U.S. represents threat to world peace

Scott Laderman

Two weeks ago, Nelson Mandela told Newsweek magazine that the United States represents “a threat to world peace.” Its posturing on Iraq, he claimed, was grounded in the Bush administration’s “desire to please the (American) arms and oil industries.”

Mandela was not alone. “More than half the people in (the United Kingdom) believe President George W. Bush to be the third biggest threat to world peace after Osama bin Laden and Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein,” the Mirror of London found in a recent poll. To properly weigh the gravity of this finding, it must be recalled that Britain is generally considered this country’s closest European ally – so much so that approximately 40 percent of poll respondents agreed that Prime Minister Tony Blair is the American president’s “poodle.”

The situation is even grimmer in those areas where Washington claims to be democracy’s truest friend. Drawing on the testimony of diplomats and analysts in the region, The New York Times reported on Sept. 11 that “(anger) at the United States is at an unparalleled high across the Arab world.” The “anger permeates all strata of society,” the paper noted, “especially among the educated, and is tinged, people acknowledge, with disillusionment at their own long-entrenched American-backed regimes.” The problem seems particularly acute with respect to the contradictory U.S. standards for Israel and Iraq. “Everyone I know wants Saddam Hussein removed,” Rami G. Khouri of the International Crisis Group told the Times, but “(nobody) I know wants the Americans to do it – because we believe they are the last people in the world who will work on behalf of Arab interests.”

It’s at this point that most “patriots” will likely begin to experience cognitive dissonance. After months of being told that the United States is a beacon of freedom striving for global human rights, that it is a uniquely-endowed force for “good” making sacrifice after sacrifice to overcome “evil,” that “we” want peace while “they” wish to destroy us, the sentiments disclosed by the Times must seem like emblems of Arab irrationalism. How, one wonders, could anyone seriously question “our” noble intentions?

An unusually honest report in The Boston Globe provides some direction. But first, it is important to recount a bit of recent history. In the hours following the attacks last September, Donald Rumsfeld suggested to his colleagues that the United States should immediately invade Iraq. The proposal, it must be noted, was a reflexive impulse the secretary of defense offered without even a shred of evidence connecting Iraq to the crimes. The New York Times reported several weeks later that a “tight-knit group of Pentagon officials and defense experts outside government” was diligently “working to mobilize support for a military operation to oust President Saddam Hussein of Iraq as the next phase of the war against terrorism.” Led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the group envisioned “the use of air support and the occupation of southern Iraq with American ground troops to install” a government agreeable to Washington. An important component of this plan was the seizure by “American troops” of the “oil fields around Basra.” Again, this was being done without any credible indication that Iraq was connected in any way to the attacks on the East Coast.

Most political theorists, when considering them in the abstract, would refer to such expansionist scenarios as imperialism. It’s tough to sell imperialist fantasies to the American public, so crafting a marketable message becomes of critical importance to policymakers. More than 50 years ago, U.S. officials faced a similar dilemma. They sought a massive militarization of the domestic economy and expansion of U.S. power – outlined in NSC-68, perhaps the most important planning document of the mid-20th century – at a time when most Americans, having just lived through World War II, were looking forward to years of peace. “We were sweating over it,” an aide to Secretary of State Dean Acheson recalled, “and then – with regard to NSC-68 – thank god Korea came along.”

And thank god for Saddam, the White House must be thinking. After all, there can be little doubt that he is one of the more repugnant despots in power today; portraying him (once again) as the personification of “evil” is hardly a difficult task. Of course, if Washington were interested in simply removing dictators, it would have a large roster of current allies from which to choose. As a justification for war, it would be a hard sell.

The Bush administration has thus dabbled with various strategies for convincing the country that it must invade Iraq. At first, repeated efforts were made to directly or indirectly link Saddam with the Sept. 11 attackers; the most popular claim has involved an alleged meeting in Prague between Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent. The story hasn’t flown, however, so it’s been dropped by all but the most irrational true believers for whom the lack of any supporting evidence represents little more than a nuisance.

Now, it seems Iraq is poised to strike the United States with nuclear, chemical or biological arms. As far as creative fictions go, this must be one of the administration’s most enviable to date. To be sure, there is no conclusive evidence, contrary to official assertions and however plausible the claim may seem, demonstrating Iraq’s current possession of such weapons. Moreover, it defies logic to believe that the Hussein regime would jeopardize its grip on power by attacking the United States. While in the past the Iraqi dictator has certainly been cruel, he has rarely been dumb. When he employed chemical weapons against Iran, he reportedly did so with U.S. foreknowledge and continued support. And when he wished to invade Kuwait, he consulted the American ambassador. These are hardly the acts of the unpredictable madman the White House is presently spinning.

The lesson in all of this is that while the story may have changed, the ending has not. In the final analysis, elements of the administration insist, there must be a war with Iraq. Why? Apart from diverting Americans’ attention from its largely failed campaign in Afghanistan, the article in the Globe provides several clues. According to the article, the administration’s “most hawkish members” – nearly everyone – “are pushing a sweeping vision for the Middle East that sees the overthrow of (Hussein) as merely a first step in the region’s transformation.” Consider the wish list for other states, as outlined by a number of analysts or officials quoted in the report. “A friendly Iraq – home to the world’s second-largest oil reserves – would provide an alternative to Saudi Arabia for basing U.S. troops,” while “its oil reserves would make Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, less important in setting prices.” In general, the plans’ supporters maintain, “a U.S.-allied Iraq could work to diminish the influence of OPEC, long dominated by Saudi Arabia, over oil supplies and prices.”

The “more modest” view among these individuals draws on a lesson that should be familiar to any gangster knowledgeable about how to control the neighborhood: Invading Iraq is essentially “sending a message to the rest of the region, making clear the United States is prepared to unilaterally deploy its military power to achieve its goals, objectives, and values.” For example, “the show of U.S. power would give the administration more leverage in pressuring Iran over its suspected missile and nuclear programs.” Moreover, the “United States could exert that same leverage in forcing an end to Syrian support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah,” while a “powerful corollary of the strategy is that a pro-U.S. Iraq would make the region safer for Israel.” Indeed, the Globe notes, among the plan’s “staunchest proponents” have been “ardent supporters of the Israeli right-wing.”

Mandela was right. The government of the United States represents a “threat to world peace.” It intends to escalate a war (Iraq has been regularly bombed by American and British planes for years, so the war began long ago) that could not only kill thousands of civilians and cement dangerous precedents, but also lead to chaos in the Middle East and beyond. As persons in possession of democratic rights, whether we allow the “threat” to materialize is up to us.