America Under Threat

What is at stake in the Middle East?

Everyone speaks about the Iraqi oil and the Washington’s urge towards the world leadership. But the US had a need in oil before, and as for the American super-power domination in the world, this war casts doubt on it, wrecking the system of the institutions which served the US interests during 1990-s: UN, NATO, Euro-Atlantic partnership. And even the current European Union split hardly serves Washington interests. Above all problems with the US and Europe, it was the EU to ensure American political success in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Ironically, it seems that G.W. Bush is somewhat right when he tells us that the war is about democracy. Not about democracy in Iraq, however.

When Americans entered Baghdad, U.S. forces found no serious defensive installations in place, and no evidence of preparations for an extended conflict. The bridges and buildings were not mined. No permanent weapon emplacements were discovered. Television reports showed a couple of hundred people pulling down a statue of Hussein on a half-empty square in the city center. To call them “exultant crowds” would have required a very active imagination.

While the victors patrolled the city in disbelief, Baghdad’s residents stayed put in their homes. The streets belonged to looters — the third force in this conflict, and its only real winner. At the same time, tens of thousands of Republican Guards simply disappeared along with the regular army, the security services and civil servants. Thousands of foreign volunteers also vanished somehow, though you’d have thought they might find it hard to hide in a strange city. Hundreds of tanks and other vehicles seemed to sink into the sand. Had they really been destroyed or abandoned, the Baghdad suburbs would have been littered with mangled machinery and reporters would have documented the fact. Iraqi troops also disappeared from Basra, though it was surrounded by British forces. Worst of all, the Iraqi leadership seemed to evaporate. The allies couldn’t catch any of them, even “Chemical Ali,” who was reported to be in the south of Iraq, and then suddenly turned up in the north.

Military analysts have had trouble making sense of the conflict because it is proceeding by a different set of rules –those of politics and the information war. Had Hussein’s regime collapsed on its own, we would have seen the process of disintegration unfold over a number of days or even weeks. The disappearance of Iraq’s entire military and political establishment is evidence of the opposite.

The ruling elite is in full control of the situation, and is acting according to plan. What does it hope to achieve? Optimists in the Russian military assumed that Hussein was luring the enemy into the capital, as Prince Mikhail Kutuzov did before driving Napoleon’s army from Russia in 1812. More cynical commentators suggested that the coalition had simply struck a deal with the Iraqis. When they entered Basra, British troops found total chaos, possibly instigated in part by Hussein’s secret police. At least it seems very strange that documents of Iraqi security agencies were always destroyed by looters. The same was repeated in Baghdad. Following several weeks of anarchy, it will become clear that Iraq cannot be governed without the “proven personnel” of the old regime. At that point, the Republican Guard and its generals will emerge once more from their homes, now in league with the Americans. Hussein and his sons, if they are still alive, will continue to call the shots from behind the scenes.

We will soon know how closely this prediction corresponds to reality. One thing is already clear, however: The events in Iraq are not over; they’re just getting started. In forcing Hussein’s regime out of Baghdad, the allies have rendered Iraq ungovernable. The democratic alternative for Iraq that they talk about at press conferences was never more than propaganda. As a result, Washington and London don’t have much of a choice about how to proceed. They can run the country as an occupying regime, risking increasing guerrilla activity in the cities, civil war and resistance from Hussein’s clan, which has far from lost its political and military capabilities. Or they can make a deal with Hussein’s people.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon was quoted as saying on Sunday that Baath party members loyal to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would be allowed to take part in the reconstruction of the country. These are nice guys who were only members of the party because they had no choice, he told the Observer newspaper. Iraq will get politically more the same, but this time under American protectorate. Bush definitely isn’t there to liberate the Iraqis. The real problem is not Iraqi freedom but the American one. America suffers the hardest economic crisis in decades.

And the power in Washington is in the hands of the most rightist administration since the beginning of the ÕÕ century. Some observers even doubt that Bush team can be called conservatives and think that the right-wing radicals seized the power in the US. These people have their own agenda, which is as dangerous for the America as for the Middle East.

Since G.W. Bush came to power, we are witnessing the most dramatic attack on American democracy ever since the Revolution. We, outside the US are astonished, shocked, angry and, honestly, somewhat scared.

First G.W. Bush took over the White House as a result of the dubious elections: two provincial districts in Florida went over the results of all-national voting. Then, after the suspicious act of terror on 9-11, we see systematic limitations of civil rights and liberties and the establishment of the new homeland security office. Today this organization keeps a low profile but under favorable circumstances it may become something like the US KGB. The New York magazine The Nation editor-in-chief, Katrina vanden Heuvel says that it is «a gradual coup d’etat».

First they began with the elections in Florida, then introduced series of «anti-terror» measures, then attacked Iraq without UN sanction. They also violated 100-year American tradition to use weapons only after request, or as a result of attack when American citizens were hurt. Bush and his administration deny that they have given up the traditional rules (even if it’s just a formality). But the new times are coming, they say, the US role in the world has changed, and now there are new rules. It is exactly what frightens millions of Americans at the same time. Different people write that America repeats the Rome way, from the Republic to the Empire. With all the consequences for the democracy that follows it.

It’s not a surprise, that Americans from the big cities and of democratic traditions filled the streets, prancing; that Hollywood, almost recently having mechanically produced patriotic action movies, rebelled; that “Silicon valley” rose against. They clearly understand that not only Iraq’s future is in question but so is their own.

Every comparison is relative. And nevertheless, it’s impossible not to notice that 9-11 and the present attack on Baghdad plays the same role in the modern American history as the blown-up houses and the Chechen War II in Russian history. But there is one fundamental difference.

Putin didn’t want the victory as such. It was enough for him to raise nationalist feelings and thus get into Kremlin. Russian civil society anyway was in comatose, and there were no troubles with it. US are quite different matter. The resistance proved to be rather serious and it continues to grow. That’s why Bush needs a victory and only a victory. Thus the devastation of Iraq can become the beginning of an end to the American civil society. Neoliberal admirers of “American model” outside the US dismiss all these warnings reminding us that, unlike Saddam Hussein, G.W. Bush was elected legally, democratically and in full accord with the Constitution. So was Julius Caesar in Ancient Rome. And so was Hitler in Weimar Germany.

Bush can win. But if he plays too long, the political catastrophe is unavoidable. And then changes in the USA and in the whole world would follow the scenario which if antithetic to the Washington Julius Caesar followers.

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