American Icarus

“The victor is always right. History ascribes to the victor qualities that may or may not actually have been there. And similarly to the defeated.” Karl Rove


My barber has it right. He listens to talk radio all day, but he sees through the lies and propaganda. “People are upset that Marines are being killed. What are they thinking?” he asks to anyone within earshot. “We send in 170,000 troops and shoot up their country. They’re doing what we did 200 years ago. We hid in the rocks and shot up the Brit.” On that April morning in 1776, British troops marched out of what is now called Harvard Square, along what is now Massachusetts Ave. where Frank cuts hair, and suffered serious casualties as snipers defending their homeland took aim from behind rock walls and forests. In the late 1960s, Daniel Ellsberg, on special assignment with the military, spent a day slogging through swamps pursuing Vietnamese guerrillas who shot at them from the safety of the land that they knew and were defending. That was the day Dan Ellsberg came to understand experientially what it meant to be a Redcoat.


Today the stakes are much higher. As the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and numerous other sources report, in the traditions of British colonialism and Genghis Khan, the Bush Administration is seeking to impose “The arrangement for the twenty-first century” to ensure that “the United States will continue to be the dominant political, economic and military power in the world.” The invasion of Iraq is only incidentally about Iraq and certainly not about terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. Instead it is the second chapter of the Bush I-Cheney-Wolfowitz-Perle campaign for a “New World Order.” Shock, awe, devastation, conquest, and occupation of Iraq are designed to send a message to the world: “Fear us. What we say goes.” The audience is Beijing, Pyongyang, Moscow, and Paris, as well as Cairo, Riyadh, and Teheran.


In addition to seizing Iraq’s vast oil reserves and transforming the country into an unsinkable aircraft carrier of US military bases, some of the authors of this invasion dream of installing new Arab governments to replace the increasingly fragile and anachronistic regimes in the Arab world’s three most important countries, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They also expect this terrifying reassertion of US regional hegemony will make Palestinians more “amenable” to negotiating “peace” on Ariel Sharon’s terms.


President Bush and his inner circle speak openly about decision-making based on serious risk taking, and they are gambling with far more than their political careers. Our cheer leader President, who had barely traveled outside the US before being installed in the White House by an activist right-wing Supreme Court, hopes to go down in history as the man who brought peace to the world. This is the messianic and megalomaniac dream of imperial peace, the peace of “Full Spectrum Dominance” that Genghis Khan and General Tojo would have understood.


This president is like Icarus who flew too close to the sun. War is war, and the risks are staggering. “Allies” and impoverished nations on the Security Council refused to be bullied or bought, defending international law and the UN charter, resisting Pax Americana and the illegal doctrine of preemptive war. Contrary to advance advertising, in the first days of the US invasion, senior Iraqi officers failed to assassinate the Iraqi tyrant. The “demoralized” Iraqi army held firm, killing and capturing invaders. The President is now speaking of a long war, and from Brussels to Bangkok there are calls to boycott US goods as a nonviolent way to contain the rogue American state.


The Bush-Cheney Game


The Bush Administration is not solely responsible for the current crisis. We cannot deny US colonial settler history and culture, the legacy of genocide and empire building from the arrival of the Pilgrims, the conquest and creation of a continental empire, and imperialism from the seizure of Spain’s colonies in 1898 to the Vietnam and first Gulf Wars, and the current campaign for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The Bush Administration may be the most militarist government in our history, but it did not spring full-blown from Medusa’s head. It was the Clinton Administration that first adopted the military doctrines of Full Spectrum Dominance and “Counter-proliferation,” including preemptive (and potentially nuclear) military attacks. In 1999, before Bush II, Washington and NATO undermined the UN charter with their unauthorized preemptive war against Serbia. And it was the Clinton Administration and Democratic members of Congress, fearful of charges that they lacked concern for US security, who supported spending of tens of billions of dollars for “Theater missile Defenses” to subsidize munitions industries and open the way for US monopolization of the militarization of space.


But even during the 2000 Presidential election, as Dubya startled us with his syntax and promised a “humble” foreign policy, it was clear that he had something else in mind: tearing up the A.B.M. treaty, rejecting the Kyoto Protocols to halt global warming, and savaging US tax laws to make the country safe for the rich and their mega corporations. Less than a month after seizing power, Bush and Cheney derailed Clinton-era disarmament negotiations with North Korea, walked away from Palestinian-Israel peace negotiations, and pressed its radical transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the ultra-wealthy through the re-writing of the tax laws.


Two years later “The Great Game” is being played out with cruise missiles and hand-to-hand combat in Iraq, military threats rather than diplomacy in North Korea, and at home massive cuts in essential social services and exponential increases of the national deficit. The Bush Administration’s “game” and “vision” are not simply about Iraq. They are about oil, the Arab World, Israel, Europe, ideology (or its advertising facade), and feeding its right-wing fundamentalist base for the 2004 Presidential election campaign.


New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff reports that many people in the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, and State Department believe that the captains of our ship of State are increasingly disconnected from reality. The Bush Administration fantasy has its roots in 1990s machinations of Reagan and Bush I ideologues–principally Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, and William Kristol — who saw Saddam Hussein’s “continued rule as epitomizing all that was wrong with the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy: a lack of clear purpose, a willingness to act based on political expediency rather than moral [sic] principles, and an unwillingness to use sufficient military power to bend Mr. Hussein to America’s will.” A 1998 letter to President Clinton that grew out of the Project for the New American Century (a spin off of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute) was signed by 18 national-security hawks, many of whom now hold senior positions in the Bush II government. It argued, “The only acceptable strategy is…a willingness to undertake military actions…. In the long term it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.” Thus it was that on September 17, 2001Ñjust six days after the Sept. 11 attacks and when (as now) there was no credible evidence linking the Iraqi government with Al Qaeda, President Bush authorized commencing preparations for the invasion of Iraq in addition to ordering the invasion of Afghanistan.


Two aspects of the Project for the New American Century initiative stand out. One is the necessity of bending Saddam Hussein to Washington‘s will and the commitment to regime change. They illuminate the obsession that has tortured Reagan-Bush I hawks as a result of their 1991 failure to completely create a “New World Order” in which “what we say goes.” True, Saddam Hussein was ousted from Kuwait, and Iraq was been bombed into “the pre-industrial age.” By the end of the 1990s, its nuclear weapons program and almost all of its chemical and biological weapons infrastructures lay in ruins. Like the Vietnamese who were “squeezed like a ripe plum.” the people of Iraq had been tortured and a million Iraqi lives were lost as a result of US-led economic sanctions. But Saddam Hussein’s very existence haunts these militarist. He is living evidence that it is possible to challenge US regional hegemony, be it in the Middle East, Asia, or Europe, and live to tell the tale.


The second aspect is consistent with the Bush Administration’s vision of the US as the World’s unrivaled global hegemon and confirms what Vice President Cheney told us last August: The Bush Administration has always been committed to regime change, not disarmament through UN inspections. It was outcries from sectors of the US Establishment, world leaders, and the international peace movement, horrified by last August’s prospect of the threatened US preemptive and unilateral invasion of Iraq that forced the Bush Administration to seek UN approval and multi-lateral cover for its Middle East aggression. With Saddam Hussein removed and a new client regime installed, the US will not only control the worlds second greatest concentration of oil reserves. It will be able to use those reserves to discipline Saudi Arabia and undermine OPEC. Reconsolidation of US control of Middle East oil will reinforce the role of the dollar as the global currency by ensuring that the world’s oil trade continues to be in dollars rather than the Euros of increasingly independent “Old” Europe. The conquest of Iraq will also send a powerful message to the rest of the Arab world, Iran, North Korea, and the international community: “What we say goes. Obey or else.”




Even as the war is being fought, the Bush Administration is seriously divided ideologically between those who have staked out positions as dangerously radical idealists and traditional and marginally less dangerous “Realists” President Bush and his speech writers, encouraged by ideologues like Richard Perle and William Kristol, talk of a “theory of democratic peace” and repeat ad nauseam that this is a war to spread “democracy” throughout the Middle East. Like their “Realist” colleagues, who rigged the Afghan Loya Jirga and imposed former CIA asset Mohammed Karzai on Kabul, they fear that if US Middle East client regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt become as brittle and alienated from their populations as did the Shah of Iran in the late 1970s, the US could lose control over the “jugular vein” of global capitalism–Middle East oil. Modeling their Afghan “achievement,” they seek to replace the Saudi monarchy and other Arab regimes with more inclusive and flexible, but hardly “democratic,” governments that will do “Washington‘s” bidding. They also believe that the replacement of Arab regimes will provide even less support than do current ones for the Palestinian struggle for survival, making Palestinians “more amenable to an agreement” dictated by Sharon.


While joining the rhetorical fights of democratic transformation, others in the Bush Administration including Vice President Cheney and Secretary Powell seem to believe that the terrorism of “hock and awe” and the resulting ability to use Iraq as a military base and economic lever against other oil-rich states will be sufficient to discipline the region as a whole. They are also aware that democratic elections would bring Islamic fundamentalists to power across the Middle East.


Secretary Rumsfeld’s dismissive remark to the effect that France and Germany represent “Old Europe” was not a rogue comment. It was an expression of the Bush II Administration vision of the “New World Order.: The chief proponent for disregarding Europe and putting the “old” continent in its place is Robert Kagan, author of the widely reviewed and quoted Of Paradise and Power. We must, Kagan writes, “stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power–the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power–American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power…it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation…. Meanwhile, the United States remains mired in history, exercising power in an anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable, and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.”


Thus the US refuses to be bound by the UN Charter, treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, the ABM and Comprehensive Test Ban treaties, and international law. As Karl Rove says, victors write the history.


War Is Not Disneyland


Like Icarus, who ached to be among the gods and soared toward the sun only to plummet catastrophically to earth, the Bush Administration is playing with fire. At this writing, it is too early to predict how drawn-out and deadly the US invasion and anticipated military occupation of Iraq will be. The initial resilience of the Iraqi leadership and military has come as a surprise, as have the number of US casualties and the failure of Iraqis to greet the invaders as liberators. With extended supply lines and the prospect of house-to-house fighting, things could become much worse for the US invaders before they become better. The invasion is to be followed by a US military occupation without end. This is a recipe for anti-colonial armed resistance, terrorist attacks on US forces, and growing numbers of body bags making their way from the Persian Gulf to cemeteries across the US


Those who know the Arab world fear that massive Iraqi civilian casualties and the specter of predominantly “Christian” US forces following in the steps of the Crusaders and European colonists into an Arab capital could destabilize the entire Middle East with angry street demonstrations, military coups, and revolutions. This happened following the Six Day War in 1967, and it would certainly threaten disruption of world oil supplies and thus the global economy. There is also the danger that this will be a short war, feeding the Bush Administration’s triumphal militarism and its fundamentalist Christian base (our own Taliban) and accelerating the drive to catastrophic war against North Korea and possibly Iran.


Richard Perle has boasted that by defying the Security Council, the US has relegated the United Nations to the dustbin of history. But preemptive war is a three-edged sword. First, he US example could all too easily encourage the Sharon government in Israel to once again invade Lebanon and/or Syria. Such a copycat preemptive strike, or accelerated “transfer” (ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians, would create profound new regional disorders. Second, by subverting both the UN and centuries of international law, the Bush Administration is returning the world to the law of the jungle where, as Karl Rove suggests, “might is right.” What will prevent nations threatened by US hegemony and/or imminent attack from launching their own deadly preemptive first strike attacks against US military forces and or civilians here in the US?


Finally, many cautious Democrats, some Republicans, and the CIA have warned that the US invasion of Iraq is being used as an extraordinary recruiting opportunity for Al Qaeda. If the Anglo-Axis invasion is unpopular in London, Madrid, Berlin, and San Francisco, imagine the sense of humiliation and rage across the Arab and Islamic world. Many more than Osama Bin Laden believe that those they see as their oppressors should be made to suffer as they and their families do.


Regardless of the outcome of the invasion, the Bush Administration has recklessly changed the world, undermining US security forever. In little over a year, we have gone from having the sympathy of the entire world in the wake of the September 11 attacks to almost total international isolation. We have sparked the creation of an increasingly countervailing network of nations led by “Old” Europe, Russia, and China and supported by much of Asia and the Third World. In the guise of “Homeland security” basic pillars of US constitutional democracy are under assault by the United States‘ own Department of Justice. The health care and pensions of our aging population are being sacrificed by the massive deficit spending needed to feed imperial ambitions and military-industrial allies. US military spending now equals that of the world’s 27 next leading military spenders–combined! Along with their parents, growing number of young people are being shut out of jobs and education, and thus denied hope and opportunities for the future.


Resistance : We were unable to prevent this war, but our education and organizing are having profound impacts on how it is being fought, how long it and the anticipated military occupation will last, and whether the Bush Administration will be able to carry its military crusade on to the Korean Peninsula, Iran, and other nations. The massive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience, protest rallies, marches, vigils, and even the mini demonstration at the Academy Awards ceremony, have been fundamentally important. They have publicly marked the US invasion of Iraq as wrong, as a criminal aggression in violation of the UN Charter. They have demonstrated that the peace movement has not evaporated as it did in 1991, but provides hope to people across the country and internationally.


In the coming weeks, we need to hold as much public space as possible: persisting with our legal and civil disobedience demonstrations; writing letters to the editor and to our Congressional representatives; wearing anti-war buttons and black ribbons mourning the loss of Iraqi and US lives and the assault on our democracy; speaking our minds to local politicians and Presidential candidates, and holding community forums for continuing and deepening public education. In the wake of the frenetic wave of anti-war protests in the first weeks of the invasion, we will do well to create opportunities for reflection and quiet discussion to sort out where we are and what seems necessary, possible, and inspiring. We also need to take the time for conversations and strategy explorations with people coming out of the increasingly diverse community that has become the peace movement: union members; Asian- Latino- and Afro-Americans, students, city councilors, soldiers’ families and veterans, and many more to ensure that our movement reflects our common concerns and maximizes the peace movement’s opportunities and power. For the longer term, the peace movement needs learn as much as it can, as fast as it can, about the dangers of US aggression against North Korea and Iran and diplomatic alternatives to these threatened wars. We need to begin articulating an alternative to imperial and corporate authoritarianism–our own vision of common security and how we can get there. And, with the 2004 Presidential and Congressional elections racing toward us, we need to be laying the groundwork for regime change at home.


* Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee in New England.



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