Empire Plans Strikes
word this week is that the Bush administration is engaged in a large-scale
review of current policies that could lead to a massive military
campaign against Iraq. The administration plans to have the review
completed in time for Vice President Dick Cheney to inform Arab
leaders of American plans during his planned tour of West Asia next
month. According to the Los Angeles Times, the administration
now believes that the Iraq problem has to be solved, not simply
managed, as they believe the Clinton administration did.
is now said to be willing to push the envelope with ostensible allies
in the War on Terror by opening a campaign against Iraq. The campaign
might begin with a diplomatic option, pushing the United Nations
to reopen the Iraq issue by passing new "smart" sanctions
and demanding the return of UN weapons inspectors. If Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein rejects the demand, US policymakers believe they
will then have a rationale for a military campaign, that would probably
begin with intensive bombing and involve subsidies for disaffected
Iraqi exile groups.
an op-ed piece in Sunday's New York Times, former British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave push to the invade-Iraq crowd.
"America and its allies, indeed the Western world and its values,
are still under deadly threat," she wrote. "That threat
must be eliminated, and now is the time to act vigorously."
She identifies the main threat as "Islamic terror," but
soon gets around to recommending that we move quickly to get rid
of "the most notorious rogue ... without doubt, Saddam Hussein
proof, if ever we needed it that yesterday's unfinished business
becomes tomorrow's headache."
Thatcher doesn't mention that, however horrific Saddam's regime
may be, it is a secular government rather than an Islamic fundamentalist
regime. Nor does she mention that despite the best efforts of American,
British and Israeli intelligence, so far no link between Saddam
and the terrorist attacks of September 11 has yet been established.
Indeed, a New York Times story last week based on interviews
with unidentified top-level CIA officials not only confirmed the
opinion that Saddam wasn't involved in the September 11 attacks,
it said the Iraqi regime hadn't engaged in financing or sponsoring
terrorist attacks on the United States for about a decade.
mind all that. Saddam is said to be developing weapons of mass destruction
"so as to challenge us with impunity," as Dame Margaret
put it. So he must be eliminated.
should be understood that an American incursion against Iraq would
be a purely imperial mission. The American empire might not be a
traditional empire as these institutions have been constituted in
the past. We have very few outright dependencies or colonies overseas.
But we seem to believe firmly that we have the unquestioned right
to intervene in any country anywhere in the world to effect
what the war- whoopers call a "regime change" whenever
any American leaders believe that U.S. interests, even loosely-defined,
are affected, even peripherally.
interests as viewed by our leaders bear little resemblance to the
kind of "core" national interests most traditional writers
on international relations would define. Core interests would include
a decent defense of the homeland against imminent and some potential
threats; these might even include the occasional aggressive action
against a possible enemy who, according to intelligence, is getting
dangerously close to having the capacity to pose a threat in the
days, however, it is enough for a significant percentage of policymakers
simply to dislike a regime, whether because it is too undemocratic
or too democratic, too repressive or too lenient, to trigger an
attack. As Gary Dempsey and Roger Fontaine show through extensive
quotes in the recent Cato Institute book, Fool's
Errands, America's policymakers don't even bother to try
to hide their contempt for the outmoded notion of national sovereignty
as a bar to "humanitarian" intervention. As Clinton-era
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott put it in January 2000,
summing up a decade of evolution in the way interventionists justify
themselves, the United States had "accepted the principle that
the way a government treats its own people is not just an 'internal
matter.' It's the business of the international community."
may be a new kind of imperialism, but it's imperialism nonetheless.
OF THOUGHT CRIMES?
might have thought that the demise of the Soviet empire would have
led to a certain discrediting of the notion of "thought crimes,"
the conceit of totalitarian regimes that they had the right to control
and punish not just anti-social actions by citizens, but antisocial
thoughts and opinions as well. However, I am afraid that the concept
of "thought crimes" is experiencing a certain resurgence
here in the land of the free at least when it comes to the
"American Taliban," John Walker Lindh.
be sure, Lindh has been charged with some relatively specific crimes
and will apparently have the services of a reasonably competent
attorney after having been denied one for months while he
was being interrogated. And it is just possible that when the dust
settles and the trial begins the court will rule much or most of
"Jihad Johnny's" "confessions" inadmissible
and the government will have a hard time proving anything specific.
on the kinds of letter to the editor we receive at our newspaper,
the kinds of e-mail the cable news outlets publish for viewer delectation
and other impressionistic indicators, however, I fear that a wide
swath of the American public will have no patience with such legal
niceties. Lindh made a conscious decision to abandon his country
and sign up with another political entity, seems to be the consensus,
and that's enough to justify hanging him high.
mind that the United States was not at war with the Taliban when
John Walker Lindh joined its forces indeed, the United States
was sending money to the regime to reward it for being an ostensibly
faithful ally in the Holy War on Drugs. Never mind that there is
no evidence at least not yet, though some might be forthcoming
that Lindh ever fired on Americans. Never mind that the U.S.
Constitution very purposely defines treason very tightly, in a way
that makes it extremely difficult to get a conviction. Johnny Walker
was disloyal to the country and all it stands for, and that's enough
me, that's a thought crime an impulse to punish somebody
for having impure or insufficiently loyal thoughts, not for deeds.
It's a shame that so many Americans seem willing to condone punishment
for having the wrong thoughts rather than for specific deeds. The
American judicial system may yet save us from these baser impulses,
but judges take note of polls and expressions of opinion too.
MISSING THE POINT
not so much that the decision to declare that members of the Taliban
now being held at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay are POWs under
the Geneva Convention while members of al Qaida are not is an irrational
or indefensible decision. One could argue that it's a fairly reasonable
conclusion, and I have no reason to believe that American assurances
that people in both categories will be treated roughly the same
are insincere or incorrect.
questionable about the decision is who made it. The news reports
say President Bush decided, after consultation with various diplomatic
and military experts. If so, he is acting like an autocrat rather
than a leader of a country that believes in the rule of law.
Geneva Convention of 1949 specifically deals with the problem of
how to classify prisoners or detainees whose status is questionable
or ambiguous. Article 4 defines who is to be classified as a Prisoner
of War entitled to certain standards of humane treatment. Article
5 then discusses problematic prisoners:
5: Should any doubt arise as to whether persons ... belong to any
of the categories in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection
of the present Convention until such time as their status has been
determined by a competent tribunal."
Bush may be many things, but he is not a "competent tribunal"
in this matter. The Geneva Convention doesn't strictly define the
term, and presumably a military tribunal would be acceptable. In
fact, U.S. law already contains provisions for a mechanism to deal
precisely with this question of classifying detainees a tribunal
of three officers, with a two-thirds vote required to determine
status and the detainee to be entitled to competent representation
and the right to call witnesses.
certainly would be nice to see any evidence that the United States
plans to abide by the Geneva Convention which might be outdated
or even ill-advised, but which the United States did push for and
ratify or by its own laws in the matter of classifying prisoners
at Guantanamo. To have the head of the executive branch make the
decision unilaterally, despite laws being on the books that specify
a different procedure reeks of absolute monarchy, perhaps
even of despotism.
Congress hasn't even formally declared war, which might or
might not provide at least some justification for such an
arbitrary shortcut around the law of the land.
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