Chomsky: Doctrines And Visions: Who Is To Run The World, And How?
June 26th 2004
The phrase "new imperial grand strategy" is not mine. It has a much more interesting source: the leading establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations. The invasion of Iraq was virtually announced in Sept 2002, along with the Bush Administration's National Security Strategy, which declared the intention to dominate the world for the indefinite future and to destroy any potential challenge to US domination. The UN was informed that it could be "relevant" if it authorized what Washington would do anyway, or else it could become a debating society, as Administration moderate Colin Powell instructed them. The invasion of Iraq was to be the first test of the new doctrine announced in the NSS, "the petri dish in which this experiment in pre-emptive policy grew," the New York Times reported as the experiment was declared a grand success a year ago.
The doctrine and its implementation in Iraq elicited unprecedented protest around the world, including the foreign policy elite at home. In Foreign Affairs, the "new imperial grand strategy" was immediately criticized as a threat to the world and to the US. Elite criticism was remarkably broad, but on narrow grounds: the principle is not wrong, but the style and implementation are dangerous, a threat to US interests. The basic thrust of the criticism was captured by Madeleine Albright, also in Foreign Affairs. She pointed out that every President has a similar doctrine, but keeps it in his back pocket, to be used when necessary. It is a serious error to smash people in face with it, and to implement it in brazen defiance even of allies, let alone rest of world. That is simply foolish, another illustration of the dangerous combination of "arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence."
Albright of course knew that Clinton had a similar doctrine. As UN Ambassador, she had reiterated to the Security Council President Clinton's message to them that the US will act "multilaterally when possible but unilaterally when necessary." And later as Clinton's Secretary of State, she surely knew that the White House had spelled out the meaning in messages to Congress declaring the right to "unilateral use of military power" to defend vital interests, which include "ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources," without even the pretexts that Bush and Blair devised. Taken literally, the Clinton doctrine is more expansive than Bush's NSS, but it was issued quietly, not in a manner designed to arouse hostility, and the same was true of its implementation. And as Albright correctly pointed out, the doctrine has a long tradition in the US - elsewhere as well, including precedents that one might prefer not to think about.
Despite the precedents, the new imperial grand strategy was understood to be highly significant. Henry Kissinger described it as a "revolutionary" doctrine, which tears to shreds the international order established in the 17th century Westphalian system, and of course the UN Charter and modern international law, not worth mentioning. The revolutionary new approach is correct, Kissinger felt, but he also cautioned about style and implementation. And he added a crucial qualification: it must not be "universalized." The right of aggression at will (dropping euphemisms) is to be reserved to the US, perhaps delegated to selected clients. We must forcefully reject the most elementary of moral truisms: That we apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others.
Others criticized the doctrine and its first test on sharply different grounds. One was Arthur Schlesinger, perhaps the most respected living American historian. As the first bombs fell on Baghdad, he recalled the words of FDR when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on "a date which will live in infamy." Now it is Americans who live in infamy, Schlesinger wrote, as their government follows the course of imperial Japan. He added that Bush and his planners had succeeded in converting a "global wave of sympathy" for the US to "a global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism." A year later, it was much worse, international polls revealed. In the region with the longest experience with US policies, opposition to Bush reached 87% among the most pro-US elements, Latin American elites: 98% in Brazil and almost as high in Mexico. Again, an impressive achievement.
As also anticipated, the war increased the threat of terror. Middle East specialists who moniter attitudes in the Muslim world were astonished by the revival of the appeal of "global jihadi Islam," which had been in decline. Recruitment for al-Qaeda networks increased. Iraq, which had no ties to terror before, became a "terrorist haven" (Harvard terrorism specialist Jessica Stern), also suffering its first suicide attacks since the 13th century. Suicide attacks for 2003 reached their highest level in modern times. The year ended with a terror alert in the US of unprecedented severity.
Why, then, should there be any surprise that terror should be downgraded in favor of the invasion of Iraq? Or that Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Cheney and associates were pressuring the intelligence community to come up with some shreds of evidence to justify invasion, Blair and Straw as well: Iraqi links to terror, WMD, anything would do. It is rather striking that as one after another pretext collapses, and the leadership announces a new one, commentary follows dutifully along, always conspicuously avoiding the obvious reason, which is virtually unmentionable. Among Western intellectuals, that is; not in Iraq. US polls in Baghdad found that a large majority assumed that the motive for the invasion was to take control of Iraq's resources and reorganize the Middle East in accord with US interests. It is not unusual for those at the wrong end of the club to have a clearer understanding of the world in which they live.
The Iraq invasion is typical: violence quite commonly incites a violent response. Serious investigations of al-Qaeda and bin Laden reveal that they were virtually unknown until Clinton bombed Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998. The bombings led to a sharp increase in support, recruitment, and financing for networks of the al-Qaeda type (al-Qaeda is not really an organization), turned bin Laden into a major figure, and forged closer relations between bin Laden and the Taliban, previously cool or hostile.
The collapse of the pretexts for invading Iraq is familiar. But insufficient attention has been paid to the most important consequence of the collapse of the Bush-Blair pretexts: lowering the bars for aggression. The need to establish ties to terror was quietly dropped. More significantly, the Bush administration - Powell, Rice, and others -- now declare the right to attack a country even if it has no WMD or programs to develop them, but has the "intent and ability" to do so. Just about every country has the "ability" to develop WMD, and intent is in the eye of the beholder. It follows that virtually anyone is declared to be subject to devastating attack without pretext.
There is one particle of (apparent) evidence remaining in support of the invasion: it did depose Saddam Hussein, an outcome that can be welcomed without hypocrisy by those who strenuously opposed US-UK support for him through his worst crimes, including the crushing of the Shi'ite rebellion that might have overthrown him in 1991, for reasons that were frankly explained in the national press at the time, but are now kept from the public eye.
The end of Saddam's rule was one of two welcome "regime changes." The other was the formal end of the sanctions regime, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, devastated Iraq's civilian society, strengthened the tyrant, and compelled the population to rely on him for survival. It is for these reasons that the respected international diplomats who administered the UN "oil for food" programs, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, resigned in protest over what Halliday called the "genocidal" sanctions regime. They are the Westerners who knew Iraq best, having had access to regular information from investigators throughout the country. Though sanctions were administered by the UN, their cruel and savage character was dictated by the US and its British subordinate. Ending this regime is a very positive aspect of the invasion. But that could have been done without an invasion.
Halliday and von Sponeck had argued that if sanctions had been re-directed to preventing weapons programs, then the population of Iraq might well have been able to send Saddam Hussein to the same fate as other murderous gangsters supported by the current incumbents in Washington and their British allies: Ceausescu, Suharto, Marcos, Duvalier, Chun, Mobutu.... - an impressive list, some of them comparable to Saddam, to which new names are being added daily by the same Western leaders. If so, both murderous regimes could have been ended without invasion. Postwar inquiries, such as those of Washington's Iraq Survey Group headed by David Kay, add weight to these beliefs by revealing how shaky Saddam's control of the country was in the last few years.
We may have our own subjective judgments about the matter, but they are irrelevant. Unless the population is given the opportunity to overthrow a brutal tyrant, as they did in the case of other members of the Rogue's Gallery supported by the US and UK, there is no justification for resort to outside force to do so. These considerations alone suffice to eliminate the particle of truth that might support the new doctrines contrived after the collapse of the official pretexts. There are other reasons as well, some discussed in the introduction to the 2004 annual report of Human Rights Watch by executive-director Kenneth Roth.
Returning to the improved doctrine of invasion without pretext, capabilities to carry out the plans are being enhanced by new military programs. One major program, announced shortly after the release of the NSS, is intended to advance from "control of space" for military purposes - the Clinton program - to "ownership of space," meaning "instant engagement anywhere in world." This implementation of the NSS puts any part of the world at risk of instant destruction, thanks to sophisticated global surveillance and lethal weaponry in space.
The world's intelligence agencies can read the AIR FORCE SPACE COMMAND STRATEGIC MASTER PLAN, from which I've been quoting, as easily as I can. And they will draw appropriate conclusions, increasing the risk to all of us. We should recall that history -- including recent history -- offers many examples of leaders consciously enhancing very serious threats in pursuit of narrow power interests. By now, however, the stakes are much higher.
The collapse of the pretexts for invasion led to another new doctrine: the war in Iraq was inspired by the President's "messianic vision" - as it is called in the elite liberal media -- to bring democracy to Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. The President affirmed the vision in an address last November.
The reaction ranged from reverential awe to criticism, which praised the "nobility" and "generosity" of the messianic vision but warned that it may be beyond our means: too costly, the beneficiaries are too backward, others may not share our nobility and altruism. That this is the motive for the invasion is simply presupposed in news reporting and commentary. The worshipful attitude extends to England, where, for example, the Economist reports that "America's mission" of turning Iraq into "an inspiring example [of democracy] to its neighbors" is facing problems.
It is a useful exercise to search for evidence that the invasion was inspired by the messianic vision. One will discover that evidence reduces to the fact that our leader proclaimed the doctrine, so there can plainly be no question about veracity - even though we know perfectly well that such professions of noble intent carry no information because they are entirely predictable, including the worst monsters. And in this case, unquestioning acceptance of the "vision" faces an added difficulty: it is necessary to suppress the fact that the visionary is thereby declaring himself to be a most impressive liar, since when mobilizing the country for war the "single question" was whether Iraq would disarm. If there is an exception to this reaction of blind acceptance in mainstream reporting and commentary, I haven't found it.
To be more accurate, I did find one exception. A few days after the President revealed his messianic vision to much awed acclaim, the Washington Post published the results of a US-run poll in Baghdad, in which people were asked why they thought the US invaded Iraq. Some agreed with near-unanimous articulate opinion among the invaders (including mainstream critics) that the goal was to bring democracy: 1 percent. Five percent felt that the goal was to help Iraqis. The opinions of most of the rest I have already mentioned: the motive dismissed in polite circles as "conspiracy theory" or some other intellectual equivalent of the four-letter words used by the less elevated classes.
The results of the Baghdad poll were in fact more nuanced. About half felt that the US wanted democracy, but only if it could maintain its influence over the outcome. In brief, democracy is just fine, in fact preferable if only to make us feel and look good, but only if you do what we say. Iraqis, again, know us better than we choose to know ourselves: choose, because evidence is ample, indeed overwhelming. Just in the past few months there has been ample evidence on the front pages, concerning noble "democracy enhancement" efforts in Haiti and El Salvador. Once again, it takes consider discipline "not to see" that the judgment of Baghdadis is very accurate in these cases, once again, but there is no time to run through the details here.
Iraqis, however, do not have to know American history to draw conclusions about the "messianic vision" that is driving US-UK policies, so we are instructed. Their own history suffices. They are well aware that Iraq was created by Britain with boundaries established to ensure that Britain, not Turkey, would gain control of the oil of northern Iraq, and that Iraq would be effectively blocked from the sea by the British-run principality of Kuwait, hence would be dependent. Iraq was granted "independence," a "constitution," etc., but Iraqis did not have to await the release of secret records to learn that the British intended to impose in Iraq and elsewhere an "Arab facade" that would allow Britain effectively to rule behind various "constitutional fictions." Nor did they have to wait for the declassification of the US-UK records of 1958 to learn that after Iraq broke out of the Anglo-American condominium, in high-level joint discussions Britain agreed to give nominal independence to Kuwait to stem the tide of independent nationalism while reserving the right "ruthlessly to intervene" if anything went wrong in this pillar of Britain's economy, while the US reserved the same right for the really big prizes elsewhere in the Gulf - all publicly available well before the first Gulf war, and clearly quite relevant to the unfolding events, but systematically avoided, apart from the margins.
Furthermore, Iraqis can see what is happening before their eyes.
On the diplomatic front, the US is constructing the biggest embassy in the world. To underscore its goals, it appointed as Ambassador John Negroponte, an interesting choice. The Wall Street Journal described him (accurately) as a "Modern Proconsul," who learned his craft in Honduras in the 1980s, during the Reaganite phase of the current incumbents. There he was known as "the proconsul" as he presided over the second largest embassy in Latin America and the largest CIA station in the world - doubtless because Honduras was such a center piece of world power. As proconsul, Negroponte's task was to lie to Congress about state terror in Honduras so that the flow of military aid would continue in violation of law, but more importantly, to supervise the bases for the US mercenary army that was attacking Nicaragua, devastating it, and leading to the US becoming the only country in the world to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism (technically, "unlawful use of force"), backed by two Security Council resolutions, which the US vetoed with Britain politely abstaining, then escalating the international terrorist attack. So Negroponte is well-qualified to run the world's largest embassy, and probably, again, its largest CIA station - all to transfer full sovereignty to Iraqis. Proconsul Negroponte is replacing the Pentagon's Paul Bremer, whom UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi refers to affectionately as "the dictator" of Iraq.
To be fair, we should recognize that the interim government that presents "the opinions of Iraqis" to the world is not devoid of domestic support. Recent polls reveal that the prime minister Ayad Allawi has almost 5 percent support, just below the president, with a 7 percent approval rating.
A current article by the Diplomatic Editor of the Daily Telegraph has the headline "Handover still on course." Its last paragraph reports that "A senior British official put it delicately: `the Iraqi government will be fully sovereign, but in practice it will not exercise all its sovereign functions'." Lord Curzon would nod sagely.
Speaking for the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz announced that there would be a prolonged US troop presence and weak Iraqi army -- in order to "nurture democracy." Wolfowitz is greatly admired by the national liberal press as the visionary leading the messianic mission to bring democracy. He is the "idealist in chief" of the administration, according to senior commentator David Ignatius, former editor of the International Herald Tribune. He also happens to have a unusually shocking record of visceral hatred of democracy, which there is no time to review here; easy to discover, but concealed. Since the idealist in chief declares that the Pentagon must remain in control to "nurture democracy," it doesn't matter that according to Western-run polls, Iraqis overwhelmingly want Iraqis to be in charge of security, as the US command was forced to accept in Fallujah. Not all, it is true: 7 percent want US forces to be in control, and 5 percent the US-appointed Governing Council, since disbanded; not, however, Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi, who had no detectable support.
None of this is relevant to the messianic vision.
While watching US efforts to maintain control through diplomatic and military measures, Iraqis can also see the modalities imposed by dictator Bremer, in particular, his decrees opening up industry and banking to effective US takeover (with Britain presumably thrown a few crumbs), along with a 15% flat tax that will leave Iraq among the least taxed countries in the world, eliminating hope for desperately needed social benefits and reconstruction of infrastructure. The plans were immediately denounced by Iraqi business representatives, who charged that they would be destroyed, apart from those who choose to be the local agents of the foreigners who run the economy. It is a well-established conclusion of economic history that without economic sovereignty, development is likely to be limited, and political independence can hardly be more than a shadow.
There may be fewer problems with Iraqi workers, despite their long tradition of labor militancy. The occupying army immediately took action to destroy unions, breaking into offices and arresting leaders, blocking strikes, enforcing Saddam's brutal anti-labor laws, and handing over concessions to bitterly anti-union US businesses. Sooner or later the US union bureaucracy and the National Endowment for Democracy will probably move in to "build democratic unions," replaying a dismal record that is all too familiar elsewhere.
The economic measures being imposed are also familiar. They played a large part in creating today's "Third World" by imperial force, while England and its offshoots, and the rest of Western Europe, followed a radically different course, relying on a powerful state and crucial state intervention in the economy, as they still do - most dramatically the US. The same is true of Japan, the one part of the South that resisted colonization, and developed.
It is an open question whether Iraqis can be coerced into submitting to the "messianic vision," with nominal sovereignty offered under various "constitutional fictions." For privileged Europeans and Americans, there is, however, a much more pertinent question: Will they permit their governments to "nurture democracy" in the style of "idealist in chief" Wolfowitz, as throughout the traditional domains of their power and influence? In part they have given an answer. The steadfast refusal of Iraqis to accept the traditional "constitutional fictions" has compelled Washington to yield step by step, with some assistance from "the second superpower," as the New York Times described world public opinion after the huge demonstrations of mid-February 2003, the first time in the history of Europe and its offshoots that mass protests against a war took place before it had even been officially launched. That makes a difference. Had the problems of Fallujah, for example, arisen in the 1960s, they would have been resolved by B-52s and mass murder operations on the ground. Today, a more civilized society will not tolerate such measures, providing at least some space for the traditional victims to act to gain authentic independence. It is even possible that the Bush administration may have to abandon its original war plans, well understood by Iraqis, though kept in the shadows in the societies of the occupiers.
Right at this point crucial questions arise about the nature of industrial democracy and its future - extremely important questions. The survival of the species is at stake, literally. But that is for another time.