative consequences, for everyone but first of all for the United States. He will find himself badly hurt politically, perhaps fatally. He will diminish rather rapidly the already declining power of the United States in the world. He will contribute dramatically to the destruction of the state of Israel by furthering the suicidal madness of the Israeli hawks. Of course, there will be many persons in the world who will be happy to see such negative consequences. The trouble is that, in the process, Bush will conduct warfare that will destroy many lives immediately, lead to a degree of turmoil in the Arab-Islamic world of a kind and at a level hitherto unimagined, and perhaps unleash the use of nuclear weapons which, once unleashed now, will be hard to make illegitimate after that. How have we all gotten into such a disastrous cul-de-sac?
It seems reasonably certain that a US military action against Iraq is now not a question of maybe but how soon. Why is this happening? If one asks the spokesmen of the US government, the reason is that Iraq has been defying United Nations resolutions and represents an imminent danger to the world in general, and perhaps the US in particular.
This explanation of the expected military action is so thin that it cannot be taken seriously. Defying UN resolutions or other international enjoinders has been a dime a dozen for the last fifty years. I need hardly remind anyone that the US refused to defer to a World Court decision about Nicaragua that condemned it. And Pres. Bush has made it amply clear that he will not honor any treaty should he think it dangerous to US national interests. Israel has, of course, been defying UN resolutions for over 30 years, and is doing so again. And the record of other UN members is not much better. So, yes, Saddam Hussein has been defying quite explicit UN resolutions. What else is new?
Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to anyone? In August, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. That action at least posed an imminent threat. The response was the so-called Persian Gulf War. In that war, the US pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and then decided to stop there. Saddam Hussein remained in power in Iraq. The UN passed various resolutions requiring Iraq to abandon nuclear, chemical, and bacteriological weapons, and mandated inspection teams to verify this. The UN also embargoed Iraq in various ways. As we know, over the decade since then, the de facto situation has changed, and the system of constraints on Iraq put in place by these UN resolutions has weakened considerably, albeit not totally by any means.
On 28 March, 2002, Iraq and Kuwait signed an agreement in which Iraq agreed to respect the sovereignty of Kuwait. The Foreign Minister of Kuwait, Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, said his country is now "100% satisfied." Asked by a reporter if Kuwait was happy with each and every clause in the agreement, Kuwait's Foreign Minister replied "I wrote them myself." The spokesperson for the United States however exhibited skepticism. The US is not about to be deterred simply because Kuwait is "satisfied." What is Kuwait, that they should participate in such a decision?
The US hawks believe that only the use of force, very significant force, will restore US unquestioned hegemony in the world-system. It is no doubt correct that the use of overwhelming force does establish hegemony. This occurred in 1945, and the US did become the hegemonic power. But the use of such force when the conditions of hegemony have already been undermined is a sign of weakness rather than of strength, and weakens the user. It is clear that, at this point, no one supports the US invasion of Iraq: not a single Arab state, not Turkey or Iran or Pakistan, not a single European power.
There is to be sure one notable exception: Great Britain, or rather Tony Blair. Tony Blair is having however two problems at home. There is a brewing revolt in the Labour Party. And, more important, 'The Observer' of 17 March reports that "Britain's military leaders issued a stark warning to Tony Blair last night that any war against Iraq is doomed to fail and would lead to the loss of lives for little political gain." I cannot believe that US military leaders are really making a different assessment, although they may be perhaps more wary of telling it as it is to President Bush. Kenneth Pollack, the Iraqi person in Clinton's Security Council, says it requires sending in 2-300,000 US troops, presumably from bases in either Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, and sending in some more to defend the Kurds in northern Iraq. These troops would presumably come from, or fly over, Turkey.
The US seems to be counting on intimidating all its "allies" into going along. After the occupation of Ramallah by Sharon, the remote hope that Saudi (or even Kuwaiti) bases would be available has probably disappeared. Turkey clearly does not want to defend Iraqi Kurds, when the major consequence on this would be to strengthen the Kurdish movement in Turkey, against which the Turkish government focuses all its efforts. As for Israel, Sharon seems to be intent in carrying out as rapidly as possible the reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the destruction of the Palestinian Authority. And Bush gives him 99% support in this.
If this is right, then there will be an invasion, which will be difficult if not impossible to win, the loss of many lives (most notably US lives), and eventually a quasi-withdrawal by the US. A second Vietnam. Can no one in the Bush administration see this? A few, but they are not being counted. Why? Because Bush is in a self-imposed dilemma. If he goes ahead with the Iraq invasion, he will bring himself down, like Lyndon Johnson, or be humiliated, like Richard Nixon. And the US failure will finally give the Europeans the courage to be European and not Atlantic. So why do it? Because Bush promised the US people a "war on terrorism" that "we will certainly win."
So far, all he's produced is the downfall of the Taliban. He hasn't captured Bin Laden. Pakistan is shaky. Saudi Arabia is pulling away. If he doesn't invade Iraq, he will look foolish where it matters to him most - in the eyes of American voters. And he is being told this, in no uncertain terms, by his advisors on internal US politics. The incredibly high ratings of Bush are those for a "war president." The minute he becomes a peacetime president, he will be in grave trouble, all the more so because of failed wartime promises.
So, he has no choice. He will invade Iraq. And we shall all live with the consequences.