Dr. Ahmad Faruqui, is an economist and defense analyst based San Francisco
who writes frequently on the Middle East and South Asia. In this piece for
the Hong Kong Asia Times, he suggests the real battle against US imperialism
is being fought inside the United States where neo-conservatives are being
confronted by the likes of Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator John
Kerry of Massachusetts.
Dr. Faruqui also brings to attention the desire of the neo-cons to see a
rise in Islamic militancy to justify their imperial ambitions. He writes:
"Some experienced Washington journalists have spent time with the
neo-conservatives and come back to report that growing Islamic militancy in
the Arab world is precisely what these people want. It justifies the US
extending the conflict to other nations until the entire region is
transformed. In a sense, this parallels the beliefs of the growing number of
evangelical Christians who see chaos in the Middle East as a prelude to the
coming rapture. It's hard to say which idea is more dangerous."
Leads you to wonder if the sudden prominence and rise of the Mullahs in Iraq
and their anti-American rhetoric is just shadow boxing to suit the US
Read and reflect.
Battling for the soul of the American republic
By Ahmad Faruqui
Asia Times, Honk Kong
As the battle for Baghdad comes to a close in Iraq, a battle for the soul of
the American republic has begun in Washington. This is a battle of ideas
being waged by people with an imperial concept of American power, or "flag
conservatives", with a diverse coalition of other groups. The flag
conservatives have taken the view that America needs to fight a long war of
self defense until the last one of the cold-blooded killers of September 11
has been hunted down and killed and until all regimes in the "axis of
evil" - Iraq, Iran and North Korea - have been changed.
The opposing coalition does not support such an imperial expression of
power. The opposing coalition counters that an imperial war will erase the
very freedoms domestically that the US seeks to project internationally.
This coalition spans the ideological spectrum, and includes conservatives
such as Pat Buchanan, libertarians such as Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato
Institute and Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation,
mainstream democrats and the various groups who were active in the no-war
This battle will intensify in the runup to the 2004 presidential election.
The first shots have already been fired by some of those who are seeking the
Democratic Party's presidential nomination. For example, Senator John Kerry
of Massachusetts began to call for regime change in Washington while the war
was under way, drawing considerable flak from the proponents of war.
Similarly, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont made the anti-war issue a primary
topic of his speech at the recent Democratic Party convention in Sacramento,
and came in for sharp rebukes from the other side.
The "flag conservatives" are exultant since their long-standing objective of
gaining mastery of the Middle East appears within reach. As discussed later
in this article, Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz first articulated this
viewpoint shortly after the first Gulf war in 1991. Facilitated by the
tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, the first campaign of the "war
against terrorism" took place against the ragtag army of the Taliban, whose
strength did not exceed 40,000. The regime in Kabul, which boasted that it
would not be crushed as easily as the Palestinians in the West Bank and
Gaza, collapsed within two months.
The second campaign, which became the second Gulf War, took place against
the woefully underfed, under-equipped and demoralized army of Saddam
Hussein, whose famed Republican Guard simply became a mirage in the Iraqi
desert once hostilities commenced. The Ba'ath regime in Baghdad, which had
boasted that it was far stronger than the Taliban and would turn Iraq into a
graveyard of the invading armies, collapsed within a month.
While temporarily restrained by global public opinion, the war machine being
directed by the flag conservatives threatens to branch out toward the east
and the west from Iraq, with campaigns directed at effecting regime change
in Damascus and Teheran. In the not-too-distant future, campaigns may be
directed at effecting regime change in Riyadh and Cairo. There are even
rumblings of change in Islamabad, since Pakistan is the only Muslim country
with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and it is widely alleged to be
supporting terrorism in India.
Anyone who doubts this grim forecast need only consult the "National
Security Strategy of the United States of America", published last November
by the White House. It commits the US to supporting "moderate and modern
government, especially in the Muslim world, to ensure that the conditions
and ideologies that promote terrorism do not find fertile ground in any
nation". Having both the intent and the capability to make war, the Bush
administration has sent a clear message to Muslim governments throughout the
world. If they do not comply with US dictates, they will be forced out of
power, and their leaders either killed or captured without even the pretense
of due process.
Richard Perle, a key architect of the drive to topple Saddam, has declared
that the war will not stop with Iraq, "We shall continue to fight against
countries who harbor and develop weapons of mass destruction." He ruled out
any United Nations role in the new war, since the Security Council "was
created to manage classic crises such as Germany invading France with
divisions of Panzer tanks. This institution is incapable of dealing with the
toughest problems of our time such as ... terrorism or proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction".
Today, the global military presence of the US encompasses more than 1,000
bases in nearly 100 countries. This number includes "ghost bases" which are
not staffed with US personnel but are important repositories of military
hardware and supplies that can be tapped on a moment's notice. These bases,
like the forts of imperial Rome, are a perceptible indicator of Washington's
ability to force a regime change when it chooses and where it chooses. Some
have argued that the bases are primarily intended to convey a political
message to countries in their neighborhood and to cultivate "relationships"
with the host countries. Sometimes, the existence of the bases is kept a
secret from the population of the host country.
The flag conservatives have sold the long war to the American people as a
necessary war of self defense. Vice President Dick Cheney has said that the
world before September 11 looks different than the world after September 11,
"especially in terms of how we think about national security and what's
needed to defend America. Every significant threat to our country requires
the most careful, deliberate and decisive response by America and our
allies." Roger Morris, who was on the staff of the National Security Council
under presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, notes that President
George W Bush waged war on Iraq by asserting that Iraq posed a clear and
present danger to peace. Morris says that war was waged, even though the
danger was neither clear to Iraq's Arab neighbors nor to the rest of the
world; nor was it present in a one- to five- year time frame. By
unilaterally attacking Iraq, the president "erased long-recognized limits on
the right of any nation to attack another".
Furthermore, the president's writ went unchallenged on Capitol Hill, which
was as Morris said, "another sign that any internal democratic restraint on
the president's war-making was a dead letter". Morris noted that the
terrorist attacks of September 11 transformed the president's image from
being the butt of satire to that of a commanding leader in the mold of
Winston Churchill: "Mr Bush took on his own reconstruction with earnest
determination, even gusto, finding his yet undefined political destiny in an
expansively defined war of terror."
Norman Mailer, one of America's leading men of letters, says that the war
has gratified the need of the flag conservatives to avenge September 11. He
argues that it is of no consequence that Iraq was not the culprit for
September 11, and Bush proved that he would not let the lack of evidence get
in the way of implementing his grand vision: September 11 was evil; Saddam
is evil; all evil is connected. Ergo, Iraq. Bush has also promised the
American people a bonus from the war, which will begin to accrue once
democracy and free markets permeate the Arab world.
The casus belli
American scholars such as Yale's Paul Kennedy and Harvard's Joseph Nye have
argued that this long war, based on "hard" military power, is not going to
serve the vital interests of the US. So why is it being waged? At least four
reasons suggest themselves.
First, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a special interest
group in this country found itself marooned from reality. Its raison d'etre
had disappeared. President Dwight D Eisenhower was the first man to suggest
the existence of this special interest group, and he dubbed it the
military-industrial complex. Being a former military man, he knew better
than most the tenacity of this complex. As the Cold War came to a close with
the fall of the Berlin Wall, members of this complex were seriously
concerned that any "peace dividend" would drive them out of business. The
"evil empire" of the Soviet Union had provided an eminent rationale for
continued US military spending, and a new enemy had to be found quickly.
After a process of trial and error, this enemy appeared in the face of
Second, the state of Israel was gripped with insecurity flowing from its
30-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It retreated from Lebanon and
now faced an increasingly belligerent second intifada in the Occupied
Territories that had begun to intrude into Israel. Israel turned to its
patrons in Washington for assistance, using the ethnic ties of its leaders
to the leaders of the neoconservative movement in the Republican Party. In
the views of Mailer, Bush regards the protection of Israel as obligatory for
strategic reasons having to do with his re-election in 2004, but also
because of tactical military reasons. Israel's Mossad has the finest
intelligence service in the Middle East at a time when there was a paucity
of Arab spies in its American counterpart. Mailer argues that by threatening
to go to war against any Arab country that poses a threat to Israel, the
president can also satisfy the more serious polemical needs of a great many
neoconservatives in his administration who believe "Islam will yet be Hitler
redux to Israel".
Third, US dependence on imported oil, especially from the Middle East, has
continued to grow as Americans, having few incentives to invest in energy
efficiency, continue to buy increasingly larger and heavier sports utility
vehicles typified by the Hummer, a civilian variant of the army's Humvee.
The US accounts for a quarter of the world's oil consumption, and is forced
to import more than half of its requirements. Much of this comes from the
Persian Gulf, and this dependency is likely to grow over time as domestic
production dries up. The surest way for the US to sustain its overwhelming
dependence on oil is to control 67 percent of the world's proven oil
reserves that lie in the Gulf.
Fourth, and most importantly, a small group of people began to argue for the
virtual American takeover of the globe within a year after the collapse of
the Soviet Union. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the leading
exponent of this position was Wolfowitz, at the time a little-known defense
under-secretary for policy reporting to Cheney, then defense secretary.
Wolfowitz drafted a document that envisioned the US as "a Colossus astride
the world, imposing its will and keeping world peace through military and
economic power". Not in so many words, he called for the establishment of
Pax Americana. The proposal drew so much criticism that it was withdrawn
hastily and repudiated by then-president George H W Bush. The document was
re-issued in the fall of 2000 during the presidential election campaign. It
laid out in plain English a game plan and script for the Americanization of
the globe under an ambitious rubric, the Project for a New American Century
(PNAC). PNAC, which described US armed forces abroad as "the cavalry on the
new American frontier", became US foreign policy after September 11.
En masse regime change in the Middle East
Norman Podhoretz, the godfather of the neoconservatives, has called for en
masse regime change in the Middle East. Podhoretz's list of the "axis of
evil" goes beyond the three countries cited by Bush in his January 2002
State of the Union speech, and includes Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, the
Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Syria. He wants the US to
unilaterally overthrow these regimes in the Arab world and replace them with
democracies cast in the mold of US presidents Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow
But what the neoconservatives seek is not just a political transformation of
the Middle East. Their end game is to bring about "the long-overdue internal
reform and modernization of Islam". These ideologues are fundamentally
confrontational in nature. They recognize that American military
intervention in the Middle East will provoke terrorist attacks on Americans,
both at home and abroad. They welcome such attacks, as they would provide
the US with the pretext for even stronger military intervention.
Neoconservatives believe that the US will emerge triumphant in the end,
provided that it shows the will to fight the war against militant Islam to a
successful conclusion, and provided too, that it has "the stomach to impose
a new political culture on the defeated parties". All of these policies
suggest that the neoconservatives believe they have liberated the US from
the constraints of history in a post-September 11 world.
Contrarians in the true sense of the word, the neoconservatives pride
themselves on being politically incorrect. Rich Lowry, editor of National
Review, provides a particularly horrific example on the magazine's web site.
He argues that if terrorists from Muslim countries detonate a "dirty bomb"
in the US, the US should launch a nuclear attack on Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Lowry justifies this outrageous proposal by portraying it as a deterrent to
terrorist attacks, believing that Muslim militants would not want to risk
the destruction of their holiest shrine.
Professor Elliot Cohen is the most influential neoconservative in academe.
From his perch at Johns Hopkins, Cohen refers to the war against terrorism
by a chilling name: World War IV (citing the Cold War as the third world
war). His viewpoint is diametrically opposed to that of the distinguished
historian of war, Sir Michael Howard, who has cautioned that the fight
against terrorism is not even a war, let alone a world war. Cohen claims
that America is on the good side in this war, just like it has been in all
prior world wars, and the enemy is militant Islam, not some abstract concept
Cohen argues that the US should throw its weight behind pro-Western and
anticlerical forces in the Muslim world, beginning with the overthrow of the
theocratic state in Iran and its replacement by a "moderate or secular"
government. After September 11 he was one of the first neoconservatives to
call for an attack on Iraq, even though there was no credible evidence
linking Iraq with the attacks on the US or al-Qaeda.
A few months prior to the invasion of Iraq, the neoconservatives launched a
bipartisan Committee for the Liberation of Iraq with much fanfare. One of
its prominent members is the 81-year old George Schultz, a fellow at the
Hoover Institution at Stanford. Schultz served as secretary of state in the
Ronald Reagan administration and treasury secretary in the Richard Nixon
administration. Several key members of the Bush administration have worked
for him - including Cheney, Paul O'Neill (the former treasury secretary) and
Rumsfeld - while Secretary of State Colin Powell worked at the National
Security Council when Schultz was secretary of state. Schultz began to call
Saddam a menace to peace for months prior to the war, and forecasted that
the US would attack Iraq by the end of January. His words confirmed the
suspicion of many that the Bush administration merely wanted to use UN
Resolution 1441 as a cover to attack Iraq.
For Bush, overthrowing Saddam served a political, ideological and personal
agenda. Politically, Saddam was the best available substitute for the
unlocatable Osama bin Laden - and even if the US could not find Saddam, it
could at least depose him and say, "Saddam can no longer threaten us with
his weapons of mass destruction." Ideologically, this long war and the
doctrine of preemption express the militarism, unilateralism and fear of
international institutions that characterize much of the Republican power
base in the American south and the mountain states.
Conventional wisdom had argued that a US attack on Saddam would fuel popular
uprising against other Arab governments. But the neoconservatives turned
this argument on its head. Regime change in Baghdad could stimulate regime
change elsewhere in the region, and that would be all for the good. Victor
Davis Hanson, professor of classics at California State University, Fresno
and an advisor to Bush noted, "Baghdad for the Bush administration was never
the end. It was the beginning. And that's why it's such a controversial move
because it threatens every idea of stability, every idea of normality, every
idea of who's friendly and who's not in the entire post-war world. It's the
most revolutionary event, I think, in our times. At least, it rivals the
change in the map in eastern Europe."
The original imperialists
As we begin the 21st century, are we witnessing a re-enactment of the 20th
century? The ideas of World War I British imperialists such as Mark Sykes
and Leo Amery bear an uncanny resemblance to those of today's American
neoconservatives. As Yale historian Paul Kennedy puts it, they "wanted to
diminish French, Russian and German influence in the region. They sought
secure access to Middle East oil, and to sites for staging posts and air
bases. They also believed that British genius could reconcile Arab and
Jewish interests in Palestine. All this turned out to be a romantic
Baghdad experienced its first "liberation" in 1917. The liberator was
Lieutenant-General Sir Stanley Maude. The Mesopotamian provinces of Baghdad
and Basra were the first to be liberated by the British from the Ottoman
Empire. Palestine was next, followed by Syria and Lebanon. In a few years,
the Arabs were rioting in Palestine and rebelling in Iraq.
An uprising of more than 100,000 armed tribesmen against the British
occupation swept through Iraq in the summer of 1920. Air Commodore Arthur
Harris, reacting to the Palestinian revolt, declared, "The only thing the
Arab understands is the heavy hand, and sooner or later it will have to be
applied." The Royal Air Force was brought into action, and thwarted the
rebellion by killing nearly 9,000 Iraqis. But there was great concern in
Westminster, since the operation had cost more than the entire
British-funded Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1917-18.
Then-secretary of state for war and air Winston Churchill suggested the use
of chemical weapons against "recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment".
Specifically, he suggested the use of poisoned gas against uncivilized
tribes "to spread a lively terror".
All of this came at a bad time. The economy of the British Empire was
collapsing and the Crown's time, energy and resources were needed to revive
it. An exasperated Churchill told His Majesty's government that it was
spending millions for the privilege of sitting atop a volcano. Lamenting on
the British experience in Palestine, the "last lion" was to write, "At
first, the steps were wide and shallow, covered with a carpet, but in the
end the very stones crumbled under their feet."
Much has changed during the past century. A former colony across the
Atlantic has eclipsed Great Britain, and is the new home to an empire on
which the sun never sets. The armies of the new empire have invaded Baghdad,
with the armies of the old empire in tow in Basra, bearing this time the
gift of democracy.
The tactics of liberation have changed as the empires have changed places,
but the objectives remain the same. Iraq remains the linchpin to the Middle
East, and whoever controls Baghdad will control the Middle East. As the
French say, "Plus a change, plus c'est la m'me chose [the more things
change, the more they stay the same]."
In the same year that Baghdad fell to the imperial British army, Vladimir
Lenin published a trenchant piece, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of
Capitalism." In it, Lenin wrote, "I trust that this pamphlet will help the
reader to understand the fundamental economic question, that of the economic
essence of imperialism. For unless this is studied, it will be impossible to
understand and appraise modern war and modern politics."
This year, as Baghdad is liberated for a second time, Niall Ferguson, an
economist and historian at New York University and Oxford, has published a
book with a very different message. Noting that the British Empire was the
chief promoter of progressive thought around the globe for much of the 19th
and 20th centuries, Ferguson suggests that the world would do well to get
itself another essentially "good" empire to maintain order. The good empire
he's talking about is exactly what the flag conservatives want to establish
in the US.
Ferguson believes that the US should sustain networks of trade, aid,
investment and defense that will mimic the British world order. Rogue states
will be curbed, failed nations healed and brushfire wars smothered - by aid
and investment where possible, by arms where necessary.
It will, of course, be an imperialism that dare not speak its name. Some of
the imperialists in progressive non-governmental organizations will even
believe that they are anti-imperialist. And the logos under which they
operate will be derived from the UN or the International Monetary Fund
rather than from the US. But the underlying networks of cooperation that
sustain this new imperialism are likely to link the US with such
"Anglosphere" nations as Britain and Australia and perhaps, in due course,
India and South Africa, which share a similar heritage.
In a widely quoted speech that he gave recently at the University of
California, Los Angeles, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director
James Woolsey addressed Arab leaders directly, "We want you [to be] nervous.
We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this
country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those
whom you - the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family - most fear: We're on the
side of your own people." Woolsey noted proudly that the US was engaged in
fighting World War IV.
The import of his remarks will not be lost on Muslim and Arab leaders. A
fundamental change has occurred in the tactics of implementing regime
change. What was formerly accomplished through covert "black" operations is
now being accomplished through overt military operations. In the near
future, regime change may be expanded to include not just those unelected
despots with access to weapons of mass destruction, but any rulers who stand
in the way of the neoconservative agenda of global domination.
In words that echo the logic that was used for striking Baghdad, well-known
Islamaphobe Daniel Pipes issued a report in the year 2000 that warned that
Damascus was developing weapons of mass destruction and encouraged swift
preemption by the US. Pipes co-chaired the task force that produced this
report with Ziad Abdelnour, an investment banker who since 1997 has led an
organization called the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon. "If
there is to be decisive action, it will have to be sooner rather than
later," warned the document, which was signed by a task force of 31 members,
including several people who now hold senior foreign policy positions in the
Some experienced Washington journalists have spent time with the
neoconservatives and come back to report that growing Islamic militancy in
the Arab world is precisely what these people want. It justifies the US
extending the conflict to other nations until the entire region is
transformed. In a sense, this parallels the beliefs of the growing number of
evangelical Christians who see chaos in the Middle East as a prelude to the
coming rapture. It's hard to say which idea is more dangerous.
Will they succeed?
It is important to note that while the recent US victories in Afghanistan
and Iraq were apparently achieved at low cost, the real cost was
considerably higher. Firstly, they were achieved at low human cost to the
US, but considerably higher human cost to the Afghans and Iraqis, a fact
that has led to rising anti-Americanism throughout the globe. Secondly, they
were achieved at considerable economic cost to the American taxpayer, even
though the enemies were primitive Third World nations. In the recent war on
Saddam's regime, part or all of the eight of the 10 infantry divisions of
the army were either tied down by the war or were standing by to go to the
war zone. Five of the 12 aircraft carriers were actively engaged in
operations. All this military muscle had to be used to subdue a regime that
spent about $1.4 billion a year on defense, compared with the $400 billion a
year spent by the US.
George Magnus, chief economist at UBS Warburg, estimates that the
continuation of the ongoing war could see defense spending rise from 4
percent of GDP to as much as 9 percent in the coming years. This development
will not impress the financial markets, since it comes on the heels of the
largest budget and trade deficits in US history and continuing high rates of
unemployment. David Hale of Hale Advisors, an economics consultancy,
commented, "It is unclear if America is truly prepared to accept an imperial
role on a sustained basis." Despite the September 11 attacks, the sustained
threat to the US from terrorism is less obvious than the threat from the
USSR. David Landes, a Harvard economic historian, found that even in Great
Britain - where attachment to empire ran deep - economic necessity meant
that the rapid liquidation of imperial liabilities in India and the Middle
East after World War II met with little opposition. "Once the potential cost
becomes apparent, the willingness of the American public to pay for their
country's new security strategy will be tested to the limit."
Speaking of the neoconservative desire for changing the Arab world, Paul
Kennedy reminds Americans of the failed British experience and questions
whether the US fare any better. And lest anyone say that America is not
Britain, he cites America's poor track record of trying to transform the
societies of Central America, Cuba and the Philippines. "We took over the
latter two territories more than a century ago, yet Cuba's history has been
a shambles and the Philippines is now receiving fresh cohorts of US military
advisers. Why do we think we will do better in Syria or Iraq or Saudi
In the wake of the easy Iraqi conquest, the American generals who led the
war have touted their campaign as one of the most successful in military
history. For example, Marine Lieutenant-General Earl Hailston declared from
his headquarters in Bahrain, "We fought like we'd never fought before,"
citing the campaign highlighted the military's lethal technological
advantage and the ability of US forces to conduct operations seamlessly
across the military branches that historically had been riven with age-old
rivalries. Such statements lend credence to the desire of the flag
conservatives to have the American military serve as the cavalry along
Historian and political analyst Francis Fukuyama has noted that the US
conquest of Iraq is likely to mark the zenith of its perceived strength,
both in a military and political sense. He advises the US to exploit this
moment of strength not by thinking of moving against Syria, Iran or North
Korea, but by contracting its empire. He goes so far as to suggest the US
withdraw all of its military forces from Saudi Arabia, where their presence
has been exploited by bin Laden to pursue his campaign of terrorism. In a
similar vein, Seyom Brown of Brandeis University, Massachusetts, argues that
the world's only superpower needs to restrain itself. He comments, "Rather
than loosening the constraints against the resort to war, we ought to be
Even a nation as uniquely powerful as the US cannot remake the political
systems at the heart of the Islamic world. Last December, the Financial
Times editorialized that "dropping a big enough stone in the Iraqi pool
would not unleash a wave of democracy in the region." It is likely that the
Muslim world will view a string of US military attacks on Muslim countries
as the aggression of an oil-thirsty superpower on the Muslim world, not a
march to liberate people from tyranny. And, were democracy to arrive
miraculously in the Arab countries, it will result in the election of openly
Robert Baer, a former field officer of the CIA in the Middle East, notes
that bin Laden would be elected in a landslide in Saudi Arabia if a free and
fair election were held there tomorrow.
Policy makers in Washington, including those with an open mind in the
administration and the Congress, should seriously consider the dangers in
pursuing a hubris-laden Middle Eastern policy that has strategic myopia
written all over it.