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War and Empire

By Johan Saravanamuttu

The Invasion and Occupation of Iraq

Iraq has now been occupied by American and British forces after they rained down bombs across the nation down in one of the most unprecedented developments of contemporary history.

The military campaign against Iraq began on March 20 with an assault on its capital to “decapitate” its leadership by the firing of some 40 Tomahawk missiles. This was followed through by the so-called “shock and awe” massive bombing of Baghdad and other cities, as well as a land invasion from the South. By all accounts, the war was a complete mismatch and it was never likely that Iraq could resist the military might and technological superiority of the US and Britain. As we all know, Iraq was probably militarily at its weakest and had been subjected not only to disarmament measures of the UN but for the last twelve years had had more than half of its airspace monitored as no-fly-zones and on many occasions been bombarded by the US as well.

Invasion and Occupation

The invasion and occupation of sovereign states by outside powers last occurred in the World War II whether this was with respect to Axis or Allied states during or after the war. While it is true that powers such as the US and Soviet Union have waged war against sovereign states in the post-World-War II period, never have such actions entailed the full-scale occupation of a country. In the cases of the US war in Vietnam and the Soviet one in Afghanistan, the intention had never been full occupation, even if ‘regime change’ was an unstated objective. In the post-9/11 toppling of the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, which had little recognition, the US-led campaign accomplished this with the support of local resistance to the regime and then helped install a coalition government at the end of the war phase. The action had the sanction of UN.

In the Iraqi situation today, there is no evidence of active local resistance to the Baathist (socialist) state of Iraq, which in any case is recognized by the United Nations. There is also no ostensible evidence of the prospect of an alternative or even “puppet” government in the offing in Iraq. In the light of this, the US-British invasion seems rather unprecedented.

Attempts of the US to sponsor anti-Saddam groups have all but failed to date. Therefore, the action of the United States and its allies in Iraq today is clearly not in support of any local Iraqi group or force pitting itself as a legitimate and credible alternative to the government under Saddam Hussein. The military campaign is thereby a stark, unilateral action to defeat and take over another sovereign state. Or, to put it differently, the US-British action is an outright affront to international norms and laws respecting national sovereignty and for all intents and purposes can be considered unlawful and illegitimate.

We have all heard the familiar argument offered by the Bush Administration and the Blair government that the military campaign follows upon the failure of Iraq to comply with Security Resolution 1441 passed in November 2002. This disingenuous stance is clearly contradicted by the fact that the Iraqi government, until the onset of war, was actively cooperating with UN inspections for disarming weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from Iraqi territory. Nowhere in the text of Resolution 1441 does it sanction military force as a measure for material breach, even if such a breach had occurred.

It was also patently clear that the majority of the 15 members of the Security Council including permanent members, France, Russia and China, did not find Iraq in material breach of 1441 and rejected in no uncertain terms a British attempt to sponsor a new resolution to sanction war. Given the egregious British diplomatic failure, and worse, its subsequent alacrity to participate in the war, we can surmise also that British actions were by far more in bad faith than that of the US and by that token illegitimate and illegal from the perspective of international norms and law.

Why has the occupation of Iraq come about?

Project for the New American Century

Let’s begin by looking closely at the shift in American foreign policy under the current Bush Administration. George W. Bush’s foreign policy is in many ways a continuation of that of his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, to create what the latter dubbed a “New World Order”. Indeed, Bush Sr. virtually began his presidency with the Gulf War of 1991. In that war, through Resolution 678 of the Security Council, the US led allied forces to defeat and to largely disarm the Saddam Hussein regime, which had foolishly invaded Kuwait. The disarmament process for one reason or other was not fully completed in the aftermath of that war and so Bush Jr. worked hard in getting UN support last year for Resolution 1441. The rest, as they say, is now history.

Not only is the younger Bush’s foreign policy a continuation of that of the older Bush and other Republican administrations, his cabinet members and policy advisers are from daddy’s administration; Cheney was defence secretary to dad, Powell was dad’s military chief and Rumsfeld was President Ford’s White House chief of staff. Since then, Republican think tanks, which have been waiting for the transition of policy from the Clinton Administration, have worked hard to fashion what is called a “Project for the New American Century”. From the Republican standpoint, President George W. Bush is evidently slated to be the prime mover for this project. Note that this so-called Project for the New American Century was conceived in1997 long before 9/11.

We will be drawing from a document published in 2000 by project co-chairmen Donald Kagan and Gary Schmitt and principal author Thomas Donnelly, entitled “Rebuilding American’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” Report of the Project for the New American Century, (henceforth, Report) to illuminate the rest of this article.

The New American Century’ s (NAC) overall objective is clear enough:

“As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s most preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievement of the past decades? ….what we require is a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposely promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities” (Preamble, Report).

The point about US global leadership is made with no fanfare and with a candid lack of humility further down the report:

“The US is the world’s only superpower, combining preeminent military power, global technological leadership, and the world’s largest economy. Moreover, America stands at the head of a system of alliances which include the world’s other leading democratic powers. At present the US faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible” (Report, p. i).

Core Missions

In order to achieve the goals of the NAC, the US must establish four core mission for its military forces:

·        Defend the American homeland;

·        Fight and decisively win multiple major theatre wars;

·        Perform the ‘constabulary’ duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions;

·        Transform US forces to exploit the “revolution in military affairs”.

These core missions have to be effected in tandem with measures to:

·        Maintain nuclear strategic superiority;

·        Restore the personnel strength of US military forces as outlined by the Bush Administration to an active-duty strength from 1.4 million to 1.6 million;

·        Reposition US forces to respond to 21st century strategic realities by deployment patterns to reflect the growing US strategic concerns.

Among some of the imperatives of the new US policy is the need to control the new “international commons” of space and cyberspace and pave the way for the creation of a new military service - US Space Forces - with the mission of controlling outer space. (Report, pp. iv –v).

In short, the proponents of the NAC unabashedly advocate a Pax Americana as the basis for global security. But it is a Pax Americana that has to be actively pursued through American political, economic and military dominance throughout the world. The project propounders have argued that the 1990s has been a decade of “defence neglect” and it is now time to fix it. The event of 9/11 was in this sense an extremely timely event since it allowed this group to make their arguments a fortiori to the American people.

Theatre Wars

There are two concepts in the NAC project that need some explanation. These are “major theatre wars” and “constabulary duties”. The first refers to the US capability to rapidly deploy forces and win multiple simultaneous large-scale wars in various parts of the world. Constabulary duties refer to on-going engagements and post-conflict activities to maintain stability in various regions. Note that all of these policies are stated without one mention of the United Nations.

With respect to theater wars, the new policy goes beyond the “two-war” standard of the past decade. The Report does not mention Africa and Latin America but gives focus to three major “theatres” in the globe:

The Persian Gulf Region: Here the US seeks to establish a permanent role and the Report refers to unresolved conflict in Iraq. It also argues that the need for a substantial American presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein (p. 14).

Europe: NATO remains the lynchpin of US policy here. However, “US Army Europe” should be transformed into “versatile, combined-arms brigade-sized units capable of independent action and movement over operational distances.” (Report, p. 16).

East Asia: US presence needs to be enhanced here not least of all to cope with “the rise of China to great power status”. The Report argues that it is time to increase American presence in Southeast Asia: “…. a return to Southeast Asia will add impetus to the slow process of alliance-building now afoot in the region.” Some ideas include establishing “forward operating bases” and turning the ASEAN Regional Forum into an alliance-like arrangement (Report, p. 19.)

Pax Americana?

From the vantage point of the Project for the New America Century, it is evident that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is part and parcel of the Bush Administration’s plan to begin its new foreign policy of implementing a Pax Americana which increasingly will witness setting aside the use of globally sanctioned instruments such as the United Nations to maintain global security and peace. If multilateral instruments are used at all, it will be those which see the predominant participation of the US in them such as the NATO alliance in Europe. It is very likely that a similar alliance may emerge in the Persian Gulf in the post-Saddam period. We could call this the “New Baghdad Pact.”

The fact that the US now prefers to act unilaterally on a global scale will make the current Iraq campaign an historic turning point for it in the direction of the realization of a Pax Americana.

However, there now seems to be a split between American and European approaches to global security. We should note that the government of Britain, under ‘New Labour’, (and less significantly, that of Spain and Italy) have chosen to break ranks with their more natural European allies, like France and Germany. Yet, “Old Europe”, as some have put it, has put up a putative challenge to the American global vision and policy we have just discussed.

One aspect of this European vision has been propounded by Robert Cooper, ironically himself a former British diplomat in a much-discussed article which did the rounds last year. His piece has been published as “The Postmodern State” in a volume called Reordering the World: The Long-Term Implications of September 11. (The Foreign Policy Centre).

Cooper argues that Europe has become “postmodern.” The EU as a political entity has rejected the use of violence or force as a means for settling conflicts. He says basically that Europeans, tired of war, have rejected it as an instrumentality. However, there is a catch here. There should be no use of force among European states but for the outside world, which is still not “postmodern”, force could still be instrumental. Europe will only apply such force outside judiciously – hence the French and Germany objections to US military action in Iraq.

Are the rest of us in the world today up against a stark choice, whether to accept the harsh reality of a Pax Americana or to go for the gentler imperialism of Pax Europa? I do sincerely hope not!

As has been put rather elegantly, there are only two superpowers in the world today – The United States and world public opinion. Throughout the American and British campaign for war in Iraq, global protests were unprecedented in terms of numbers of participants, cross-section of protesters and sheer frequency and all of this long before the actual military action. It’s not just Europe that’s tired of war. The whole world is tired of war!

It is utterly unconscionable that the governments of Britain and the US went ahead with their action despite overwhelming domestic opinion against their war actions. If democracy has any meaning at all, the Bush and Blair governments will not survive the next round of elections and perhaps, with that, so too will recede the unacceptable quest for empire by any state in today’s world.

Johan Saravanamuttu is Professor of Political Science in Universiti Sains Malaysia