We are living in a very dangerous period in which a predatory superpower has embarked on a series of aggressive wars in rapid succession—three on two different continents during the past decade alone. Not only have these wars violated the UN Charter, and constituted what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson declared at Nuremberg to be “the supreme international crime;” not only has it gotten away with its wars, despite their increasingly destructive and murderous nature; but in waging them, the United States has been able to enlist leaders of the “international community” and United Nations in support of its assaults on distant lands. As the world’s preeminent multilateral organization, the central purpose of which was purportedly to save humankind from the scourge of war, and to ensure that armed force not be used except for the common defense, we find the UN’s role here to be troubling indeed.
This superpower’s wars are opposed by a majority of the world’s population, and often even by a majority of the heavily propagandized citizens of its own country. But popular opinion and voter preferences, even when manifested in national elections, as in November 2006, do not determine policy in the United States. Freed at last from any deterrent of the kind the Soviet Union exercised until its demise, and the kind posed for a more abbreviated period by the civil protests that confronted it on its own streets between 1965 and 1974, the U.S. program of "power projection" proceeds apace. Now it sets its sights on Iran, likely to produce a much wider war and one that quite possibly could involve the use of nuclear weapons.
U.S. wars of aggression are certainly not new, nor is its leaders’ brazen disregard for international law. Greece, Guatemala, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama—these do not exhaust the list of U.S. victims since World War II. What is more, the assumption that international law does not apply to the United States is longstanding. The "propriety of the Cuba quarantine is not a legal issue," former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson explained in reference to Kennedy’s naval blockade of Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis. "The power, position and prestige of the United States had been challenged by another state; and law simply does not deal with such questions of ultimate power.” For Acheson, any U.S. action to counter alleged threats trumps international law, and law cannot be allowed to interfere with the exercise of the "pre-eminent power" of this country. The belief that although law should apply to others, it never applies to the United States, was internalized long before Acheson’s day; and it reaches straight through to the present, widely accepted abroad because the scale of U.S. power permits its leaders to ignore the law with complete impunity.
But the aggression pace and scale has been stepped up in recent years, based on a number of factors: The collapse of the containing power, the vested interests in U.S. power projection in the Middle East—the Israeli lobby, oil interests, the military-industrial-complex—and the ideology and politics of a militarized capitalist state.
The aggression process has always involved demonization of the target, with the establishment media regularly carrying out their propaganda service in ways that match anything achievable in a totalitarian state. In the case of the joint U.S-proxy army attack on Guatemala in 1954, the New York Times swallowed and disseminated the lie that the Reds had taken over that country (e.g., Sidney Gruson, “How Communists Won Control of Guatemala,” March 1, 1953), just as the paper swallowed and disseminated the official line in 2002-3 that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Equally important in both cases was the suppressed context: In the case of Guatemala, the vested interests of United Fruit Company in the ouster of the elected government, the ties of high U.S. officials to that company (including Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles), and the fact that Guatemala was virtually unarmed and posed not the slightest threat to the security of the United States or Guatemala’s small neighbors. In the case of Iraq, major suppressions included the facts that the United States had actually supplied Saddam with “weapons of mass destruction” when he was attacking Iran, and that he failed to use such weapons during the 1991 Persian Gulf War because he recognized that the United States could retaliate in kind with overwhelming force—the disclosure of which would weaken the case that his possession of such weapons in 2002-3 posed any threat to this country or Israel, except that of self-defense.
The aggression process not only depends on the domestic media following the official line, marginalizing dissent, and causing the public to believe in the mythical threat posed by the target, it also requires neutralization of any international response that might protect the prospective victim. In the case of Guatemala, its leaders did appeal to the UN in June 1954 for protection against an already-in-process U.S.-organized attack. But with the U.S.‘s (and United Fruit investor and former spokesperson) Henry Cabot Lodge president of the Security Council, and the United States exerting intense pressure on its voting members and Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, the Security Council refused to consider Guatemala‘s case. Hammarskjold, who felt that the issue was precisely what the UN was formed to deal with, considered the U.S. effort “the most serious blow so far aimed at the Organization.”
The decade-long U.S. effort at “regime change” in Nicaragua during the 1980s involved a boycott, the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors, and sponsorship and active support of a terrorist army on its borders, in violation not only of the UN Charter but also the Organization of American States Charter and the Rio Treaty, the latter two quite clear on the illegality of the cross-border use of military force, “directly or indirectly, for any reason whatsoever” (OAS), and with proper authorization or “self defense” the only bases for an exception (Rio). Nicaragua brought these violations to the UN and World Court, but the United States vetoed a Security Council condemnation and ignored several adverse World Court decisions against its “unlawful use of force.” The Reagan administration could get away with this in part because the establishment media accepted its aggression and violation of international law, encapsulated in the New York Times’s editorial that dismissed the World Court as a “hostile forum” (“America’s Guilt—or Default,” July 1, 1986)—a lie, but demonstrating that the editors’ principles do not extend to universality of application and that they will apologize for blatant illegality and even aggression by their own state.
U.S. Aggression After the Soviet Collapse
The collapse of the Soviet bloc in late 1989 was greeted in the West by the U.S. invasion of Panama, which received the New York Times‘s immediate approval—although the Times did acknowledge that it "fueled enduring Latin suspicions about Washington’s selective respect for sovereignty," and expressed the concern that this kind of precedent might be used by less worthy powers to achieve the same effect ("Why the Invasion Was Justified," December 21, 1989).
But it is with Iraq (1990-), Yugoslavia (1991-1995; and 1999-), Afghanistan (2001-), and Iraq again (2003-) that we move into the definitive post-Soviet era, when the international community becomes a more active participant in the aggression process, and the global aggressor is either appeased, abetted—or both.
In the case of Yugoslavia, the U.S.-led NATO bombing war of 1999, assaulting Serbia and Kosovo, was preceded four years earlier by gradually escalating bombing attacks in Bosnia to support Bosnian Muslim and Croat forces, all in violation of the spirit of the UN Charter, but approved by UN secretary-generals and the Security Council. Also notable was the Security Council’s 1993 creation of an ad hoc Tribunal supposedly to bring “justice” as well as peace to Yugoslavia, but in reality a political and public relations arm of NATO, that functioned to prevent peace in pursuit of U.S. and NATO aims there. It also provided a legal and public relations cover for NATO’s own crimes, most notoriously in its bringing an indictment against Slobodan Milosevic in May 1999, just as NATO was coming under attack for extending its bombing to Serb civilian facilities. This diversionary PR operation was quickly used by the U.S. Secretary of State and her spokesperson to justify NATO war crimes. It goes almost without saying that the UN Security Council failed to question the U.S.-NATO bombing war against Yugoslavia, although it was in violation of the UN Charter and followed a peace conference in France designed to fail and permit the U.S.-NATO attack to proceed.
The war on Afghanistan was launched by the U.S. and U.K. purportedly as an international police action and a reprisal raid against al-Qaeda targets in the aftermath of 9/11, but it also removed the Taliban regime in Kabul and carried the war to the Taliban’s allies in Pakistan and elsewhere around the world. From the outset, Washington defined Afghanistan as a theater in its new global "War on Terror," a Cold-War-like framework projected to stretch indefinitely into the future, and useful to the warrior states for disguising their actions in this era of global warlordism. Although the war never received Security Council authorization, it has been prosecuted with UN support from the very start. In the week that preceded this war, the UN joined the cause with a "counter-terrorism" resolution and a hastily organized conference "to fight the scourge of terrorism" (Kofi Annan), with terrorism elevated to a "threat to international peace and security, as well as a crime against humanity" (General Assembly President Han Seung-soo of South Korea).