Consequences Of Empire
Americans are asking, ‘Why
do they hate us’?” President Bush stated in his nationally televised call to
war. His answer was that “they hate our freedoms; our freedom of religion, our
freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each
I’ve covered the
Middle East for more than 20 years—traveling to Iran, Palestine, and Iraq to
investigate, first-hand, the impact that U.S. actions have had on the people in
the region. I came away with a totally different understanding than this myth of
“freedoms” told by George Bush.
Most people I
met, and this included people from many different political trends, didn’t hate
“us”—they made a distinction between the U.S. government and people living in
the U.S. But they did not view the United States as a place of “freedom.” To
them, the United States was an arrogant, cold-blooded, and hegemonic power—which
has wreaked havoc with lives of the people in this region.
earth, the vast oilfields of the Middle East and the Caspian Sea lie in an area
of the planet that stretches from Algeria and Libya in the West to Afghanistan
and Pakistan in the east, from Kazakhstan and Russia in the north to Saudi
Arabia and Yemen in the south.
Before World War
II, Britain and France had divided the region into “spheres of influence” and
ruled them as colonies. But World War II severely weakened these old school
colonialists, while the U.S. imperialists—who had deliberately maneuvered to
come out on top of rivals and allies alike—emerged from the war ready to pick up
the pieces of empire.
In the mid 1950s
and early 1960s, U.S. imperial ambitions confronted a world where struggles for
self-determination and national independence were sweeping the formerly
colonized countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. A new rival—the once
socialist Soviet Union—was mounting the stage and also seeking to expand into
the Middle East.
government dealt with these challenges ruthlessly: sometimes intervening
directly, sometimes mounting covert operations to overthrow pro-Soviet or
nationalist regimes, often arming and backing ruthless tyrannies.
One of the most
notorious actions by the U.S. government in the Middle East took place in Iran
in 1953, when the CIA organized the coup that overthrew the Mossadeq government
after Mossadeq nationalized British holdings in the huge oilfields of Iran. With
Mossadeq out of the way, the U.S. put the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, on the
throne, and backed his regime as a gendarme in the region and a military outpost
on the Soviet Union’s southern flank.
Under the rule of
Reza Shah, the U.S. intensified its economic and political domination in Iran.
For 25 years, this Shah ruled as an absolute monarch, torturing, killing, and
imprisoning his opponents—especially radical and revolutionary-minded students.
Iran was not the
only target of U.S. intrigue. In 1949 the CIA backed a military coup which
overthrew the elected government of Syria. It aided the Egyptian government in
hunting down pro-Soviet Egyptian communists, and in 1963 supplied Iraq’s Ba’ath
party (soon to be headed by Saddam Hussein) with names of communists, who the
Iraqi regime then imprisoned or murdered.
Arming and supporting
Israel—today to the tune of $3 billion a year—was another pillar of U.S.
strategy in the region.
violent dispossession of Palestinian people, the state of Israel was quickly
recognized in 1948 by the United States—which had coldly refused to accept large
numbers of Jewish refugees after World War II.
Israelis are using live ammunition and U.S.-made attack helicopters against the
Palestinian people’s second “intifada.” Based on land stolen from the
Palestinians, the Israeli state became the U.S.’s gendarme in the region, ready
to strike out against regimes that stood in the way of U.S. “strategic
Israel’s 1967 and
1973 wars not only expanded Israeli territory but were aimed at weakening
surrounding Arab regimes, particularly Egypt—which was the heart of the Arab
world under Nassar. The U.S. was eager to threaten and bribe Egypt to align with
the U.S.—and not the Soviet Union.
In 1976 and again
in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon—killing more than 20,000 Lebanese and
Palestinians, seizing southern Lebanon, and holding it until 2000. In 1983 the
U.S., which had invaded Lebanon in 1958, once again sent troops—supposedly as
part of a multi-national “peace-keeping” operation, but in reality to protect
U.S. interests, including Israel’s occupation forces. U.S. troops were withdrawn
after a suicide bomber destroyed a U.S. Marine barracks.
Jimmy Carter had declared
Iran “an island of stability” in a sea of trouble. But in December 1978, more
than 10 million people—a third of the population of Iran—took to the streets of
Iran to demand an end to the rule of the Shah. The conservative Shi-ite
Islamists led by Ayatollah Khomeini got the upper hand.
revolution revealed to the world the deep and broad hatred of the U.S. and its
allies in the Middle East. The 1980 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran—held
for 444 days by Islamic students with the support of Iran’s Khomeini
regime—humiliated the United States and brought the end of Jimmy Carter’s
Then, in 1979,
the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan—which the U.S. rulers considered a “buffer
state” between the Soviet Union to the north and the strategically important
states of Iran and Pakistan to the south. The Soviets’ immediate goal was
propping up a friendly regime in Kabul, but the invasion significantly increased
Soviet military presence in the region. For the U.S. ruler, the fertile crescent
had become the “crescent of crisis.”
These were severe
shocks to U.S. power in the region, and the U.S. responded by intensifying their
rivalry with the Soviet Union—including by preparing for nuclear world war. This
was Ronald Reagan’s “resurgent America.”
A key element of
maintaining U.S. global power was maintaining its grip on the Persian Gulf and
the world’s oil supply—including keeping other Western imperialist rivals under
the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” In 1979 U.S. President Jimmy Carter designated the
Persian Gulf a vital U.S. interest and declared the U.S. would go to war to
ensure the flow of oil.
At one point,
when the U.S. feared a Soviet move into Iran during the turmoil following the
revolution, Carter secretly put U.S. forces on nuclear alert and warned the
Soviets they would be used if Soviet forces intervened in Iran. Zbigniew
Brzezinski, national security adviser to Carter, called the elevation of the
Persian Gulf to a “vital” U.S. interest a “strategic revolution in America’s
global position.” Brzezinski told the U.S. security council: if we lose the
Persian Gulf, we’ll lose Europe.
Intrigue In The Gulf
The U.S. attempted to deal
with the new, more nationalist and anti-U.S. Islamic regime in Tehran with both
carrots and sticks. It was even revealed that while U.S. personnel were being
held in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, representatives of soon-to-be President
Ronald Reagan were negotiating with the Khomeini regime to delay the release of
the U.S. “hostages” to better Reagan’s chances in the 1980 election.
But the main U.S.
gambit was to encourage Iraq to launch its 1980 invasion into southern Iran,
which turned into a bloody eight-year war. Henry Kissinger summed up the
cold-blooded attitude: “too bad they can’t both lose.” Over 1 million people
were killed in the war, but it served U.S. purposes: it weakened both Iran and
Iraq, and prevented them from causing the U.S. trouble elsewhere, especially in
the nearby Gulf states.
The U.S. opposed
UN action against the invasion, removed Iraq from its list of nations supporting
terrorism, allowed U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq, provided Iraq with
intelligence aid, economic aid, and political support (the U.S. restored
diplomatic relations in the late 1980s), encouraged its Gulf allies to lend Iraq
over $30 billion for its war effort then, and looked the other way as Hussein
gassed the Kurds at Halabja and other towns. All the better to weaken Iran’s
Islamic Republic, as well as draw Iraq away from the Soviet Union and closer to
But for the U.S.,
Iran remained the bigger “strategic prize,” so privately the Reagan government
encouraged Israel to provide arms to Iran and then in 1985 secretly began
shipping missiles to Iran itself. The missiles were supposedly a trade for U.S.
hostages in Lebanon, but the bigger trade was for increased U.S. leverage in
Iran. This secret plot collapsed when it was publicly revealed during the
“Iran-Contra” scandal of the mid-1980s.
Covert War In
While the U.S. was trying
to bully and intimidate Iran’s new Islamic rulers, in next-door Afghanistan the
U.S. was arming and organizing the Islamic fundamentalists—who had religious
ties to the conservative Sunni Moslems of the Saudi Arabian ruling class. Within
weeks of the Soviet invasion, the U.S. began a program of covert support to
anti-Soviet Islamic Mujahideen fighters. In 1980, Osama bin Laden arrived in
Afghanistan, bringing funds from the reactionary Saudi Arabian ruling class to
Over the next
decade, the U.S. provided more than $3 billion in arms and aid to the
Mujahideen—much of it financed through funding from Saudi Arabia and the rapidly
growing heroin trade on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. By 1987, 65,000 tons of
U.S.-made weapons and ammunition a year were entering the war. Zbigniew
Brzezinski wrote: “We now have the opportunity to give the Soviet Union its
rivalry produced a war that would tear Afghanistan apart. More than one million
Afghani people were killed and one-third of the population fled into refugee
camps. Tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers died in the war. Twenty years later,
the fighting in Afghanistan has still not ended.
The U.S. was
lashing out at other states as well. In 1981 and again in 1986, the U.S. held
military maneuvers off the coast of Libya in order to provoke a response from
the Qaddafi regime. In 1981, when a Libyan plane fired a missile at U.S. planes
penetrating Libyan airspace, two Libyan planes were shot down. In 1986, after a
bomb killed two Americans in a Berlin nightclub, the U.S. charged that Qaddafi
was behind it and conducted major air strikes against Libya, killing dozens of
civilians, including Qaddafi’s daughter.
In the Persian
Gulf, the U.S. stepped up its direct military presence—organizing a “Rapid
Deployment Force,” increasing its naval presence, and pre-positioning equipment
and supplies in the region. In 1987 the U.S. Navy was dispatched to the Persian
Gulf to prevent Iran from cutting off Iraq’s oil shipments. During these
patrols, a U.S. ship shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing all 290
Today, the U.S.
poses as the protector of the Kurdish people against Sadaam Hussein, but the
history of U.S. treatment of the Kurdish—an oppressed nation of some 25 million
living in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria—typifies the U.S. government’s contempt
>From 1973 to
1975, the U.S. supported Kurdish rebels in Iraq in order to strengthen Iran and
weaken the then pro-Soviet Iraqi regime. But as soon as Iran and Iraq cut a
deal, the U.S. withdrew support, denied the Kurds refuge in Iran, and stood by
while the Iraqi government murdered them. Henry Kissinger, the U.S. National
Security Adviser at the time, explained, “covert action should not be confused
with missionary work.”
population rose up with millions of other Iranians to overthrow the hated Shah
in 1979, but when they demanded their national rights, the U.S. government
publicly supported the Khomeini regime’s efforts to crush them and maintain
Iranian domination of Kurdestan.
In 1988, the
Iraqi regime launched mass poison-gas attacks on Kurds, killing thousands and
bulldozing many villages. But during that time, the U.S. increased their support
for the Iraqi regime.
The carnage and
destruction of the Iran-Iraq war paved the way for the next war in the Persian
Gulf—the U.S.-led Operation Desert Storm—Iraq was severely weakened after the
eight-year war, and the Iraqi government felt its Arab neighbors owed them
something—after all, they’d been fighting to protect Saudi Arabia and Kuwait
from the militant mullahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who were posing as
the true defenders of Islam against Western influence and denouncing the
pro-U.S. monarchies of the Gulf states. Instead, Iraq discovered that Kuwait was
overproducing its oil quota, undercutting Iraqi oil revenues, and also slant
drilling for oil into Iraqi territory. After warning the U.S. Ambassador that
the situation was intolerable and that Iraq would take action—and after hearing
from the U.S. Ambassador that this would pose no problem for U.S. interests—Iraq
invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
The U.S. quickly
condemned Iraq’s invasion, fearing it threatened loyal clients in the Gulf and
used the occasion to send a message to the planet.
On January 16,
1991, the U.S. launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq and its people. For
the next 42 days, the military might of the main imperialist power on the
planet, joined by its allies, was unleashed on a poor Third World country. U.S.
and allied planes pounded Iraq. By the time the war was over, they had dropped
88,000 tons of bombs. Then on February 22, 1991, the U.S. launched its 100-hour
ground war. Heavily armed U.S. units drove deep into southern Iraq, leaving a
trail of death and destruction in their wake.
During the war
100,000 to 200,000 Iraqis were killed. Since 1991, another 500,000 to 1,500,000
Iraqis have been killed by disease and malnutrition caused by U.S. sanctions.
The collapse of the Soviet
Union and the dawning of a new millennium has only intensified U.S. designs to
dominate the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
Two factors are
key: the ever-growing dependence of the U.S. and its European and Japanese
allies on foreign oil and the fact that most of the world’s oil reserves are in
Energy Policy Report estimates that U.S. oil consumption will rise 32 percent
from 19.5 million barrels a day in 2000 to 25.8 million in 2020, yet domestic
production will remain flat at 9 million barrels a day. This means that imports
will have to rise 61 percent from 10 to 16.5 million barrels a day.
Where will this
oil come from? The San Francisco Chronicle (9/26/01) reports that,
according to the Statistical Review of World Energy, the Persian
Gulf/Caspian Sea region accounts for more than 65 percent of world oil and
natural gas production, and by 2050 it will account for more than 80 percent.
The region’s reserves are estimated to be 800 billion barrels of oil and an
equal amount in natural gas. Meanwhile, energy reserves in the Americas and
Europe are less than 160 billion and will be exhausted in the next 25 years.
A new element in
this equation is the opening up of vast new oil reserves—estimated at 200
billion barrels of oil and 600 billion cubic meters of natural gas—in and around
the Caspian Sea, bordered by Iran to the south, Russia to the north and west,
and the newly independent republics of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to the east.
This region used to be part of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet collapse has
spawned new rivalries and intrigues over who will end up with control of these
in the U.S. are maneuvering for a pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to
Turkey. Others dream of a pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan into
Pakistan in order to link Central Asia directly to Western corporations and
markets. The U.S. ruling class hoped Afghanistan’s Taliban reactionary
government could establish some stability in Afghanistan and allow these plans
When the Soviet
Union collapsed, many in the U.S. hoped for a cut in U.S. military spending and
a “peace dividend.” Today the U.S. military budget stands at $343.2 billion a
year—23 times as much as the combined spending of the countries the U.S. calls
its “likely adversaries” in the region.
amounts of this spending are for forces aimed at the Middle East/Southwest Asian
region, where the U.S. now has permanent military bases.
In October 1999,
the U.S. Department of Defense shifted command of U.S. forces in Central Asia
from the Pacific Command to the Central Command. Writing in Foreign Affairs
(“The New Geography of Conflict,” May/June 2001), Michael Klare notes, “The
region, which stretches from the Ural Mountains to China’s western border, has
now become a major strategic prize, because of the vast reserves of oil and
natural gas thought to lie under and around the Caspian Sea. Since the Central
Command already controls the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, its
assumption of control over Central Asia means that this area will now receive
close attention from the people whose primary task is to protect the flow of oil
to the United States and its allies.”
and media are billing America’s New War as a conflict against “terrorism.” But
calculations of empire are, no doubt, the real agenda. George Bush warned the
U.S. was preparing to “bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our
enemies.” But justice is one thing the U.S. has never delivered in the Middle
East. For the people of the Middle East, U.S. “justice” has meant shallow graves
and shattered lives. This planet does not need another unjust war.
Larry Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary
Worker newspaper and author of Behind the Poison
Cloud: Union Carbide’s Bhopal Massacre.