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imperialism & war | political theory

The American Mission Discredited

"George W. Bush and his closest associates decided to renounce on tested diplomatic instruments of the interna-tional community because they were `illusions'.. In September 2002 the White House presented a new security doctrine3 with the option of preventive war.."
The American Mission Discredited

Baghdad fell a year ago. However peace in Iraq is very remote. George W. Bush's strategy of the new order in the Middle East has failed.

By Michael Naumann

[This article originally published in: Die Zeit 15/2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://zeus.zeit.de/text/2004/15/Irakkrieg.]

The Potomac flows black between Washington's Congress, the State Department and the White House on the northern shore and the Pentagon on the other side of the river. Somewhere in the middle of the stream, the American promise of a democratically controlled military power with complex worldwide alliance obligations threatens to collapse. The American mission to peacefully promote the ideals of a republican constitution all over the world is discredited under the presidency of George W. Bush.

That promise was grounded on the American self-image of economic, military and intellectual superiority. Its liberal and moral components had greater intellectual persuasiveness than the totalitarian ideologies of Europe and Asia. However the doctrine of American world domination is manifest in the resolve never to abandon the undisputed American advantage in armaments and to defend that advantage with a preventive war in case of emergency.

America's Declaration of Independence emphasized "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind" in its first sentence. As its author Thomas Jefferson knew, political power is the fruit of political and moral respect and then of military power. Nevertheless international polls of American research institutes show that that respect was seldom as endangered as today. In Islamic states, anti-Americanism, that shadowy growth of anti-modernism, is widespread among opinion-makers from journalists to preachers. How did this happen?

A year after the American invasion of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, the political consequences of the military strike are clear. First the positive: the murderous despot Saddam Hussein was captured. Libya's Muammar al-Ghaddafi ended his nuclear research in view of the power demonstration. He had already signaled to Washington his readiness for disarmament a year before.

The political and cultural collateral damage of the American-British display of power in Iraq was foreseeable. Pride over the brilliant military operation is fading in the United States. The groundless justifications of war of the administration are subjects of embarrassing investigatory committees in Congress and investigative reports of the American media. Former close Bush-assistants from ex-Treasury secretary Paul O/Neill to terror expert Richard Clarke describe a war-mongering government that knew very well how flimsy was its assertion that Saddam Hussein's regime was behind al-Qaeda's crimes of September 11, 2001. As in the case of his father, George W. Bush's reelection threatens to collapse despite a victorious war. This war also was not really won.

The victors dissolved Hussein's army in an administrative act and sent 400,000 soldiers home. Many took their weapons along or sold them on the markets of Baghdad and Basra. The weeks of plundering and arsons after the end of combat operations had disastrous symbolic effects. Water, electricity and the moral fabric of a society humiliated for decades were completely torn asunder. US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld wanted to wage a surgical war of the future. That future war succeeded. He didn't make any preparations for peace. His plans met with considerable resistance of his officers. Rumsfeld embodied the new arrogance of power.

The Iraqis Renounced their Country before the Eyes of the Americans

The strategy of conservative generals earmarked an invasion army of 400,000 soldiers. The military had no doubt in the speedy victory. However the experiences on the Balkans showed that peacemaking was just as important and more costly than modern warfare. On the other hand, Rumsfeld undeterred by self-doubt wanted to begin with 75,000 and immediately withdraw. Ultimately there were 220,000. He obviously didn't want to worry the president with these details. In the words of his vice-president Cheney, "we will be welcomed as liberators." Rumsfeld excused the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure by Iraqis that continued for three weeks: "Freedom is disorderly. Free persons are free to make mistakes." That this absurd aphorism could be true for himself didn't occur to him.

In October 2001 during the Afghanistan operation and 17 months before the war's outbreak, the State Department commissioned 14 expert groups including many exiled Iraqis to outline a new political order for a post-war Iraq. The suggestions of the advisors - from securing power plants, museums and ministries to reeducating the police and army - filled more than 2200 pages. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld explicitly refused to take note of them. The rebuilding costs in Iraq grew from the original calculation of $1.7 billion to $87 billion. They will rise even more.

The conquerors, the American bomber pilots, are stationed again at their secret and international bases. The infantry stay behind concrete barriers in Iraqi desert camps and are clearly designated targets of attacks. In the meantime, the Pentagon numbers over 500 murdered American soldiers, 380 more than were killed in the whole war. No one knows the exact number of Iraqi dead. The majority of Iraqis undoubtedly welcomed the end of dictatorship. They never welcomed the coalition troops. Peace is a future goal.

Psycho-historians may argue about the war motives of George W. Bush whose moral rigor is in crass contrast to the skill of his father in concrete geopolitics. A week before the war's outbreak, Tony Blair urged him to grant more time to the UN weapon inspectors. This was in vain. Bush jr. didn't succeed in forging an international coalition of America's most important partners to overthrow an evil dictator perhaps because he believed he didn't need them. A liberated Iraq would democratize itself. Then the despotic regimes in the Middle East would reform themselves. This domino theory of good hope disregarded the powerful religious and nationalist currents of Islam.

Armed Christians are Pitiful Ambassadors in the Islamic Area

The dominos fall in the wrong direction. The Iraqi reform movement perished after the Iraq war. The assumption that the very deceitful Mullah-regime in Teheran would seriously reduce its nuclear program because of the Iraq war is just as convincing as the expectation that Chomeni's successors would become secularized. Iran and Pakistan manage the nuclear Pandora's box in the Middle East. The danger that this Pandora's box could fall in the hands of terrorists did not diminish after the Iraq war. Last weekend the summit meeting of the Arab states in Tunis collapsed. The participants could not agree on democratic reform projects.

The effects of the war in the region are tragic. With the punishment of their own ruin, several neighboring Arab regimes intensified the oppression of their religiously inspired opposition. At the same time they take up their anti-western and anti-Israeli rhetoric. Egypt's million-fold army of young unemployed persons becomes a constant demographic and domestic political minefield. For two decades, the Mubarak-regime has ruled with emergency laws. In free elections, the Scharia ideologists of the Muslim brotherhood could assume power in Cairo. Pakistan, a poorhouse with nuclear weapons, is not able or willing to liberate its border provinces to Afghanistan from the Taliban. Arab broadcast stations disseminate Osama bin Laden's appeals. Saudi Arabian foundations send Wahabitisch preachers all over the world. Their inflammatory songs resound in the Koran schools of Europe, Africa and Asia. Offers of ecumenical dialogue of Christian peacemakers meet deaf hears.

As banal as it sounds, the pope, the bishops of Europe and America and most intelligence service personnel of the West do not speak Arabic. The much higher and even invincible cultural barrier lies behind the language barrier. The conversation partners in the mosques of the Orient live in another epoch. They experience the American victory in Iraq as a humiliating confirmation of their worldview. The idea that western Christians could be the armed ambassadors of a better social order in Islamic countries is like the illusion of combining the painfully experienced history over many centuries of the military and industrial inferiority of the Muslim people together with the memory of western colonialism and stowing it away in the cellar like an old telescope. It is still used in the Koran schools to look back in their past of faded greatness.

Despite all the US administrations efforts at order, the danger grows of a civil war between Shiites and Sunnites. The potential future of the Kurdish North is unclear. Within one post-war year, the land has become a gathering place of terrorists. A new "Lebanon" threatens in Mesopotamia, the cradle of all civilization. Together with its gigantic crude oil reserves, the ethnically diverse land has become a target of geo-strategic claims of influence competing with the American claim. Neither Turkey nor Iran, neither Syria nor Pakistan nor the unstable royal houses of the Arabian Peninsula will unemotionally watch the development of ruined Iraq.

Without a UN-mandated international occupying force (with mainly Muslim soldiers) and without its presence for years or decades, a fire smolders near the world's central sources of oil that 170,000 American soldiers and a few thousand coalition soldiers cannot put out as long as George W. Bush's unconcealed sympathy with Ariel Sharon's archaic-brute force policy opens up new fields of propaganda and action possibilities for Islamic terror commandos.

The Iraq war opponents among Europe's foreign ministers led by Joschka Fischer urge their voters to look "forward" in the silent hope of patching up the deep rupture in the Atlantic alliance. But what is "forward"? "Forward" is obviously where the White House set its political signposts a year ago. All diplomatic cosmetics cannot change the fact that Washington's Iraq crusade was in no way a reaction to September 11, 2001. Though dreadful, al-Qaeda's death flights against New York and Washington were not the real causes of war. The cause was planted in the strategic paradigm-shift of the United States.

After the republicans' election victory, George W. Bush and his closest associates decided to renounce on the tested diplomatic instruments of the international community because they were "illusions" according to security advisor Condoleezza Rice. America's new foreign policy is organized "without illusions". Washington bid farewell to the environmental Kyoto protocol, withdrew from the 1972 ABM-treaty and rejected the nuclear test ban treaty, the protocol on biological weapons and the International Criminal Court. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the pentagon, the NATO partners learned that their help against the Taliban regime and its terrorist guests including Osama bin Laden was not really needed.

"The mission defines the coalition", an arrogant Donald Rumsfeld explained. The treatment of the Taliban prisoners under disregard of the Geneva Convention was "completely indifferent" to him. His president whose religiously inspired worldview is not tempered by detailed historical knowledge declared 99 times to the nations of the world up to the beginning of the Iraq crusade: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." In this way friends are infuriated and enemy ranks increase.

Instead of accepting the military, political and economic obligations of international interventions under the mandate of the United Nations with diplomatic verve, the White House in September 2002 presented a new security doctrine that stylized the option of preventive war from the nuclear deterrence epoch as the guideline for conventional military strikes. This option had never been publically expressed before. Washington contradicted the international prohibition of force of the UN Charter and the international body of international treaties and obligations that order the peaceful cooperative life of the nations according to recognized legal principles.

The authors of this doctrine in the security departments of the White House did not seem worried that nuclear armed nations like India or Pakistan, North Korea or Israel could appeal to the same preventive doctrine in case of catastrophe. This is "a fatal possibility", Henry Kissinger warned. This doctrine served the domestic- or foreign policy justification of Washington's grand strategy whose first goal was Saddam Hussein's overthrow.

On the other hand, preventive wars against terrorists which were only previously authorized against a single sovereign state, Afghanistan, are a semantic deception that may be suited for election campaigns but not for combating secret organizations crossing borders.

The transparency of its agencies and departments is one of the merits of America's open society. There are few secrets in the age of the Internet. Anti-war European thinking could be read in the analyses of American think-tanks and political journals a year after the beginning of combat operations in Iraq. Under the leadership of vice-president Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the administration of George W. Bush planned the war against Iraq since its assumption of power in January 2001. The official reason or justification after the al-Qaeda attacks - "Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 24 hours" (Cheney) - obviously did not hinder politicians from exposing their own troops to these weapons. In all probability they themselves believed this as little as the weapon inspectors of the United Nations under the leadership of Hans Blix.

Colin Powell: "Our policy was not perfect from the start"

The real enemy, terrorism, is undefeated. The consequences of the Iraq war cast a harsh light on its origin. The cultural and social reality of the Third World is not subject to the calculus of unsuspecting strategists in the White House or in think-tanks of American neo-conservatism. In the meantime, the Atlantic alliance deprived of its political core since the end of the Cold War is threatened with political ruin. The crisis of the Atlantic alliance is rooted in the hyper-power America's dismissal of the hardship of diplomacy, not in a pacifist mood of the old world. The Atlantic alliance in the garb of a European Venus (this goddess was the emblem of Caesar's victorious legions) could oppose the American Mars.

America cannot renounce on its old partners in Europe. In the words of Colin Powell, "the foreign policy of the Bush administration was hardly perfect from the start. We are humans and we make mistakes." This is also true conversely for Germany, France and Spain. The two continents account for 70 percent of world trade. Perhaps more self-critical patience with each other is necessary. The Atlantic partners would be well-advised to harmonize their dissonant political instruments again. There are good reasons for that harmonizations on this side of the Atlantic. Europe's historical errors fill thousands of pages. We call this "history". That this history didn't end in a final disaster was owed to America's military and diplomatic skill. The methods of a Pax Americana forced with weapons without international legitimation cannot stop terrorism given the new challenges.

Europe's unification moves at a crawling speed. However this unification has so-called soft power. The constitutional history of its democratization is a great export-article that is just as attractive as its economic offer to the crisis countries of the whole world. Today 70 percent of all economic aid to developing countries comes from the nations of the European Union.

The hope that the relaxed times of a transatlantic alliance of trust will return under the leadership of a new president John Kerry is surely vain or illusory. The original war preparations against Iraq were older than the presidency of George W. Bush. Saddam Hussein was already on America's agenda under Bill Clinton. In 1998 the US Congress passed an "Iraq liberation resolution" that charged the government "to remove" the despot from office. The new hegemonial self-confidence of the superpower seems to be independent of the respective governing party. More than 700 American bases all over the world symbolize the omnipresence of the military-industrial complex. A half-century ago Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of its influence on politics. This "complex" has long resided in the Pentagon. Its present "chief executive" sits in the White House.

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