"What Are They Really Up To?"
February 17, 2003
The government of the United States is, sad to say, in the hands of blinkered ideologues. And that is putting it kindly. A less generous interpretation is that a small group of people are determined to serve their own narrow interests, oblivious to the effect their actions may have on either their own nation, or the six billion people with whom they share the globe.
President George Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and presidential adviser Karl Rove have come up with a 'policy' toward Iraq based on a triumvirate of crass motives: oil, sleight-of-hand, re-election.
Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush are fixated on oil. After all, both of them, along with Ms. Rice and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, had a background in the American petroleum industry before they reached the inner sanctum of the White House. Their goal is so simple, so patent, that they think it is necessary to drum up a medley of terrorism and insecurity to deflect the American nation's attention from that goal. Who, after all,will send their sons off to fight and possibly die just to make sure US corporations gain beneficial contracts for black gold?
Within the territorial borders of Iraq lies the second largest petroleum reserve in the world. Saddam Hussein may have done many things wrong, but in the eyes of President Bush one of his very greatest errors was that he signed contracts with the Russians, the French and the Italians to allow them to extract that petroleum from beneath Iraqi soil. The Americans and the British, should Saddam remain in power, will see huge profits made - but by other nations, and more particularly by corporations other than the ones headed by the men with whom the president plays golf when he is in Texas.
"Regime change," that neutered term which means deposing Saddam Hussein, also means contract abrogation and renegotiation. With an American-installed government in Baghdad, can anyone seriously believe that the franchise to pump and ship Iraqi oil will go to anyone but American companies - and perhaps a handful of British corporations as well, as payment to Prime Minister Blair for his constant support?
Nor is Iraqi oil the only commodity at stake in this resource-rich country. In addition to its central location in the middle of the richest oil-producing region in the world, Iraq controls the water which is vital to the future development of the entire Middle East. The Tigris and the Euphrates provide a flow of water essential to the nations of the Arabian peninsula and south-west Asia. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, even Israel, Yemen, Oman and Iran all are in need of what these mighty rivers supply. Long term, water is more important to the region than even oil.
He who controls Iraq, controls the fate of the Middle East.
Nor is the Middle East all that is in play. There are important resources all over the world. Mr. Rumsfeld and Ms. Rice want to demonstrate that American hegemony is backed by warships: They want no nation in the world to forget that gunship diplomacy trumps all other initiatives, and that the United States has both gunships and - importantly - no hesitation in using them.
Still, that demonstration could come later rather than sooner, or in another place rather than Iraq. Why Iraq, why now?
Enter Mr.Rove, the president's
chief domestic political adviser. He knows that the American economy, mired
in a state so moribund as to raise rumors that a domestic economic disaster
is possible, is creating great unease in the American populace. With job
losses mounting and stock prices plunging, with social services eroding
and pensions evaporating, Americans are not far from translating their
economic discontent into discontent with their president. What better way
to deflect attention from domestic failure, Mr. Rove has reasoned, than
to turn everyone's eyes to a place elsewhere? Thus, a second reason for
taking on Iraq is that an American invasion will deflect attention from
problems at home.
When America goes to war, each day's news will be dominated by dispatches from the front. Plumes of smoke rising from a bombing sortie make compelling television. Images of the destruction wrought by American military might should squeeze news of factory shut-downs and mass layoffs off the television screens.
With American tanks, flags waving from their turrets, emblazoning the front page of every newspaper, news of the sinking dollar and reports of budget crises in the fifty states will be relegated to the inner pages. If there is room for such stories at all, amidst the color photos and first-person reports and self-congratulatory proclamations of victory.
Mr. Rove has an additional political motive for urging war with Iraq on the president. He knows that there is nothing like a victory to boost mightily Mr. Bush's declining popularity. The American president's popularity has fallen from over 90 per cent in the months following September 11, to just over or under - depending on the poll - 60 per cent today; although the figures are still quite high, there is a clear downward trend, as more and more Americans express doubts about Mr. Bush's leadership. (Almost two-thirds of Americans will support military action against Iraq only if the United Nations and the world community approve such action: in this regard; Americans are far more diplomatic, far less unilateral, than their President.)
Mr. Rove, a brilliant if amoral tactician, foresees that wrapping the president in the American flag, surrounding him with a mantle of aggressive and successful patriotism, is highly likely to generate a wave of approval that will carry Mr. Bush - despite a failing economy - to victory when he runs for a second term as president. Mr. Rove remembers what Prime Minister Thatcher's small war in the Falklands did to her popularity; he can well imagine what smiling US soldiers planting American flags all over Baghdad will do for Mr. Bush.
These are the primary considerations motivating American policy on Iraq. They are driving the American nation inexorably, implacably, toward launching a military offensive against Saddam Hussein in the next few weeks. Yet when all is considered, these considerations are extraordinarily petty: future profits from oil, short-term political misdirection, partisan domestic political advantage.
The smallness of the thinking in official Washington is evident when these goals are measured against the risks of war with Iraq. It is easy to enumerate those risks; the sheer fact that President Bush and his advisers pay them no heed, never even mentioning them, indicates how out of touch with reality are the policy-makers and strategists in the Bush administration.
The risks? That hundreds of thousands of lives may be lost in a military campaign waged primarily from the air, in an American barrage of bombs and hail of missiles. That the entire Middle East will be destabilized and plunged into war - easy to imagine when one considers that Mr. Hussein may well respond to the first American attacks by launching missile strikes on Israel, in a gamble to win support for his nation from all over the region.
That a defensive initiative by the Iraqi Army may involve the use of either chemical or biological weapons, a possibility the United States has recently said might be met with a nuclear response. That the American display of brute power may ignite a massive increase in terrorism in the developed nations, and indeed throughout the world.
It should be acknowledged that there is one large consideration that may be motivating America policy as well, though it too derives from narrow mindedness despite the astonishing breadth of its ambition. In the post-modern world, in the era of a single superpower, a new imperial hegemony must be proclaimed, asserted, imposed. It is quite possible that the men and women in Washington see themselves as owners as well as rulers of the globe, and that military action against Iraq is their way of saying, "We own the world.
We will do what we want with it. "Either possibility - the petty motives, the grandiose overreaching - is frightening. Quite likely, official Washington is driven by both. Most Americans today are frightened of what their government is about to do. They understand, as does much of the world, that Mr. Bush lacks the vision, and the sage advisers, that would seem a prerequisite for leadership of the planet's most powerful nation.
Huck Gutman is a columnist for The Statesman in Kolkata, India and writes regularly for Dawn in Karachi, Pakistan. He teaches at the University of Vermont.