Terminating the Bush Juggernaut


The Bush administration is presenting itself to the world as a juggernaut – a “massive inexorable force that advances irresistibly, crushing whatever is in its path.”   Bush’s National Security Strategy envisions its “war against terrorism” as “a global enterprise of uncertain duration.”  It says the US will act against “emerging threats before they are fully formed.”   The Bush administration envisions the coming decades as a continuation of recent US demands, threats, and wars.  It intends to continue the aggressive behavior already illustrated by war on Afghanistan and Iraq, armed intervention in the Philippines and Columbia, and threats against Syria, Iran, and North Korea.  The Bush administration and its successors are likely to continue this juggernaut until they are made to stop. 

As the Bush administration sought global support for its attack on Iraq, the New York Times wrote, “The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world opinion.”   But is that “tenacious new adversary” with whom President Bush appeared “eyeball to eyeball” really a superpower, or is it just a well-intentioned but ineffective protest against the inexorable advance of the Bush juggernaut? 

This piece explores how Bush’s “tenacious new adversary” can most effectively terminate his juggernaut.  It starts by looking at the Bush administration’s strengths and weaknesses and the ways it might be stopped or removed.  Then it looks at the various forces around the world and in the US that might want to contribute to doing so – the elements of the “other superpower.”  Finally it reviews how these forces might utilize the Bush team’s weaknesses to force an end to their policies.

No single force is well positioned to halt the Bush juggernaut.  An effective strategy will therefore require cooperation among different forces that have different views and interests.  Such “collective security” is necessary now, just as it has been in the past, to halt attempts at global domination.

If defined as a struggle of nation against nation – the US against Iraq or North Korea or France, for example – the Bush program is likely to prevail.  If defined as a struggle of Bush and his advisors against global values, norms, and laws backed by the world’s people, it can be defeated. 

The first purpose of this piece is to help frame a dialogue on strategy among the many people and forces worldwide that have an interest in or the capacity to contribute to halting the Bush juggernaut.  These proposals doubtless have flaws and can be improved upon by others.  In any case they will soon need revision to meet a rapidly changing situation.  This piece presents a strategic framework in relation to which such criticism and revision can proceed.    

Part of the power of the Bush juggernaut is the image of invincibility it claims and projects.  A second purpose of this piece, therefore, is to counter the hopelessness that image induces by showing there is at least one realistic strategy by which the “other superpower” can foil Bush’s intentions.  If other people can come up with a superior strategy, all the better.

The Bush juggernaut presents a clear and present danger to the people of the world and even to the health of our planet.  But it is far from the world’s only problem.  This piece seeks ways to terminate the Bush juggernaut that don’t just restore the status quo ante, but instead open the way for further progress toward global peace and justice.

Part I: Termination

From hegemony to dictation

No minority can long rule a majority by violence alone. Power depends on support of some, the acquiescence of many, and the division of opponents. When supporters are alienated, the masses opposed, and opponents unified, a ruling power’s days are numbered.

Throughout the 20th century, the US was the world’s dominant superpower. It possessed military might and frequently used it against isolated opponents.  But its power always depended on a system of alliances with other powers, worldwide respect for its system of government, and division among those who would challenge it. Without direct rule, US hegemony reached into every nook and cranny at every level from local and national governments to NATO, the World Bank, IMF, WTO, and UN.

The US’s power has been based on its ability to cultivate local elites around the world. It has provided them support; they, in turn, have kept their countries within the limits of what is acceptable to the US. The US has limited its demands where they would undermine local elites’ ability to control their own people. And it has wrapped its domination in a mantle of legality, democracy, and voluntary alliance.

This strategy was extended in the post-Cold War era by what came to be known as “globalization.” Instead of sending armies to plunder the world, the US worked with others to construct a rule-based global economy through such institutions as the WTO, IMF, and World Bank. The US was bound by the rules, but used its influence to ensure that the rules provided US businesses the lion’s share of the benefits.

At the core of the Bush team’s new policy is the replacement of such hegemony by a world order based on direct US dictation. Most of the current Bush administration foreign policy team were leaders of the 1991 Gulf War, and they interpreted its outcome as revealing the dangers of international interdependence. They concluded that the US must instead put down any independent challenger without depending on allies. It must dominate through direct exercise of power, rather than just controlling through biased norms and negotiated hegemony. 

When George W. Bush became President, this group filled most of the top foreign policy positions. They immediately initiated a massive military buildup and began to undermine or withdraw from existing arms control agreements.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush’s security advisor Condoleezza Rice asked senior staff of the National Security Council to think about “how do you capitalize on these opportunities” to change US doctrine and shape the world.  The answer can be seen in the radical shift in US policy enunciated in Bush’s National Security Strategy document. In place of self-determination and pluralism, it asserts that there is “a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.” In place of security through international cooperation, it asserts that the US “will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively” and by “convincing or compelling states” to accept their “responsibilities.” 

The answer can also be seen in the in the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq; the threats against Syria, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and even Belgium and France; the scornful undermining of the UN; and the contemptuous treatment of longtime US allies. As Noam Chomsky remarked, the US invasion of Iraq was a “test case” to try to establish “a norm for the use of military force,” namely, “preventive war.”  As former US President Bill Clinton put it, “Our paradigm now seems to be: Something terrible happened to us on 11 September and that gives us the right to interpret all future events in a way that everyone else in the world must agree with. And if they don’t, they can go straight to hell.” 

While this shift is most pyrotechnical in the security arena, there has been a parallel development in global economic policy as well. While the Bush administration gives lip service to free trade, it has in fact moved far toward unilateral protectionism, for example in protecting the US steel industry, providing huge subsidies in its farm legislation, and blocking the efforts of the rest of the world to allow poor countries access to cheap AIDS drugs. 

The Bush administration’s fundamental shift was eloquently portrayed by veteran US diplomat and Political Counselor to the American Embassy in Greece John Brady Kiesling in his letter of resignation. He warned that the US’s pursuit of war with Iraq was

“driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. . . . We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America’s ability to defend its interests.”

As the US moved to attack Iraq, R.C. Longworth, senior correspondent of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “This may be the week that the old world ends.” That world was “a world of alliances, of power wrapped in law and of an American leadership of like-minded nations that accepted this leadership because Washington treated them as allies, not as subjects.” 

Global self-defense

The US policy of dictation contradicts widely shared values, norms, and laws that protect self-determination and outlaw aggressive and preventive war. It also contradicts a wide range of national, elite, and state interests. Both aspects have provoked opposition.

At the local and national level, opposition is expressed in many kinds of movements and coalitions seeking to resist US dictation of policies and institutions. At the international level it is expressed in the emergence of “polycentrism” and a “coalition of the unwilling” composed of countries seeking to limit US domination. Globally it is represented by the emergence of a new global peace movement and the effort to impose democratic influence on the UN and other international institutions.

As the US threatened to attack Iraq, public opinion in nearly every country in the world joined to oppose it. In historically unprecedented protests, “the world” said “no” to war. States that had long been docilely subservient to the US refused to support or participate in the war — more than sixty of them speaking in opposition to the US at the UN. A coalition of major powers actively collaborated to try to head off a US attack. In contrast to previous US wars, the UN Security Council refused to support this one and attempted unsuccessfully to construct an alternative to head it off. In the US, an anti-war protest movement grew with unprecedented speed. A majority of Democratic members of Congress voted against a resolution supporting the war. Top institutional leaders from the military and foreign policy elites either opposed the war or distanced themselves from it.

The Bush team attacked Iraq despite the opposition of these forces. In the aftermath of the war, these forces have tended to fluctuate between acquiescence in US dictation and renewed resistance. All of these forces have something to contribute to limiting US aggression and domination if they can be firmed up and combined.

The Bush administration’s reckless threats, interventions, and wars show every sign of continuing. But it is difficult to predict what targets they will select, what strategies they will choose, and what the consequences will be. Therefore, strategy for effective containment of US aggression must be based, not on specific scenarios, but rather on an analysis of the players, their objectives, their strengths and weaknesses, and their interactions.

Strengths of the Bush juggernaut

No power in history has concentrated the power now possessed by the US regime. With only about 5 percent of the world’s people, it controls about 20 percent of the world’s production. Its military expenditures equal those of the next 25 countries put together. The Bush administration controls not only the executive branch of the US government, but through the Republican Party the legislative branch, and through past appointments much of the judicial branch.

Any country that sees what the US has done to Afghanistan and Iraq can reasonably fear what would happen should the Bush administration’s wrath turn on it. The Bush team is uninhibited in utilizing this fear to force countries to comply with its dictates.

The rest of the world depends on the US economy for trade, aid, technology, and finance. The promise of trade openings to Pakistan, the offer of loans to Turkey, or the threat of a boycott against France is a form of power that the Bush administration has not hesitated to apply. 

From the days of Ur and Babylon, nations and empires have been adept at mobilizing their populations for war by fear and hatred of adversaries. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington increased exponentially the vulnerability of the US people to such manipulation. The Bush administration has repeatedly succeeded in utilizing that fear and hatred to win public support for its policies.

Even when it was making a travesty of international law, the United Nations, and other embodiments of global norms, the Bush administration has justified its actions through such globally legitimate objectives as fighting terrorism, eliminating weapons of mass destruction, protecting human rights, liberating peoples from tyranny, and punishing war crimes. It portrayed the conquest and occupation of Iraq as bringing freedom, democracy, and human rights to the Iraqi people. This hijacking of global norms has shielded US citizens from balanced moral evaluation of what is done in their name and provided cover for foreign apologists like Tony Blair. 

The Bush administration has constructed a powerful political base for its policies. Supporters include the Christian Right, a major section of the Jewish community, much of business, military-oriented companies, communities, and individuals, and most higher-income people as well as other traditional Republican constituencies. The direct beneficiaries of Bush’s policies, such as military, oil, and international construction companies, provide huge contributions to his electoral coffers. Major media companies, many of which share Bush’s political views and many of which have received or hope for favors from Federal media policy, have provided extraordinary support to the Bush team’s manipulation of the public. 

Vulnerabilities of the Bush juggernaut

The Bush team suffers both from fundamental faults in its vision and from poor adaptation to the realities of the world it seeks to dominate. Utilizing these is the key to disabling its unprecedented might.

The basic contradiction in Bush’s policy is that, under contemporary conditions, 5 percent of the world’s people can’t rule the other 95 percent by dictation – especially when the government of that 5 percent itself represents only the interests of 5 percent of its own people. Bush’s attempt to revive the Age of Empire would be as comical as Don Quixote’s effort to revive the Age of Chivalry were he not so much more heavily armed than the Don.

The Bush administration’s war on Iraq comes in the context of a crisis of world order. Both the state system and the economic system are widely perceived to be drifting toward global chaos and self-destruction. The world faces “problems of weapons of mass destruction, of the degradation of our common environment, of contagious disease and chronic starvation, of human rights and human wrongs, of mass illiteracy and massive displacement. These are problems that no one country, however powerful, can solve on its own, and which are yet the shared responsibility of humankind.”  Least of all can these problems be solved by the domination of one country whose government is bent on denying the problems and blocking the solutions.
These problems and the need for “shared responsibility” and cooperative solutions are widely recognized around the world and even in the US. As a result there is broad support for multilateral solutions and virtually no support for imperial solutions. “Much of the world, including the other great powers, has entered a postnational understanding of global governance on questions of world order. France, Germany, Russia, China and other world powers are now committed to international rules forbidding the unilateral use of force and to a form of consensual global governance.” 

There is also strong support for global norms that limit the freedom of action of governments. This includes both their ability to oppress their own people and their ability to dominate and attack others. This was manifested in the popular movement against US attack on Iraq: In contrast to the Vietnam war, the movement offered little political support for the government the US opposed, but rather aimed to implement global norms limiting US freedom to attack. By violating so many international norms so severely, the Bush administration is repeatedly provoking global opposition. The Bush administration’s biggest deficit is in the legitimacy of its actions.

The Bush juggernaut is based on a highly vulnerable economy. The US currently must borrow more than $550 billion a year from abroad to pay for imports  The Bush tax cuts and military spending will increase the need for borrowing still further. As a historian of British imperialism recently wrote, “President Bush’s vision of a world recast by military force to suit American tastes has a piquant corollary: the military effort involved will be (unwittingly) financed by the Europeans . . . and the Japanese. Does that not give them just a little leverage over American policy, on the principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune?”  This American debt crisis is aggravated because it comes in the context of a longstanding global debt crisis that has never been resolved.

The policies enunciated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld represent the essence of “imperial overstretch.” With few mercenaries, few allies, and no draft, the US is critically short of military manpower. The Afghan and Iraq wars depended on the Reserves, which are already overextended. The US military was severely strained in Iraq by the limits of transport, bases, and permission to use territory and airspace to launch attacks. The US lacks the cadre of colonial administrators, so important for previous imperialisms, who are willing to make their careers in imperial outposts.

The Bush policy undermines the bases of US hegemony abroad, violating the first rule of politics: don’t destroy your own base. Denial of the need for compromise with subordinates undermines support and breeds resentment in both elites and peoples. This is particularly true when the Bush administration makes demands that put local elites’ political control at risk, as they have done repeatedly, notably in the Arab world. Bush has scraped off the veneer of consent, revealing the bribery and bullying that always underlay US hegemony.

Bush also violated the second rule of politics: don’t unify your opponents against you. Bush policies have propelled a convergence of opposing forces to develop with surpassing speed and breadth. It includes both people outraged at the violation of global norms and governments and elites who feel Bush policies threaten their interests or even their security. The Bush administration managed to do in a few months what the Soviet Union and the Left was unable to do over several generations: split Western Europe from the US, divide NATO, and unify a global alliance of peoples and states against the US.

While domestic support for US global hegemony is fairly wide, especially among elites, support for the Bush policy of unilateral dictation is not. As Michael Lind recently wrote, US foreign policy is being made by “a small clique that is unrepresentative of either the US population or the mainstream foreign policy establishment.”  While some oil, military, construction, and other corporations hope to benefit from this policy, it was promoted by a small group of neoconservative ideologues, not by the mainstream of the US business community or the Republican Party.

The Bush administration’s foreign policy is linked to a domestic policy that is undermining the bases of consent at home. Its systematic attacks on established rights and protections for women, minorities, and labor could lead to its political isolation. Its incursions against Constitutional human rights protections won support during the terrorism panic, but may hurt with conservative as well as liberal sectors in the long run. Its massive tax cut and the resulting deficits have little support either in the business community or in the population at large. The New York Times recently described its domestic agenda as “a disaster, a national train wreck.”  

The mechanics of termination

There are several ways the Bush policy of dictation and aggression might come to an end.

Shifts within the Bush administration itself, while unlikely, are just possible. For pragmatic and political reasons, the Bush administration might adopt a policy of “phony war,” continuing its aggressive rhetoric but avoiding actual conflict. Power shifts within the Administration might increase the authority of Colin Powell relative to the neoconservatives.  An emergency, such as an economic, medical, or environmental catastrophe, might distract from international objectives. Without more profound power shifts, however, such events are more likely to evoke tactical pauses than genuine policy reorientations.

“Regime change” — major power shifts through the political process — are more likely. Electoral repudiation of Bush would probably lead to policy change unless the Democratic candidate was an advocate of similar policies, like Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Election of Bush with a Democratic Congress would add some constraints to Bush’s policy and lead to a running political battle over it. Electoral defeat may terminate the Bush dictation policy but is likely to leave longstanding US hegemonic objectives in place. The Bush team is likely to remain in the wings trying to sabotage any alternative policy and preparing to resume power in the next election. The extent of change is likely to depend not just on who wins an election but on other shifts in the balance of political forces as well.

Extra-constitutional action by elites has had profound effects on US history. This frequently takes the form of leaking damaging information; prime examples include Daniel Elsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers and Deep Throat’s leaking of the Watergate story. Many leaks from military and intelligence sources have already embarrassed the Bush inner circle; more serious revelations could do serious damage. Other types of elite extraconstitutional action, such as politically motivated capital shifts and “investment strikes” seem unlikely. 

Extra-constitutional popular interventions have also played a role in changing US policy. The most notable instance was opposition to US war in Vietnam, including mass nonviolent confrontations and such forms of violence as bombings and the “fragging” of military officers by their subordinates. Fear of growing social disruption and demoralization of the military were among the factors that led to elite disaffection from the war. Peace advocates need to be wary of the proverbial tendency of generals to fight the last war, however. It took years of massive draft calls, economic disruption, and body bags to raise extra-constitutional action to a pitch that had an impact on events. In the absence of an opponent capable of the kind of military resistance put up by the Vietnamese. a repetition of this scenario seems unlikely. Extra-constitutional measures may come to be regarded as more legitimate to the extent that other channels for dissent are suppressed. Targeted civil disobedience may play a role in mobilizing opposition in connection with other means.

Sooner or later, the Bush policies will almost certainly be terminated by the catastrophic effects of their own failures and unintended consequences. The damage that will be done in the meantime, however, is incalculable, and conditions after their defeat may ensure still further disaster. A reasonable goal is to terminate Bush policies by deliberate action before they would die a natural death and to do so in a way that lays the groundwork for further progress toward global peace and justice.

These scenarios are all based on events that would result from underlying power shifts. We turn now to who might have the power to terminate the Bush juggernaut and how they might use it.

Part II: The terminators

A wide range of forces have the interest and/or the capacity to contribute to terminating the Bush juggernaut. There is no way to know for sure what forces will be sufficient. But the deed will surely be done more quickly and effectively if these forces work together.

Global public opinion

The US plan to attack Iraq was opposed by the public in almost every country in the world.  A massive January, 2003 poll in 30 European countries found the citizens of 29 opposed to a US invasion of Iraq without UN backing, most by dramatic margins.  That included countries like Great Britain and Italy whose governments supported the war. Public opinion in the US was more divided, but a majority opposed war on Iraq without UN approval until the US actually launched its attack. After the start of the war, opinion in the US and Britain swung in support, but there is little evidence that the rest of the world changed its mind.

Public opinion appears to have generally been grounded in global norms: an unprovoked US attack on Iraq without UN approval was seen as aggressive war violating international law. The US war appears to be perceived as part of a pattern of threat and aggression on the part of the Bush administration. The US claim to a right to such action received little echo. There appears to have been strong support for international efforts to use the UN to prevent such action and to provide an alternative. Global public opinion played an important role in pressuring governments to oppose the second UN Security Council resolution the US hoped would legitimate its attack.

While global public opinion will no doubt continue to oppose additional US acts of aggression and dictation, such acts will not always provide such a clear focus as the threats to attack Iraq. Nor will it always be self-evident how public opinion can be translated into an impact on events. But those attempting to resist US dictation and aggression can legitimately claim that the overwhelming majority of the world’s people support them. And the people of the world will continue to provide supportive forces that can be mobilized for specific campaigns.   

The new global peace movement

When the US attacked Afghanistan, there was barely a ripple of protest anywhere in the world outside narrow circles of leftwing anti-imperialists and those sympathetic to the Taliban. As the US began its buildup for war against Iraq, opposition grew in half-a-year from a ripple to the largest global wave of protest in history.

This was possible largely because of the convergence of social movements that has occurred over the past decade to oppose corporate-led globalization. Variously known as the “anti-globalization” movement, the “global justice” movement, and “globalization from below,” this “movement of movements” provided a base from which the war could be challenged in a globally coordinated way.

The leap from a primarily economic-oriented movement to one challenging military aggression was impressively graceful. It helped that the Bush administration’s program combined economic and geopolitical dictation. The European Social Forum, a gathering of those opposed to corporate-led globalization, led nearly a million people in a November, 2002 march protesting the threat of war against Iraq. The annual World Social Forum, a similar global gathering held in January, 2003 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, featured huge rallies against the impending US war on Iraq. The international links created by the global justice movement became channels through which the anti-war campaign quickly spread, and in scores of countries it provided much of the organizing base for the huge demonstrations of February and March, 2003.

This easy assimilation of the “war issue” was facilitated by the fact that what the media calls the “anti-globalization movement” is itself a convergence of environmental, labor, farm, women’s, and many other kinds of movements. The anti-war movement, and issue, have simply become one more element of the convergence.

Many mass constituencies and organizations also participated in the big demonstrations and related campaigns. In many countries, participation by both Christian and Islamic elements was large. So was labor movement participation. In the US, where the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent war on Afghanistan had somewhat divided the labor movement from its anti-globalization allies, an extensive Labor Against the War organization quickly emerged and even the head of the AFL-CIO was critical of an attack on Iraq without UN approval.

This movement was driven first of all by a shared abhorrence of US war plans. The movement was often largest in countries whose national leaders appeared to be supporting and aiding the US. Opposition was almost never justified by support of Saddam Hussein’s regime; instead it was grounded in the defense of international law and norms and of United Nations authority over the use of military force.  While the so-called anti-globalization movement has often (and often falsely) been criticized as inward-looking or nationalist, this movement was unquestionably internationalist.  

The mobilization emerged from “free-wheeling amorphous groups, rather than top-down hierarchical ones” with “no single identifiable leader and no central headquarters.”  It depended on the new forms of electronic communication and independent media which allow millions of people around the globe to communicate, share understandings, and plan. Indeed, the global sharing of a demonstration date and the brilliant title “The World Says No to War” were enough to ensure a historic impact.

It was relatively easy to organize and unite around “No war on Iraq.” But in the post-war period the movement can only survive and grow if it can move on from stopping the Iraq war to the broader and longer-term goal of resisting and ultimately terminating the Bush team’s entire program.

The war on Iraq was just part of a bigger problem: the Bush administration’s policy of dictation, threat, and aggression. That policy is generating an endless stream of outrages that can provide targets for movement action, and plenty of positive global initiatives are available for support as well. Just to take a few examples from mid-April, 2003: global campaigns might have been appropriate in support of the Syrian proposal for a WMD-free Middle East; the return of UN inspectors to Iraq; the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq or their placement under UN command; defense of France and of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan against US attacks; and the elimination of US foreign military bases.  Such campaigns, however, require the ability to act quickly and proactively.  

The movement needs to develop its ability to influence governments, since they provide one of the primary levers for ultimately changing US policy.  Such influence requires different modes of action in different countries, ranging from lobbying to mass action and from electoral participation to revolution. It also requires a global strategy and program of objectives that efforts in individual countries can pursue. Isolated acts of resistance in one or another country are likely only to provoke devastating US retaliation; the movement must aim to bring about concerted action by many countries that will stop Bush’s dictation and aggression in their tracks.

Within such a broad movement political disagreements are inevitable. While virtually no war opponents supported Saddam Hussein’s regime, they differed on whether and how much to criticize it. There has been a lively debate among opponents of US threats against Cuba over the appropriate attitude toward arrests and executions of dissidents and highjackers. While there is likely to be general movement opposition to US support for Israeli violence, disagreement can be expected regarding Palestinian suicide bombing. There is also likely to be disagreement about alliances, for example with national elites and with those leaders who oppose Bush’s but not other forms of imperialism. While most of the movement has expressed strong support for the principles underlying the United Nations, and has campaigned for governments to support them, a significant minority views the UN as itself little more than an agent of imperialism, something to be disempowered rather than reformed. Some of those in India and Pakistan who gladly participate in demonstrations against Bush policies may not see eye to eye about the policies of their own countries.

Practical cooperation will require “agreeing to disagree” and seeking only the level of agreement that is realistically feasible. The movement against corporate-led globalization has ample experience forging this kind of cooperation.  

For many purposes the present decentralized structure of the movement is excellent, but it has revealed gaps that need to be filled. Many opportunities for globally-coordinated action have occurred just since the end of the Iraq war that have not been utilized because there is no infrastructure through which movements in different countries and sectors can learn of them, focus on them, and decide to act on them in concert.

To accomplish its tasks, the movement does not need a centralized decision making authority, but it does need “linking organizations” that help with certain key tasks. It needs to monitor US activities and disseminate information about them rapidly – some sort of “USA Watch.”  It needs to coordinate rapid global responses to both outrages and opportunities. It needs to maintain a proactive dialogue on strategy and objectives to guide day-to-day activities. 


Since the end of the Cold War, the US has exercised hegemony over most of the world’s governments. It persuaded most of them to support the first Gulf war and the attack on Afghanistan. But the Bush administration found a very different result when it went to attack Iraq.  More than 60 countries spoke against the impending US attack in the September, 2002 Security Council debate on Iraq.  Despite bullying and bribing on a massive scale, the Bush Administration was unable in February, 2003 to win Security Council support for its war against Iraq.  In the end, only Britain and Australia provided significant numbers of troops for the attack.

In scores of countries around the world the Iraq war generated a struggle between those willing to be tools of American influence and those resisting it. Important elections in Germany, South Korea, and elsewhere turned on the question of US military aggressiveness. In several cases, notably Turkey and South Korea, street confrontations and political struggles in parliament forced governments to reverse course on support for the war. Many countries refused to participate in the war effort, or severely limited their contribution, despite immense US pressure.  Canada refused to participate in the war despite the US ambassador’s veiled threat that for the US “security trumps trade.”  Belgium refused to allow Iraq-war traffic to cross its territory. Such resistance reflects the breakdown of hegemony.

This struggle has continued in the wake of the war. Most governments are undecided about how much to resist American power and commands. Each country is now an arena. The outcome is in most cases an open question.

Governments’ motivations for opposing the US are mixed. In most cases public opinion, organized popular pressure, and fear of popular upheaval are important factors. States fear loss of sovereignty to US domination; elites fear the sacrifice of their own interests to US interests. For example, in China, according to one expert, “Until last year, Beijing believed a confrontation with the U.S. could be delayed” and China could concentrate almost exclusively on economic development. But now many political cadres and think-tank members believe Beijing should adopt a more proactive, aggressive stance to thwart perceived American aggression.  Many states accept the basic proposition that international relations should be conducted under international law and global norms, even if they sometimes violate those laws and norms themselves.

Some countries, notably France, Germany, Belgium, and Russia, have made it clear since the Iraq war that they consider countering US dictation and aggression a policy objective. Their motives are undoubtedly mixed, including desire for national prestige, protection of specific national and elite interests, and response to popular pressure. Their own record of commitment to international norms is not unmixed: Russia, for example, is a major human rights violator in Chechnya and the same French government that is standing up to the Bush administration in the name of international law has conducted interventions in Africa whose international legality is highly suspect.

Such countries remain under pressure to return to the US fold: some French business leaders are openly campaigning against Chirac’s policies and German opposition parties if elected would most likely bring Germany back into line. Some governments might return to the US orbit in exchange for merely cosmetic concessions. But at present the Bush Administration wishes to punish more than to forgive, making such a reconciliation difficult.

The global peace movement can make every government an arena of struggle over resistance to US dictation. People can tell their governments they want them to resist US demands and selectively withdraw from cooperation with the US. The can also demand that their governments actively cooperate with other countries to contain US power – as discussed in the next section.

The Bush administration has systematically opposed resistance to its dictation. An attempt to override democracy and public opinion in countries around the world was manifested in the US campaign for Security Council endorsement of the war. In countries like Spain, Britain, Italy, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Japan, where the overwhelming majority of the population opposed the war but national governments and elites were still in bed with the US, the struggle against the war and US domination became at the same time a struggle for democratic self-government.

This continues to be the case after the war. For example, the Bush administration held a special White House meeting on what to do about France, after which officials publicly threatened “consequences” if France continued to oppose US plans for post-war Iraq. It similarly threatened diplomatic consequences against Belgium if it allowed war crimes charges to be brought in its courts against General Tommy Franks. In such cases, the question is whether French and Belgian policy will be determined by the French and Belgians or by the US.

In many cases, national governments have caved in to US pressure. For example, many countries were pressured to tone down their criticisms of US Iraq policy. The majority of countries in the Non-Aligned Movement were successfully “persuaded” not to support action against the Iraq war in the UN General Assembly.

But such pressures can be used to make the issue of peace an issue of democracy and self-determination. Opposition to the Bush program can be used everywhere as a basis for a struggle for democratization. In some cases – as happened in Turkey on the eve of the Iraq war — governments can be made more afraid of their own people than they are of the Americans. If they are not, that in itself provides a strong case for regime change to democracy and self-government. Democratic pressures can erode Bush’s “coalition of the willing.”

Nowhere is this more important than in the Middle East. Here a string of autocratic regimes oppress their own people and deny their human rights with political support, funding, and military assistance from the US; at the same time they cooperate with US policies despite the overwhelming opposition of their own people. In such a setting, the fight for democracy and human rights can go hand in hand with the fight against US domination. A fight for democratization without US domination would be supported by the vast majority of the population of most Middle Eastern countries, while at the same time isolating and providing an alternative to those who wish to replace existing authoritarian regimes with new nationalis

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