The logic of empire
The US is now a threat to the rest of the world. The sensible response is
Tuesday August 6, 2002
There is something almost comical about the prospect of George Bush waging
war on another nation because that nation has defied international law.
Since Bush came to office, the United States government has torn up more
international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest
of the world has in 20 years.
It has scuppered the biological weapons convention while experimenting,
illegally, with biological weapons of its own. It has refused to grant
chemical weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories, and has
destroyed attempts to launch chemical inspections in Iraq. It has ripped
up the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and appears to be ready to violate
the nuclear test ban treaty. It has permitted CIA hit squads to recommence
covert operations of the kind that included, in the past, the
assassination of foreign heads of state. It has sabotaged the small arms
treaty, undermined the international criminal court, refused to sign the
climate change protocol and, last month, sought to immobilise the UN
convention against torture so that it could keep foreign observers out of
its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Even its preparedness to go to war with
Iraq without a mandate from the UN security council is a defiance of
international law far graver than Saddam Hussein's non-compliance with UN
But the US government's declaration of impending war has, in truth,
nothing to do with weapons inspections. On Saturday John Bolton, the US
official charged, hilariously, with "arms control", told the Today
programme that "our policy ... insists on regime change in Baghdad and
that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not". The US
government's justification for whupping Saddam has now changed twice. At
first, Iraq was named as a potential target because it was "assisting
al-Qaida". This turned out to be untrue. Then the US government claimed
that Iraq had to be attacked because it could be developing weapons of
mass destruction, and was refusing to allow the weapons inspectors to find
out if this were so. Now, as the promised evidence has failed to
materialise, the weapons issue has been dropped. The new reason for war is
Saddam Hussein's very existence. This, at least, has the advantage of
being verifiable. It should surely be obvious by now that the decision to
wage war on Iraq came first, and the justification later.
Other than the age-old issue of oil supply, this is a war without
strategic purpose. The US government is not afraid of Saddam Hussein,
however hard it tries to scare its own people. There is no evidence that
Iraq is sponsoring terrorism against America. Saddam is well aware that if
he attacks another nation with weapons of mass destruction, he can expect
to be nuked. He presents no more of a threat to the world now than he has
done for the past 10 years.
But the US government has several pressing domestic reasons for going to
war. The first is that attacking Iraq gives the impression that the
flagging "war on terror" is going somewhere. The second is that the people
of all super-dominant nations love war. As Bush found in Afghanistan,
whacking foreigners wins votes. Allied to this concern is the need to
distract attention from the financial scandals in which both the president
and vice-president are enmeshed. Already, in this respect, the impending
war seems to be working rather well.
The United States also possesses a vast military-industrial complex that
is in constant need of conflict in order to justify its staggeringly
expensive existence. Perhaps more importantly than any of these factors,
the hawks who control the White House perceive that perpetual war results
in the perpetual demand for their services. And there is scarcely a better
formula for perpetual war, with both terrorists and other Arab nations,
than the invasion of Iraq. The hawks know that they will win, whoever
loses. In other words, if the US were not preparing to attack Iraq, it
would be preparing to attack another nation. The US will go to war with
that country because it needs a country with which to go to war.
Tony Blair also has several pressing reasons for supporting an invasion.
By appeasing George Bush, he placates Britain's rightwing press. Standing
on Bush's shoulders, he can assert a claim to global leadership more
credible than that of other European leaders, while defending Britain's
anomalous position as a permanent member of the UN security council.
Within Europe, his relationship with the president grants him the eminent
role of broker and interpreter of power.
By invoking the "special relationship", Blair also avoids the greatest
challenge any prime minister has faced since the second world war. This
challenge is to recognise and act upon the conclusion of any objective
analysis of global power: namely that the greatest threat to world peace
is not Saddam Hussein, but George Bush. The nation that in the past has
been our firmest friend is becoming instead our foremost enemy.
As the US government discovers that it can threaten and attack other
nations with impunity, it will surely soon begin to threaten countries
that have numbered among its allies. As its insatiable demand for
resources prompts ever bolder colonial adventures, it will come to
interfere directly with the strategic interests of other quasi-imperial
states. As it refuses to take responsibility for the consequences of the
use of those resources, it threatens the rest of the world with
environmental disaster. It has become openly contemptuous of other
governments and prepared to dispose of any treaty or agreement that
impedes its strategic objectives. It is starting to construct a new
generation of nuclear weapons, and appears to be ready to use them
pre-emptively. It could be about to ignite an inferno in the Middle East,
into which the rest of the world would be sucked.
The United States, in other words, behaves like any other imperial power.
Imperial powers expand their empires until they meet with overwhelming
For Britain to abandon the special relationship would be to accept that
this is happening. To accept that the US presents a danger to the rest of
the world would be to acknowledge the need to resist it. Resisting the
United States would be the most daring reversal of policy a British
government has undertaken for over 60 years.
We can resist the US neither by military nor economic means, but we can
resist it diplomatically. The only safe and sensible response to American
power is a policy of non-cooperation. Britain and the rest of Europe
should impede, at the diplomatic level, all US attempts to act
unilaterally. We should launch independent efforts to resolve the Iraq
crisis and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And we should cross
our fingers and hope that a combination of economic mismanagement,
gangster capitalism and excessive military spending will reduce America's
power to the extent that it ceases to use the rest of the world as its
doormat. Only when the US can accept its role as a nation whose interests
must be balanced with those of all other nations can we resume a
friendship that was once, if briefly, founded upon the principles of
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