awarding contracts for the "reconstruction"
of Iraq. But who will reconstruct our old republic,
once it morphs into an empire?
As they test
weapons of mass destruction in the midst of one
of the most populated states in the union, flexing their
muscles and bellowing belligerence, the War Party exudes
ideologues pushing us into war believe they can
not only "win" the war militarily, but also
"win the peace" by rebuilding a devastated
Iraqi economy, keeping the Iraqi state from flying apart
into at least three separate pieces, and instilling
the Jeffersonian ethos in a people whose role models
run more along the lines of mad
King Nebuchanezzar. Not even the Communists had
such faith in the power of social engineering.
Once the Ba'athist regime is shattered,
however, it's going to take more than multi-billions
in U.S. tax dollars and all
the cement the Halliburton Company can pour to put
the Iraqi Humpty-Dumpty back together again.
Are we supposed to be shocked – shocked!
– that Vice President Dick Cheney's old corporate digs,
Halliburton, is making a strong bid for the $900 million
pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow? Puh-leeze.
They've already grabbed the fire-fighting franchise
– and that's one likely
to have an immediate pay-off from Day One of the war.
You'll remember that Cheney, upon assuming office, made
big ol' fuss about having to give up his Halliburton
stock. Now we know why.
Some will profit from the consequences
of this war, and the leadership of the War Party is
nothing if not shameless in the pursuit of filthy lucre.
Seymour Hersh shows in his most recent New Yorker
piece, Richard Perle, the Rasputin of the War Party,
is doing for "Trireme Partners" – a shadowy
Delaware-based consortium – what Cheney has done for
Halliburton. But those who believe that cash is what
motivates the War Party are mistaking the appetizers
for the main course.
It is only natural that the Boy Emperor
and his courtiers should be clothed in gold and jewels;
austerity is one of those stern republican virtues that
will fade as we enter the Imperial Era. Their motivation
isn't money, but power. Not only the power to re-order
the Middle East, but to set America on a far different
course than the one envisioned by the Founders. Their
ultimate goal is to so change the political culture
that the Jeffersonian distrust of government and foreign
intervention is burned out of the American soul. In
its place, they would install the soul of a conqueror,
supposedly benevolent one.
The American revolutionaries who defied
a British King saw the New World as the New Jerusalem:
a promised land that provided sanctuary from Europe's
endless perils. The neoconservative
Jacobins who envision the U.S. "democratizing"
the Middle East at gunpoint see America as the New Rome.
As we go off on our great civilizing mission, whole
generations of Americans will grow up whose source of
income, familial traditions, and political outlook is
shaped by this messianic vision of world "liberation."
The big boys take their profits early
on, but they are bound to be superceded by the profiteers
of moral and material uplift: the administrators, the
corporate adjuncts, the service-providers and the charitable
and humanitarian organizations, the camp followers of
America's conquering armies. The rise of empire necessitates
the rise of a bureaucratic caste that specializes in
picking up the pieces after a victorious war and "re-educating"
the survivors. If all goes well with the imperial project,
this group, ever-growing in numbers and resources, is
destined to become a powerful political force, ceaselessly
agitating for an aggressive expansionism.
But what if this first experiment in
empire-building fails, as there is every indication
that it must? In that case, the American people will
draw back, like a child who's burned his hand on a hot
stove. We are newcomers to this business, after all,
with none of the finesse of the British and hardly any
of the old Roman virtues that, at any rate, had vanished
long before the era of Nero and Caligula. In Iraq, a
make-believe "nation" – created, at the end
of World War I, by the British Foreign Office – we face
an impossible task: to rebuild what never really existed,
using elements that, when mixed, are bound to become
volatile and blow up in our faces.
As an indication of just what we are
letting ourselves in for, take this recent Washington
Times story headlined "Kurds
Attack Islamist Allies." Oh, I get it: our
Kurdish friends went after those pro-Bin Laden guerrillas
the administration insists are tools of Saddam Hussein,
operating freely in Northern Iraq. Well, uh, not exactly:
"The jumble of secret alliances
in northern Iraq turned tragic last week when Kurdish
authorities gunned down a group of friendly Islamists
in an attempt to protect Americans from terrorists affiliated
with Osama bin Laden."
It turns out they got the wrong Islamists.
The victims of this ambush were members of the Islamic
Group of Kurdistan, which is on good terms with
the Kurds. The point is that if not even the natives
can tell friend from foe, how will the Americans be
able to do it? The murky factional and clan rivalries
that govern power relations in that part of the world
are so complex that no outsider could possibly hope
to penetrate their mysteries. Aside from the Kurds,
split up into at least two major warring factions, we
have the Shi'ites, the Sunnis, the Tikriti, the Chaldeans,
and all sorts of tribal and religious sub-groups that
have been fighting each other for centuries.
are also the Iranians, embodied in the "Badr
Brigade," who have arrived
in northern Iraq – as co-liberators" with the
U.S., of course. The Asia Times reports:
"Some of the new arrivals say
that they are there to help overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Others among their ranks tell the press that they intend
to support the Kurds in resisting the Turks if the northern
neighbor attempts to cross the border. Both may be true.
But these Shi'ite soldiers are certainly also there
to establish a forceful presence in case of a power
vacuum that could ensue during and after the war. Ostensibly,
they would act on behalf of the 60 percent of Iraq's
population that is Shi'ite, rather than Sunni."
Brigade's political arm, known as the Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has
its headquarters in Tehran, and is led by the Ayatollah
Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim. Like the Americans, the
Ayatollah wants to overthrow Saddam, but that is where
the similarity of political goals ostensibly ends: "We
do not know what the Americans will do in the future,"
growls al-Hakim. "If they themselves control the
Iraqi government, there will be many problems and dangers."
The Ayatollah who, with his band of armed Khomeini-ites,
wants to set up an Iranian-style Islamic "republic,"
to Washington so his group could be integrated into
the official Iraqi "opposition":
"Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim
of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in
Iraq (SCIRI) is one of six men invited to a meeting
on August 9 or 16, co-hosted by US Under Secretary of
State Marc Grossman and Under Secretary of Defense Douglas
Feith. 'The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the
next steps in coordinating our work with the Iraqi opposition,'
State Department spokesman Frederick Jones said . .
. 'Ayatollah Hakim has received an invitation to go
to Washington on August 9 and is considering it,' an
official at the SCIRI office in Tehran said."
The Christian Science Monitor
that "the Shiites seem to fear an American occupation
of their country nearly as much as they do Mr. Hussein's
regime" – a fear that could easily lead to a prolonged
postwar conflict. This is the Pentagon's worst nightmare
– a factional free-for-all in postwar Iraq – and a major
source of resistance to this war in the top echelons
of the military. Quoting a number of officers, the Washington
Post reports that the U.S. Army fears not Saddam,
"impossible task" of policing Iraq:
"The U.S. Army is bracing both
for war in Iraq and a postwar occupation that could
tie up two to three Army divisions in an open-ended
mission that would strain the all-volunteer force and
put soldiers in the midst of warring ethnic and religious
factions, Army officers and other senior defense officials
While the official estimate of the occupation
force is usually put at around 50,000, retired Army
Maj. Gen. William L. Nash – who commanded the first
Army peacekeeping operation in the Balkans – says the
number is more like 200,000.
Caught in the crossfire between Kurds
and Turks, Shi'ites and Sunnis, Iranians, Islamists
(friendly and unfriendly), and half a dozen irredentists
of one sort or another, American GIs will be sitting
ducks stuck in an open-ended commitment. This isn't
any ordinary quagmire: it's a hellish sand-pit filled
with scorpions and rattlesnakes of all shapes and sizes,
one that we will scramble out of, and fast, if this
administration has any sense.
But once we're in, the logic of intervention
can only lead to a far deeper entanglement than anyone
ever imagined. With this administration's self-avowed
view that Iraq can be turned into a model democracy,
the Athens of the Middle East, it doesn't look like
we'll be leaving anytime soon. Unless, of course, we're
forced out – a long, torturous, Vietnam-like process.
The likelihood that it will all end
in disaster looms large in the collective imagination
of the Pentagon. They, naturally, will take the blame – never
the politicians and the civilian leadership! – when
the imperial project fails. As the vast experiment in
social engineering undertaken by this administration
proves, once again, the impossibility of central planning
– under neo-imperialism, as well as under socialism
– it is those good soldiers charged with implementing
this neoconservative pipe-dream who will be demoted
and denigrated as unworthy of such a sacred task.
Is the United States prepared to fight
a long-term guerrilla war against various Iraq factions,
policing the country not only internally but also guarding
its borders against would-be intruders, like our NATO
ally Turkey, or a nuclearized Iran? The Bush administration
refuses to estimate the length of our stay, or its costs,
and isn't even budgeting for it. The American people
are being sold a "war of liberation" that
is going to liberate the money right out of their wallets,
conscript their children in the service of the Empire,
and destroy the last remnants of constitutional government.
It is a high price to pay for "victory"
– so high that patriots might almost be forgiven if
they pine for defeat.
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